The Arab Spring: A Lesson For The Eritrean Regime

By IndepthAfrica
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Sep 24th, 2012
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Fessahaye Mebrahtu

The Arab Revolution that caught the rest of the world by surprise is too close for the Eritrean regime to ignore. The regime’s muted reaction when the revolutions were blazing shows that PFDJ was following the situation nervously up close. Eritrea’s geographic proximity and its traditional links to the countries that have been affected by the uprising must have brought some level of anxiety to Isaias. The lesson we all should learn from the Arab Spring is that the cry for justice cannot go unheeded indefinitely. Sooner or later the perpetrators of injustice and their oppressive systems will be accountable.

We Eritreans are very familiar about the price and freedom and national sovereignty. Unfortunately, we still are yearning for our liberation. Under the current regime, it might be more costly to regain our liberation than what has been paid for freedom. It seems harder than ever to envision for democratic process to emerge in Eritrea today. It was much easier to envision a free Eritrea from an Ethiopian domination an enemy without. The conundrum Eritreans find themselves is an enemy within. Even the ardent supporter of the current regime will admit that there is neither democratic process nor any liberty in Eritrea. Their arguments will either revolve around “no alternative save Isaias” or see him as the sole guarantor Eritrean sovereignty in the face of unsettled border issue. At the same time you will observe them supporting their relatives who run away from the brutality of the regime who doggedly support. Many of the supporters of the Eritrean government who live outside of the country also enjoy the freedom and liberty of democratic countries in the West. Yet they unabashedly support a regime that enslaves its citizens perpetually to servitude under the pretense of national development and security.

It is even more confusing to see that the very people who claim to have been abused by the PFDJ regime and took refuge in 3rd countries filing “Letter of Regret” asking for pardon from the Eritrean regime. They pay fees, penalties or 2% of their hard earned income. Some even live on public assistance and still manage to pay 2%. This is not short of thievery or fraud. It is observing such paradox that I dare to state that it was easier to envision the freedom of Eritrea from without than the liberation from within. However, looking at the Arab Spring; the cry of the oppressed will come up roaring to the heavens shaking their ground of deception and opportunism. I cannot predict the time but no one had predicted the way the Arab Revolution sparked either. The process of how dictators end up however is predictable as I had indicated in a number of my previous writings.

If we assess the Arab Spring, justice might have come too late for those who suffered and perished under the hands of brutal dictators like Asad and Gadhafi; however, the yearning for justice and cumulative rage that suddenly erupted before our very eyes is an indication that the sacrifice of the oppressed never goes in vain. The Eritreans who suffered and died under the current regime will one day be vindicated in the same manner. The tipping point usually comes from unsuspected corners. Who would have thought that the self-sacrifice of the Tunisian young man, who literally torched himself, sparking the Arab Uprising overthrowing corrupt and brutal regimes. A lesson to be heed by those who might have some little common sense left in amassing their powers.

What is the price to stay in power then? Dictators might try hard to hedge themselves from the inevitability of being thrown from their grip of power, or reigns of terror. In the recent uprisings, dictatorial regimes around the world have seen the “writing on the wall” that their fates cannot be any different from that of Mubarak or Gadhafi when the “Day of Judgment” finally arrives. In Syria, the Bashar al Asad regime is fighting to hold on to elusive power of futility; turning Syria into heaps of rubble with untold cruelty and destruction of human life and resources. Even if Asad succeeds putting down the opposition, what kind of Syria will he run after such ruinous civil war? Though Bashar had ample opportunities to either give in to the demands of the uprising by implementing meaningful reform or leave Syria. It seems that he has reached no turning point facing his fate like the dictators of recent and distant past. It is against such inevitability that I compare the fate of Isaias. No matter how invincible he looks today the direction seems one way. The contradiction I present myself at times is that if any of the living dictators like Isaias learn from the fate of their close friends and allies like Gadhafi. Therefore, relinquishing power and go into exile. Would Zimbabwe be willing to accommodate Isaias with an estate next to Mengistu Hailemariam? No doubt Comrade Col. Mengistu Hailemariam would accept Isaias with an open arm. After all as the saying reads, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Having stated that, dictators and their collaborators might not be out of choice when their evil deeds finally caught up with them. They still have the chance to relinquish power and take the first goodwill offer by asking for or accepting escape route. One of the tempering factors could be seeking justice over revenge, let go of certain outcomes, for example, if a dictatorial government resigns/collapses or goes into exile, the temptation of hot pursuit should be avoided as much as possible. Sometimes, that is best option for a country’s future; avoiding further bloodsheds. Tunisian is a prime example compared to Libya where instability and factionalism is leading the country into uncertain future. If chaos and violence creeps in, a revolution for just cause can be easily hijacked derailing democratic process.

Vigilance against hijacking a democratic process is in order but vigilant justice has to be avoided at all cost. Time permitting all will fall in place so long leaders of the revolution do not deviate from the priorities and long term vision of justice and peace. It is also against such backdrop of the inevitability of the day of reckoning that the oppressed can see a glimpse of hope anticipating for it with some sense of dignity and vindication. However, rage and euphoria of the masses to bring about a new dawn of justice and peace; placing tempering factors can channel the revolution to positive outcomes.

I am sure Eritrean government, shaken by the Libyan scenario, is watching keenly the fate of Asad of Syria. In the case of Eritrea, the Arab Spring must have taught Isaias how to devise some survival mechanism to buy him a little more time. Some have criticized me for my optimism even taking contradictory approach that Isaias would take the high road of relinquishing power and vanishing into exile. Let me continue to wallow in my naïveté and reaffirm that we cannot take that plausibility away from a breathing human being. Though the tipping point will come sooner than later at least I would be optimistic for Isaias to take a safe passage than implement a positive reform that one day could hold him accountable for all his past deeds. Of course I dread if Isaias had to face the fate of Gadhafi one day. It is not justice but vengeance that is meted blood for blood. Eritrea needs no more bloodshed. We need to learn the value and the art of nonviolence then we can enjoy the fruits of freedom, liberty and democracy

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