The Arab Spring: a harbinger for a “global spring” against oppressive rule?

(published with especial relevance to West Papua)

by Edmund McWilliams

Democracy, respect for human rights, good governance – these are the themes that have been on the lips of peaceful demonstrators from the Mediterranean to the Arabian sea.

In country after country, Arab men and women, young and old have showed extraordinary courage, facing down dictators and autocrats even when those corrupt leaders have employed the full weight of their armed forces against the unarmed protesters.

The Choice of Papuan People (Photo courtesy KNPB)

The inspiration of one young Tunisian who sacrificed himself in protest has spread from one Arab nation to another, in each country people coming to the profound realization, ‘if they can do it there, we can do it here.’

The largely peaceful demonstrations have not had an Arab or a Muslim character. Rather, common to all these peaceful revolts is a pent up desire for freedom and a new sense that change is possible.

We have seen similar uprisings which have swept vast areas:  the East European spring in the late 1980’s; the anti-colonial movement that followed World War II.  These, like the “Arab Spring” were trans-cultural, and transnational.   They derived their power from a common frustration with abusive, and sometimes foreign rule and a conviction that, in the words of the revolutionary mantra, “a people united can never be defeated.”

So we are left with the question of whether this movement will be confined to
Arab peoples, and largely to Muslims.  Or will this struggle for democracy and respect for human rights extend to non-Arab and non-Muslim cultures and peoples who also have suffered under brutal rule?  Will Tahrir square be emulated in Beijing, in Tashkent, in Hanoi, in Vientiane, in Rangoon and Pyongyang.  Will the Papuans, Montagnards, Hmong and Karen draw inspiration from the “Arab Spring” and break the colonial chains that have enslaved them to demand genuine autonomy or even full independence?  The physical and cultural distance separating Papuans in the Puncak Jaya or Hmong in Phong Saly from the “Arab Street” may seem to place them
in different worlds but they have a common experience in their suffering under undemocratic rule.

Is the “Arab Spring” a harbinger for a “global spring” that challenges oppressive rule around the world? For now, we can only assume that autocrats around the globe are sleeping more fitfully.

May their nightmares come true.

Edmund McWilliams
Retired senior U.S. Foreign Service Officer

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