February 11 versus September 11

On February 11, 2011, the Egyptian people, following the Tunisian wake, ousted their dictator. This historic event marks up the end of a disastrous decade opened by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

February 11 appears indeed as a reverse 9/11: it embodies the victory of courage over fear, hope over fatalism, admiration over contempt, friendship over hatred.

The attacks in New-York and Washington distilled fear throughout the world and many people were left wondering how far the fundamentalists’ fanaticism would go, imagining it would meet an increasingly strong echo in the Arab countries. Instead of what, in Tunisia and Egypt, we just witnessed the victory of hope and courage: courage to shout “dégage !” (step down) and hold firm, despite the repression, until Caesar clears off; hope to see the Arab world wake up from its political torpor and get rid of a profiting oligarchy system in order to play fully its role in the reshaping of an international community confronted with challenges which require the mobilisation of all energies and talents.

The splendid attitude of these women and men, of all ages and from all social classes, who overturned history by the mere strength of courage and perseverance, inspires us the greatest respect and an immense admiration. Thus, the condescension which predominated too often until now faded away in a few days. Yes, the Arabs are capable of saying ‘no ‘; yes, they are also, in spite of their supposed fatalism, capable to do as well as 1789 and 1848, as well as the Carnation Revolution, the destruction of the Berlin wall and the Velvet Revolution… Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions join fully this prestigious line, thus uniting the Arab World and Europe in a common historic dynamic, that of Liberty and Human Rights.

To celebrate this beautiful path from condescension to admiration, let us forbid ourselves, from now on, to speak of “the Arab street” because this Street has just demonstrated, with great panache, that it is the place of expression of a true “public opinion”, worthy of that name. Or otherwise, let’s talk of “the European Street” as a tribute to Avenue Bourguiba, Tahrir Square and to the blood of the Arab martyrs of democracy(1).

As from admiration to love there is only one step, the mistrust which spread after the 9/11 attacks has given way in many European hearts to affection. How could one not see his/her certainties shaken, indeed, when Copts join hands to protect Muslims in prayer?

With its 9/11, the ending summer of 2001 announced winter: glaciation of minds, glaciation of hearts, encouraged by those who professed the struggle between good and evil. This resulted in an Iraq War with catastrophic results. The winter of 2011, with its 2/11, finally announces thaw, and a new Springtime of Peoples. Arab youngsters, better trained or qualified, connected to the world via new technologies, now have another leverage than terrorist violence.

Left to us, Europeans, to fully support this virtuous dynamic, not without expressing our ‘mea culpa’ for supporting for so long autocratic and predatory regimes and for not having invested enough in civil society. Thus we may perhaps avoid that the Arab revolutions of 2011 turn to what happened with the European revolutions of 1848, to which they are comparable in their developments and scope: a decisive step towards liberty followed by many setbacks.

Philippe Mazuel
Translated from French by Aurélie Roche (Lille)

(1)Some French and English speaking journalists still use the expression “la rue arabe” / “the Arab street” instead of “the Arabic public opinion”, PACE regards this wording as (unwillingly) contemptuous.