Winds of freedom blew all across the world when the bipolar world order was destroyed with the end of the Cold War between 1989 and 1990. This wind led to the liberation of people and democratization in Eastern European and the Baltic countries of the Eastern Bloc while a significant portion of the former Soviet republics in the eastern parts of the same bloc could benefit from it only by acquiring their partial independence. Demands for rights, freedoms and democracy voiced by the people of these former Soviet republics had been largely ignored.
Still, all of the former Communist Bloc countries had been influenced one way or another by this wave of freedoms. In some places, this process was peaceful and non-violent occurring at an extremely fast pace while in others, such as former Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, it proved very violent and extended over a large period of time, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. The only region that remained unaffected by this process that, bloody or not, had sent a profound tremor of change in a vast region, including Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Baltic republics, the Caucasus and the steppes of Central Asia, was the Middle East and North Africa.
With the strategic and political support from the US-led Western forces that saw their interests in maintaining them, dictatorships were able survive exclusively in this region as if the Cold War had never ended. Yet, the same region is now being swept by a strong wave of freedom and democracy after a young man put himself ablaze to protest pressures of the regime in Tunisia on Dec. 17, 2010. Coming with a delay of at least 20 years, this belated wave, dubbed by some as the Arab Spring, is likely to topple down all anti-democratic regimes. It would be a great illusion to expect that this wave will be restricted only to where it started or that those countries currently under its influence. Apparently, dictators who turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to their people’s demands for freedoms and democracy will not escape their fate, whether they are located in North Africa, the Middle East or in any other part of the world.
Prone to inspire and encourage all peoples under oppression everywhere across the globe thanks to sophisticated communication means, this wave of freedom will, sooner or later, knock down all tyrants just like a tsunami. It doesn’t matter if these tyrants are called kings or sheiks or presidents who are elected to office with an overwhelming majority of people through sham elections. Wherever they are in the world, those regimes that fail to understand this wave of freedom and democracy correctly, and in a timely manner, and introduce democratic reforms, multiparty, competitive and free elections as well as constitutional arrangements based on fundamental individual rights and freedoms will be toppled down by their own people. The fate of these tyrants is a matter of “when,” not “if.”
Accordingly, all despots who ruthlessly slaughter their own people, particularly including Syria’s Baathist leader, Bashar al-Assad, must correctly understand these developments as they are supposed to decide whether their inevitable end will be bloody or not both for themselves and for their countries. They will either correctly assess their people’s justified demands for change and they will themselves manage this change for democracy and freedoms, thus being etched into history as the very vanguards of change that would occur in a smooth transition. Or, as they have been doing so far, they will resist this change and be humiliated in an abject manner in the end, as was the case with Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya. I am not sure whether this makes any sense for the tyrants with blinded eyes and deafened ears, the last eight-and-a-half months are enough to show that it is not a matter of “when,” but “if” for all dictators.
Egypt’s dictator, who had been ruling the country for 30 years, resisted change, but in vain, did he not? He could resist only for 18 days. His brief resistance only served to add the title of being the killer of 846 citizens more to his profile rife with oppression and violence. Now, he stands trial in abasement and humiliation at a court where he is taken in a cage.
Tunisia’s despot that had ruled the country for 23 years could withstand the wave of freedom and democracy only for 29 days, during which Ben Ali led the death of 223 citizens more. He had to flee the country like a coward after being humiliated by his own people.
Now it is Gaddafi’s turn. Gaddafi, one of the most psychopathic dictators in the region, and his stooges could maintain their resistance only for 186 days to the demands for freedom and democracy voiced by the people of Libya who were living under oppression and persecution for 42 years. During this six-month period, Gaddafi undertook new tyrannical acts and massacres, slaying more than 20,000 people. It is reported that 1,300 people were killed during the recent clashes in Tripoli. Moreover, he triggered a civil war and attracted the international intervention, causing country-wide destruction. Nothing but an end that would be decided after a disparaging trial or a desperate suicide awaits this murderous despot of Libya who brought a disastrous adventure to his country.
All these revolutions seeking freedoms became successful sooner or later. There are also those that are under way and those that have not started yet. For instance, the despot in neighboring Syria, too, instead of lending an ear to his people’s demands for freedoms and democracy, chose to slaughter them. However, just by looking at the cases of Mubarak, Ben Ali and Gaddafi, he can easily conclude that tyranny, oppression and blood of innocent people will not permeate his position. I think one needs to suffer from the illness of despots in order not to see that whoever prospers on tyranny will end up with a terrible fate. Being a proven despot, Assad apparently is in the gripes of this illness. The Assad regime has been resisting the Syrian people’s demands for democracy and freedoms for 160 days straight and it is doing this by spilling the blood of innocent people. The death toll, as reported by the UN Human Rights Council, is above 2,200. How long does Assad think he can resist? How many more people does he plan to kill? But he must be assured that his fate will be no different from those of Mubarak, Ben Ali and Gaddafi even if he intends to break his father’s record for slaughtering tens of thousands of Syrians.
The despot of Yemen, who is also on thin ice, has been desperately resisting for 206 days at the expense of killing more than 1,000 people. In the region characterized with dictatorships and semi-dictatorships, 36 people in Bahrain, seven in Morocco, two in Saudi Arabia and eight in Algeria died just because they demanded more freedoms and democracy. Thus, the number of those who have died since the onset of the Arab Spring has already approached 25,000. If we are to add the deaths in Palestine, which has been under Israeli occupation for 44 years, to this, the death toll will certainly rise.
Despots who have grown so blind, so deaf and so tyrannical as not to see and hear the justified demands of their own people or show compassion even to children, should revise their position with respect to the current state of the world. They must think once again whether their sticking to tyranny and causing so much pain is worth being humiliated in the eyes of their own people and the world.
Published in Today’s Zaman on Aug. 23, 2011. Bülent Keneş is the editor in chief of Today's Zaman, the most circulated English daily in Turkey