When the people of Tunisia revolted in 2010, region-wide revolution was in motion. By September 2012, the governments of Egypt, Libya, and Yemen had also been brought down. From my home in the United States, I watched these things transpire with mounting pride and hope for my fellow Arabic-speaking peoples.
On Dec. 18, 2010, the people of Tunisia revolted. Within a year, they had toppled the regime of Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali. By that time, their actions had mobilized the people throughout the Arab League nations to follow suit.
Region-wide revolution was in motion. By September 2012, the governments of Egypt, Libya, and Yemen had also been brought down. In Iraq, uprisings occurred, demanding the resignation of then-Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki.
From my home in the United States, I watched these things transpire with mounting pride and hope for my fellow Arabic-speaking peoples. The moment in history was in many ways unprecedented. Egypt, for example, had never before had a grassroots people’s revolution. Not in 5,000 years.
The spirit of these events would provide inspiration and solidarity to similar actions throughout the world. At home in Philadelphia, this spirit has touched and continues to touch us in many forms. The first remarkable mass action citing the so-called “Arab Spring” revolutions as its predecessors was the Occupy Movement. The latest, and in many ways most comparably urgent, is the movement to end the epidemic of violence toward African-Americans spearheaded by the organization Black Lives Matter. The greater contemporary movement for the liberation of African Americans has been referred to as “the Black Spring.”
It is not out of order to place the widespread killings of persons of color in America, especially those committed by individuals of authority such as law enforcement officers, in league with the brutal oppression experienced by West Asians and North Africans under oil dictatorships and foreign occupations. In fact, the parallel is clear. And it is not lost on engaged activists.
During the uprisings in Ferguson, The World Post reported that some in the crowds of protestors were chanting the words “Gaza Strip.” Palestinians responded by tweeting declarations of solidarity. Even more moving were their tweets offering words of advice on how to deal with the police state.
— Rajai Abukhalil (@Rajaiabukhalil) August 14, 2014
Always make sure to run against the wind /to keep calm when you’re teargassed, the pain will pass, don’t rub your eyes! #Ferguson Solidarity
— مريم البرغوثي (@MariamBarghouti) August 14, 2014
The association was emphasized once again in the short video released in October 2015, “When I See Them I See Us.”
The video plainly states the commonalities between the struggles of occupied Palestinians and black Americans. It includes appearances from prominent black leaders such as Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Cornell West, and music artist Lauryn Hill, alongside Palestinian activists such as Omar Barghouti and Yousef Erakat.
Again, I have been proud and hopeful to see my fellow minority Americans assert their human rights, and to see bridges of camaraderie built between persecuted peoples of color in disparate communities.
It has also made me look toward the future. Both of these fronts of the liberation struggle — the push for the democratization of the Arab world and the push to stop all forms of violence against people of color in this one — are still gaining ground and becoming fully organized. The atmosphere of spontaneity about the initial popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, which has been reflected in the political actions of the era, including those of the so-called Black Spring, is still in need of transition into a deeply institutionalized mechanism of social advancement, such as was present in the worldwide decolonization movement in collaboration with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
In Egypt, the immediacy and urgency which were so electric in the 2011 revolution have led to the rule of Mohamed Morsi, whom the people also revolted against until he was deposed in a 2013 military coup, and finally to Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, whose human rights violations have been strongly condemned by many international NGOs.
As I follow the campaign for black human rights here in Philadelphia, my concern is that the use of similar mass protest tactics will result in a domestic version of the same effect: the continuation of previous policy under another guise.
Last December, Philadelphians came out in protest of the fatal shooting of Brandon Tate-Brown by a Northeast Philadelphia police officer. I covered the event for a current affairs commentary blog. There I noted that the lack of a centralized direction caused the action somewhat to disintegrate as small groups of protesters staged sit-ins to block the flow of traffic throughout Center City, and were swiftly arrested. Had the crowd continued to act as one, I thought, they could have had greater impact as well as protect each other through the strength of numbers.
More than this, I have wondered whether BLM and the current incarnation of the black liberation movement will reach beyond the periodic protest of individual incidents of state violence toward organizing for the systemic restructuring of the apparatuses that enact that violence. This same level of organization is what is required for the instatement of truly democratic sociopolitical systems in the Arab world, systems that are built by the people and operate for the people.
In both cases, it is the people who must bring this into being. In the words of Malcolm X, “If you … wait for the one in power to make up his mind that he should end it, you’ll be waiting a long time.”