PAUL BALLES : What next?


Answers to “what are we going to do?” should extend beyond cleaning the political house.


By Paul Balles / STAFF WRITER

Protesters in Libya. Photo: Demotix

Revolutions raise more questions than answers. The prime one: What happens after the thrill of protest victory wears off?

Zen master Alan Watts once said there are only four basic questions that apply to anything:


What are we going to do?

Who’s going to do it?

How are we going to do it?

Who’s going to clean up the mess afterwards?


Protests in the streets are only part of the answer to Watt’s first question. Do the protestors know or agree upon what they want?


The desire for some kind of change is obvious.  But what change will satisfy most or all?


Peter Oborne, the Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator says, “They have been impelled into action by mass poverty and unemployment, allied to a sense of disgust at vast divergences of wealth and grotesque corruption.”


Will removal of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali or Hosni Mubarak or Ali Abdullah Saleh respond to the problems of “mass poverty and unemployment?”


What’s to be done about the “vast divergences of wealth and grotesque corruption referred to by Oborne?”


What about those not actually involved in the demonstrations?  How many Tunisians, Egyptians or Yemenis were actually among the protestors? Hundreds of thousands?


What about the rest of the populations (more than 80 million in Egypt)?  Do the demonstrators represent them? Should the protestors make decisions about what to do simply because they took part in the shouting and waving of arms and flags?


Oborne questioned the popular belief that the revolutionary activity was stimulated by social networking.


He wrote, “Far from being inspired by Twitter, a great many of Arab people who have driven the sensational events of recent weeks are illiterate.”


The last I heard, Egyptian males have a literacy rate of 83%, with females at 59.4%. In Tunisia, it’s 78% for all.


While these are a long way from the 90% to 100% rates of 98 countries, they don’t preclude the use of social media like Twitter to organize the youth.


However, not even 83% literacy can solve the post demonstration problems.  There are those who want constitutional changes.  Others look for leaders who will not follow in the footsteps of their predecessors.


Then there are dreamers who hope that employment and elimination of poverty will somehow come out of a genii’s bottle.


Protestors look back with obsessions about the ills that brought them into the streets. As long as the past commands attention, the question of “who” cannot be focused on tomorrow.


Answers to “what are we going to do?” should extend beyond cleaning the political house.


Some semblance of unity must preclude the choice of “who’s going to do it?” Things don’t simply run by themselves. Post revolutions require leaders to take over the task of putting humpty dumpty back together again.


If supreme councils or parliaments could lead, the loudly touted democracies wouldn’t need presidents or prime ministers or cabinets to run things.


How much do the demonstrators take into account the need for leaders with the expertise or experience necessary to make the decisions that keep a country functioning?


The mess to be cleaned up afterward includes recovering an economy wrecked by the revolution.


The Egyptian economy, for example, depends heavily on a tourist trade that is now in shambles.


Dear protestors, in getting rid of one problem, you have created another that may be harder on your pocket book than the one you eliminated.


The problems you create will be greater than the ones you solve. Look at the history of any revolution. Then go home and start answering Watt’s questions.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Paul J. Balles is a retired American university professor and freelance writer who has lived in the Middle East for many years. He’s a weekly Op-Ed columnist for the GULF DAILY NEWS . Dr. Balles is also Editorial Consultant for Red House Marketing and a regular contributor to Bahrain This Month.


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