We repeatedly hear the claim that the Arab Spring came as a complete surprise and to a certain extent out of the blue. The events that occurred early last year first in Tunisia, then in Egypt and finally in Libya, events that changed the political landscape to such an extent that to call it a revolution is not an exaggeration, could not have been foreseen, even for those in the know.
The dictators apparently had too tight a hold on their positions of power, and the repressive systems perfected over decades had everything under control.
If nothing else, this assessment belies a certain professional short-sightedness among Middle East observers who could have been in a better position to see what was about to happen. For example, the Egyptian writer Alaa al-Aswani, who was born in 1957, predicted the system collapse two years before the mass demonstrations began on Tahrir Square.
"Change is now inevitable"
"If a regime," he analysed in an article published in April 2009, "relies solely on repression, it clearly loses sight of the fact that the repression apparatus, although it may be all too powerful, is made up of individuals that belong to this society and share its interests and dissatisfactions. As levels of repression grow, these individuals see themselves as increasingly unable to justify their crimes to themselves."
Sooner or later, and as a result of this, Aswani concluded, the Mubarak regime must fail and implode: "And so the regime's iron grip will be broken and it will get what it deserves. For Egypt, I believe, this day is not far off," he wrote.
A selection of some of the columns written by Aswani and published between 2005 and 2010 shows that statements such as this were not prophetic exceptions. Long before early 2011, a burgeoning opposition movement against Muburak had made its presence felt. The Kifaya movement, for example, which Aswani was also involved in, had been active since 2004, and 2008 saw the formation of the April 6 Youth Movement. "All Egyptians know", Aswani noted in November 2009, "that the current status quo is no longer sustainable or acceptable and that change is now inevitable."
By Andreas Pflitsch; Translated by Nina Coon
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