Call for Change

February 24, 2013 | By More

In countries where regimes have not been changed or descended into violent confrontations,
citizens have in many cases forced the governments to engage them in dialogue aimed at
reforming or reconfiguring the constitutional systems. If the changes that emanate from such
discussions are deemed superficial, citizens will no doubt return to the streets to demand real
change, as we have witnessed already in several countries.

These developments point to the ultimate issues at stake in the Arab revolts, the prize, if you
will: national sovereignty and self-determination. The contest over sovereignty has been at the
heart of the confrontation between citizens and ruling authorities since December, but it dates
back decades. It is about who holds ultimate power, who is in charge of decision-making in the
nominally independent Arab countries. Most national decisions in Arab countries for much of
the past century have been made by small groups of unelected men who dominate the political
elite with their security services. A widely shared public sentiment across the region is that Arab
ruling elites have responded more to the dictates of foreign powers than to their own people.
When decisions have been made internally, they have primarily carried out the interests of the
ruling families and their cronies, or the security and military systems that were the ultimate
powers. Nowhere in national decision-making did ordinary Arab citizens feel that their voices
were heard, or that their rights and sentiments mattered.

Egypt is once again the region-wide test case of what happens at this delicate and probably
decisive transitional moment. The demonstrators who returned to Tahrir Square and other
city centers across the country in June and July, before suspending their protests for the holy
month of Ramadan in August—and those who continue to take to the streets in Syria, Libya,
Bahrain and Yemen—want to make power answerable to the will of the citizenry. Through the
instrument of citizen sovereignty, Arabs are struggling to shed the ugly and embarrassing legacy
of modern statehood, in which they enjoyed independence without real self-determination
and citizens for the most part never had an opportunity to define national values, governance
systems, ideologies or policies.

The Arab Awakening is in the first stages of creating a citizen-based sovereignty that values
social justice and equal opportunity. It is an audacious quest, for Mohamed Bouazizi and the
millions of Arabs inspired by him, just as it was for Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement in
the American South.

Category: Arab uprising

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