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The Unimaginable Arab Revolution


Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is traveling to Europe and the turbulent Middle East this week as the situation in Libya worsens. The recent ouster of Autocratic rulers in Egypt and Tunisia is something that KUNC commentator Pius Kamau thought would never happen.


For many people with a significant grasp of history Hosni Mubarak’s rule of Egypt was shameful and intolerable. But then he was only one of many corrupt Arab and African tyrants who have been kept in power with America’s support and financial backing. It has thus been an amazing historical turn to watch the changes that can take place in a single month.

The unlikely spark of events in North Africa has been told often. Still it’s worthwhile recounting, if only to show how momentous events can have inauspicious beginnings. Self-sacrifice with fire seems to have a passionate effect on the human imagination. When a Saigon Buddhist monk set himself ablaze in 1963 it quickly led to the fall of the Diem regime during the Vietnam War. In Tunisia recently – a 26-year-old fruit vendor, Mohammed Bouazazi, complained to authorities about his market stall only to be humiliated by the police. In abject despair he doused himself with gasoline and died. A month later Tunisians took to the streets to protest his maltreatment and the corrupt rule of Tunisia. This led to the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s rule of greed and corruption.  

I followed the storm of protest in Tunisia with extreme interest. It was clear to me that conditions were ripe for the protest to spill over to other countries.  I couldn’t however envisage that Hosni Mubarak, a modern era pharaoh, could be uprooted by his poor subjects. Nor did many Americans, including our professional pundits. A lot of sometimes loud acrimonious back and forth took place, with some stating that the Obama administration had not supported Mubarak, and by extension, Egypt’s peace accord with Israel, forcefully enough. To them, America’s interests in the Middle East were the most important thing and human rights of the people of the region was not America’s concern.

For me Egyptians had suffered long enough under Mubarak and deserved to enjoy the rights that Americans take for granted. So, I celebrated the efforts of the Arab youth whose Internet savvy made it all possible. As I watched the throngs in Cairo’s Tahrir Square I knew that Sub Saharan Africa would not catch the viral infection of freedom and democracy. The scenes I saw in Cairo could never be repeated in Zimbabwe or Uganda. Non Arab Africa, home to some of the world’s most vicious tyrants, has little appetite for revolutions or change in their stale status quo. The only good news was from one small corner, South Sudan’s referendum had gone off without a hitch and a new nation was about to be born. And on a hopeful note Black Africa’s youth are watching what their Arab counterparts have wrought and it won’t be long before they too assemble in their Freedom Squares across the continent.  I just hope I’m still alive to witness it.


Born in Kenya and trained in Spain, Pius Kamau has been in surgical practice in the Denver area for three decades. He was a columnist for The Rocky Mountain News and has written for The Denver Post. Kamau’s commentaries have also been featured on NPR, in the Huffington Post and other national magazines and newspapers. He’s also contributed to several books and recently finished his memoir.
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