By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Like their counterparts in Algeria and Sudan, Hong Kong youths know they cannot be passive. Allegations of outside forces pulling the strings, if ever there are any, are overweighed by the thirst for liberation, dignity and rights
There are turning points in history that cannot be missed lest we get stuck in a quagmire of distressing stagnation for decades. Opportunities to jump on the bandwagon of change have to be seized at the right moment, otherwise people will be left behind, hoping for the next opportunity which might be a too long wait. Countries endowed with modern institutions take the liberty of speech, movement, civic participation, election and seeking justice in a court of law for granted. Where a different system prevails or threatens to crack down on civil liberties, crowds are rising up to have a say in shaping the future of their country.
Things seem to be changing fast in all areas, whether it has to do with international politics, world economy, innovation and technology, or in moving pawns on the chessboard of politics with its power struggles or in enhancing military capacity in different directions. A whiff of change in societal mores of a highly conservative country, a blast of wind pushing crowds against the closed ramparts of power, a hurricane threatening the solid fortifications of an uncontested major powerful country, whilst in another rising power, it is downright a tsunami that catches the world unawares. We are in for more surprises down the road.
So, amid distressing news of icebergs melting at a rapid pace, homeless bears and the hottest summer scorching people and affecting the livelihood of many, there are positive news of societies which refuse to be doomed under the weight of autocratic power, iron-fisted domination or religion-inspired fascism. It is a life-saving bond of solidarity that is binding fellow countrymen and women in a united and strong will to undo the undesirable shackles of authoritarian power that dictates key policies, curbs freedom, muzzles free speech and attempts to exercise mind control.
Maybe it is the revolutionary spirit that is associated with France and that has been rekindled by the unrelentless Yellow Vest rebels taking to the streets every Saturday, and been mediatized worldwide, which has given an impetus to other countries to rise up and say NO.
Who could have imagined some time back that things would never change in Algeria and Sudan, or no one will stand up to China? In the case of Algeria, France took care not to interfere, comment or advise; otherwise, it might have drawn criticisms of a patronizing neo-colonial intervention. It has advisedly kept a distance from the turmoil that is throwing millions of people in the streets every Friday. China tells Britain to mind its own business as regards mass protests in Hong Kong. Though reluctantly, the military is relinquishing power in Sudan, and in all likelihood, the US is waiting for the right moment to drag Omar al-Bashir to the International Court of Justice.
The wave of uprisings has surprised the world. However much the status quo of military-religious power-sharing is supported in similar countries as well as in small islands dreaming of such a model, millions of Algerians are rejecting the establishment that has governed them for a quarter of a century. They are doing it with an amazing determination, strong will and discipline. Kamel Daoud, Algerian writer, made an interesting comment on the fact that the young protesters cleaned up the streets littered with plastic bottles and wraps – something that is a common sight. He observed that, ordinarily, people did not feel that the land belonged to them; it belonged to the rulers. They are now re-appropriating the land for themselves and they have started caring for it.
He also remarked that some folks are trying their luck by huddling up in boats to cross the seas and migrate to France. They undergo a change that shows up on their faces once they set foot in the vessels of hope; these are men and women overwhelmed by a feeling of liberation and joy to mingle freely away from the surveillance of the moral police.
Remarkably, General Bouteflika, who is described as a ruler contemptuous of the people, has apologized for failing them. A far cry from Sudan’s ousted ruler. Remarkably too, young Algerian protesters, men and women, rebel with an aim but without hate in their hearts and minds. They do not hate the authorities, they just want them out. Different from the violence and rampage staged in France. They clearly define their march right from the start, and it unquestionably sounds genuine.
However much modern institutions are rejected and shunned by ideologies which want to stand out as different régimes from what is associated with the West, at the end of the day, people worldwide aspire to freedom and dignity and want to have a say in the running of affairs.
To the dismay of supporters of the military-religious-civil explosive cocktail of governance, Algerians are finally putting words on their ideals; what they want is simply expressed: a republic, secularism and solidarity. Words which translated into French have become taboo and has fed anti-western rhetoric for decades: république, laïcité et solidarité. That is what it all ends up to. That simple. It shows that they tried another style of governance and it was an illusion; it led them astray, stifling and repressive as it was, and they threw it overboard. And now that they have set the march on, they cannot stop; they will not accept half-measures.
It is an outstanding example of people taking power, giving meaning to self-rule. The latest slogan in the streets is Passive Resistance, a principle applied in independence movements in the 20th century, recalling American writer David Thoreau’s call for Non-Cooperation which influenced Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha, Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s in the US, and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
Failing economy, dependence on oil-generated wealth allegedly shared by clans close to power, and youth unemployment fuelled widespread unrest. Sudanese people take the clue from elder brother Algeria and flood the streets, but unfortunately for them, the army takes a heavy toll on young lives. Different country, different compromise. Reluctantly, the military find themselves forced to sit at the negotiating table.
In the early decades of the 21st century, Hong Kong youth surprised everyone by resolutely standing up to big power China. In a society culturally shaped like mainland China and expected to show allegiance and obedience, it looks like the youth have seized the deep meaning of what an extradition law to China actually means: a unilateral decision emanating from Beijing which can deport anyone, including foreigners in Hong Kong, to China. Notwithstanding China’s proclaimed good intentions, Hong Kong youths supported by their elders do not trust Beijing authorities, and are hell-bent on defending their rights. The proposed bill summons visions of dissenters and rights activists who are locked up in jail for years, the latest example being Liu Xiabao, one of the Tianamen Square leaders, who died of cancer in prison with no authorization to go home and meet his family.
It is in this light that the revolt in Hong Kong is set to continue unabated. Joshua Wong, one of the rebels, staged his first protest against China in 2004 at the age of 14 over the threat to bury universal suffrage. ‘Umbrella’ mothers came to understand their children’s aspirations and ideals, and bring their support to them. China’s non-negotiable position and firm resolution has engendered an equally uncompromising uprising. From a peaceful protest, the movement has turned into a violent rebellion. A revolt of an epic dimension, so unequal are the forces confronting each other.
Hong Kong youths sense what it means to be under the yoke of forces which crack down on individual rights and dignity. Above all, like their counterparts in Algeria and Sudan, they know they cannot be passive. It is now or never. Allegations of outside forces pulling the strings, if ever there are any, are overweighed by the thirst for liberation, dignity and rights.
* Published in print edition on 9 August 2019