Beginning with a short recitation of the Quran, a committee room at the House of Lords held an audience with Mr Hatem Atallah who spoke on the subject of the Tunisian revolution. Neither planned nor organized, change came from deep within the people where, as he said, ‘The movement was it’s own leader.’
As the first revolution in the region there was no template to follow and unlike subsequent calls for political change, the Tunisians didn’t opt to make amendments to their constitution, they preferred instead the option of effectively starting from scratch; a process which is on-going even today.
Dr Noureddine Miladi, a lecturer in Media Studies and Sociology, joined the ambassador. He contextualized the change with the example of the French revolution which took some 70 years, resulting in the death of thousands,. Tunisia’s change took place in a matter of weeks without such a grand loss of life. And while technology has played an important part in initiating change, the country – like any – requires a grand change in it’s culture.
Corruption of course is nothing new, but cultural change cannot take place overnight, it is a process of education, spanning perhaps a generation, if not more. The example of citizenship was given, how any Brit traveling abroad, should they need help can simply contact the embassy and benefit from immediate support. I had to pause and ponder on singular point. Here, there is a direct relationship between myself as a citizen, and my nation, where it’s representatives work not for their own gain, but to serve the people.
And this was the message both men pressed, the need to educate those in the police that they serve the people, those in political office, that they serve the people. To build on the notion that unlike other Arab states where citizens are disenfranchised, here the citizens felt a sense of empowerment, they felt as if they had a voice, had respect. Yet despite this dramatic change in mindset, the media empire which days before the revolution was pandering to the whims of the political ruling class, focuses it’s energy on finding fault.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it seems as if the established media channels, are insisting that it is. This unreal expectation is being pushed onto the wider populace, and while at present the impact is minimal, over time it may counter the success already gained. All the while very real concerns exist, such as the addressing the 800,000 who are unemployed, improving trade relations, establishing wider levels of security to allow for tourism, etc. The international community at large has and continues to speak of the Tunisian example, while the people do not want charity, they should, like the rest of us, be presented with opportunity.
The evening allowed those of us with an interest the opportunity to speak with an interact with an ambassador who can be described as a career professional, a marked difference to a political appointee. There must be a sense of unease amongst other Arab nations, many of whose rulers continue to appease their populations with empty promises, that if it has happened in Tunisia it can happen to them. And sadly, we see different approaches to addressing this fear, from some of the wealthier nations increasing their allowances to their citizens, to other nations openly oppressing their citizens.
Perhaps the most troubling comment from the evening happened to be a remark from Lord Sheikh, our host from the evening, who stated that he has met President Assad of Syria saying that he is a nice man, and it is those around him who are not. The statement left many of us in shock, and it’s perhaps the first time I feel the need to openly disagree with him. Whatever the truth of the matter, the slaughter of one’s own citizens in such a shameless way, is a sad example of how the ‘Arab Spring’ hasn’t had the same effect across the region.
Some weeks ago at the launch of the Hajj exhibition at the British Museum, representatives from the Saudi government were at the opening. While they spoke surprising well, I still felt a sense of unease. By contrast, as the ambassador of Tunisia spoke, I felt a sense of calm. And with that in mind, if indeed the ‘Arab spring’ can bring more like the ambassador to the forefront of change, then despite it taking time, change will be for the better.