by Alok Sood MD., with Niru Kumar
Mahatma Gandhi would be proud; his legacy to the world found new expression this past month throughout the Arab World.
What started with the desperate act of self-immolation by a fruit seller in Tunisia blossomed into a Gandhian non-violent protest and civil disobedience by hundreds of thousands of people in at least eight countries. A regional domino effect of passions ignited.
There is something exciting that stirs the soul and unites humanity when democratic will is being exerted in such grand fashion.
As a South Asian Canadian, I am proud of Gandhi’s gift to humanity: satyagraha or peaceful, passive resistance. The people of Egypt and Tunisia achieved their goals of ousting entrenched and corrupt autocratic rulers while never ceding the moral high ground. It was a civic movement in the truest sense of the word, swelling in numbers from the ground up until the ruling party of the day was stripped of any moral and legal governing authority.
I can only imagine what it would be like to be an Egyptian on the streets of Cairo today.
I have experienced first-hand the delirious euphoria of sudden freedom after decades of repression when I visited the Czech Republic as a backpacker in 1990. It had been mere months since the collapse of the Berlin wall and the lifting of the iron curtain. The vibe in the street was electric and the joy of the masses palpable. Smiles were everywhere and crowds were bountiful. Street performers entertained on grand promenades and everyone, locals and tourists alike, felt incredibly alive.
As Canadians, we are blessed to have never needed a revolution to be granted our basic civil and political freedoms, including the fundamental right to free expression. The Constitution Act and the more recent Charter of Rights and Freedoms assure citizens of their fundamental rights in civic society. Canada exemplifies not only democracy as an ideology, but also the application of democratic principles.
Since the founding of this great nation, Quebec’s distinct language and culture within mainstream Canada has been the subject of intensely divergent political views, with some arguing for a bilingual and united Canada, while others argue for outright secession. Passionate supporters of a separate Quebec periodically resurrect the issue and bring the tension to a boiling point. Anyone who lived in Montreal in 1980 or 1995 bore witness to large-scale political demonstrations. I, myself, took part in the massive pro-Canada (anti-separation) rallies in 1995. A hundred thousand people uniting for a single purpose is simply electric. It is nothing short of democratic expression in all its glory.
So, while I have never visited Egypt or Tunisia and should otherwise feel no particular affiliation with their people, I can’t help but feel proud of them and wish, for a brief moment in time, that I were Egyptian so that I could revel in the toppling of a corrupt regime and witness first-hand the emergence of a democracy in a region that has never known it. Since this is not possible, I will simply wish them well and smile proudly that this was all achieved through Gandhian means.