- Politics and Social Issues
10 Successful Political Revolutions that actually weren’t
Without a doubt, revolutions have played a large part in shaping our planet. One such event was the politically (and socially) significant French revolution of 1789 which popularized the phrase “Rights of Man and of the Citizen”. The 1789 revolution influenced the decline of absolute monarchies in Europe and the growth of more liberal values.
However, many other revolutions have failed to have such long-term positive influences. At the end of the Revolutionary War, Americans were fortunate to have the guidance of the founding fathers. Others people in similar upheavals haven’t been so lucky. As history shows, the most significant part of any revolution is what happens when the dust settles. The worst possible thing to happen would be the hijacking and corruption of the ideals that inspired the revolution.
Sadly, this has (more often than not) been the case…
10 Iraq’s Purple Revolution
The Iraqi legislative elections of 2005 were supposed to symbolize the end of Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule and the beginning of democracy. At the polling stations, Iraqis who voted were marked on their index finger with purple ink-stain to prevent voter fraud. Thus war proponents coined the term ‘purple revolution’ as a reference to the color revolutions that brought democracy to states like the Ukraine and Lebanon.
Sadly, the new Shi’a-dominated government did little to cultivate unity in a highly sectarian state. Shi’as, who after years of oppression under Saddam’s regime, saw a chance for retribution! Instead of democracy, Iraqis found themselves in an extremely violent sectarian conflict. A Shiite militia group (Mahdi Army) was formed to protect Shi’a interest which involved the expulsion of the occupying American and British forces. Furthermore, the Shi’a militia became the infamous death squads that terrorized the Sunni minority. And in response, Iraqi Sunnis welcomed al-Qaeda with open hands – before they realized how toxic the group would be.
In recent years, the US and its allies have left Iraq. But, unfortunately, the sectarian divide is proving too hard a gap to bridge. ISIL, a radical and well-organized terror group that even Al Qaeda finds too extreme, is the cancer exploiting the chaos. It has sadly reached a point where Saddam’s sadistic reign is seen as the good old days.
9 Tea Party movement
In 2009, CNBC’s Rick Santelli appeared on a popular YouTube video ranting against Obama’s proposed bailout of homeowners facing mortgage foreclosure. The popularity of the video made it evident that a significant number of Americans shared his views. Thus, the Tea Party movement came into existence. Predictably, the movement’s ideology appealed to right-wing conservatives who were for fiscal responsibility, limited government and free markets. Obamacare, illegal immigration and the bank bailouts were just a few of the issues that rankled them.
Though it attracted prominent Republicans like Ron Paul, and former vice-president hopeful Sarah Palin, the movement’s anti-establishment campaign didn’t spare the Republican leadership. The movement argued that the Republican establishment hadn’t done enough to combat the Democrats. The movement’s decentralized form of leadership ensured that no one person could claim overall leadership. Tea Partiers also chose to avoid social issues which had, in recent years, hurt the Republican conservatives at the polls.
Unfortunately, the 2010 midterm elections proved to be the peak of its influence. The movement’s decentralized (laissez-faire) structure proved to be its downfall. With no clear path to follow, some members veered off course and weighed in on contentious social issues. The movement’s opponent were therefore able to cripple it. Thus, before the Tea Party could make as big an impact as Obama’s ‘yes we can’ brigade, Republicans politicians started shying away. The Tea Party had become toxic. After the 2012 re-election of Barack Obama, it was apparent that right-wing extremist views of the Tea Party would not fly with Independent voters, let alone the liberals.
8 Post-colonial Africa
After years of unsuccessful uprisings against imperial Europe, the Second World War proved to be a blessing in disguise for Africans. The war took a huge toll on the major colonial powers like Britain, Germany, Belgium, France and Portugal. And with Europe in a rebuilding phase, Africans saw a chance to successfully agitate for their freedom. One after the other, African colonies gained their independence.
Unfortunately for a newly liberated African populous, a certain disturbing trend began to emerge. The African leaders who came into power in post-colonial Africa were either corrupt or too weak to stop the exploitation of a largely illiterate population. A good example was Nigeria, which endured countless military dictatorships, institutional corruption and a devastating civil war (1967-70). The country only came to experience a stable democracy after the end of the Sani Abacha-led dictatorship in 1999. Sadly, regions like Somalia, the Congo and Southern Sudan seem unable to escape a chronic circle of violence.
What’s more, Africans have also struggled against the neo-colonialist nature of their relationships with their former masters. Countries like Britain and France still hold a significant social and economic influence on their former colonies.
7 American Civil war
Fearing the pro-abolitionist movement of the north, seven southern states seceded from the Union in 1861. Consequently, the confederacy came into existence under the leadership of Jefferson Davis. The fact that Abraham Lincoln was pro-abolition didn’t help matters. Lincoln lobbied for the support of the blacks with a promise to end slavery. As a result, the south were outnumbered and lost. The Union remained secure.
Sadly, the abolition of slave labor turned out to be a false dawn for the freed slaves. Even as free individuals, they faced discrimination in a racist society. The promise of freedom soon faded away and all that was left was the constant fear of persecution by white supremacists like the Ku Klux Klan. Thus, slavery-free America proved to marginally better than what they had experienced in the plantations.
It was only in the 20th century and the advent of the civil rights movement that African Americans started seeing signs that the future could be better.
6 Fall of Apartheid
The Apartheid regime established one of the most oppressive post-colonial state in Africa. The Afrikaner-dominated National Party came into power in 1948 and proceeded to racially segregate the local population. Sadly, blacks got the shortest end of the stick. They were stripped of citizenship and banished to isolated regions called Bantustans. Their constant dehumanization forced them to stand up and fight under the leadership of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress.
After extensive pressure from within and outside South Africa, the country rid itself of the Apartheid ideology. Consequently, Nelson Mandela became the first black South African president. Mandela advocated for a racial tolerant South Africa under the banner ‘the Rainbow Nation’. This was greatly symbolized by the image of Mandela celebrating with South Africa’s victorious all-white Rugby team at the 1995 World Cup.
In retrospect, Mandela’s one term probably wasn’t the wisest choice for South Africa. The proposed Rainbow Nation has failed to materialize. Black South Africans, after years of discrimination, have yet to bridge the economic and social divide between them and the minority whites. Furthermore, economic and social frustrations have led to the creation of a new concern of xenophobia. Subsequent South African governments have failed to capitalize on Mandela’s achievements.
5 The Haitian revolt
Haiti was once a French colony known as St. Domingue and shared the island of Hispaniola with the Spanish colony of Santa Domingo (Dominican Republic). The colony had a complex social structure. The whites included planters and the petit blancs - artisans, teachers and shop owners. The blacks included slaves, freed slaves and runaways. Incidentally, freed slaves included mulattos, some of whom owned plantations and slaves. At its peak, the colony became the most profitable in the Americas.
With Paris in chaos due to the French Revolution, a three-way civil war broke out in the colony. While the white planters, freed slaves and petit blancs fought over influence on the colony, the black slaves saw an opportunity to free themselves. Under the leadership of Toussaint l’Overture, a freed slave, the black slaves revolted. By the revolt’s end, the slaves had fought for and against the imperial rivals of France and England – defeating both. The slaves united the island under Toussaint l’Overture’s rule. Unfortunately, l’Overture was captured by Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces and died in prison. However, the island went on to gain complete independence in 1804. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, one of I’Overture’s lieutenants became the leader of the new state. That is, until his assassination in 1806 put an end to his tyrannical rule. The ensuring political struggle would lead to the break-up of the island into Haiti and the Dominican Republic
Sadly, the successful Haitian revolt had consequences that would haunt the small Caribbean state for years to come. The mulatto became the elite while blacks remained poor. The French demanded payment in exchange for diplomatic recognition. And with the lucrative plantation economy gone, Haiti spiralled deeper into poverty. Additionally, decades of violent, corrupt and inept leadership did little to ease the suffering of Haitians. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Haiti sits on the region's principal hurricane track!
With the Weimar Republic failing miserably and the economic crash in the 30s, Germany found itself in trouble. Having borrowed heavily from the Americans in order to sustain the economy, Germany felt the full impact of the economic meltdown. Suddenly, the middle class fell into absolute poverty and the poor were left begging on the streets.
Amidst the frustration and anger, arose an enigmatic leader. Adolf Hitler brought with him an aggressive ideology that offered hope to a desperate public. The fact that it was a dangerously racist ideology was diluted by the highly effective xenophobic propaganda of the Nazi regime. Overnight, Hitler transformed Germany from a pauper state to an impressive war machine. Unfortunately, the Third Reich was built on the backs of the undesirables.
Thus, for nearly a decade, Germans lived in a kind of racist bubble. Thankfully, the bubble would end up bursting violently with the loss of World War II. By the time the Soviet Red Army reached Berlin, Germany was in complete ruins and most of the Nazi leadership had cowardly abandoned the sinking ship – many through suicide. The Third Reich proved to be a Nazi delusion that brought a once proud people to their knees.
3 Arab spring
When Mohamed Bouazizi–a simple trader–martyred himself on the streets of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisians were finally fed up with a failed social-political system. A month later and President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had fled to Saudi Arabia. Change was in the air and highly infectious! The Egyptians followed suite by getting rid of Hosni Mubarak. Thus, began the Arab Spring and the Middle East would never be the same again.
The Middle East and North Africa descended into chaos as people showed their frustration at systems that had kept them down for decades. Dictators were the most vulnerable as proven by the fact only Assad in Syria was left standing - barely! Unsurprisingly, monarchies survived probably because of their complex - mostly religious - hold on the population.
The Arab Spring was a promise of a new democratic Middle East. Sadly, what the people got were either minimalistic changes in the same monarchy-driven societies as seen in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan, or democratically-challenged states like Egypt and the slightly better off Tunisia. Worse still, some regions fell into complete anarchy like in Libya, Iraq and Yemen. Now, they are playgrounds for the world’s worst terror groups.
2 October Revolution
It took two phases of the Russian revolution of 1917 to topple the mighty Russian empire. The February revolution may have brought an end to the Romanov dynasty, but, it was the October revolution that gave life to the Soviet Union.
Most Russians, a majority of whom were poor, couldn’t hide their relief when Tsar Nicholas II’s inept and oppressive regime went out of existence. The new communist idealists lead by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky promised a new kind of socialist utopia. What could go wrong?
Unfortunately, Vladimir Lenin’s death in 1924 proved to be the opportunity a young, ambitious Josef Stalin needed to grab power and establish a communist autocracy. Thus ended the promise of a socialist paradise and the beginning of a political dystopia that only a political fiction writer like George Orwell could imagine. From enemies to close friends, none were immune to Stalin’s wrath. Those who avoided execution usually ended up in one the many gulags in Siberia.
Thus a revolution that promised change for the better brought even more misery for the Russian people and their neighbours.
1 Yes we can
When Barack Obama - the little-known senator from Illinois - made his famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, many observers were moved by his non-partisan attitude. Thus began the ‘yes we can’ movement that would see him at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C by the end of the 2008 elections.
This movement promised a revolution in American politics. It promised to end bi-partisan politics on Capitol Hill. This was like music to the majority of the electorate; an electorate that was dissatisfied with the quagmire that congress had dissolved into. With Barack Obama as its figurehead, the movement swept its way into power with a promise of change that Americans could believe in.
If only it were that easy! 2 terms later and the American political system is as divisive as or even worse than it was before. As David Axelrod put it, "First of all, there was this expectation that if Obama got elected, the whole world would change overnight and that political combatants would drop their arms and hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya' and we'd all march forward together as one big happy family. That was never in the cards!”