Azadi, Tahrir, freedom, libertion, the word is different in every language but an essential moral concept in each and the idea behind it is the same everywhere--the aspiration one of the highest in every human being. Liberté is the first of the three words that sustained the French Revolution of 1789 (liberté, égalité, fraternité) and later the word the poet Paul Eluard said he was writing on the walls of the world. The Gulag, concentration camps, prisons, the misery of our world in too-familiar images of people held in chains, dreaming only of flight, are all the harsh symbols of lack of freedom. No less real are the invisible shackles on people forced to live under a despised and powerful regime that denies them this essential aspect of humanity, freedom.
Things may seem normal on the surface, people may be seen as living their life and going about their business, but the reality is different. Look at Egypt over the past few decades, look at Tunisia, go down the list of these miserable Middle Eastern countries where potentates grow richer and nastier by the day while liberties are curtailed, while freedom of expression and the right to protest and to hold inept and corrupt governments accountable are completely inexistent.
Today, after Tunisia, Egypt seems to have taken off its shackles. An ugly dictator is gone, replaced by a nameless entity called the army. No one can tell yet in what direction the situation will evolve. A benevolent military rule or a harsher one, suppressing dissent? Power-sharing with different factions eventually moving toward a democratic process? A bottom-up gradual takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood? Who knows?
The fact is that the only region of the world to remain impervious to any kind of democratic process is now shaken by deep societal change and the status quo is no longer possible. It may take years, it may take more brutality and a temporary falling into more rigid theocracies or military/paramilitary domination but the wave of transformation that has gradually changed all of Latin America and many African countries is now licking at the feet of the appalling regimes of the Middle East.
Right now, the process is worrisome and the outcome unclear. The one certainty is that no matter what happens and how long it will take, the Iranian people will have come full circle and break free of the loathsome religious element that has stifled us for so long. Freedom may become a reality sooner rather than later in the Middle Eastern country that unleashed this plague upon the world thirty-two years ago. In Iran at least, secularism will, in the not distant future, help us find our way to azadi.
May the rest of the countries of the region follow.
Saïdeh Pakravan is the author of the just-published novel Azadi: Protest in the Streets of Tehran.
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