CBC Toronto - Photo By Timothy Neesam

Tahrir in Toronto

The Arab revolutions: restoring dignity, freedom and social justice

by Teenaz Javat

Atif Kubursi
Atif Kubursi (courtesy Atif Kubursi)

"When dignity is equal to bread, nothing else matters," says Atif Kubursi, a Lebanese-born Professor of Economics at McMaster University. "It is a necessary human function, and the past few weeks have indicated that it is not going to be muzzled any more."

According to Statistics Canada's 2006 census, over 500,000 people of Arab origin live and work in Canada, so it's obvious that the upheavals in the Middle East will be reflected on the streets of Canadian cities, especially Toronto, where the majority of them can be found.

Kubursi has experienced the action of a police state first hand. A dinner invitation to a fellow academic's house in Tunisia a couple of months ago was like a warning for what was yet to come.

"My host in Tunisia had to get permission from the internal ministry to host a gathering of more than six non-family members in his own house. How invasive can this be?" says Kubursi.

"Is it then a surprise that people flock to the mosque, which was the only legitimate place to congregate and discuss politics? The west supports proxy dictators who push their citizens toward abject primordial politics, and then they wish church and state could be separate," he adds.

Virtual Congregation

It is at this point where social media steps in. Facebook allowed for virtual congregation as it offered up a place to meet without ever having to leave the house. People did not need permission from the state to talk, chat or exchange ideas. In fact, the vegetable vendor who set himself on fire in a small Tunisian town ignited a revolution that toppled two dictators in one month.

Facebook tent
Protesters sit next to their tent, decorated with the logos of Facebook and Twitter in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, March 9, 2011. In Arabic, the writing on the tent reads" Mohsen al-Badi, freedom revolutionary and political activist," and "our Egyptian revolution needs all Arab countries." (CP/Maya Alleruzzo)

Abdalla Ruken
Abdalla Ruken (courtesy Abdalla Ruken)

"This time I have hope"

"Revolutions never fail. Give me one example of a revolution that has failed. It had its peaks and troughs and so will this," says soft-spoken Libyan-Canadian Abdalla Ruken.

Born in Benghazi, Libya, he came to Canada when he was 19. A nuclear physicist from McMaster University, Ruken, who now works as an investment banker, is not one to mince words.

"I believed I could make a change in Libya several years ago, so I went back to Benghazi University to teach physics. But the regime stifled every attempt at research, both for the students and for me," says Ruken who returned to Canada when he realized Libya was taking him and his students nowhere.

"But this time I have hope. There will be more blood shed but the people will win. The revolution or "thawra" as it is called in Arabic is part of a pan Arab narrative which is not isolated to just Tunisia or Egypt."

"Believe me it will spread," says Ruken, who still has family living in Libya.

Fathi Terbil
Fathi Terbil (Al-Arabiya TV)

Terbil the trigger

Each revolution has a catalyst and, in Libya, it was a 39-year-old lawyer named Fathi Terbil.

He represented the families of the 1,200 prisoners who were massacred in an uprising against Moummar Gadhafi in 1996. Terbil's brother was one of those killed in Tripoli's Abu Salim prison.

Terbil held regular protests outside a Benghazi courthouse to demand justice. It was there that he was arrested on February 15, 2011. The arrest cascaded into protests ahead of the planned Day of Rage across Libya.

According to Ruken, what Libyans are looking for is: to get rid of the old guard; purge the political system and start with a clean slate.

"It's okay if there is a power vacuum,' adds the Libyan banker. "Its far better to having an Iraq-like situation, as we do not trust the neo-cons. Not having a political party is important. The revolution will throw up new leadership, that way the leader will be from the grassroots as opposed to an imposed leadership from outside."

Amal Abuzgaya
Amal Abuzgaya (courtesy Amal Abuzgaya)

"We are prepared"

The Canadian Arab Federation, which represents 22 Arab League countries in Canada, has had a pivotal role in helping the less than a thousand Libyans organize rallies across Canada.

According to Libyan-Canadian Amal Abuzgaya, "Gadhafi will not stop at anything. There will be a lot more blood shed before this ends. The people of Libya and the Libyan diaspora know Gadhafi better than anyone else, and we are prepared. It is not going to be non-violent like Egypt or Tunisia," says the McMaster student.

"We are prepared for the bloodshed if it means our people will get their dignity back. The revolts are as much about dignity as much as they are about democracy," she adds.

Your thoughts

Tell us what you think the revolts are about.