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The Age of Restlessness

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The Cambridge Dictionary defines restlessness as the inability to stay still or to be quiet and calm, because one is either worried or bored. This definition by and large sums up the mood of the empowered electorate when viewed against the backdrop of the pandemonium to which they have been subjecting metropolises across the world.

The time now is 6 PM GMT. As dusk deepens in Britain, the nation is still limping back to normalcy, trying to come to terms with the some of the worst riots ever seen in this country. Those of us who are privileged to live through this period, will balk at not only the profiles of these rioters but also the absurd rationale which they had for rioting. What is more worrying about this entire episode was that an overwhelming majority of the rioters were youth, restless youth.

Just six months ago, the Arab Spring arrived most unexpectedly. The land of the Pharaohs, Egypt, was not exactly where the revolution began, but it was where it attained critical mass. The intense cries of indignation from its citizens at Tahrir Square, now gone down in history, eventually pushed the government over the edge. At the time of the protests, unemployment in Egypt was at 11.9 percent, with youth unemployment figures at an all-time high of 25 percent! 25 percent of unemployed restless youth cannot be permanently kept on the hookah or playing soccer.

The Egyptian revolution set the stage for the other neighborhood revolutions to come. Since February though, a whole lot of water has flowed under the bridge and in some cases flooded it too. Yemen, Syria and Libya also routed for change and their restless children spilled out onto the streets carrying anti-incumbent placards demanding change. The glimmer of hope that they had seen occur in a country that was ruled for 30 years by a despot and his family just seemed to ignite a fire in their bellies and a belief that nothing is impossible.

Syria though is quite different from Egypt. Its problems are more concerned with the absence of political freedoms, such as freedom of the press, freedom of expression, etc., combined with the tyrannical rule of the Baath party and its leaders since 1963. Extortion, extra-judicial killings and the like are some of the crimes of which the administration is guilty. In fact, one could note the impunity with which President Bashar used tanks and marshalled his troops to dispose of protesters. Syria’s youth nevertheless, are restless for change and they march on, despite the odds stacked heavily against them.

The breaking news on TV today is that of the rumors of Colonel Gaddafi’s disappearance and alleged departure from Libya. Rebel troops are said to be in control of most of Tripoli. This would mean that after months of casualties on both sides of the battlefield, another dictator, at least for now, seems to have bowed out (not confirmed yet). This outcome, despite the odds of the trigger-happy and brutal rampaging army of Gaddafi, would only serve to embolden the Syrian protesters even more.

Halfway across the world, in the world’s largest democracy, India, another kind of movement is gathering momentum. If the events that have unfolded since January of this year have anything to tell us, it is probably that corruption or the continuous lust for the spoils of office is an inherent part of almost any system. In India, it took the shape of a 73-year-old national award winner cum civil activist, who is now on an indefinite hunger strike unless his version of an anti-corruption piece of legislation is passed in parliament as law!

Anna Hazare’s audacity in expecting the impossible can be attributed to the massive support that he has been getting from nearly all strata of society. At last count, close to 60,000 people had gathered at Ram Lila grounds in Delhi, where his fast is in progress. When questioned, most of his supporters echoed the fact that they were so sick and tired of corruption and that unless an ultimatum is presented to the government, it won’t act.Anna Hazare

Interestingly, hoards of restless supporters (who number in the thousands) can be seen sloganeering in cities all across the country, with only one man’s name on their lips: Anna Hazare; enough to give any government sleepless nights. 

What started of as a promising Arab Spring has now led to an awakening of the restless masses. The laissez-faire approach once prevalent almost seems to have disappeared overnight, giving way to a group of citizens who are demanding what should already have been theirs. Whether it’s from the tyrannically ruled states or the democratic ones, their voices are clear … we are in the age of restlessness.

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