Tuesday, 8 October 2013

On the slogan "The people want to bring down the regime"

From the outbreak of protests in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid in December 2010, the chant “The people want to bring down the regime” (الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام) became the enduring slogan of the Arab Spring.  It rose out from Tahrir Square and was seen in graffiti on walls and regime buildings. It was after a group of boys sprayed the phrase on a wall in Dera’a and were subsequently arrested, that the Syrian the uprising began.  A number of variations appeared such as “The people want a President who doesn’t dye his hair”, directed at Egyptian President Mubarak.
It was not surprising that the slogan originated in Tunisia. It echoes the famous final verses of the national anthem written by the poet Abu al-Qasim al-Shabi:

إذا الشعب يوما أراد الحياة
فلا بدّ أن يستجيب القدر
ولا بد لليل أن ينجلي
ولا بد للقيد أن ينكسر

When the people will to live,
Destiny must surely respond.
Oppression shall then vanish.
Fetters are certain to break.

Salma Jayyusi’s translation (“Modern Arabic Poetry” (Columbia University Press) is:

When people choose
To live by life’s will,
Fate can do nothing but give in;
The night discards its veil,
All shackles are undone.
What resonates most powerfully in the slogan is the emphatic singularity of ‘the people’ (الشعب); the recognition of their resolve as a unified entity. Abu al-Qasim’s version is in the conditional, with the Arabic verb ‘want’ in the past tense. Now, in the squares of Tunisia and Egypt the verb is in the present tense reflecting the revolutionary furore of the moment.

The slogan also reminds us of the preamble to United States constitution “We the people”, but the latter instates an intercessor- the ‘We’ behind which rests the pen of the Founding Fathers. The Arabic slogan needs no intermediary. With direct resolve the people are breaking into political arena and shout the slogan with one voice.

Reference: الشعب يريد : بحث جذري في الانتفاضة العربية by جلبير الأشقر (Dar Al-saaqi, 2013)

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