Anger of young people in the Arab countries continues to boil, as demonstrations against cruel dictators are growing in Syria and continue elsewhere. Anger, as always, indicates a feeling of having been victimized by a known perpetrator. When someone or something has “done it” to us, damaged our lives in some way, our response is to be angry. That’s the nature of anger, and always true when we have that feeling.
Anger inspires change. But anger itself does not create change. Angry voices are incapable of planning and creating. That’s because anger overwhelms thinking. Protests that howl with dissatisfaction do not offer a better way. Only once anger has subsided does the thoughtful work of planning begin.
In the later days of the protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo, you see no angry faces. The pictures showed happy people. They had moved on from their anger and were busy creating history, flush with confidence and supported by social media connections that thousands of colleagues were along for the ride.
Today’s young Arab protesters—and they include men and women in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s as well as teenagers—feel connected because they are connected. The feeling of connection, which is at the heart of emotions such as love, helps them pass through anger more quickly. That’s the way the human emotional system works. Their parents, by contrast, felt the same anger for years but were powerless against oppressors because they felt alone. Knowing they would be punished for speaking out, they swallowed their anger and kept silent. Who could blame them?
Political protesters have a relationship of purpose with, and a kind of basic affection for, vast numbers of people. They know that if one of them is singled out for punishment, everybody else will hear about it immediately and can respond.
Arab Spring has showed the world that forces of repression can no longer divide and conquer those who oppose them as they used to. Social media connections make it impossible to divide; the sheer number of the opposition makes it futile to try to conquer. In this way the structural balance of power is shifting from the few to the many. Only where dictators are willing to use deadly force, as in Libya, can the old power structure have a chance of prevailing. And even then not for long.
Anger at injustice generated the revolutions of Arab spring. Social media enabled them. Millions of Egyptians, Tunisians and others are discovering that when you feel that you control your own destiny, there is nobody to be angry at. Let’s see how quickly the creative forces of hope and love can generate viable structures to replace the evil that inspired so much anger.