From the DRC to Iran, should we prepare ourselves for the “death of the king”?
Joseph Kabila, the president of the somewhat Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), appears increasingly allergic to the idea of elections contained in the nation’s constitution. The government’s allergic reaction has spread to technology itself as it seeks to prevent demonstrations by cutting off all internet services, including the use of SMS. Telecommunications Minister Emery Okundji explained: “It is for reasons of state security. In response to violence that is being prepared … the government has the duty to take all measures to protect Congolese lives.”
This exemplary pronouncement allows us to consider two commonly used words whose precise meaning in political contexts is often neglected in traditional dictionaries.
Here is today’s pair of 3D definitions:
An adjective used describe the state of an event that has not yet happened but logically will happen, not because someone is actively preparing it, but because it is an inevitable reaction to the current state of affairs. By claiming that violence which doesn’t exist is being “prepared,” an authoritarian regime can affirm agency where none exists and, therefore, justify in advance dictatorial measures taken to prevent potential agents from taking any action.
The requirement to apply an imaginary law to a real situation in order to achieve what one is ashamed to admit is a selfish desire
The UN spokeswoman Florence Marchal denounced the “use of force against peaceful demonstrators” in the DRC and the “violent suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms by security forces.” Any pretense of remaining a “democratic republic” seems to have disappeared.
As the drama was developing in DRC, Iran’s government found itself facing the biggest demonstrations of discontent in a decade. In a move similar to Kabila’s but on a different scale, the Iranians have restricted access to the messaging service Telegram, used by protest organizers to promote the demonstrations. Instagram is reported to have been blocked as well. And the protests have led to a significant number of deaths and casualties, apparently following attempted assaults on police stations.
In contrast to the Congolese policy of naked, authoritarian repression, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani reaffirmed the terms of the constitution: “It should be clear to everyone that we are people of freedom. According to the constitution and citizens’ rights, people are free to express their criticism and to protest.” Accordingly, the Iranian government has allowed the protests to continue. As The Guardian notes, “Iranian officials appeared more conciliatory than in their handling of previous protests and acknowledged that some protesters have legitimate economic grievances.”
In an op-ed at Al Jazeera, Ahmad Sadri, a professor of sociology, succinctly sums up the dilemma of Iran: “Deep within Iran’s authoritarian system there is a tiny democratic heart, complete with elective, presidential and parliamentary chambers, desperately beating against an unyielding, theocratic exoskeleton.” He predicts an ongoing stalemate as the contradictions endure. Serious reform would be a workable solution but appears unlikely due to the stranglehold of the theocratic authorities. Still, Iran has a “tiny democratic heart” that seems to be missing in the DRC.
It has become common practice for governments that feel threatened by their own population to restrict use of the internet. Egypt has a particularly aggressive policy of blocking and harassing news sites. The very existence of the internet, with its global reach, has upended traditional government practices for managing the information available to the public. History alone will tell us how the governments of the future manage to deal with the availability of information, expression of opinion and mobilization of discontent in a world of communication they no longer control.
Joseph Kabila has been in power since 2001 following the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila, who had upended the 32-year reign of notorious dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1996. The chaos the entire region has experienced since the 1990s, including the Rwandan genocide and the massive bloodshed of the Second Congo War (1998-2003), have contributed to a political climate in which only strong leaders can hope to maintain control.
This is not propitious to authentic democracy. The Carter Center judged that Kabila’s second election in 2011 was characterized by massive fraud and the result lacked credibility. His regime has been unpopular ever since and his failure to respect the agreement that provided for the election of a successor in November 2016 has become an ongoing source of frustration for the Congolese people.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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