Images of inhumane atrocities are burned into our memories. The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, the destruction of Iraqi cities by the invading USA forces. The ethnic cleansing in the Balkan region and the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib in Iraq. One would mention the wiping out of villages in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, or the war between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland. All of those show an aspect of tyranny and dictatorship, the tyrant could be a military leader, a political leader or even a CEO who encourages corporation espionage.
One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, that is what an Irishman from the IRA once said. The same applies to any leader in the Middle East or the world. Tyrants and dictators are not new to the region, they have evolved with time, power and money. Some of today’s tyrants assumed power through revolutions and coupe de’tat, sometimes it feels like a deja vu.
What the Arab world is experiencing these days is the fruit and labor of decades of repression and oppression. The tyrants of today, where once revolutionaries of the past, they lead a selected group of friends and officers to the top echelon of power. Nasser of Egypt transformed Egypt from a monarchy to a republic, Egyptians were happy, he changed the constitution. In 1965 he was the sole candidate for the presidency, his rivals where either in jail or reduced to some secondary positions in the political arena of Egypt. He executed leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, as a result of a failed assassination attempt on his life. He was the inspiration for a young Libyan army called Muammar Al Gaddafi to over throw the Libyan monarch Idris I.
An observation I could deduce from tyrant leaders, some of them have never killed a person. Hitler did not kill a German, nor did Stalin kill a soviet. Those who undertook the chores where soldiers, aides, partners, normal men some in uniform and some in plain clothes. Remember the Egyptian policemen who attacked the protesters during the Jan 25 revolution, any policeman could have been related to any protester. They obied orders, they did what they were told. Some left their ranks and joined the revolution, but the majority are scared from the wrath of the Egyptian people.
Milgram and obedience
Obedience is one of the most important aspects of the tyrant personality. Every person obeys him, those who disobey end up either in prison or in a coffin. Obedience was scientifically experimented with in the summer of 1961 when Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University conducted a series of experiments to observe and measure the willingness of participants to obey an authoritarian figure. Milgram believed that accomplices in any tragic event would be merely obeying orders, despite violating their deepest moral belief system.
A volunteer was given the role of a teacher, and a confederate – member of the research team- the role of a learner. The teacher and the learner do not see each other, and sometimes the learner would mention to the teacher that they have some health problems. The teacher asks the learner some questions, and when the learner answers the question incorrectly, the teacher is instructed to deliver an electric shock to the learner. The shocks were increased by an increment of 15 volts. One would expect that volunteers would stop at a ‘moderate’ to ‘extreme’ voltage and not administer a shock to the learner, but 65% of them administered an electric shock of 450 volts.
During my research and readings about this experiment, I did not read about any volunteer who left the experiment, who ordered it to stop, who said I do not want the money, or anyone who checked on the learner after administering any shock. Many teachers exhibited ‘nervous laughter’, many were shocked when at the end of the experiment they were briefed that the learner did not receive any shock.
Maybe obedience is one of the most manipulated aspects by the dictators and tyrants so the selected people do the dirty work. Police to kill demonstrators, if police did not do the job, they would be threatened. Some activists were gone ‘beyond the sun’ which means imprisoned and tortured in various prisons in the history of modern Egypt.
Another landmark experiment in the history of social psychology is the infamous Standford prison experiment in 1971. The researchers randomly assigned college students to be either prisoners or guards in a simulated prison in the basement of a campus building. The goal of the experiment was to explore the dynamics that developed within and between groups during a two weeks period. The experiment had to be suspended after six days due to the harsh treatment delivered by guards on the prisoners.
Zimbardo concluded that group members cannot resist the pressure of their assumed roles and stations and that brutality is the ‘normal and natural’ expression of roles associated with groups who have unequal powers. Furthermore, he concluded that people in groups tend to lose their capacity for intellectual and moral judgment, and its inevitable for people to act as tyrants when put in a group and given power.
As Arabs observed the Tunisian, Egyptian and the ongoing Libyan uprising, the sense of unity among the protesters counteracts the brutality of the regime. When protesters are united under a national or a cultural or a religion, they form better organisations, and become more willing to follow an elected leader. They seek agreement, they trust one another. People under those situations would pull together to create a social world based on their shared values.
This was proven during the Tahrir Sq. camps where males and females lived together, shared food, and they all felt safe, and no incident of any sexual harassment or any drug use was reported in the media. The Egyptians were focused on one mission, a change of the regime. They achieved that, and none of the predicted anarchy happened. They did not steal, break into businesses, vandalise public and private properties.
As long as dictators have their power, their aides, and money, as long as the masses are united and standing against the tyrant, then all tyrants would be punished and end up either killed or imprisoned; let them have a taste of their medicine.