It’s one thing starting a revolution, it’s another thing completing one. Or, as Che Guevara put it more poetically: “The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.”
And Che Guevara knew a thing or two about revolutions.
Repression and a craving for change brought the people into the streets of Tunisia and Egypt. It is now doing the same in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain. Yet if a revolution is going to succeed it needs to be sustained.
Fidel Castro, another man with considerable experience in the matter, claimed that what a successful revolution requires is “faith and a plan of action.“ The Egyptians’ and the Tunisians’ plan of action was quite simple: WE stay until YOU go. They also had faith.
If Bahrainis, Libyans and Yemenis are to replicate their neighbours’ triumph, they will need to keep the faith. They will need to maintain morale and two things that will help make this happen are slogans and music.
Slogans are powerful weapons in the armoury of a revolutionary. They are chanted in unison; they unite.
Many of the most memorable and effective revolutionary slogans have been coined using Hendiatris or Triad, a figure of speech using three words or ideas to express a single demand.
And it works well.
The Mexicans and later the Spanish cried for “Tierra Y Libertad” (Land And Freedom).
The French marched on Paris calling for “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood).
Portugal’s Carnation Revolution demanded “Descolonização, Democratização, Desenvolvimento” (decolonisation, democratisation, development).
When Iranians ousted the Shah in 1979, they wanted him replaced with “God, Quran, Khomeini.”
Hitler, as he whipped up a nationalist fervour in Nazi Germany, had the crowds shouting “Ein Reich! Ein Volk! Ein Führer!”
Barack Obama got the message as he ran for election: Yes (the first lesson of marketing), We (are united), Can (let’s be positive).
And so it was in Tunisia and Egypt. In Tunis, just like in Cairo, demonstrators chanted “El Shaab (the people) Yurid (demand) Isqat el Nizam (the fall of the regime).”
A popular slogan in Tunisia was “Al Khoubz, Al Maa, Ben Ali la” which is to be interpreted as “We are ready to live with just water and bread but not with Ben Ali” although admittedly it does sound much better in Arabic.
In Egypt in particular, the crowds used humour in their written slogans to keep their spirits up while a stubborn Mubarak exhausted all his options to stay in power. “Go now! I want to go home, have a shower and sleep,” read one homemade banner in Tahrir Square.
Egyptians began writing their slogans in English, knowing that the world was watching. They kept it simple: “Game Over”.
Music is another motivator. Spending weeks camping out and shouting at an apparently deaf dictator to fall on the sword that’s kept him in power for decades is a physically arduous task. A singalong helps keep a crowd merry and focused, as it did in Tahrir Square
It did too in 18th Century France. When soldiers made the long march from Marseille to Paris to support the revolution, they sang what is still the national anthem more than two centuries later.
American soldiers still march to songs, or cadences, that were coined during the American Revolution.
Music is being used by today’s activists to inspire revolution in a way that was inaccesible to the French revolutionaries, the American Patriots or the Bolsheviks. MideastTUNES describes itself as a site promoting music for social change. Its creator – young, female and Bahraini – is quoted in a TIME article as saying: “Sure, people like Gandhi give me hope, but what makes me want to go out and make change is people’s stories, and that comes through their music.”
Give the events of Tahrir Square a soundtrack and a powerful music video
and it is not hard to imagine the youth of Bahrain or Libya being moved to join their peers in the streets.
Two Arab dictators have fallen in as many months and the shoots of further regime change have sprouted in several countries across the region.
With catchy slogans and catchy tunes, the revolution could well catch on.