The death of the charismatic leader figure

Regarding the recent wave of protests across the Middle East, in addition to the obvious alterations in the way various countries in the region will be run in the future, another change has occurred as a result of these movements that few seem to have noticed or at least voiced opinion on. That is the apparently complete absence of traditional leader figures- men and women who that in days gone by used to spur on action and inspire the people, leading them in revolution- indeed, the kind of individual that Colonel Gaddafi may once have been classified as; the coup d’état he led was bloodless and swift in huge part due to the fact that, at the time, he was seen by the populace as an entity very akin to what his current title proclaims him to be: a ‘Brotherly Leader and Guide’.

Gone are the times of ‘revolutionary drivers’ such as George Washington above. In a bizarre way then, one could construe events in Libya as part of a larger rejection of ‘big personalities’ by the masses- a rebellion against a man who has for most of recent history stood as a lone representative of that nation and its people. That is not the primary point here though. The true way in which these ‘chiefs of change’, regardless of whether or not they maintain an altruistic purpose after the initial seizing of power, or develop into evil dictators, are being made obsolete is not through what the protests (or more accurately, uprisings) are seeking to achieve, but in the way they are being instigated and conducted- in Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya, they are displays proving that the force of the people alone can achieve transformation, and that there is no need for the majority to have one individual form their voice or outlet of opinion and/or emotion, evidenced by the fact that in all of these instances, there simply hasn’t been a singular character that claims to (or actually does) epitomise the outcry.

It’s an interesting development for sure. Are people as a whole more intelligent and capable of expressing themselves? Is it the the ‘Facebook Revolution‘ aspect of these mobilisations, with groups able to more effectively plan, as well as coordinate strategies and techniques independently, that has allowed for the revolts to remain pure and populist, without them being taken by the reigns by a sole person, for better or for worse? Let me emphasise that while men such as Gaddafi and even Hitler have, in being the personal heads of their respective national shifts in administration and power, taken advantage of legitimate unrest and discontent for evil ends, revolutionary leaders need not be an exclusively negative aspect of change. As seen here, Ghandi captured the spirit of the people, conveyed their wishes in a way that the British understood, and made his leadership a story of personal sacrifice that further inspired the masses- quite a difference to the aforementioned familiar stories of exploitation, rising dictatorship and deprivation of freedom that other men of charisma have perpetrated.

Above is a man who freed a part of the world in chains, that was in a very similar position to areas of the Middle East, previous to this slow ascent to freedom that is now progressing. Lech Walesa of Poland was a trade union activist who, together with his own group, ‘Solidarity‘, lead much of Eastern Europe (Poland mainly, inspiring people of other areas in the region) in a form of revolution, out of the darkness of Soviet oppression towards an independent, free rule removed from communism. This situation forms a direct contrast to all of the separate contemporary movements, that are related in no way to any dominant personality, and serves to show how much times have changed. While Mr Walesa, who went on to become President of Poland and continue that country’s conversion into a non-communist state, is to be commended for his actions, the message coming from arab states today is clearly ‘we don’t need people like you anymore’.

While we can be almost certain from recent activity that revolutions themselves have evolved in a way that tells us ‘leaders’ that at least initiate mutiny are, to put it mildly, less important, what we can not be sure of is why. What has in fact changed how people think? What has caused the oppressed to begin defying the human instinct to look to a leader and simply, collectively, ‘do it themselves’? Blanquism is well and truly dead as we bear witness to more frequent and successful revolutions of the style we see today; the Middle East has proved this ‘style’ of fundamental change is possible. Is it necessarily better though? Without a revolutionary leader, we have seen the Egyptian protests conclude with a military junta coming to power- while I won’t condemn the military council that is now running the nation as liars when they say their rule is temporary, while a transition to democracy takes place, one cannot help but feel uneasy when an army in any country has complete control. Perhaps some form of uniting figure would have prevented this ultimate outcome. These questions, those of ‘is it beneficial?’, and ‘why?’ pertaining to the calibre ‘leaderless revolt’ we have seen have not yet been asked, but when the crisis in Libya is resolved, as the dust across the region settles, and there is time for reflection, they will be- and maybe we will get some fascinating answers, explaining a fascinating phenomenon.



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