One winter night, ten years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, we gathered in my in-laws’ house to watch the News. The president, with his styled hair and dewy face, addressed the people in the local dialect for the first time in his long twenty-three years of rule. He didn’t say ‘I was wrong’. He said, “They misled me”. He claimed not to know that people suffered under his regime because he wasn’t “a sun to shine upon the entire country”.
His non-apology apology caused the people to fill the streets the next day, chanting “dégage”—A French word that had nothing to do with ballet, it meant “get out, or for short, out”. He listened this time, though. The president flew out of the country, his family shortly after him, and the animals claimed their farm–I mean, the people claimed the country.
Animal Farm was a novella that stood the test of time. George Orwell wrote it in 1945. The fable recounted the story of farm animals, who revolted against their human owner, Mr. Jones, forcing him to escape out of the country–I mean, the farm. His wife soon followed him. The revolution started with a dream of an old pig, Mr. Major, who soon died after he hyped the animals to revolt. Three pigs, Napoleon, Snowball and Squealer, spent the next three months working in secret to teach the animals about the revolution and the principles of Animalism as reformulated by old Mr. Major. The revolution came sooner than expected. Hunger and oppression caused them to revolt. The animals chased the farmer and claimed the country–I mean, the farm.
After the revolution, there was a general contentment, a sense of pride. People walked with squared shoulders and heads held high. The revolution was peaceful. It had been called “The Revolution of Jasmine”, a flower of which the country was known. People were engaged. They protected their neighbors’ homes. They installed night patrols to prevent any potential escalations when the police turned a blind eye. People gave food for free, worked harder. They dared to dream.
The three pigs–I mean, the new government–gave in return a small amount of money to the unemployed. The elected government, even with members of natural enemies—Islamists, liberals and communists—had written a new constitution. The world watched, waiting for the murky water to clear up so they could ride the wave like in the Animal Farm.
It had been said that Animal Farm talked about communism and the Russian revolution:
Major, the old pig, as Karl Marks.
Napoleon as Lenin, although, I argue it represented Napoleon of France who fought empires, but ended up making his own.
Snowball as Trotsky.
However, like any work of fiction, Animal Farm weaved history with imagination. Its scenes weren’t a replica of the events of the Russian revolution. It was larger than that, in my opinion. Orwell, with his keen eye, detected a pattern in the human behavior; how the aggressed often became the aggressor, and how the human’s downfall was always the same: greed, pride, desire, injustice and ignorance.
The plot unfolded with a fluidity that left me with mouth agape. It was like he was describing the last ten years after the Revolution of Jasmine. The people woke up from the haze of pride to find the counter- revolution clutching the country in its claws.
George Orwell’s genius was in his deep understanding not of the Russian Revolution but of human nature and of history. In a way, George Orwell was our Benjamin, the donkey in Animal Farm. Although, unlike Benjamin, Orwell didn’t live long. He died in 1950 at 44, but his knowledge of politics and history made up for that. His book Animal Farm was like one of Benjamin’s cryptic answers, “Donkeys live a long time, none of you have ever seen a dead donkey.” It insinuated that he knew something they didn’t. And sure enough, George Orwell saw something we failed to see.
It was fascinating to read the big schemes and the little details in Animal Farms. From the personification of the proletariat in Boxer the horse, to the manipulated herd of sheep, to the media in the person of Mr. Squealer, to the minuscule details of a selfish person whose only concern was to keep their lifestyle, Molly.
After the revolution, while people were engrossed in sorting the mess that was the country, making sure not to let it collapse, a no one, a Molly, appeared here and there. Coincidently, France offered them refuge. Although, in the twenty-three years that passed, hundreds of women were kidnapped, tortured, disappeared with no one batting an eye about it. Molly was a nobody. She liked to chew on sugar. She liked her ribbons and hated to work hard. She learned only five words that formed her name. She often jotted them on the soil, decorated them with a flower or two, and spent her time admiring them. The same were our nobodies. They didn’t take part in the revolution. They didn’t take part in the construction of the new country. They didn’t have a contribution. They’d been seen in Mr. Frederick’s farm shewing on sugar–I mean, in France, still nobodies, but with few added tattoos and an addiction to alcohol.
The animal farm didn’t fail like the human neighbors wished. It prospered, but the animals themselves did not. They worked longer hours and had lesser revenues, like when they were under Mr. Jones, but in their minds, they were free. In their minds, Mr. Jones, as a person, not as a concept, was the enemy. Mr. Squealer, the media, knew that, and used it every time he wanted to dismiss the animals’ concerns.
Time passed and the animalism principals faded in the minds of animals. It was reduced to mere motto the sheep repeated stupidly, “four legs good, two legs bad.” Or in the Jasmine’s version “Bread and water, but no Ben Ali.” Which meant that they’d live on only a piece of bread and some water as long as the previous president Zin Al’abidin Ben Ali was no longer in power, chanted the sheep.
The principles of the revolution ended up being forgotten.The comrades of yesterday were chased down and put in prison. Peaceful activities were banned. Invisible enemies were reported–Snowball did this, Snowball did that–and the sheep chanted “Bread and water, but no Ben Ali.”
Today, the elected president stopped the activity of the parliament, dissolved the government and ruled alone. We, the people, looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again, but we couldn’t say which was which.