Monday, February 14, 2011

Middle East (Syria): The rising tide of freedom

Al Jazeera

PJ: The Obama admistration is both heralded and demonized in the Middle East due in large part to decades of US policies in the region. The difficult position that the current administration found itself, in having to walk a fine line between sides in the Egyptian crisis, was met with understanding by some but with prejudice by many others. Sadly, for many in the region, the current administration has a guilt of association with precessor policies as the last line in this article (printed in its entirety) suggests.

Welcome back Egypt
By Sami Moubayed

With those three words, "Welcome back Egypt," Internet hero Wael Ghonim, a Google executive and one of the champions of the Egyptian Revolution, expressed what is on the mind of every one of us throughout the Arab world.

Arabs of different ages are rejoicing at the historic change that has swept Egypt. After 30 years of autocratic rule, aged and ailing President Hosni Mubarak, one of the most unpopular dictators this region has ever known, has finally resigned. Not a tear has been shed in his favor, neither in Egypt nor throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

It was all thanks to the glorious people of Egypt who took to the streets for three weeks, non-step, refusing to give in until Mubarak steps down. A proud and unstoppable force, they refused to surrender despite all atrocities committed against them by the Mubarak regime. The swords and clubs used by his thugs did not deter them, and nor did the police officers who opened fire on January 25, killing hundreds of their own citizens. America's early response -- when it looked the other way so as not to embarrass a traditional ally, also failed to silence the Egyptian millions. That might explain why each and every one of us in the Arab world is moved to tears by the glorious Egyptian Revolt. The Arab street has overcome, and history has been made in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. We should all mark the date: "February 11, 2011." There was an Arab world before this February, and there will be a new Arab world after it -- certainly, one that is wiser, finer, and which better represents the Arab masses.

This generation of Arabs, which has taken to the streets in celebration the minute the big news was announced from Cairo, has every reason to be thrilled, in fact moved to tears by Mubarak's fall. None of us were around to hear of the "big achievements" of the 20th century. The Egyptian Revolution of 1952 took place before we were born, and so was the 1956 nationalization of the Suez Canal. Most of us were too young to remember the October War of 1973. We did not live the era of Saad Zaghloul and Gamal Abdul Nasser, nor do we remember Omar al-Mukhtar, Shukri al-Quwatli, or Yusuf al-Azma. Our entire political consciousness was built upon defeat rather than glory. We grew up surrounded by corrupted men like Hosni Mubarak, Saddam Hussein, and Zein al-Abidin Ben Ali. That -- as of February 11 -- is now history.

When growing up, we witnessed the invasion and occupation of Beirut in 1982, the humiliating exodus of the Palestinians from Lebanon, and the horrific Sabra and Shatila massacres. As we grew older, we watched the Iraqi Army invade and occupy Kuwait and remember only too well how the US led a coalition for its liberation in 1991, permanently entrenching itself in the Arabian Desert. The defeats then quickly caved in, one after another. Oslo - 1993, the Qana Massacre - 1996, September 11, 2001 and its backlash against Arabs and Muslims (a crime we did not commit but for which we paid a heavy price), the occupation of Iraq - 2003, the murder of Rafiq al-Hariri - 2005, the Israeli atrocities and Qana II - 2006, and most recently the war on Gaza - 2008.

Throughout every single one of those groundbreaking events, or should I say nightmares, Hosni Mubarak stood there watching, nodding in silent agreement at time, reeking of complicity at others. The entire world changed during Mubarak's thirty years in power, yet Hosni Mubarak -- like the Sphinx -- was not moved did not blink for a second. The Berlin Wall collapsed, the USSR came to pieces, Germany united, Yugoslavia came apart, Lebanon got occupied, its south was liberated, Yemen united, Afghanistan got occupied, Baghdad and Beirut fell to invaders, Gaza got dislocated from Palestine, Libya got bombed, and two intifadas broke out against Israel. Then came the Tunisian Revolt of 2011 and the world changed -- yet again - -but this time, not in Mubarak's favor.

In less than one month, three Arab leaders have come out and said that they will not seek re-election when their constitutional terms expire. The first was Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who fought a losing battle against angry young Tunisians and stepped down on January 14 just 24 hours after giving his now famous "I understand you" speech. The 74-year-old Ben Ali had been in power since 1987 and was due for re-election in 2014. Then, on February 2, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the 69-year-old president of Yemen, announced that he too would step down in 2013 and would not bequeath power to his son, Ahmad Saleh. He has been in power for 33 years, since 1978. And finally, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, 61, declared he would not seek re-election when Iraqis next go to the polls in 2014.

While all of this was happening, and in less than one month, street power in the Arab world toppled the governments of Jordanian Prime Minister Samir al-Rifaii and his Lebanese counterpart, Saad al-Hariri. This US factor was a common denominator linking Mubarak, Hariri, Ben Ali, Makiki and Saleh. All of them had made themselves useful to consecutive US administrations, fighting communism during the Cold War, Khomenism after 1979, and Islamic fundamentalism after September 11. All of them had taken very unpopular positions against very popular resistance groups in Palestine and Lebanon, and their positions had been beamed into every Arab home through Arabic channels like al-Jazeera. As a result of all these commonalities, all of these leaders faced similar fates in one fateful January.

Something is changing fast in the Arab world -- very fast; faster perhaps than what aged and ailing despots like Mubarak could digest. Those who rioted and toppled their regimes were all young men and women, mostly below the age of 25. In Tunis, Ben Ali tried to disperse them by force, and then arrest them en masse. In Egypt, Mubarak sent his thugs to beat them with clubs and strike them with swords. That too did not break their unstoppable resolute nor did it weaken their passion for change. The smallest age gap between them and their leaders was in Iraq, with a difference of over 35 years. Mubarak was old enough to be grandfather of most of the angry rioters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, and clearly they were fed up with having to deal with him.

In his last speech on February 10, Mubarak uttered words they no longer wanted to hear and they spoke a language he could not understand. Adding insult to injury, press reports said that Mubarak was worth US$70 billion -- an astronomical number for a country where millions make less than $2 a day. For three decades, his regime has received approximately $30 billion from the US, but none of it found its way to the pockets of ordinary Egyptians, only to the ruling oligarchy surrounding the president. Most of these young demonstrators are not married, with no wife and children to fear for, and all are fed up with corruption, poverty, nepotism and total neglect of their repeated demands.

Remarkably, both in Egypt and Tunisia, the demonstrators had no single leader to follow, as is the case in most revolutions. There was no Vladimir Lenin as in Russia, no Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran, or Egyptian Gamal Abdul Nasser leading these young Arabs. There was no ideological or religious drive: this was neither an Islamic nor communist, Marxist, or capitalist revolution. We have not seen turbaned clerics bringing down an aged and autocratic monarch, as was the case with Iran 1979. We cannot trace flamboyant young officers bringing down an equally flamboyant young king, as in Egypt in 1952. Nor do we find American tanks rumbling into Arab capitals, bringing down a dictator they had bolstered for years, but who had outlived his usefulness, as was the case of Iraq in 2003.

There appears to have been no particular literature these protesters were reading when they decided to stand up to tyranny. There were no secret manifestos, no basement printing presses cranking out pamphlets, and no inflammatory speeches heard on opposition party radios or TV. The triggers of these revolts were SMS messages, Twitter tweets and Facebook groups. All of them were produced through "virtual" literature that will soon be erased or swamped into oblivion in the online world.

The Arab world as we knew it, where people were muscled down into blind adherence to totalitarian regimes that take orders from the West, is finished. It's not coming back.

-- Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.

Arabs of different ages are rejoicing at the historic change that has swept Egypt.
By Sami Moubayed

No comments:

Post a Comment