Saturday, January 29, 2011

Never Prouder to be an Arab

What could be more heartwarming than the sight of Egyptian demonstrators chanting the Tunisian anthem in recognition and solidarity of their Tunisian brothers and sisters? The people of Tunisia and now the masses in Egypt have managed to do in two weeks what the scheming politicians have pretended to want to do for the last fifty.  All the fake, self-serving calls by political leaders for Arab unity and nationalism of the 1950s and 60s never amounted to much.  The ideal of Arab unity was never more than a convenient prop brought out periodically by leaders to burnish their image all the while working feverishly to keep their respective populations as hermetically sealed from one another as possible. Time and technology has slowly loosened these leaders' iron grip on their people.  Nothing has been more effective in bringing down the barriers among the people in the Middle East as much as satellite TV starting in the 1990s and now the Internet. This was not a top down enforcement of a fake Arabization scheme meant to squeeze all Arabs into a single mold but a more a natural people to people cultural cross fertilization.  No one, not in the most remote corner of the Arab world, could be effectively isolated either from the rest of the region or the rest of world. The leaders could no longer control the message.

When seen against this backdrop , Hosni Mubarak, in his speech last night, comes across as alarmingly out of touch.  While Ben Ali quickly read the writing on the wall, Mubarak seems to be ready to let his country go up in flames before giving an inch. Then there is King Abdallah, another one with their head in the sand, coming out in support of Mubarak.  While few could have foreseen the scale and speed of what has transpired in the last two weeks, Arab leaders across the Middle East ignore its implications at their own peril.  The formula of most Arab leaders,  "autocracy with stability is better than chaos", which is used to lull their people into submission has outlived its usefulness; it is history.  In fact, the opposite is true, without  expeditious implementation of real reform , chaos is assured.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Let the Kings, Oligarchs and Dictators Take Note

As tragic as Mohamed Bouazizi's death is, as well as that of the demonstrators that followed, there is something invigorating about the uprising in Tunisia.  It is perhaps its spontaneity, its lacks of designated leaders that give it the feel of a genuine, popular uprising and not an ideologically-driven coup destined to serve the desires of a narrow constituency.  It is easy as an Arab, to resign oneself to the fact that the region's stagnant and sclerotic political systems are immovable and immutable.  It is exactly this state of hopelessness and inertia that most of the region's leaders strive to instill in their people. It kills hope, prevents progress and keeps the leaders in power.  So I hope that the leaders across the region take note and that a cold chill runs down their spine as they watch the events in Tunis unfold; perhaps it will make them reconsider their ways.

One can only hope that the passion of the people of Tunisia is infectious and that other citizens of the region are aroused from their slumber.   It will not be, I suspect, like a rapidly spreading epidemic and more like a slow virus.  It is likely that it is Tunisia's particular circumstances that made such a popular uprising leading to a non-violent change in government possible.  Regardless, the Tunisians set a precedent that is hard to ignore. Political and civil society activists in the region will certainly learn a lot from the Tunisian experience.

Meanwhile, the Syrian blogsphere remains in slumber mode.  Except for some sharp commentary by Qunfuz, one would think that not much is happening across the Mediterranean.

(Photo: Tunisian students spelling out the words: No to murder)