Monday, February 28, 2011

Syria and the Arab Revolt: The Clock is Ticking

After the Tunisian uprising, we were told that this was an anomaly.  After Egypt, they said that it is unlikely to go further because every country in the Middle East has a different history and circumstance.  After Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, Libya and Oman, the pundits were left scratching their heads.  There is no pattern to this spreading revolt and thus no predictability. No one is immune. The only thing that seems to be certain now is that the Arab people no longer fear their rulers.

The short term outcome of the revolts will certainly differ from country to country and will  be largely dictated by the rulers.  Autocrats, especially those in power for decades, become alarmingly detached from reality and start believing the propaganda that they spew.  The false narrative on which their power structure is built becomes their alternative, delusional reality reinforced by the yes men that further insulate them from their people.  They are all invariably shocked, horrified at the intensity of the anger that their people manifest.  All blame outside forces, fellow Arabs, the media, Zionists or -every one's bogeyman- the Islamists.  Ghaddafi outdid everyone, as only he can, by claiming that the protesters were given hallucinogenic drugs. The reflexive response is deadly force as they know no other way of dealing with dissent. Some will eventually back off once reality pops their delusional bubble, they are talked down from an unsustainable position by more realistic advisers or they are pushed aside.  However, when, as in Libya, the delusion is a self-reinforcing family affair, the result is the unfolding tragedy we are now witnessing.

Where the Syrian regime falls within the spectrum of delusional autocratic regimes is a source of my concern.  While Bashar Assad publicly recognized the need for change, there have been no palpable moves in talking about or implementing reforms and the security forces seem to have been in heightened clamp-down mode.  A recent article featuring Asma al-Assad in the March issue of Vogue left me a little disconcerted. As always, Asma comes across as a vibrant, smart advocate of the Syrian people and the first couple appears down to earth and sincere. They also seem to make a conscious effort in showing the reporter that, despite living in a "rough neighborhood", they preside over a secure and diverse country with no sectarian strife.  The not so subliminal message is that we know how to make our citizens get along and if it was not for us, it will be an Islamist hell.  Here again is the autocrat's narrative - almost identical to that of Mubarak- on which power is built. 

To be clear, I don't a Tahrir, Pearl or Green square showdown in Damascus.  I don't want the blood of a single Syrian citizen spilled  and  would rather have an orderly evolution of the Syrian government rather than a revolution.   But the wave of anger is moving fast and unpredictably.There is a need for the Syrian regime to make bold and decisive moves towards a more democratic and transparent process of government.  Lifting the state of emergency, as Algeria recently did, would be a welcome first step and should be followed by  a program of reform attached to a timetable. 

The time to act is now; there is little time to waste.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Voice of Freedom هاني عادل : صوت الحرية

An uplifting music video about Tahrir square, a respite from the obscene images coming out of Bahrain as yet another Arab government demonstrates just how cheaply they value the lives of their citizens. 

Hypocrites East and West

The beauty of the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia is that they belong to no one and to everyone; they are truly popular uprisings.  And yet everyone is falling over themselves to hypocritically claim them as their own.  When was the last time you saw the US government and Hizbullah agree on anything? Here is a partial parade of hypocrites:
  • The US government, belatedly coming to the side of demonstrators after the man they propped up to the tune of 1.5 billion dollar a year crumbled
  • American analysts and journalists who routinely added the adjective "moderate Arab leader" when referring to Mubarak; now they refer to him as "our SOB".  You see, they knew all along that he was an SOB, but because he was pliable and played nice with Israel, they turned a blind eye to his SOB qualities, the Egyptian people be damned. 
  • Ahmedinejad claiming support for the uprising in Egypt and promptly quashing any popular demonstration in support of the uprising
  • Hillary Clinton forcefully denouncing the "awful" Iranian regime's suppression of dissent and yet becoming mealy mouthed when it came to worse abuses by Bahrain and Yemen.  I wish she would just shut up.
  • Bashar Assad claiming that the uprising will not spread to Syria because his people love his steadfast foreign policy; yet he promptly restores food subsidies and unlocks Facebook and Youtube. 
  • Switzerland freezing the assets of the Mubarak clan.  Really?  I guess the Swiss bankers learned that it was tainted money after reading the signs carried by the protesters in the streets of Cairo.
  • Muammar Gaddafi -every one's SOB- blaming everyone but himself for the anger on streets of Benghazi.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Remembering Egypt's Martyrs شهداء ثورة مصر

Remembering those who gave their lives for the freedom of the Egyptian people and inspired people everywhere.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Wael Ghonim on Dream TV وائل غنيم في مقابلة دريم

Wael Ghonim's TV interview, a day after his release by Egyptian security. What Wael has to say is compelling and important.  Just substitute any other Arab country's name for Egypt and what he is saying applies to every one of them.  (for video clips with English subtitles click here)

Monday, February 07, 2011

A Salute to the Young People of Tahrir Square

For the past two weeks, I have, as I suspect millions of other Arabs have, lived the Tahrir square revolution vicariously, deep emotions ebbing and flowing with every turn of event. We cheered the demonstrators on, cursed the thugs who attacked them and sat back and tried to absorb the immensity of what is happening. There was something infectious about the demonstrators' passion, their determination, their courage and their unfettered idealism.  What is more, it is the way they did it, just like the Tunisians, that has most astonished us.  Who would have ever thought that autocrats would fall to sheer people power? No guns, no bombs, no palace intrigues needed.  Just as we, as well as the rest of the world, were ready to write off the people of the Middle East as terminally downtrodden and hopeless, the young men and women of Tahrir square proved everyone wrong.

My admiration for the young people of Tahrir square is enourmous but is mixed with a sense of envy and regret that, at first, I could not understand.  "The young people are doing what our generation should have done!" explained a middle-aged woman interviewed in an upscale Cairo sporting club.  She is right, I envy the fact that I am not twenty five and manning a barricade in Tahrir and regret that my generation did not have the courage to achieve what this generation already has.  I could come up with legitimate excuses for my generation but the bottom line is that we failed.

I salute the young people of Tahrir and hope that your spirit will spread to every corner of the Arab world.