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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Think Before You Cheer

There is a sense of joy and optimism in the Western world, especially in the US, about the “Arab spring” of democracy we are currently witnessing. There is a feeling that outside pressure, when coupled with pressure from inside, can force Arab rulers to change the status quo and do things that they never thought about doing in the past. There is a lot of truth in this and the current changes across the Arab world should be welcomed and cheered. Nevertheless, we should be careful and not allow “cheering” and “joy” to completely overtake us and prevent us from seeing all the reality on the ground. Let me explain.

Remember Iran in 1978. Millions of Iranians flooded the country’s street to protest against the Shah’s corrupt and dictatorial rule. The hero of the protests was an old cleric called Ayatollah Khomenei who suddenly became a champion of the Western left who were mesmerized by his rhetoric on his religious based human rights, freedom, and democracy. Many considered Khomenei to be the Middle East’s Ghandi or Mandela, a champion of the people who was fighting oppression, imperialism, and dictatorship.

Now I don’t need to tell you how Iran turned out to be after Khoemenei became its ruler because I am sure you already know about that. I would just like to point out how Khomenei and his ilk deceived the world by his democracy and freedom speeches and turned out to be a devil as soon as he consolidated his power.

I am afraid to say that we currently don’t have a Mandela or a Ghandi in the Arab world. As Thomas Friedman once said, the Berlin wall might be falling in the Arab world, but Lech Walesa is not on the other side. Because of the dictatorial nature of our regimes, liberal democratic leaders are virtually nonexistent in the Arab world and especially in Egypt.

In my country Egypt, we have a Khomenei who is talking today about democracy and human rights but we don’t have a Lech Walesa who can counter our Khomenei once Mubarak’s regime is removed one way or another. Unfortunately my President makes the situation worse by arresting both our Khomeneis and any Lech Walesas that might try to appear on the scene.

“Are you a fool? Don’t you trust your fellow Egyptians? Of course they won’t like a Khomenei!” someone might tell me. Well, did you trust the Iranians back in 1978?! Put me some Lech Walesas in Egypt and I will feel comfortable hugging full democracy in Egypt. When I feel that our Lech Walesas are massing popular support than I can stop feeling apprehensive from what might happen in the future. I hope and pray that what we are witnessing today in Egypt will not lead to Mubarak’s removal but to the birth of Egyptian Lech Walesas.

I’ll end with this joke, a true joke. Aboud El Zomoor expressed his desire to run for a parliament seat even though he is in jail now. He even has a political agenda. His agenda does not differ much from the UN declaration on human rights. The only difference is that the freedom, human rights, and political liberties he is asking for are based upon religion ( a la Khomenei in 1978). Who is Aboud El Zomoor? The guy who planned Anwar Sadat’s assassination.

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