Should Egypt’s next president be old guard or vanguard?

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

 By Khaled Diab

Amr Moussa is very popular with Egyptians, but should Egyptians play it safe with the best of the old guard or choose someone from the vanguard.

Saturday 12 March 2011

After years in the political wilderness heading up the glorified talking shop known as the Arab League, Amr Moussa is back on the national scene in Egypt. Following weeks of public speculation and private deliberation, the popular and charismatic one-time foreign minister has announced his intention to run for Egypt’s recently vacated top job.

“I am ready to nominate myself for the presidency. I see this as a duty and a responsibility,” he told the independent Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm.

Long slated as a possible replacement for Hosni Mubarak by opposition figures seeking a bridge to democracy, Moussa’s candidacy seems to chime with the public mood. A recent poll revealed that almost half of Egyptians support the idea of him becoming Egypt’s next president.

Although the vast majority of Egyptians aspire to transparency and good governance, the instability of recent weeks has created a certain amount of anxiety and apprehension, leading many to cite their immediate priorities as being “political stability” and “security for the masses”.

And as my wife argued in a debate in which I expressed my doubts about Moussa’s credentials, the Arab League chief and former foreign minister could well be the best candidate to engineer a stable transition to democracy.

Although he is a member of the old guard, Moussa somehow kept himself immune to the rampant corruption and rot which surrounded him, and his decade at the Arab League has kept him at a safe distance from one of the most unpopular governments in Egypt’s recent history, the so-called “businessmen’s cabinet” of ousted prime minister Ahmed Nazif.

During his decade-long tenure as foreign minister (1991-2001), Moussa was indisputably the most popular politician in Egypt and he was even described by Time magazine as “perhaps the most adored public servant in the Arab world”.

And in a country where public servants act like masters and are generally despised, being popular is a rare commodity indeed. So rare, in fact, that many Egyptians strongly believe Amr Moussa was “kicked upstairs” to the Arab League by Mubarak who was envious of and feared his popularity.

On a personal level, Moussa exudes charisma and gravitas, as I experienced on the one occasion I was in the same room as him, and has both the refinement of the polished career diplomat and a natural “common touch” – two hugely important ingredients for success, according to Rudyard Kipling. As foreign minister, he was admired for his dexterous management of Egypt’s international relations, particularly with the Arab world, and his perceived straight talking on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Despite his obvious strengths, I cannot help but conclude that Moussa’s weaknesses are far more troubling. Although he never personally indulged in the excesses of the former regime, he has been and remains a Mubarak loyalist.

While opposition figures have risked life and limb, or at least their reputations and security, to push for reform, Moussa has never openly criticised the old regime nor was he involved in any meaningful manner in the revolution. During the 18 days it took to topple Mubarak, Moussa sounded more like Catherine Ashton expressing the EU’s dithering position when he urged all sides “to show restraint”, rather than a possible people’s choice as their future leader.

Moussa as president could well provide the stable bridge to democracy that his supporters desire, and he has reassuringly suggested that he would only serve a single term: “The coming president of Egypt, whoever he is, must, in my opinion, stay for one term only … to lead the process of reform and put the country on the road to stability.”

Nevertheless, there is the chance, though he is not popular with the army, that his popularity with the people and loyalty to the past would be used by the military to provide a democratic facade without real democracy.

Personally, I would back Amr Moussa as transitional president if the presidency was stripped of its power and transformed into a ceremonial position to provide Egypt with a unifying figure during its democratic transformation and a recognisable face to the outside world. But Moussa himself is opposed to Egypt becoming a full parliamentary democracy, at least for the time being.

Well, if not Amr Moussa, then who? Other names doing the rounds include former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei and the head of the al-Ghad party Ayman Nour. Though neither are popular candidates according to the poll cited above, ElBaradei has the advantage of being a non-partisan figure around whom the opposition have rallied, especially prior to the revolution, while Nour is young and has the credibility of having been at the forefront of Egypt’s struggle for democracy which landed him in jail for having dared to run against Mubarak in the 2005 elections.

On the downside, after decades walking the corridors of international diplomacy, ElBaradei is something of a “Johnny-come-lately”, while many Egyptians fear that Nour and his liberal party will continue the neoliberal economic policies that have aggravated inequalities in Egypt.

Who will become Egypt’s next president will, hopefully, be for all Egyptians to decide later this year. But with the range of established political figures being so uninspiring and in the spirit of the fundamental change awakened by the revolution, the conditions for running should be so eased that the young leaders of the revolution and even unknown citizens with well thought out platforms can run and perhaps become the next president.

Some view the absence of clear presidential candidates as a problem which, at some levels, it is. But if Egyptians choose someone to lead them who is not part of the political class, then they may just create a true “government of the people, by the people, for the people” – and perhaps even reinvent democracy itself.

This column appeared in the Guardian newspaper’s Comment is Free section on 233 March 2011. Read the full discussion here.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

Defiantly delusional

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +10 (from 10 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.5/10 (11 votes cast)

By Christian Nielsen

Muammar Gaddafi and Silvio Berlusconi have something in common: delusions of grandeur that keep them desperately holding on to the reins of power.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

History remembers the likes of Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle somewhat fondly for their jingoistic rhetoric and their, well, dogged outlook in the face of adversity. But the sort of defiance we see from the Muburaks, Mugabes, Gaddafis and, closer to home, Berlusconis and Putins of this world will get less generous treatment in the annals.

But what do these admonished leaders have in common that can be added to the world compendium of bad leaders – a must-read for opposition parties in countries striving for democratic legitimacy? Take Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi for a telling case of two ageing leaders who do everything and anything to maintain their grip on power.

Indeed, their rise to power tells us as much about the men as their antics to keep it. Today they have the misfortune of sharing more in common than any other two world leaders in the news. And the kinship goes way beyond their defiant stand in the face of popular unrest and the obvious colonial connection between their countries.

Gaddafi and Berlusconi are indubitably the most egocentric, obdurate, corrupt, eccentric, vainglorious and conspicuously rich leaders on the planet. These two are clearly cut from the same shroud – they like to think of themselves as the second coming for their respective peoples.

And so it is today that they now face a common dilemma: meet demands to cede power and face the ramifications (legal or otherwise) of their actions, or go down fighting to the last hair plug.

Let’s look more closely at these two characters to understand how their people came to burdened with them.

A military man, the young Gaddafi took control of the country in 1969 following a bloodless coup which sent Libya’s monarch packing. After seizing power, he took a populist approach in an attempt to win over Libyan hearts and minds among the many tribal factions. His pan-Arab, anti-imperialist agenda subsumed elements of Islam along with a more Western mercantile mentality – he allowed small-scale entrepreneurship, but kept control of larger, strategically important companies, including oil-related and media businesses.

Among his famed eccentricities, Gaddafi sleeps in a Bedouin tent guarded by female bodyguards on trips abroad. The international journalist John Simpson once implied that the Colonel would pass wind as freely as he would opinions on the ills of Western society.

His record of ruthlessly crushing dissent and repressing civil society was well established long before any of the actions he has been accused of ordering during the February 2011 people’s revolution. His attempts to rally Arab states to band together in dealing with regional issues were generally rebuffed, so he turned his attention towards pan-Africanism, later influencing the creation of the African Union.

A reflection of these extreme views can be seen in his now-acknowledged sponsorship of terrorism, including his alleged ordering of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Ever the unpredictable, his antics have gained him (un)welcomed media attention during his four-decade rule, including such recent exploits as staging a hero’s ‘welcome home’ party for Abdel-Baset al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of masterminding the Lockerbie bombing, who was released on ‘medical grounds’; a grand-standing one-hour lecture to the UN on all the ills of the world system; and inviting young Italian women during an official trip to the country to convert to Islam – a gesture he thought would help to cement ties between Tripoli and Rome!

The subject of women leads us neatly on to Silvio Berlusconi, whose now infamous ‘bunga bunga’ parties, involving scores of women as captive audience for his crooning and swooning evenings, were reportedly inspired by Gaddafi’s penchant for travelling ‘en harem’. Speculation is rife where the term comes from – with no apparent Arabic roots, some suggest it came via an old joke about three Westerners being forced to choose between death and bunga bunga, only to discover if they chose bunga bunga that their fate would be “death by bunga bunga!”

But the latest scandal surrounding the mercurial Berlusconi won’t go away so easily. Hundreds of thousands of Italians (spurred on by women’s movements) took to the streets earlier this year to protest against their leader’s intransigence. Italians, who arguably freely elected the man ( his control of the nation’s limited media offering make fair elections unlikely), are finally speaking out, and they are saying “enough is enough”.

And the judiciary might also finally get its chance to catch the playboy politician out. He is currently facing charges of abusing his power in attempts to hide his involvement with a young Moroccan club dancer called Karima Keyek – aka Ruby Rubacuori the ‘heart stealer’.

Italian prosecutors allege that upon learning that Keyek was being held by Italian police on possible theft charges, he used his influence to get her out. Alas Berlusconi remains typically defiant – yes, that word again – denying the charges as “disgusting” and “groundless”. The trial will begin on 6 April.

The Economist takes some pleasure in reporting the antics of “slippery Silvio”, as they’ve called him, and the mysteries of Italian politics. Back in December 2004, following his acquittal on charges of bribing judges, the weekly magazine wrote:

“There is no point debating if the prime minister of Italy might have bribed judges. But the party he leads was created by a friend who was in league with the Sicilian Mafia. That, in its shocking essence, is what two Italian courts decided last weekend. They were giving two separate judgments, one on Silvio Berlusconi and the other on Marcello Dell’Utri, once head of Publitalia, the cash generator in Mr Berlusconi’s media empire, and the man who conjured up his party, Forza Italia, in 1994.”

As recently as January 2011, under the title ‘A party animal’ The Economist took another swipe at the Teflon-PM: “The solution to this crisis that might suggest itself in most other countries was flatly ruled out by the prime minister on January 18th. ‘Resign?’ he asked journalists. ‘Are you mad?’ Once again, he seems bent on facing down claims that would persuade most normal public figures that the time had come for retirement, perhaps to a monastery.”

This article triggered a flurry of readers’ letters. One – by Nevios, presumably an Italian commentator  – underscored the strengthening case that leaders driven by megalomania can easily slip into dictatorial behaviour in an attempt to hold onto power with the sort of defiance (of the facts on the ground) that only the delusional could entertain.

Nevios writes:

“I am thunderstruck by Berlusconi’s ability to deny and repel every [bit of] blame he receives by half the world. He stresses his innocence and moral purity and behaves as though everything were going just perfectly! He is becoming more and more like a dictator, covering up every misdeed that concerns him, limiting the freedom of the press… This is why I thank The Economist, and the foreign newspapers in general, which informs [sic] us objectively and thoroughly about what is going on in Italy.”

In a decade or two from now, how will the world remember the defiant posturing of Berlusconi, Gaddafi and their ilk? Or will we have so many new dictators that the class of 2011 will become a footnote in the annals of delusional leaders?

 

This article is published here with the author’s permission. ©Christian Nielsen. All rights reserved.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.5/10 (11 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +10 (from 10 votes)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

An Arab model for democracy

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 7.5/10 (2 votes cast)

By Khaled Diab

The time is ripe to crystallise a creative vision for Egyptian democracy, one that can perhaps be used as a model by other Arab countries.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

On Friday 18 February, as many as 2 million Egyptians gathered on the now-aptly named Tahrir (Liberation) Square for what was dubbed the Friday of Victory and Continuity. And the assembled throngs – resembling, at once, a World Cup victory celebration, Hyde Park Speakers’ Corner and a performing arts festival – had plenty of reason to celebrate, given that the revolution had succeeded, just one week earlier, in toppling, one could even say dethroning, Hosni Mubarak, the country’s pseudo-king for the past three decades.

But crying victory was somewhat premature, for the revolution will not be truly victorious until the old regime is replaced completely by a free and fair system that responds to the will of the people – not to mention triggers a profound process of social evolution.

The protesters and organisers are well aware of the dangers ahead and the Friday of Victory was a subtle warning  to put the army on notice that reneging on the revolution’s demands was not an option the people were willing to contemplate.

Ever since Mubarak’s ouster on Friday 11 February, the army’s supreme council has been in charge of the country. In the 18 days it took to topple Mubarak, the army won many fans among the Egyptian population for its intelligent and relatively enlightened handling of the demonstrations and its support for what it called the “legitimate demands” of the people, which prompted demonstrators to coin the slogan that the “army and the people are a single hand”.

Although expressing this level of trust was partly tactical in order to keep the army on the people’s side against Mubarak’s state security apparatus, police and other assorted thugs, it still caused me a certain amount of concern. The army may have extended a hand of peace to the population but what about its other hand: is it holding an olive branch or getting ready to slap the people in the face or, worst, crush them with a fist of steel when the opportunity arises?

After all, it is the army or its men who have run the country for the past 60-odd years, during which time the country has not had a single civilian president. That said, Mubarak, though he was a military man, had sidelined the army with his ‘businessmen’s cabinet’ and his strengthening of state security.

Naturally, there is the chance that the army is dealing with the people in good faith, and reluctantly executed what amounted to a sort of coup d’etat when Mubarak refused to go and to hand over his powers to an interim ‘council of the wise’. Then again, the military might see this as the perfect opportunity to re-launch its waning star, especially as it has suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament, ostensibly to meet the demands of the revolution, but effectively creating a situation of martial law which can potentially be abused.

So vigilance must be the order of the day. And the Coalition of the Revolution Youth, one of the main forces behind the demonstrations, has vowed to continue mass protest action until the revolution’s demands are met, including the ending of the decades-old ‘state of emergency‘, the creation of a temporary transitional presidential council and technocratic government drawn from across the political spectrum, and a clear timetable for the holding of free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections.

But in addition to this constant grassroots pressure perhaps it is also high time for the revolutionaries to force the army’s hand by creating certain facts on the ground. For example, the military has created its own diverse constitutional review committee, headed by the prominent judge Tarek el-Bishry to oversee the crafting of a new constitution. Although el-Bishry is highly respected among most of the opposition, the demonstrators need to ensure that the new document meets the people’s demands and expectations.

One way to do this is for the revolutionaries to set up their own parallel committee drawn from across the political and social spectrum whose members will not only deliberate among themselves but will launch a broad public debate on the content of the new constitution. In order to gather input from every strata of society, the power of traditional, online and social media can be harnessed, as well as good old-fashioned surveys.

Moreover, to guarantee maximum legitimacy and to avert any chance that the army or any other vested political interest can manipulate the process, the popular committee should pledge that any document it produces will be put to a referendum.

In addition to efforts to optimise the nascent Egyptian democracies founding document, the time is ripe, given that any action or inaction now will have ramifications far into the future, to crystallise a clear vision for Egyptian democracy, one that can perhaps be used as a model by other Arab countries.

At present, little or no effort is being made to visualise a democracy that meets local circumstances and needs. This is understandable, given that the revolution has a multitude of immediate concerns with which to deal. Nevertheless, if Egyptians are to create a system that suits them, then they must dare to unleash the creativity so abundantly demonstrated in this revolution further.

One concern that has regularly been voiced is that, after sixty years of either one-party rule or a toothless multiparty system, Egypt has been left with few viable political parties on which to rest its democracy. Moreover, the youth who unleashed and steered this secular revolution do not fit easily or comfortably into any of the existing political parties.

In Egypt, there has been talk of relaxing the country’s draconian party formation rules to allow all political currents to create their own parties in time for the elections. There is also the option of allowing protest movements, such as the 6 April Youth Movement and Kefaya (Enough), to register as parties.

However, even if a new slew of parties can be set up in time for elections, they will be, with the exception of the Muslim Brotherhood and the reinvented secular ‘official’ opposition parties, they will be largely unknown to the public.

In my view, this contemporary reality provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to rethink the mechanics of democracy, and especially the party political system. Given that they provide certain advantages, such as unity of purpose and discipline, political parties are the cornerstones upon which most governments around the world, whether democratic or not, are built.

That said, they suffer from certain severe drawbacks, such as the pressure they exert on members to tow a party line, even if they do not believe in it. In democracies, perhaps the most acute example of the ‘tyranny’ of parties is the first-past-the-post system. In the United States, for instance, the system has evolved to the point where voters have only two realistic options to choose from and many feel that the two main parties are so alike in their politics that they resemble more branded merchandise than true alternatives.

In fact, the dangers of partisan politics were foreseen by some of America’s ‘founding fathers’. “[Parties] serve to organise faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community,” George Washington cautioned in his farewell address.

I believe that Egypt would be better served with a flexible non-partisan representative democracy in which individual candidates run, whether for parliament or the presidency, on their own merit and personal manifesto. This will provide individual politicians with the flexibility to vote according to their conscience and the will of their constituents, while organising informally around certain issues of the day. For example, on certain key issues – such as youth unemployment, gender rights, social policy, trade, foreign policy questions, etc. – groups of politicians of similar conviction can form temporary, unofficial alliances, rather like the Egyptian opposition has already been doing for several years.

Over and above this, in order to avoid the emergence of factionalism and unrepresentative ‘representative democracy’, politicians’ power can be kept in check through a hybrid direct democracy in which the people are consulted directly on vital issues and in which concerned citizens who are unhappy with certain decisions taken by their representatives or wish to launch their own initiatives can take immediate action, if they gather enough signatures, rather than have to wait for the next elections to voice their views.

Egyptians have a golden opportunity not only to reinvent their country’s politics but to reinvent democracy itself.

 

This article was first published by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting on 22 February 2011.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 7.5/10 (2 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

When the chips are down

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Khaled Diab

Arab revolutionary fever has spread to Europe as Belgians raise their freedom fries, not to bring down a regime but to ask for one to be formed.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Missing the most defining moments in Egypt’s recent history by a few short weeks and watching the revolution unfold in my native land from afar has been frustrating.

But some of that revolutionary spirit has infected my adoptive land, Belgium, where young people have started what has been called the friet revolutie or “fries revolution” (after that most popular of national symbols, Belgian chips) to express their anger and frustration at their country’s ongoing failure to form a government.

Creative events have been held across the country to mark the world-record-breaking 250 days without government, including a strip protest, beer demos, and the continuation of longstanding actions such as shaving and sex strikes. The largest event was held just down the road from where I live in Ghent, where protesters occupied one of the city’s main squares and partied until midnight, when a delegate from Iraq – the former record holder – handed over a trophy.

“We want to show our politicians that we are proud of their performance,” one of the organisers told Belgian TV with a heavy hint of irony. “At first we thought: what in God’s name are they up to? Are there no important problems that need solving? When we realised they were obviously going for this world record we decided they deserved a celebration.”

Of course, no one is proud that Belgium has won this dubious record, but irony and the surreal are two qualities that cross the language barrier and unify Belgians. In my personal view, Belgium broke the ‘no government’ record a long time ago, with its failure to build a lasting coalition and the political crisis that has ensued since the previous elections in 2007.

In a piece on Comment is Free, Laurens de Vos wrote, “the feeling is growing that if the country is bound to be split up, so be it”. This strikes me as wishful thinking on the part of De Vos, who is a member of  the Flemish nationalist N-VA, which seeks the gradual creation of an independent Flemish state and which – along with intransigent elements in the Francophone community – is largely responsible for the current impasse.

My impression, supported by the gathering protest movement, is that most ordinary Belgians feel the country faces more important issues than the so-called “federal reform” currently paralysing Belgium’s political class. The reform debate is allowing politicians to be distracted from crucial issues, such as agreeing a budget, tackling growing unemployment, and allaying the fears of foreign investors and financial markets.

De Vos also recycles a typical Flemish nationalist chestnut, citing the apparently irreconcilable differences between the country’s two communities. “There have been disagreements on virtually every single topic between the socialist south, oriented to ‘Latin’ Europe, and the north with its more Anglo-Saxon approach,” he says, though the more generic “Germanic” is the more typical term used to describe Flemings.

This is a transparent attempt to butter up to British readers by suggesting that Flemings and Brits are in the same club and those Walloons are ‘Latin’, with all the negative stereotypes that label carries. But this bears little resemblance to reality, except on the linguistic front. In my experience, Belgians are very similar culturally, despite the language difference – far more so than the regional differences within larger countries, such as my own Egypt.

It is true that the political landscapes in Flanders and Wallonia are different, but this is largely due to the fact that the south (which used to be the most prosperous) has a concentration of declining heavy industry and mining, and hence tends to vote socialist, while the north is traditionally more rural and, in recent decades, has become a hub for hi-tech industry and services, and so tends to vote more liberal and conservative. It’s like the divide in the UK between the home counties and the north – yet at the moment few people are calling for the breakup of England.

Moreover, the political diversity within the regions is large. Flanders has areas with a strong progressive and socialist tradition, such as Ghent and the former mining communities of Limburg. In fact, to register its opposition to Flemish separatism, Ghent declared its independence from Flanders and became a city state for a day.

In keeping with his party’s separatist agenda, De Vos proposes a number of decentralising policies that will rob the federal state of most of what remains of its powers, leaving Belgium an empty shell, effectively dead. But, as I’ve argued before, independence is not in the best long-term interests of either Flanders or Wallonnia.

So, what’s the solution to the deadlock? In my view, and that of many of the protesters, Belgium needs to reinvent its political landscape and recreate national political parties, because local parties cannot hold national appeal in federal elections, and social security must remain federal. On the social front, Belgium needs a national media and a universally bilingual education system.

If Belgian politicians fail to resolve their differences soon, then may be it will be time for a real revolution in which the political class are given their marching orders and Belgians seize direct control of their democracy, making their country the first post-party state.

This column appeared in the Guardian newspaper’s Comment is Free section on 18 February 2011. Read the full discussion here.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

Freedom from fear

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Khaled Diab

The Egyptian revolution could usher in freedom to the Middle East, but Arabs and Israelis must break free of the chains of prejudice, history and fear.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Millions of Egyptians have accomplished what many thought was improbable: They defied their dictator and won. After three decades as Egypt’s uncontested leader, Hosni Mubarak’s downfall has understandably been cause for euphoria and celebration in Egypt and across the Arab world.

Egyptians have made history. But now, they need to ensure that this revolution does not become a footnote in their history.

While the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions have inspired ordinary Arabs everywhere, they have been largely met with trepidation and fear in Israel. But as a wave of hope and empowerment begins to ripple through the Arab world, it would be a shame and a grave mistake to continue in ‘business-as-usual’ mode on the Arab-Israeli front.

The changing Middle Eastern landscape is a wake-up call to both sides to transform what were once two competing nationalisms (pan-Arab and Zionist ) into complementary ones. The first step toward achieving this is to acknowledge that not everything is the other side’s fault.

Nevertheless, Israelis worry that rather than heralding the dawn of democracy next door, the unfolding revolution marks the sunset of secularism. The frenzied analogies fixate on Iran and 1979, and assume that the Muslim Brotherhood will spearhead a counterrevolution and orchestrate a theocratic takeover of Egypt.

Though I despise the stifling impact of the Muslim Brotherhood on Egyptian society, I doubt this scenario. While the Iranian and Egyptian revolutions share a common denominator in that both were popular revolts against Western-backed despots that took the world by surprise, there are numerous vital differences between them.

One of the most critical is that Egypt has no ‘cult’ religious revolutionary figure like Ayatollah Khomeini. The nearest to a ‘face’ that the Egyptian revolution has is Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, seasoned international diplomat and avowed secularist. The only thing the two men share in common is that they returned home to lead something that they didn’t start.

In addition, the Egyptian Sunni clergy – which has long been subservient to the secular authorities – is generally not involved in politics and is not held in the same kind of awe as its Shi’ite counterpart, which was politicized.

As for the Muslim Brotherhood, it was not only a latecomer to the revolution, but is also largely made up of conservative and rather grey laymen who tend to be drawn from the ranks of professionals, i.e. doctors, lawyers and engineers.

Moreover, Egypt today is not Iran circa 1979. The revolution comes at a time when Egypt, which has long had close contact with the West, has had almost two centuries of modernising and secularising experience.

Of course, Israeli fears stem not from whether or not Egypt will become a theocracy – as a friendly theocracy would, I imagine, be all right – but from whether or not the new order will be more hostile to an Israel feeling isolated and insecure.

The Muslim Brotherhood is probably the most hostile party to Israel. However, suspicion, distrust, dislike and fear of Israel cut across party lines, both out of sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians and out of the humiliation Israel has heaped on the wider Arab world. This probably means that the cold Egyptian-Israeli peace will become frostier.

Nevertheless, pragmatism is likely to prevail, and I don’t think any likely Egyptian government would risk reneging on the peace agreement. The army has already demonstrated this with its statement that Egypt will respect all its foreign agreements.

For Israel, the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions should be taken not as a threat but as an opportunity. Israelis need to realise that the road to their security lies not through Cairo, but through Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

As the Palestine Papers and before them the Oslo Accords clearly demonstrate, along with Israel’s non-reaction to the Arab Peace Initiative, Israeli intransigence, founded on military might and superpower sponsorship, is no substitute for justice. Authority built on oppression, as Mubarak found out, inevitably crumbles.

Following the revolution, Egyptians would be justified in keeping their economic distance from Israel, but they need to stop cold-shouldering Israelis, because this fuels the popular fear that Arabs are not after peace with Israel, but its defeat and destruction by any means possible. The only way to allay these worries and build the necessary popular groundswell for peace is to engage in a direct, grass-roots conversation and dialogue.

The Egyptian revolution could usher in an era of freedom in the Middle East. But for it to do so, Arabs and Israelis must break free of the chains of prejudice, history and fear.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 15 February 2011. It was commissioned and distributed by the Common Ground News Service.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

Political idealism triumphs over Egypt’s cruel political reality

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Osama Diab

The power of an idea proved stronger than tanks, water cannons and bullets.

Thursday 16 February 2011

When I saw images of Tahrir Square’s peaceful-but-angry protesters gathering in the hundreds of thousands, I involuntarily linked them in my mind to images of police mistreatment of citizens, such as a man with one foot inside a public bus and the rest of his body hanging out, risking his life to go home. I knew that among these protesters were Egyptians who spent a big chunk of their lives waiting patiently in line for subsidised bread. I knew among them were mothers who had lost their sons, sunk in ships in an illegal and desperate attempt to seek a better life on the other side of the Mediterranean.

When I saw the protests in Tahrir Square, pictures of Khaled Said’s fractured skull [warning: exremely graphic image], of Emad Elkebir being sodomised with a cane by a police officer, of protesters being kidnapped by plain-clothed National Democratic Party thugs sprang to my mind. I remembered doctored pictures, state TV lies and the massive media outlets funded by our money to act as the propaganda arm of former president Mubarak’s regime. I remembered waking up every single morning of my life to Mubarak on the first page of the al-Ahram state-run newspaper on our breakfast table.

When I saw the anger, frustration, determination, resilience and great hope in a better future in the eyes of protesters, I also remembered what those who dreamed of change had to face other than state-security intimidation – except until a few months ago, those who have dreamed of change were scattered, unconnected, unorganised and weak.

These millions of people trying to pull down the Mubarak dictatorship have been told that political idealism is one thing and political reality is another. Political idealism in this battle was represented by protesters camping in Tahrir, driven by the desire for fresh political change, democracy, restoration of their dignity and a better future for their kids. They were armed with nothing but faith, sheer determination and great courage.

Political reality favours short-term, fake stability at the expense of freedom, human dignity and social justice.

For a long time, political idealists were accused of being naive. The power of their ideas – of liberty, freedom and justice – has always been underplayed. Ending the Egyptian dictatorship seemed like a mission impossible. It wasn’t a fight against one man, but against all Arab dictatorships, Israel and the United States, which all had vested interests in keeping Mubarak in power.

This scepticism was completely justified. Mubarak’s authoritarian infrastructure was a brilliant combination of three things: military loyalty, horrifying state security and intelligence apparatuses, and a ruling party of billionaire businessmen who help with funding this whole process of maintaining the status quo in return for “economic favours”. What is more, all this was internationally backed due to Mubarak’s good friendship with Israel – or, better said, Mubarak’s unquestioned obedience to Israel.

Amid all these challenges, how did peaceful protesters, armed with nothing but a love of dignity, freedom and social justice win this battle against political realism, despite the arrests of its members, the torture and killings? How did the mighty state security force collapse in a matter of a few hours? How was a cabinet of wealthy businessmen dismissed in a matter of days? How did one of the world’s worst dictators fall in just 18 days?

It’s because the power of an idea proved much stronger than the power of tanks, water cannons, bullets, batons, tear gas and Molotov cocktails. When the idea is right, it can prove more resilient than an out-of-its-mind police state, which wouldn’t hesitate before running over [warning: extremely graphic footage] peaceful protesters with ugly armoured vehicles.

I salute those who turned one of the world’s strongest men into one of its weakest, as well as those who did not favour a fake stability imposed by the heavy hand of brutal security over a stability driven by social equality and political freedom. But, most importantly, I salute those who gave their lives so that others can enjoy a better one.

This article first appeared in the New Statesman on 14 February 2011.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

The Arabic for freedom

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Khaled Diab

By toppling their dictator, Egyptians have made history, but now they need to ensure that this revolution does not become a footnote in their history.

Saturday 12 February 2011

One day, I couldn’t believe he was staying. The next day, I could hardly comprehend that he was actually going. Hosni Mubarak’s vacating of the presidency reminds me of that old song by The Clash

Despot, come on and let us know

Why do you stay; when will you go

It’s always seize, seize, seize

You’re happy when we’re on our knees

 After his obstinate performance on Thursday night when he refused to step down with whatever shreds remained of his dignity, I was so downhearted, and I’m hundreds of miles away from the action, that I can only imagine the overwhelming wave of frustration, anger and despondency that must’ve torn through the hearts of all the protesters on Tahrir square and massed elsewhere across the country. 

By the next morning, I’d penned an open letter to our dictator who obviously thought it was beneath him to be dictated to by his “sons and daughters”, thereby ensuring, with his undignified refusal to exit left (or any other direction), that Egyptians would only ever remember the worst about him. 

I told him – not, of course, that he was likely to be reading this open letter or any of the others I’d written to him over the years – how much Egyptians loathed him and how he had “the extraordinary knack for snatching mediocrity from the jaws of greatness”. I warned him that “Egyptians have discovered their own latent power” and that they would “write their own future”. 

And the very next day, on Friday 11 February, the millions of Egyptians who have taken to the streets did just that, when Mubarak’s resignation was announced unceremoniously by his recently appointed vice president and intelligence chief and palace executioner, Omar Suleiman.

Just as our wise former leader warned, he’s departure has left chaos in its wake: a beautiful, sweet, intoxicating chaos in which millions are partying to the beat of their own freedom. It was the chaos of a football crowd after the biggest win in its history; the euphoria as high as if a third-division club had somehow won the World Cup. To borrow again from The Clash, the news rocked the midan and thousands of midans, streets and alleys across the country, not to mention the region and the world. 

Even here, so far away from the action, and even though I contributed little to the revolution beyond my sympathy and words, I was gripped by joy, elation, a slight sense of disbelief and relief that he was finally over. I was overwhelmed that Egyptians managed to dethrone their dictator after three decades and convince the army that it was time to deliver on its six-decade-old promise of a transition to democracy in under three weeks. My brother jokingly says he wants to write a book entitled The guide to overthrowing a dictator in just 18 days. 

It just goes to show that the mighty are not as mighty as they seem, and that the regime’s power had been hollow for years and it survived simply because not enough people realised this or believed it. So, thank you Tunisia, and Egypt’s savvy youth, for convincing ordinary Egyptians that the opposition was not fighting a losing battle and that true freedom was not a lost cause. 

But the party will soon be over, and the revellers will wake up with a hangover when they realise what a monumental wreck the regime has left behind. Revolutions succeed when they overthrow the old order, but they cannot cry victory until they have replaced it with something better. So many past revolutions ended in disappointment, disillusionment, frustration, or even the creation of a worst monster than what went before it. To avoid this fate, after the Egyptian revolution, there must come evolution, not devolution, on every front: the political, the economic, the social and the cultural.

The challenges ahead are truly mind-boggling in their complexity. How do you manage the transition to democracy? How do you convince the army, after almost 60 years in power, to return to their barracks and leave the country to the civilians to run? How do you neutralise the once-might state security apparatus and ensure it is not resuscitated or does not go renegade? 

How do you ensure that the civilians who take over don’t replace one dictatorship with another? How do you shore up the institutions of the state so that none have excessive power? How do you guarantee that the will of the people is done, while ensuring a fair society and justice for all, including religious minorities and non-believers, women, not to mention those with other sexual orientations? Exciting as the revolution was, it was costly in human and economic terms. How do you prevent the need for future ones by not only responding to the will of the people but creating a clear and transparent mechanism for the regular transfer of power? 

Then, there are the massive economic challenges. The desire for decent jobs and economic dignity were among the primary reasons that brought people out on to the streets, particularly the young, the unemployed and underemployed, the poor and the lower middle classes. How do you create enough opportunities for such a large population in a relatively resource-constrained country? How do you build greater economic equality, or at least bridge the yawning chasm, between the haves and the have-nothings? How do you deal with the dictatorship of the global marketplace and the economic imperialism of the great powers and large corporations in a way that does not harm the people? 

On the social and cultural fronts, the challenges are no less perplexing. How do you weed out the corruption that has seeped into every layer of society? How do you get people to live within the system rather than parallel to it or through its backdoors? After this dramatic period is over, will Egyptians remain politically active and pay taxes responsibly (particularly the wealthier)? 

Will we replace the current wasta-ocracy with a meritocracy? How about Egypt’s attitude to authoritarianism? Will we rise up against and neutralise all the mini-Mubaraks stifling the country’s creative and innovative energies? Will we invest more and better in education? Will Egypt finally make full use of its abundant youth? Will Egyptians free their minds or allow them to be held back by the suffocating brand of religion that has swept through the country in recent years? 

Young as it is, the revolution has already answered many questions regarding the ability of Egyptians to rise up and be counted, stand up for their rights, and instigate a process of peaceful change. But, as you can see from the above, many more questions loom on the horizon.

Whatever the future holds, one thing is for certain, Tunisians and Egyptians are in the galvanising process of defining the modern Arabic for freedom, and armed with that houriya, the future is theirs for the taking.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

Why Mubarak shouldn’t stay until September

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Osama Diab

If Mubarak’s security apparatus tightens its grip on power, Egypt will turn into a North Korean-style dictatorship.

9 February 2011

The recent apocalypse-like incidents in Egypt will cast a shadow on the Egyptian people for years to come. The psychological impact of this state of anarchy and lawlessness will change Egyptian identity for ever. The Egypt that existed before 25 January has changed irrevocably.

For the thousands standing in Tahrir Square, the last 10 days were a mixture of peaceful expression, optimism, frustration and fear, of both turning back and what will happen to the country if they give up. Desperate to hold on to nine more months of power, President Hosni Mubarak’s regime showed the world his dark, ruthless capabilities – a brutality long familiar to the Egyptian population – which left behind 300 dead and 5,000 injured in less than two weeks, according to Egyptian ministry of health figures.

The important question now is what Egypt would be like if Mubarak succeeds in tightening his grip on power again, after the most serious challenge to his rule since he took power in 1981.

During his 30 years in power, Mubarak has been known as a benign dictator who has given his people a margin of freedom and expected them in return to be grateful, and careful about misusing it to speak out against him.

In contrast to his fellow dictators in nearby Libya, Syria and Sudan, the president was respected by world leaders for keeping peace with Egypt’s historical enemy, Israel, and sometimes going the extra mile to defend Israel’s interests with even more passion than Israel would show in protecting her own interests. This made him a good friend of the United States. US support of Egypt has, however, been criticised. The US was constantly accused of backing up dictatorships as long as they applied a World Bank economic agenda and were kind to Israel.

This made Mubarak a soft dictator compared to his Arab nationalist, socialist and anti-Western friends in Libya and Syria. His partnership with the United States, as well as Egypt’s increasingly integrated economy, based on a World Bank agenda, forced the regime to carry out some (mostly cosmetic) reforms. Within the narrow margin of liberty allowed by the regime, however, political dissidence grew and voices calling for change and democracy became louder each year. As Mubarak’s promises of reform proved empty, pressure on the US by the Congress and pro-democracy activists increased to stop funding one of the world’s 20 worst dictators.

Political pressure on Washington peaked in the aftermath of the events of 25 January, when President Barack Obama started actively calling for Mubarak to step down. Mubarak’s need for Washington’s support is a major reason why his regime was relatively gentle to his internal opponents or criticism. Now that Cairo and Washington are not the best friends they used to be, there is little incentive to halt the violence and censorship that security forces imposed during the past week. The first sign of this was the regime’s crackdown on foreign journalists, for long believed to be untouchable by the Mubarak regime. The attack on them took place immediately after Obama’s request for Mubarak to step down.

Now Egypt is at an important crossroads. If the revolution succeeds in overthrowing Mubarak, the people of Egypt will be able to orchestrate a peaceful and smooth transformation to a truly democratic political system, including a new civil constitution and locally and internationally monitored free and fair elections. The country will experience the end of emergency rule, and the arrival of a civil, non-theocratic and non-military political system. Of course there will be some hurdles along the way, but Egyptians paid too huge a price in their struggle for democracy, enduring previously unmatched horror for almost two weeks, to give up on it easily. Their new and hard-won democracy will be protected vigilantly by the people to ensure it does not slip into a military or a religious dictatorship.

But if Egyptians fail to remove the Mubarak regime, which seems an increasingly unlikely scenario, it is possible that a North Korean-type dictatorship – or worse – will take hold if the president manages to tighten his grip on power again. This fear is why many protesters do not not trust his promise to step down in September, especially coming from a man who is known to have left a long trail of empty promises behind him.

Always one to learn from his mistakes, Mubarak, it is likely, will disperse even the smallest protests in the future, rooting out any dissent. The operation of foreign media is likely to become tightly controlled by the state. New social media – one of the catalysts for the revolution – will be subject to larger scrutiny, and probably more activists will end up in prison. In short, the ruthlessness of the regime will increase as it stops chasing American approval and financial aid.

This is why many of the brave protesters continue to gather by the millions around Tahrir Square at the heart of the Egyptian capital: the impending so-called chaos that Mubarak warns of if he leaves office is far less harrowing than the restrictions and brutality that await Egyptians if he does not. Unluckily for Mubarak, many of the demonstrators see it as a choice between freedom and the leader rather than chaos and the leader.

The recent developments will affect the country’s collective identity for decades to come. A new Egypt is born, but its features are still undefined. The next few days will decide what Egypt and the region will be like decades from now. Until then, all fingers remain crossed and all eyes remain on Tahrir Square.

This article was first published in The New Statesman on 7 February 2011. Republished here with the author’s permission. ©Osama Diab. All rights reserved.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

The death throes of Arab dictatorships

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 2 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 5.5/10 (2 votes cast)

By Khaled Diab

Will the unfolding popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt lead to the region’s dictators falling one after the other like dominos?

Thursday 3 February 2011

For me as an Egyptian, watching the dramatic events of recent days unfold has been inspiring, moving and worrying all at the same time. Despite usually being a cool-headed journalistic observer, I have found myself fighting back tears of joy and pride on numerous occasions.

For a country whose political life usually limps forward (and quite often backward), the drama of recent days has throttled along like a high-speed political drama. The old adage that a week is a long time in politics has been fast-forwarded in Egypt, and every hour, even every minute, brings new developments with it.

Ever since the Tunisian uprising broke out and especially since the downfall of its president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the question on everyone’s lips has been whether people in Egypt, the largest and most central Arab country, and other states in the region would follow the Tunisian example. Of course, I and some other observers were expecting matters to come to a head this year, because of the mounting opposition to President Hosni Mubarak’s (read profile) rule as we approach the presidential elections, slated for the autumn of 2011, but no on expected, even in their wildest dreams, anything approaching the mass protests that have shaken the country in recent days.

Even a fortnight ago, it seemed uncertain as to whether Egypt would actually catch the Tunisian bug and, through it, cure itself of the Mubarak virus. After all, for most of the past decade, Egyptian political and trades union activists, and other civil society actors, had been campaigning and agitating for change. They even created a broad-based umbrella movement which united all of Egypt’s opposition forces – progressive, conservative, leftist, Nasserist and Islamist – towards the common goal of bringing to an end the Mubarak regime under the simple banner ‘Kefaya’ (‘Enough’). But Kefaya was clearly not enough to mobilise ordinary Egyptians, who seemed to be weighed down by the heavy chains of disillusionment, apathy and fear.

Disappointed at the mainstream opposition’s inability to create new momentum, Egypt’s young people, long sidelined and undervalued, decided to take matters into their own hands and created, in 2008, the 6 April Youth Movement, originally to call, through social networking technologies, for a general strike in solidarity with strikers in Mahallah el-Kubra, Egypt’s main textile production centre. Although the movement’s success had been limited, this all changed on Tuesday 25 January 2011, Egypt’s Police Day (a day of celebration for the regime, not the people), when it called on Egyptians to take to the street in a “day of anger”. Spurred on and emboldened by the sweet success of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, Egyptians took to the streets in untold thousands across the country.

The “Friday of anger”, on 28 January, delivered a fatal blow to the regime and most expect it to be the final nail in the coffin of the presidency. At the time of writing, Mubarak continues to cling on to power desperately and delusionally, playing out a perverse and surreal pantomime in which he dissolved the government and appointed a vice president (for the first time) and a new prime minister, both members of the old guard.

Regardless of what tricks the no-longer-president tries to pull off, most Egyptians demand and expect his ouster. But how many more Egyptians Mubarak is willing to sacrifice at the altar of his ego, in addition to the many scores of dead and injured already, remains an open question. Another crucial question is whose side the army will ultimately choose: the people’s, the defunct regime’s or perhaps simply its own.

Every passing moment increases the risks to Egyptians, in terms of their safety as relative anarchy breaks out following the disappearance of Egypt’s beloathed police force – which impromptu neighbourhood protection committees are trying to combat – and their economic well-being, as the financial and tourism markets take a battering. Tourists have fled the country, the stock market fell by around 6% for two days running before trading was suspended, while regional and global markets are growing jittery at the unrest, and the exchange rate of the Egyptian pound against the dollar is at its lowest in six years.

But what or who will replace the fallen regimes in Egypt and Tunisia? In many parts of Europe and the United States, there has been a longstanding fear, exploited by Mubarak and other dictators, that when presented with democratic choice, Arabs would vote in Islamists who would then strip citizens of their democratic rights – in a sort of “one citizen, one vote, one time” – and turn their countries against the West.

For that reason, many argue that pragmatism and realpolitik call for the propping up of friendly dictators – a very distasteful notion, indeed, especially as the United States dithers over whether or not to withdraw its support from Mubarak.

In the two ongoing revolutions, the fears of an Islamist takeover appear to be unfounded, especially in Tunisia, probably the most secular country in the region, where the protests began out of sympathy with the suicide of a young street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, who burned himself alive after his wares were confiscated by police, in an echo of the actions of Czech student Jan Palach, who also set himself on fire in 1969 to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia which aimed to crush the liberalising reforms of Alexander Dubček.

Since then, Tunisians of all ages and backgrounds have been out on the streets in force, chanting for democracy and freedom, not for Islam or Shari’a. “This Muslim fundamentalist thing in North Africa is a scarecrow,” insisted one Tunisian protester. In addition, women, modern, courageous, outspoken have been clearly visible among the crowds in a country where gender equality has gone furthest in the Arab world.

Nevertheless, the fears are still being voiced, as I’ve personally experienced in the number of times I’ve been asked by journalists and ordinary people about the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood would seize power in Egypt.

While recognising that nothing is beyond the bounds of possibility, I highly doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood will succeed, in a post-Mubarak democratic Egypt, of gaining complete control of the country through an Islamic counterrevolution, in an Arab version of Iran’s “Islamic revolution”, even if Iran itself drew parallels between 1979 and current events in Egypt and, rather cheekily considering its own crushing of mass protests in 2009, called on the Egyptian regime to submit to protesters’ demands.

However, there is a world of difference between Iran in 1979 and Egypt in 2011. For one, the Egyptian Sunni clergy are not politicised and are not held in the same kind of awe as their Shi’a counterpart. Iran had the charismatic and “holy” cult figure Ayatollah Khomeini, while the Muslim Brotherhood is largely made up of conservative and rather grey professionals in suits, i.e. doctors, lawyers and engineers.

Significantly, the party missed the boat in this revolution by refusing to take part in the protests or back them until it appeared that they were unstoppable. The movement’s top brass, under the conservative and cautious leadership of Mohammed Badie, have proven themselves not only to be out of touch with the popular mood, but also with the younger, more open-minded generation within their own ranks.

In addition, one factor behind the Muslim Brotherhood’s apparent success and popularity, with the movement often described as Egypt’s largest opposition party, is the fact that they were kind of the “last man left standing” after the secular opposition was purged, starting in the 1970s under former president Anwar el-Sadat who also backed the Islamist current as a counterbalance to his powerful secular opponents. Moreover, no matter how oppressive the regime became, it could not shut down mosques, natural meeting points for Islamists, without provoking public opprobrium.

But now, with freedom beckoning and plurality around the corner, the Brotherhood can no longer play the dual role of being both the last protest party for the disenfranchised and the demon used by the regime to scare the outside world. In fact, with the emergence of democracy, the Brotherhood would only be one of Egypt’s many political and social movements, albeit a fairly influential one, perhaps even a sort of “Muslim Democratic” party.

So, can this popular revolution spread beyond Tunisia and Egypt?

History would suggest that popular uprisings have a tendency to spark a chain reaction in countries with similar conditions, as occurred in Europe in the 1848 “Springtime of the Peoples” and the 1989 “Autumn of Nations”. Since the Middle East is not short of dictatorships, we could well see a domino effect, though I hope it will be more successful than 1848 and not result in oligarchial rule as occurred in so many places post-1989.

A number of countries are already experiencing unrest and there have been suggestions that they could be next in line. These include Yemen, Jordan and Algeria. Events in Egypt often resonate in Yemen. For instance, inspired by the Egyptian revolution, or coup d’etat, of 1952, revolutionary forces took over North Yemen, creating the Yemen Arab Republic. Although Yemeni tensions and disaffection have been high for some time, protesters are only now explicitly calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power even longer than Mubarak, but Yemenis may have trouble mobilising to the same degree as Egyptians and Tunisians.

Although anger and resentment is greater than in Egypt, “civil society is weaker here and the culture of popular opposition is far less here”, observes Aidroos Al Naqeeb, who heads the socialist party bloc in the Yemeni parliament. In addition, Yemeni society, which is largely tribal, has a weaker sense of national identity and is more fragile than Egypt and Tunisia, with growing secessionist pressure in South Yemen, not to mention the Shia’a or “Houthi” insurgency in the northwest of the country.

Jordan has also experienced protests to demand political and economic reforms. “Jordanians are all for the revolution in Egypt and are cheering for change there,” a Jordanian journalist told me. “Those amongst them who talk about change in Jordan, mainly talk about reforms but not changing the regime.”

This is partly due to the awe, respect, fear and love in which the monarchy is held, the journalist notes, which would explain why Jordanians are calling for the resignation of the government, even though it was appointed by the king who, in any case, is the one who holds executive authority. With that kind of deference to the monarchy, the tensions between indigenous Jordanians (East Bankers) and Jordanians of Palestinian descent, and how much Jordanians value the stability they enjoy in a dangerous and volatile neighbourhood, Jordan is unlikely to be next in line for popular revolution, but could push harder for gradual evolution.

How far popular uprisings and revolutions spread in the Middle East and what their long-term consequences will be is impossible to predict. But one thing is for certain, after decades of stagnation, the region will never be quite the same and we may finally see the dawning of true independence in which local peoples have shaken off not only foreign rule but domestic despotism.

This article appeared in Ukrainian Week on 3 February 2011.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 5.5/10 (2 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 2 votes)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

توجهات جديدة للنزاع العربي الإسرائيلي

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

بقلـم خالد دياب

تتجاوز القضية الأخلاقية لصالح زيادة التفاهم في أهميتها قضية انتهاك حقوق النشر، حسب رأي الصحفي خالد دياب، رداً على قرصنة ترجمة رواية مصرية مشهورة إلى العبرية

الاربعاء   ١٥   ديسمبر   ٢٠١٠

EN version

لا يعتبر علاء الأسواني مرشحاً محتملاً لمنصب مخلّص الرواية المصرية. إلا أن طبيب الأسنان هذا، الذي ما زال يمارس مهنته في عيادته في قلب العاصمة المصرية، يعتبر بشكل واسع أنه أنعش الرواية المصرية وزاد من مصداقيتها في الشارع المصري ضمن هذه العملية. ويعتبر الروائي المصري كذلك مشارك مفوّه في حملة تساند الديمقراطية. وقد كتب عدداً من المقالات عبر السنوات حول الحاجة الملّحة للإصلاح الديمقراطي في مصر وحول الفساد والجمود في نظام الرئيس مبارك.

تسطع فطنة الأسواني وعدم توقيره في مجموعة قصصه القصيرة وعنوانها “نيران صديقة”. ويشكّل عمله الأكثر شهرة “عمارة يعقوبيان” الذي نشر للمرة الأولى عام 2002 استكشافاً شجاعاً لواقع مصر الاجتماعي الاقتصادي البائس، بنتوءاته ومشاكله، كما يعبّر عنه سكان مجمع شقق متداعٍ ولكنه كان عريقاً في يوم من الأيام.

ورغم أن “عمارة يعقوبيان” تُرجمت إلى عشرين لغة على الأقل، إلا أن الأسواني قاوَم وبشدة وصلابة محاولات ترجمة روايته إلى لغة معينة هي العبرية، تضامناً مع مأساة الفلسطينيين وتعبيراً عن معارضته للـ “تطبيع الثقافي مع إسرائيل”.

قرر مركز إسرائيل فلسطين للبحوث والمعلومات مؤخراً، وبعكس رغبات الأسواني، وبهدف معلن هو “نشر الوعي الثقافي”، قرر نشر ترجمة غير مصرّح بها لرواية “عمارة يعقوبيان” على شكل صورة إلكترونية (pdf) وتوزيعها على قائمة عناوين تضم 27,000 مشترك.

استشاط الأسواني غضباً كما كان متوقعاً. هدد متهماً المركز بالسرقة والقرصنة، باتخاذ إجراءات قانونية. إلا أن غيرشون باسكن، رئيس ومؤسس مركز إسرائيل فلسطين للبحوث والمعلومات لم يتراجع. “لم تكن نيتنا انتهاك حقوقه في النشر” حسبما صرح لصحيفة هآارتس. “القضية هنا هي ما إذا كان حق الإسرائيليين بقراءة الكتاب يعتبر أهم من حقوق الأسواني للنشر”.

حسناً، من وجهة نظر قانونية وفكرية، فإن الإجابة على موقف باسكن هي “بالطبع لا”. إلا أن الناشر الناشط في مجال السلام والذي تحول إلى قرصان قد يكون على حق عندما يقول، كما أشارت وكالة الأسوشييتد برس “لنعطِ الجمهور الإسرائيلي اليهودي فرصة لفهم المجتمع العربي بصورة أفضل”.

ورغم أن الأسواني يقف على أرضية قانونية صلبة جداً، إلا أنني أشك بالقضية الإنسانية والأخلاقية وراء معارضته العامة لترجمة عبرية، ليس لمجرد أن باستطاعة الكتّاب اختيار أمور عديدة، ليس قرائهم واحد منها.

تثير عواطفي، مثلي مثل الأسواني، مأساة الفلسطينيين والصعوبات التي يعانون منها تحت الاحتلال. إلا أنني غير مقتنع أن الانخراط في مقاطعة ثقافية شاملة ضد إسرائيل هو أمر فاعل أو عادل أو ملتزم.

بداية، ليس الفلسطينيون العرب أو المسلمين الوحيدين الذين يناضلون نير احتلال أجنبي. خذ العراق وأفغانستان مثلاً، حيث يعاني السكان مثل الفلسطينيين على أقل تقدير، بل وبشكل أسوأ من حيث عدد الضحايا. أعلم تمام العلم من قراءتي لأعمدة الأسواني أنه غاضب جداً من الدمار الذي تتسبب به هذه الغزوات الأنجلو أمريكية. لماذا لم تترجم هذه النقمة إذن إلى رفض مماثل للسماح بنشر ترجمة إنجليزية للرواية؟

هناك نوع معين من التناقض الظاهري، على شكل ردة فعل مفاجئة، في أوساط مفكرين مصريين يعتبرون تقدميين في الأحوال العادية، وخاصة هؤلاء من الجيل الأقدم، الذين يتصرفون كديناصورات عندما يعود الأمر إلى إسرائيل، حيث يعلقون في معارك الأمس ويتمسكون بأفكار الأمس العتيقة الكارثية، ولكنهم على استعداد وقدرة على رؤية المجالات الرمادية والفروقات الدقيقة في أمريكا، رغم سجلّها التاريخي المدمّر أكثر في أنحاء العالم.

إذا كان الأسواني مهتماً بالدفاع عن القضية الفلسطينية فإن السماح للإسرائيليين بالقراءة عن العرب كبشر عاديين، بدلاً من الشياطين التي تطارد كوابيسهم، والتوصل إلى فهم معمق للمجتمع العربي، سيوفّر مساعدة أكبر بكثير وفائدة أعم، من مقاطعة راوحت مكانها منذ عقود بدون أثر ملموس. شخصياً، أنا مع مقاطعة انتقائية لمتطرفين معروفين. ولكن رفض التعامل مع جميع الإسرائيليين هو نوع من العقاب الجماعي ننتقد نحن العرب إسرائيل لممارسته ضد الفلسطينيين.

تكمن إحدى المشاكل في أن المفكرين الذين يتعاملون مع إسرائيل في مصر يوصَمون عادة بأنهم خونة باعوا القضية. إذا كان الأسواني قلق من أن يبدو وكأنه يستفيد شخصياً من التعامل مع إسرائيل بينما يعاني الفلسطينيون، فهو يستطيع دائماً التبرع بدخل النسخة العبرية من كتابه لجمعية خيرية فلسطينية.

واقع الأمر هو أنني كنت آمل أن الأسواني كان سيستخدم ابتكاريته ووضعه وشهرته وشجاعته التي لا يشك بها أحد لأن يفتح طريقاً جديداً للنخبة الفكرية المصرية وإنشاء حوار مع إسرائيليين (إضافة إلى فلسطينيين) ذوي عقليات مماثلة من المصلحين وناشطي السلام، بدلاً من البقاء عالقاً في سلبية عدم التصرف. سوف يثري دعم صوت مصري بارز كهذا المعتدلين الإسرائيليين ويُفشِل سلطة المتطرفين لتجنيد الدعم المبني على الرعب والذم وتشويه السمعة.

لست ساذجاً لأعتقد بأن العلم أقوى من البندقية، ولكن من المؤكد أن بإمكان الكلمة أن تثلم السيف.

مصدر المقال: خدمة الأرضية المشتركة الإخبارية، 29 تشرين الثاني/نوفمبر 2010

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts