Nevertheless, closely assessing the political history of places like the Balkans, Central and South America, Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East and South Eastern Asia, one immediately comes to the realization that for decades the world's bloodiest dictators and despots have tended to be ones placed into power by Washington.
Fearing a drastic reversal of fortunes in the Middle East today, Washington and Tel Aviv are naturally alarmed. And although they would never admit it publicly, you can bet your life that "freedom and democracy loving" officials in Washington are doing everything in their power to undermine or crush any "democratic" movement that can potentially install an anti-American and/or anti-Israel government in the Middle East. In the eyes of Western officials, a democratic process is only acceptable when agents/mercenaries of the West are "elected" or simply installed into public office. In troubled places like the fledgling nations of the former Soviet Union, for example, one can be an authoritarian war criminal (e.g. Saakashvili) and he'll still be considered by Washington a "great reformist" president and one can be a vile thieve and a bloody dictator (e.g. Aliyev) and he'll still be considered by Washington as "our strongman" in office.
God forbid there be a president like Armenia's Serj Sargsyan, a farsighted president that bravely chooses to have a Russian bedfellow instead of an American one. Simply due to his unabashedly pro-Russian politics, there is nothing President Sargsyan of Armenia can do to please officials in Washington these days. In the eyes of Washington officials and their utterly brain-dead followers within Armenian society, Armenia today is considered to be one of the most corrupt, most undemocratic and one of the most authoritarian nations on earth today. The truth of the matter is that even with all its internal and external problems today, Armenia is arguably one of the world's freest, stablest and safest countries. Considering the immense odds stacked up against it, not the least of which are its volatile geographic location, its troublesome neighbors, its minuscule size and its lack of resources, Armenia is doing quite well - relatively speaking.
Nevertheless, the point is that had Serj Sargsyan been America's strongman in Yerevan, he could have easily canceled the nation's presidential elections and held on to power for decades. Had Serj been Washington's willing bitch, he could kill, maim, torture and illegally imprison tens-of-thousands of his countrymen - with impunity. Had Serj been an active agent of the West, he could chase his "opposition" out of the country, literally at gunpoint. Had Serj happily bent-over for the oil interests of the Anglo-American-Zionist global empire, he could do all this and much-much more and still be considered a great ally and one fully worthy of public office. Don't believe me? Just read American Vice President Joseph Biden's comments appearing below about Egypt's absolute ruler, Hosni Mubarak.
I am not attempting to make excuses for the widespread corruption that goes no in Armenia nor am I seeking to protect our nation's gluttonous oligarchs. Having said that, however, it must also be emphasized that any effort to curb corruption and/or injustice in Armenia needs to be meticulously measured and carefully assessed under a geopolitical light.
When there are foreign agents and mercenaries waiting on the sidelines to grab power, one needs to be very careful about the pursuit of domestic matters in a forceful or drastic manner. Sadly, the fact is that an overwhelming majority of Armenia's so-called "independent journalists", "human rights advocates" and "opposition" figures are either inspired by the self-serving rhetoric of coldblooded reptiles in Washington or directly trained and funded by them. Armenia needs political evolution - not a Western funded revolution. The almost successful color revolution in Armenia several years ago plainly revealed to us all that we Armenians are not yet ready to make rational decisions when it comes to political matters. Our nation's self-destructive peasantry simply cannot be trusted to make political decisions when it comes to Armenia.
Getting back to the matter at hand, they will never tell you this in the government controlled mainstream news press here in the United States, but what we are seeing happen in places like Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon is essentially a wide-scale popular uprising against Washington-backed dictators. What the West failed to accomplish in Syria and in Iran is now coming back to haunt them.
Although the most pressing matter at hand is the mini revolution currently taking place in Egypt, the other most significant recent political development in the region was that of the mandate Hezbollah was handed in Lebanon as a result of Christian and Druze support it received. The Hezbollah, the Iranian and Syrian backed social-political-military entity that defeated the Zionist state during two different military confrontations in recent years, has been chosen by various Lebanese political factions to lead the nation.
The political significance of this development is great indeed and it is all very alarming for the West; for Washington in general and for the Zionist state in particular. Will they allow a capable force to deepen its roots on Israel's northern borders or will the empire strike back? It must also be said that the overall situation at hand today is extremely troubling for the American-backed Sunni dictatorships infesting the Arabian peninsula as well.
It wasn't supposed to happen this way. At a time when Washington, Tel Aviv and various client states in the region had been diligently preparing to violate Iran's national sovereignty (Iran is the only independent Islamic nation in the region that is stable and growing more-and-more powerful), these democracy movements under Western noses are proving very troublesome. Simply put, in the wake of these widespread protests, Washington cannot remain idle and allow things to progress "democratically". As I have said countless times in the past, Western officials will never allow something as insignificant or silly as "democracy" to get in the way of realpolitik.
People's choices are deemed acceptable or legitimate only when they occur WITHIN the political or financial structures of the Anglo-American-Zionist global order.
Consequently, the West doesn't really have a choice in the matter. At the very least, Western officials will have to attempt to manipulate and/or exploit events taking place on the ground. And they seem to be doing just that. They are currently trying hard to hijack the political momentum on the streets in Cairo. In an effort to - seed - the mini revolution taking place in Egypt, just in case their strongman in power is suddenly deposed, another Western lackey, Mohamed El'Baradei, has been sent to the country as an "opposition" figure. We see here a classic example of how powerful nations can actually create their opposition that which they can control. Moreover, there are strong indicators that political/social activists trained by Western NGOs are being sent into the melee as well. Most probably, they are resorting to all sorts of countermeasures, we are just not aware of them at this time.
Washington and its allies realize that despite their wishes to the contrary, they can no longer count on Egypt's aging Mubarak to remain in power indefinitely, especially now that the pan-Arabic genie seems to have been let out of the bottle. In fact,in attempting to curb Arab nationalism, Islamic militancy will again prove to be West's best friend. So look for Western officials collaborating with Islamist types.
The sheeple may chose to run a muck from time-to-time, but ultimately it's the appointed shepherds that end-up leading them. It will be a good idea to wait and see who emerges as the leader or leaders of these protests in Egypt.
Nevertheless, here are the ironies: Hezbollah and Hamas are the only two democratically elected political entities in the Middle East that are NOT recognized by the West. Iran is, arguably, one of the only democratically run nations in the Islamic world - yet it is under the constant threat of annihilation. Every single Mideast dictatorship, with the exception of Syria, are Washington-backed tyrannies. I hope this ordeal in Egypt has thought us hopelessly naive Armenians a thing or two about the real face of Washington and its shallow and self-serving rhetoric concerning freedom and democracy.
What we are currently seeing take place around the world is the gradual continuation of major geopolitical shifts that started occurring soon after the turn of this century as a result of the backlash the United States began suffering due to its reckless global military campaigns, economic uncertainty and, if I may add, Vladimir Putin's rise to power in Russia. Have no doubt, a major international war is looming in the not too distant horizon. Anytime there are major geopolitical realignments and/or major global economic downturns, the world goes to war. What we are seeing currently are in essence the political posturings before the inevitable large-scale bloodletting begins.
The following are some news articles and video presentations that caught my attention in recent weeks. There is a lot of misinformation and disinformation being put out by various news agencies and governmental offices. Therefore, it is imperative to carefully navigate through the provided information, and as usual - read between the lines and use your judgment.
CrossTalk on Egypt: Power to People?(RT video): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8nyeOAdqAQ
But in the near term, it is two of the most important President-for-life figures, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, that are at the most risk. In each case the US is giving lip-service to the notion of some “reforms” but are conceding they won’t want anything that might threaten the rule of their allies, particularly any pesky elections. Officials are concerned with what sorts of governments might emerge in those nations, surely, but the bigger problem is that giving a meaningful political voice to tens of millions of people who have spent decades being repressed by US-backed dictators is going to yield governments, regardless of their general policies, will insist on independence from US regional policy.Source: http://news.antiwar.com/2011/01/28/pro-democracy-revolutions-a-big-problem-for-us/
Ron Paul on Crisis in Egypt (Campaign for Liberty video): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmJ6I1Xv1F4
US officials had denied he had any contact with the Egyptian government so far in the course of the protest (constrasting Egyptian reports that Obama had repeated reassured Mubarak of his support during that time). But once the call was made, a second round of lip-service to “meaningful dialogue” cropped up, again with no specifics. Perhaps most insultingly, President Obama termed the protests, the mass censorship, and the brutal crackdowns by the US-backed dictator “a moment of promise,” even as officials make it abundantly clear that there is no American appetite for any serious change inside Egypt and the best officials can say is they support “the basic right to use social media.”Source: http://news.antiwar.com/2011/01/28/protests-swell-as-obama-mubarak-trade-lip-service-platitudes/
Vice President Joe Biden spoke to the PBS NewsHour tonight with the most direct US governent comments yet about the gathering Egypt protests against President Hosni Mubarak's 29-year reign. Mr. Biden's comments are unlikely to be well-received by regime opponents, as they fit a narrative of steadfast US support for a government they want to bring down. About eight protesters and one policeman have died this week as Egypt has sought to bring down the heavy hand of the state against opponents. Since the US provides about $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt a year, the repressive apparatus of the state is seen by many in Egypt as hand in glove with the US.
Tonight in Cairo, activists said that internet service was being systematically blocked, as was the use of instant messages on local cellphones, despite repeated calls from the US State Department for Egypt to allow social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to remain available to the nation's people. Egypt is bracing for a showdown tomorrow. Organizers have called for massive protests against the regime after noon prayers on Friday, seeking to build on the unprecedented wave of public demonstrations this week calling for an end to Mubarak's rule.
Whether the protests will be as large as democracy activists hope is an open question. Overnight in Egypt, the government was doing everything it could to head them off. Ahead of a day that could prove decisive, NewsHour host Jim Lehrer asked Biden if the time has "come for President Mubarak of Egypt to go?" Biden answered: "No. I think the time has come for President Mubarak to begin to move in the direction that – to be more responsive to some... of the needs of the people out there."
Asked if he would characterize Mubarak as a dictator Biden responded: “Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with – with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.” He also appeared to make one of the famous Biden gaffes, in comments that could be interpreted as questioning the legitimacy of protesters' demands. Monitor Cairo correspondent Kristen Chick, other reporters in the country, and activists have generally characterized the main calls of demonstrators as focused on freedom, democracy, an end to police torture, and a more committed government effort to address the poverty that aflicts millions of Egyptians.
Biden urged non-violence from both protesters and the government and said: "We’re encouraging the protesters to – as they assemble, do it peacefully. And we’re encouraging the government to act responsibly and – and to try to engage in a discussion as to what the legitimate claims being made are, if they are, and try to work them out." He also said: "I think that what we should continue to do is to encourage reasonable... accommodation and discussion to try to resolve peacefully and amicably the concerns and claims made by those who have taken to the street. And those that are legitimate should be responded to because the economic well-being and the stability of Egypt rests upon that middle class buying into the future of Egypt."
Egypt's protesters, if they're paying attention to Biden at all, will certainly be wondering which of their demands thus far have been illegitimate.
Western hypocrisy towards the Arab world stands exposed
CrossTalk: Times of Uprisings? (RT video):http://www.youtube.com/user/RussiaToday#p/u/30/7rt1b_7sCjE
, Jordan, Yemen, Egypt...the arc of popular discontent continues to grow. But it is the tumultuous scenes from Egypt this week, culminating in the running battles in many cities yesterday after Friday prayers, that highlight the volatility of the situation – and the dilemma for the United States and the rest of the Western world. That such a dilemma exists at all, of course, is largely of our own making. We have long observed a double standard in relations with most Arab countries. We turned a blind eye to internal repression and stagnation, so long as the appearance of internal stability was preserved and the oil routes remained secure. The consequence was a chain of undemocratic from North Africa to the Gulf, which enjoyed Western, primarily US and British, patronage. When, as in Iran, popular anger led to the overthrow of the pro-Western regime, we called foul and were surprised to be shunned. Leaving aside our differently lamentable treatment of Iraq, this is the state of affairs that persists pretty much to this day.
As demands for change reverberate further and further from Tunisia, the hypocrisy separating the West's words and deeds can no longer be sustained. But finding a new response is not easy in this fast-moving situation. France, although the former colonial power, conspicuously kept its distance from the events in Tunisia, wisely refusing asylum to its former protégé. The reticence of the United States has spoken volumes, as disturbances in Egypt have spread.
The instincts of the Obama administration pull it in conflicting directions. On the one hand, it is all in favour of democratic reform, especially democracy sprouting from the grass roots up. On the other, Egypt is a crucial ally in the region – a partner in Middle East peace, guardian of the Suez Canal, a beacon for other Arab countries – and allies need to be orderly and predictable. Here the forces of democracy and stability seem to be at odds. How much simpler it would be for the West to take a (negative) stand if the protests had been mounted in the name of fundamentalist Islam rather than in pursuit of elementary political and economic change.
There is a multitude of contradictions here. The copious amounts of US aid to Egypt, as the reward for supporting Middle East peace, may have had the perverse effect of reducing the pressure for domestic reform. America's neoconservatives, once such vocal champions of democracy in the region, have fallen strangely silent over these latest protests. And how rich an irony it was to hear Tony Blair – the man who so heedlessly helped to topple Saddam Hussein – speak yesterday of the need above all for stability in Egypt.
For the Arab countries, these are complicated, even revolutionary, times. As it is, the West has little choice but to watch and wait, while cautioning those who would cling to power against the sort of excesses that would exacerbate their plight. It is not for us to dictate the direction in which the people of these countries eventually decide to go. But it is in our interests to do nothing that would discredit, or make less likely, a democratic choice. As the broad participation in these protests has shown, it is by no means inevitable that militant anti-Western Islam will emerge the victor, and we should not assume the worst.
Thousands Protest Against Jordanian Govt
US urges reform in Egypt (Al Jazeera video): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmEcQMwprIo&feature=player_embedded
Egypt protests: America's secret backing for rebel leaders behind uprising
Webster Tarpley: CIA fuels 'mob rule' in Arab world to change power (RT video): http://www.youtube.com/user/RussiaToday#p/u/9/UvI6JqiAZjs
The American Embassy in Cairo helped a young dissident attend a US-sponsored summit for activists in New York, while working to keep his identity secret from Egyptian state police. On his return to Cairo in December 2008, the activist told US diplomats that an alliance of opposition groups had drawn up a plan to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak and install a democratic government in 2011.
He has already been arrested by Egyptian security in connection with the demonstrations and his identity is being protected by The Daily Telegraph. The crisis in Egypt follows the toppling of Tunisian president Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali, who fled the country after widespread protests forced him from office. The disclosures, contained in previously secret US diplomatic dispatches released by the WikiLeaks website, show American officials pressed the Egyptian government to release other dissidents who had been detained by the police.
Mr Mubarak, facing the biggest challenge to his authority in his 31 years in power, ordered the army on to the streets of Cairo yesterday as rioting erupted across Egypt. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets in open defiance of a curfew. An explosion rocked the centre of Cairo as thousands defied orders to return to their homes. As the violence escalated, flames could be seen near the headquarters of the governing National Democratic Party. Police fired rubber bullets and used tear gas and water cannon in an attempt to disperse the crowds.
At least five people were killed in Cairo alone yesterday and 870 injured, several with bullet wounds. Mohamed ElBaradei, the pro-reform leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was placed under house arrest after returning to Egypt to join the dissidents. Riots also took place in Suez, Alexandria and other major cities across the country. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, urged the Egyptian government to heed the “legitimate demands of protesters”. Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, said she was “deeply concerned about the use of force” to quell the protests.
In an interview for the American news channel CNN, to be broadcast tomorrow, David Cameron said: “I think what we need is reform in Egypt. I mean, we support reform and progress in the greater strengthening of the democracy and civil rights and the rule of law.” The US government has previously been a supporter of Mr Mubarak’s regime. But the leaked documents show the extent to which America was offering support to pro-democracy activists in Egypt while publicly praising Mr Mubarak as an important ally in the Middle East.
In a secret diplomatic dispatch, sent on December 30 2008, Margaret Scobey, the US Ambassador to Cairo, recorded that opposition groups had allegedly drawn up secret plans for “regime change” to take place before elections, scheduled for September this year. The memo, which Ambassador Scobey sent to the US Secretary of State in Washington DC, was marked “confidential” and headed: “April 6 activist on his US visit and regime change in Egypt.” It said the activist claimed “several opposition forces” had “agreed to support an unwritten plan for a transition to a parliamentary democracy, involving a weakened presidency and an empowered prime minister and parliament, before the scheduled 2011 presidential elections”. The embassy’s source said the plan was “so sensitive it cannot be written down”.
Ambassador Scobey questioned whether such an “unrealistic” plot could work, or ever even existed. However, the documents showed that the activist had been approached by US diplomats and received extensive support for his pro-democracy campaign from officials in Washington. The embassy helped the campaigner attend a “summit” for youth activists in New York, which was organised by the US State Department. Cairo embassy officials warned Washington that the activist’s identity must be kept secret because he could face “retribution” when he returned to Egypt. He had already allegedly been tortured for three days by Egyptian state security after he was arrested for taking part in a protest some years earlier.
The protests in Egypt are being driven by the April 6 youth movement, a group on Facebook that has attracted mainly young and educated members opposed to Mr Mubarak. The group has about 70,000 members and uses social networking sites to orchestrate protests and report on their activities. The documents released by WikiLeaks reveal US Embassy officials were in regular contact with the activist throughout 2008 and 2009, considering him one of their most reliable sources for information about human rights abuses.
Police and protesters clash in Cairo (Al Jazeera video): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3T86e9Vih5E&feature=player_embedded
Thanks to Pulse, here is a wonderful interview of State Dep't spokesman P.J. Crowley by Shihab Rattansi of Al Jazeera that shows why Obama talked about Tunisian democracy in the State of the Union but said nothing about democracy in Egypt. At about 5:40 Rattansi asks Crowley why the U.S. with all its leverage over Egypt doesn't pressure it to call off the dogs and let the society move toward democracy? Says Crowley: "We respect what Egypt contributes to the region, it is a stabilizing force, it has made its own peace with Israel, and is pursuing normal relations with Israel, we think that's important, we think that's a model that the region should adopt broadly speaking. at the same time, we recognize that Egypt, Tunisia other countries do need to reform, they do need to respond to the needs of their people, and we encourage that reform and are contributing across the region to that reform." Rattansi: [paraphrased] but if Egypt can't guarantee stability, what's the point of all your financial support. Crowley: "We rely on Egypt as an ally to be a stabilizing force in the region... that has benefits across the region." Rattansi: "Democracy would be destabilizing to the region generally, wouldn't it?"
Although the new prime minister, Najib Mikati, didn’t need Mr. Fattoush’s support to defeat Saad Hariri — the militant Shiite movement Hezbollah and the Parliament’s largest single bloc of Christians, headed by Gen. Michel Aoun, along with some Sunni Muslim and Druze members, provided the numerical edge — Mr. Fattoush’s vote held particular significance. Not only had he been an ally of Saad Hariri’s, but he had just days before received a widely publicized visit from the United States ambassador, Maura Connelly, in his home district.
That a small-time figure known for his political horse-trading would spurn a superpower’s attempt to retain his vote for its man provides an exclamation point on just how poorly Washington’s policy of “maximalism” — applying sporadic bouts of pressure on its allies while refusing to sincerely negotiate with its adversaries — has fared in Lebanon and the Middle East as a whole. The Obama administration is going to need a very different approach when it comes to dealing with the “new” Lebanon.
Unfortunately, though, such a change will be far more difficult today than it would have been just six years ago, when Hezbollah had its political back against the wall, lacking support outside its Shiite base and the insurance of Syrian troops in the country. In April of that year, Hezbollah went so far as to send one of its affiliated politicians, Trade Hamade, to meet with State Department officials to work out a modus vivendi. He left Washington empty-handed: the Bush administration believed that American influence was on the rise in Lebanon and that Hezbollah could be cornered into agreeing to disarmament before any substantive negotiations.
Sadly, it took this policy less than a year to result in a botched Israeli invasion that killed and wounded thousands of Lebanese citizens and gave Hezbollah unprecedented popularity in the region.
Today, Syria has regained much of its hegemony in the country — this time without the cost of stationing troops — and is again at the center of regional politics. Hezbollah’s military capacity, by all accounts, has soared, and many of its leaders seem to harbor the dangerous belief that they can decisively win a “final” confrontation with Israel. The Party of God has also deftly maintained and even expanded its political alliances — including one with about half the Christians in the country — that gave it the power to change the government this week by constitutional means.
Perhaps most frustratingly, Hezbollah has largely succeeded in undermining the legitimacy of the United Nations tribunal in the Arab and Islamic worlds. In this effort it had unintentional American help. As a recent report from the International Crisis Group put it, the manner in which the investigation was established, “pushed by two Western powers with clear strategic objectives” — the United States and France — “contaminated” the process.
So, what can the United States do to reverse Hezbollah’s new momentum? Its options are limited. Given the change of government, Congress may well try to cut off all aid to Lebanon and the Lebanese Army. The Obama administration will likely reiterate its support for the tribunal and push for any indictments of Hezbollah figures. But neither step would have much of an impact on Hezbollah’s core calculations or desires.
Hezbollah will continue to increase its military power, edging ever closer to what Israeli officials have called a “redline” of capabilities that would prompt Israel to mount a major “pre-emptive” attack. Such a move would, as it was in 2006, be devastating for Lebanon, probably for Israel and certainly for United States interests in the region, not least because Hezbollah would likely survive and even gain new adherents among those affected by Israeli strikes on Lebanese infrastructure and civilian areas.
Still, there is a way for Washington to stake out a reasonable, nonviolent alternative: by pushing for the immediate revival of peace talks between Syria and Israel. Eleven years ago, a peace agreement between the two countries that would have included the disarmament of Hezbollah fell apart, largely because the Israeli prime minister at the time, Ehud Barak, found it too politically difficult to hand over to Syria the last few hundred yards of shoreline around the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee bordering the Golan Heights.
Although a new deal on the Golan would not lead to the end of Hezbollah in the immediate term, it would contain the movement’s ability and desire to use violence, as Syria would need to commit to cutting off the supply routes by which Iranian (and Syrian) weapons are now smuggled into Lebanon. Militarily weakened, and without Syrian or much domestic political backing to continue in its mission to liberate Jerusalem, Hezbollah would find it extremely difficult to threaten Israel’s northern border.
Certainly some Israelis see the benefits of such a deal. Ilan Mizrahi, a former deputy chief of the Mossad and national security adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, told an interviewer recently that on his first day on the job, he recommended that Mr. Olmert make a deal with Syria because it would “change the security situation in the Middle East.” He said he still believed that.
When asked if a pullout might create a threat to Israel along the Golan, Mr. Mizrahi answered: “Our chief of staff doesn’t think so. Our head of intelligence, military intelligence, doesn’t think so ... the best Israeli generals are saying we can negotiate it, so I believe them.” Would pressuring Israel into a full withdrawal from the Golan be politically difficult for President Obama? Surely — as it would be for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. But given the alternatives for Lebanon, Israel and the United States, anything less would be merely setting up temporary roadblocks to an impending regional disaster.
THE West stands captivated by Tunisia, where a month of peaceful protests by secular working- and middle-class Arabs has toppled a dictator, raising hopes that this North African country of 10 million will set off democracy movements throughout a region of calcified dictatorships. But before we envision a new Middle East remade in the manner of Europe 1989, it is worth cataloguing the pivotal ways in which Tunisia is unique.
Start with a map of classical antiquity, which shows a concentration of settlements where Tunisia is today, juxtaposed with the relative emptiness that characterizes modern-day Algeria and Libya. Jutting out into the Mediterranean close to Sicily, Tunisia has been the hub of North Africa not only under the Carthaginians and Romans, but under the Vandals, Byzantines, medieval Arabs and Turks. Whereas Algeria and Libya were but vague geographical expressions until the coming of European colonial map makers, Tunisia is an age-old cluster of civilization.
Even today, many of the roads in the country, particularly in the north, were originally Roman ones. For 2,000 years, the closer to Carthage (roughly the site of Tunis, the capital, today), the greater the level of development. Because urbanization in Tunisia started two millenniums ago, tribal identity based on nomadism — which, as the medieval historian Ibn Khaldun says, has always disrupted political stability — is correspondingly weak.
After the Roman general Scipio defeated Hannibal in 202 B.C. outside modern-day Tunis, he dug a demarcation ditch, or fossa regia, that marked the extent of civilized territory. The fossa regia remains relevant. Still visible in places, it runs from Tabarka on Tunisia’s northwestern coast southward, and then turns directly eastward to Sfax, another Mediterranean port. The towns beyond that line have fewer Roman remains, and today tend to be poorer and less developed, with historically higher rates of unemployment.
The town of Sidi Bouzid, where the recent revolt started when a vendor of fruit and vegetables set himself on fire, lies just beyond Scipio’s line. Tunisia is less part of the connective tissue of Arab North Africa than a demographic and cultural island bordered by sea and desert, with upwardly mobile European aspirations.
Tunisia has a relatively large middle class because of something so obvious it goes unremarked upon: it is a real state, with historical and geographical legitimacy, where political arguments are about budgets and food subsidies, not the extremist ideologies that have plagued its neighbors, Algeria and Libya. It is a state not only because of the legacy of Rome and other empires, but because of human agency, in the person of Habib Bourguiba, one of the lesser-known great men of the 20th century.
Bourguiba was the Arab Ataturk, who ruled Tunisia in a fiercely secular style for its first three decades after independence from France in the mid-1950s. Rather than envision grandiose building projects or a mighty army, Bourguiba devoted generous financing to birth control programs, rural women’s literacy and primary-school education. He cracked down on the wearing of the veil, actually tried to do away with Ramadan, and advocated normalizing relations with Israel more than a decade before Anwar Sadat of Egypt went to Jerusalem. Yes, he was an authoritarian, but the result of his rule was that Tunisia, with moderate political tendencies and no serious ethnic or sectarian splits, has been poised since the 1980s for a democratic experiment.
In 1987, while faced by an Islamic rising, Bourguiba became too infirm to rule, and was replaced by his former interior minister, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, essentially a security boss with little vision, much like the Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Mr. Ben Ali’s strategy was to keep order, which largely meant killing and torturing Islamists and other dissidents.
But before we dismiss Mr. Ben Ali entirely, we should keep in mind that for many years he presided over a growing economy and middle class, with progress penetrating to the areas beyond the fossa regia. What happened was classic development theory: rising expectations along with uneven economic growth that led to political upheaval. Unlike Bourguiba, who was always revered as the man who led the country to independence, Mr. Ben Ali had no particular cachet to save him, despite an outrageous personality cult, and his extended family was famously corrupt.
Because Bourguiba insisted that the army remain small and apolitical, it is now the most trusted institution in the country. Indeed, the Tunisian Army is a benign Leviathan that may well ensure public order and thus allow for the tumult of democracy. Nevertheless, despite all these advantages of history, prosperity and stability, Tunisia’s path forward is treacherous. As for other benighted countries in the Arab world — the ones that many observers hope will be shaken to the core by Tunisia’s revolt — they are in far worse shape.
Egypt has been effectively governed by military emergency law since 1952, with Islamic militants waiting in the wings for any kind of opportunity, even as the country is rent by tensions between its majority Muslims and Coptic Christian minority. Algeria and Libya have neither the effective institutions nor the venerable tradition of statehood that Tunisia has. Libya, should Muammar el-Qaddafi fall, would likely be much more of a mess than Tunisia post-Ben Ali.
Then there is Lebanon, with its vicious communalisms, and Syria, which has the potential to break up the way Yugoslavia did in the 1990s, given its regionally defined sectarian divisions. Syria held three free elections from 1947 to 1954 that all broke down along sectarian and regional lines, and the military regimes that have followed in Damascus did nothing to prepare their people for another bout of democracy.
As for Iraq, once the dictator was removed, tens of thousands — and perhaps hundreds of thousands — died in sectarian and ethnic violence. Often, the worse the dictator, the worse the mess after he is toppled. There have been many comparisons between Tunisia 2011 and Europe 1989, but the idea that the coming of democracy in the Middle East won’t have far more disruptions than occurred in Eastern Europe following the collapse of Communism seems naïve.
And there are plenty of reasons to think we are not on the cusp of a democratic avalanche. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 began as a revolt against the tyranny of the shah, but ended with a theocratic regime that was even worse. The seizure of the Grand Mosque at Mecca the same year by Islamic radicals might have brought a tyranny far worse than that of monarchial Saudi Arabia. In any event, it was put down and so remained a localized revolt. The Cedar Revolution in 2005 in Lebanon was stillborn.
There are some promising factors. For one, Arabic-language cable television makes the Middle East a virtual community, so that an event in one part of the region can more easily affect another part. It’s worth hoping that Tunisia’s secular Jasmine Revolution can seed similar uprisings in a restive Middle East that has undergone vast economic and social change, but suffers under the same sterile national security regimes that arose half a century ago.
Still, as the situation evolves in Tunis, and as we watch other Arab capitals expectantly, we would do well to focus less on what unites these places than on what divides them. Just as Tunisia’s circumstances are unique, so are those in all the other countries. The more we focus on the particularities of each place, the less surprised we will be by political developments.
Another thing to keep in mind: in terms of American interests and regional peace, there is plenty of peril in democracy. It was not democrats, but Arab autocrats, Anwar Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan, who made peace with Israel. An autocrat firmly in charge can make concessions more easily than can a weak, elected leader — just witness the fragility of Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank government. And it was democracy that brought the extremists of Hamas to power in Gaza. In fact, do we really want a relatively enlightened leader like King Abdullah in Jordan undermined by widespread street demonstrations? We should be careful what we wish for in the Middle East.
It is fascinating but quite provincial to focus attention — as much of the Western media is doing — on whether Facebook drove these revolts or what will happen if Muslim Brothers play a role in the governments to be formed. The Arabs are like a bride emerging on her wedding day and many people are commenting on whether her shoes match her gloves, when the real issue is how beautiful and happy she is. The events unfolding before our eyes are the third most important historical development in the Arab region in the past century, and to miss that point is to perpetuate a tradition of Western Orientalist romanticism and racism that has been a large cause of our pain for all these years. This is the most important of the three major historical markers because it is the first one that marks a process of genuine self-determination by Arab citizens who can speak and act for themselves for the first time in their modern history.
The two other pivotal historical markers were: first, the creation of the modern Arab state system around 1920 at the hands of retreating European colonial powers. Some of them were intoxicated with both imperial power and, on occasion, with cognac, when they created most of the Arab countries that have limped into the 21st century as wrecks of statehood. Then, second, the period around 1970-80 when the Euro-manufactured modern Arab state system turned into a collection of security and police states that treated their citizens as serfs without human rights and relied on massive foreign support to maintain the rickety Arab order for decades more.
Now, we witness the third and most significant Arab historical development, which is the spontaneous drive by millions of ordinary Arabs to finally assert their humanity, demand their rights, and take command of their own national condition and destiny. Never before have we had entire Arab populations stand up and insist on naming their rulers, shaping their governance system, and defining the values that drive their domestic and foreign policies. Never before have we had self-determinant and free Arab citizenries. Never before have we had grassroots political, social and religious movements force leaders to change their cabinets and reorder the role of the armed forces and police.
This is a revolt against specific Arab leaders and governing elites who implemented policies that have seen the majority of Arabs dehumanized, pauperized, victimized and marginalized by their own power structure; but it is also a revolt against the tradition of major Western powers that created the modern Arab states and then fortified and maintained them as security states after the 1970s. The process at hand now in Tunisia and Egypt will continue to ripple throughout the entire Arab world, as ordinary citizens realize that they must seize and protect their birthrights of freedom and dignity.
It is a monumental task to transform from autocracy and serfdom to democracy and human rights; the Europeans needed 500 years to make the transition from the Magna Carta to the French Revolution. The Americans needed 300 years to transition from slavery to civil rights and women’s rights. Self-determination is a slow process that needs time. The Arab world is only now starting to engage in this exhilarating process, a full century after the false and rickety statehood that drunken retreating European colonialists left behind as they fled back to their imperial heartlands.
It takes time and energy to relegitimize an entire national governance system and power structure that have been criminalized, privatized, monopolized and militarized by small groups of petty autocrats and thieving families. Tunisia and Egypt are the first to embark on this historic journey, and other Arabs will soon follow, because most Arab countries suffer the same deficiencies that have been exposed for all to see in Egypt. Make no mistake about it, we are witnessing an epic, historic moment of the birth of concepts that have long been denied to ordinary Arabs: the right to define ourselves and our governments, to assert our national values, to shape our governance systems, and to engage with each other and the rest of the world as free human beings, with rights that will not be denied forever.
In January 2011, a century after some Arabs started agitating for their freedoms from Ottoman and European colonial rule, and after many false starts in recent decades, we finally have a breakthrough to our full humanity.
Rami G. Khouri is editor-at-large of Beirut’s Daily Star, and director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.
The American Way of Abandonment
White House script that has him resigning and fleeing Egypt in the face of mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square. After U.S. diplomat Frank Wisner came to give Mubarak his marching orders, the Egyptian apparently decided that, if the Americans, whose water he has carried for years, are going to abandon him, he will play out this hand himself. And the old fighter pilot is not without cards to play. While the army has said it will not fire on the demonstrators, the army also seems to want an end to the demonstrations -- and appears reluctant to dump over a president who has been a friend and patron for decades.
And now that Mubarak has pledged on national television that he will not run again, and elections will be held in September, the cause that united the crowd -- Mubarak must go! -- appears victorious. Indeed, some demonstrators took Mubarak's announced departure as victory and went home. Why start an insurrection to deny the man his last six months? Wednesday, Mubarak played another card -- his own "people power." Mobs of toughs pushed into Tahrir Square, throwing bricks, bottles and rocks, and using whips to drive out the remnant of Tuesday's "million-man march." The army did nothing.
The ball is now in the democracy demonstrators' court. If, as has proclaimed, today is Departure Day for Mubarak, it is also D-Day for them. If the army balks, they will have to force the president of Egypt out of power themselves. How do they do this if Mubarak stands his ground and the army stays neutral? Will the demonstrators keep bringing women, children and elderly into Tahrir Square when there is the possibility of a riot that could get them injured or killed?
Some demonstrators feel they have won and ought not press on. The rest seem to have no clear leader, no compelling slogan, no agreed-upon agenda, other than that Mubarak must go. ElBaradei is seen as an international bureaucrat and opportunist more at home in Viennese cafe society than Cairo, who flew in to lead a revolution he did nothing to bring about. And though Washington appears to have cut him loose to appease the crowds the White House now sees as the future of Egypt, Mubarak has sturdier allies in Israel and . Across the Middle East, monarchs and autocrats must be urging Mubarak to quash the revolution and prevent its spread to their own countries, as it has spread to Jordan and .
Mubarak has another advantage. He is an old man -- perhaps a sick man close to death -- but a soldier with a sense of honor, who has spent his life in his country's service. And he is no coward. When he says: "I have lived for this country. I have fought for it. ... I will die on this land," one ought to take him seriously.
Moreover, he knows that if he abdicates and flees, he goes into history with Ferdinand Marcos and the Shah as a despot and absconder who will be remembered for having let himself be run off by the crowd. Only if he survives this challenge of the streets -- as Charles De Gaulle survived the student riots of 1968, as Richard Nixon survived the mammoth antiwar riots and demonstrations of 1969 by calling on the Silent Majority to stand by him -- can Mubarak hope to maintain his place in the history of modern Egypt. My sense: Mubarak is determined he will be seated as president on the inaugural stand when the next Egyptian president is sworn in, and the crowd in Tahrir Square lacks what it takes to deny this to him.
But what must Mubarak think of us? He stood by us through the final Reagan decade of the Cold War. At 's request, he sent his soldiers to fight alongside ours against fellow Arabs in Desert Storm. He stayed faithful to a peace with Israel his people detested. He cooperated with George Bush II in some of the nastier business of the War on Terror. A dictator, yes, but also our man in the Arab world. Yet a few hundred thousand demonstrators in Cairo's streets caused us to abandon him.
In the last half-century, how many others who cast their lot with us have we abandoned as "corrupt and dictatorial" when they started to lose their grip? Ngo Dinh Diem, Gen. Thieu and Marshal Ky, , Chiang Kai-shek, Marcos, the Shah, Somoza, Pinochet -- the list goes on. When we needed them, they were hailed as America's great friends. When they needed us, we abandoned them in the name of our rediscovered democratic values. "In this world, it is often dangerous to be an enemy of the United States," said Henry Kissinger, "but to be a friend is fatal." Hosni Mubarak must be thinking something like that today.
President Bamir Topi called for calm and maturity. His calls were echoed by Socialist Party leader Edi Rama, who blamed police for provoking the protesters. Police fanned out through the main boulevard, chasing some protesters and beating them with truncheons. Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who said he had been in his office as the protest raged outside, blamed Rama and other opposition leaders for trying to oust the government in a scenario similar to the one in Tunisia. He confirmed three people were dead and said they had been shot with weapons not carried by the security forces. "Albania is not in an extraordinary situation and will not pass into an extraordinary situation. But the scenarios of violence will not be tolerated," Berisha told a news conference in his office. Amnesty International has urged the authorities to investigate the deaths.
"The police have a right to maintain order and protect the public, but they must not use excessive force against those carrying out their legitimate right to protest," said Andrea Huber, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.
The European Union, the United States and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said they deeply regretted the demonstration was not peaceful and resulted in casualties. "Violence and excessive use of force cannot be justified and should be avoided. We urgently appeal for calm and restraint on all sides and to abstain from provocations," the EU, U.S. and the OSCE said in a statement. "Albania is a democratic country and aspirant to EU membership with the necessary democratic institutions in place. We therefore renew our call for constructive dialogue and compromise to resolve the existing political differences," they added. The riot began while the crowd was walking past Berisha's office and a small group and police clashed, with protesters fighting with sticks and throwing stones. Police pushed them back by firing tear gas and rubber bullets and spraying the crowd with water cannons.
The thumping of stun grenades and tear gas bombs shook the air and there were also sounds of live ammunition being fired. Some in the crowd moved to the side of the premier's office building and began throwing stones from a museum nearby and set on fire a police car and other cars later. Two palm trees in front of Berisha's office was also set on fire. Upset with inconclusive dialogue over its demand to investigate what it calls the fraud of the June 2009 parliamentary elections, the Socialist Party called for the rally to ask for fresh polls and the resignation of the deputy premier over corruption allegations. Albania is scheduled to hold local elections on May 8.