What’s Next in the Arab World?

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As the uprising in Libya turned into a full-scale civil war with the Libyan pro-regime forces regaining control of most of the towns lost earlier to the rebels, the UN has imposed a ‘no-fly zone’ over the Libyan airspace to protect civilians. To the anti-regime rebels and their supporters –” home and abroad – the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is a much desired one although it seemed to have come so late.

From the very start it was a foregone conclusion that the Libyan revolutionaries demanding the ouster of the strongman Gaddafi won’t be able to cakewalk — slogans and the Internet won’t do what it had achieved for two of their neighboring states; it would require lots of sacrifice to topple the brutal regime. They also needed international support to neutralize the overwhelming lethal superiority of the regime. This resolution is, thus, a serious moral booster for them. As part of the phase 1 of the Operation Odyssey Dawn towards the implementation of the UNSC resolution, hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles have already been launched from the Mediterranean to knockout Libya’s Air Defense sites.

The permanent members of the UNSC needed lots of soul-searching before passing the resolution.  After all, the UN was previously duped and misused by the Bush regime for invasion of Iraq, deemed illegal by its own Secretary General. Its reluctance to stop the Rwanda genocide and prolonged foot-dragging in Bosnia and Kosovo that saw the genocide of hundreds of thousands of unarmed Muslims, let alone the selective amnesia with all crimes committed by the Zionist regime in Israel and the overzealous attitude to punish Iran, the old boys’ club has lost the credibility within the Muslim world.

Not to be forgotten in this context is the fact that not too long ago many of these UNSC members had a very gainful relationship with the Gaddafi regime, in spite of the latter’s not-so-secret crimes against its own people. Some members were not sure how to react to the changes happening across the Arab world. Some bigotedly questioned as to how mature the Arabs were to handle democracy? Their experts have warned against regime changes saying that the opposition groups are led by the so-called Islamists, the West’s mortal enemies. What if Libya becomes another Congo, if Bahrain becomes an Iranian satellite, if Egypt, Jordan and Syria become controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood? It was not the people’s interest in those affected places that mattered prime to these western leaders. It was their self-interest that governed their decision. Thus, President Sarkozy of France wanted to bolster the falling Mubarak regime in its dying days. Even the USA had opted for a peaceful regime change there. And they have been rather muted when it came to pro-democracy protests in friendly countries like Yemen, Jordan, Oman and Bahrain. Interestingly, while the Obama administration has frozen Libyan assets inside the USA, it has failed to take similar measures against hidden treasures of Mubarak and Zine ben Ali. It has no problem with the Saudi and UAE forces now deployed to protecting the unpopular, autocratic regimes in Bahrain and Yemen, respectively.

Revolution is contagious. And the Saudis are genuinely worried and so are the other monarchs in the region whose reliance has always been to foreign masters like the USA, France and the UK –” rather than God and their own people. Thanks to their billions and propaganda machines, they were successful before in the post-Shah era to stem the flood of Islamic revolution sweeping from Iran. They are now gravely serious to stop this Tsunami, all happening in the Sunni-ruled Arab world. As Tariq Ali has pointed out in the Guardian the Arab Revolution of 2011 is like 1848 of Europe when revolution first erupted in France, then hit the Italian states and German principalities, and eventually reached the remote outposts of the Austrian empire –” engulfing some 50 local and national uprisings, all in the name of liberty.

Syria is the latest country to join the Arab revolution wagon. Syrians have long lived with a constant fear that they are being monitored, and will be punished for behavior regarded as dissenting or unpatriotic. Public discussion of domestic politics remains taboo. Maintaining that fear is helped by a heavily censored media and 50-year-old emergency laws that allow activists and dissidents to be routinely rounded up and imprisoned on vague charges such as “weakening national sentiment.”

A few days ago some school children in Deraa, south of Damascus – influenced by the protests in Tunisia and Egypt – wrote the popular revolutionary slogan on the wall: “The people want the fall of the regime”. Fifteen school children were arrested. Several families later gathered to demand their release. A ‘day of rage’ has now been held in several cities – Damascus, Homs, Banyas, and Deraa. Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the southern city of Deraa after Friday prayers on March 18 chanting ‘God, Syria and freedom — that’s enough!’ The security forces opened fire on the protesters and have killed five people and injured hundreds of others since March 18. Fears of the regime and its pervasive leather-jacket-clad mukhabarat are still helping to quell any revolutionary aspirations.

In Yemen, three senior army commanders have recently defected to a movement calling for the ouster of U.S.-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh, leaving him with virtually no support among the country’s most powerful institutions. They all belong to Saleh’s Hashid tribe. Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander of the army’s powerful 1st Armored Division, who has defected, told reporters that he “will order his troops to protect protesters demonstrating against the country’s longtime president.” Meanwhile, Yemen’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia has sided with the protesters and Yemen’s ambassador to Syria has resigned. More members of the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) have resigned in the last few days in condemnation of the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters outside Sana’a University last Friday, including Yemen’s ambassador to the UN, Abdullah Al-Saidi.

In Syria, like Yemen, it is not the Facebook or Twitter generation that is taking to the streets. It is the ordinary people who are tired of poverty and decades of repression. Like Libya, here, too, the struggle won’t be an easy one. The armed forces, drawn almost exclusively from the minority Nusayri sect that has been ruling the country for more than four decades, will not hesitate to repeat the crimes of 1982 in Hama when some 40,000 Syrians were massacred there by the murderous Assad regime. No Arab leader in our time has been as brutal as Hafez al-Assad was to his own countrymen! As clearly evident from the latest heavy-handed tactics, when threatened by unrest, his son Bashar who now rules Syria, will not be any less evil.

We won’t be surprised either if President Bashar al-Assad, like Gaddafi and many Arab leaders, would use the bogeyman of Islam –” the threat of a Muslim takeover by extremists –” to win sympathy from a United States that is prone to seeing Islamic revolutions, al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamists at every corner. Will he be able to arrest the tide of revolution now knocking on his door? That would depend how serious the Syrians are for liberty.

Liberty, like revolution, is, however, exhilarating. Massimo d’Azeglio, a Piedmontese aristocrat, wrote what are probably the most profound words about liberty’s promise and its perils: “The gift of liberty is like that of a horse, handsome, strong and high-spirited. In some it arouses a wish to ride; in many others, on the contrary, it increases the urge to walk.” For decades, the Arabs — brutalized and maimed by their leaders — were afraid to walk, let alone wishing to ride or run. Now that fear is gone. They are willing to take liberty’s ride and die for it. No false propaganda is going to derail their genuine movement.

Soon after the missile attack on Libya, Gaddafi and his spokesman, while condemning the strike from western governments as a crusading act, still tried to shift the blame of current internal unrest on the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, formed by the veterans who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the network’s North African affiliate, which has endorsed the Libyan uprising. As, however, noted by Mr. Abud al-Jeleil, a former minister with Gaddafi who defected to the rebel side, in an interview with Al Jazeera: “We want one country –” there is no Islamic emirate or Al Qaeda anywhere. Our only goal is to liberate Libya from this regime and to allow the people to choose the government that they want.”

Very few autocrats, unless threatened by more menacing powers, would let go of their power. Years of unopposed dictatorship had made them behave like demigods. Thus, revolutions against such dictators are seldom won without sacrifice. If a brutal regime has no bite of conscience from its own brutality, very little could an unarmed resistance do to bring about the desired change! No MLK singing: ‘we shall overcome’ –” would change the status quo. It is here that the notion of ‘the best revolutions are completely organic’ falls flat on its face. As much as the American Revolution had foreign help, so did the Maoists in China before coming to power. It is sometimes absolutely necessary to have that outside help when the vast majority inside have no other way to save themselves from a brute.

The events in Libya over the last few weeks have shown that the vast majority of the people are against the Gaddafi regime and they want a change. With the newly passed UN Resolution and the air strikes inside Libya now they know that they have friends outside who would not allow them to die like the Marsh Arabs of Iraq. While appreciative of such moral and material support, they nevertheless ought to guard their own revolution in such a way that when, and if, victory knocks on their doors, it is not hijacked or dictated by foreign masters who came in sheepskins to rob it altogether.

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