Monday, February 28, 2005

Are Those Wings on Your Camel?

I pinched myself twice and waited a few seconds to awaken from what seemed to be a very pleasant dream. Not that I dislike pleasant dreams but rather that I did not want to be so distraught upon waking up to an ugly reality. This time, however, I could not wake up although I tried to pinch myself one more time. First, it was Togo. The recently installed dictator announced that he was stepping down in order to pave the way for the restoration of the country's constitutional order. Then Mubarak, not to be outdone, announced that he was going to allow multi-party presidential elections for the first time in Egypt. Today, it was the pro-Syrian Lebanese government that stepped down amid pro-democracy protests. Can I ask you a question? What year is this? Did I just emerge from a long coma because it all happened so fast.

What we learned from the Togo episode is that Africa is no longer what it used to be. Today, the African Union (AU) has demonstrated that, unlike the Arab League, it is capable of resolving matters affecting the well-being and future development of its people. The AU's first move in that new direction has been Darfur where it sent a peacekeeping force, although it is a mission that remains largely limited in scope. As the Arab league stood silent in the face of mass murder committed, at least, with the help of one of its members, the African Union acted ahead of the United Nations and Western powers by sending military contingents to the area. It is, however, important to note that the AU mission is extremely limited and still needs international help if it is to succeed in saving lives, bringing the murderous Arab militias to justice, and breathing new hope into the refugee camps of western Sudan.

Earlier this year, another challenge came knocking and the AU seemed to take it in stride. When the Togolese military junta installed the son of the country's late tyrant as the new tyrant, the African Union refused to accept such fait acompli. The president of Nigeria who currently holds the presidency of the AU was particularly vocal about the need to restore constitutional order in Togo. Through tough diplomacy the Nigerian president and the AU forced the newly installed ruler to stand down and pave the way for elections in Togo. The African Union reacted well to both Sudan and Togo and clearly demonstrated that it is now capable of both unity and effective influence. Nonetheless, may we be reminded that there are still many undemocratic governments such as Zimbabwe, Libya, Gabon, Uganda, and Congo (Dem. Rep) that are sitting members of the AU and continue to escape international calls for democratic reform, human rights, and good governance. The AU must not be hypocritical as it forges ahead and must condemn the Mugabes in its midst. Another authoritarian regime that is a current member of the AU is Egypt, which brings me to my next point.

Mubarak announced in a dramatic TV appearance that he is ‘now convinced that more democracy and more freedom’ are needed in Egypt. It sounded like a Pharaoh had just had some divine inspiration to bestow upon his subjects, who in turn had to show their ‘infinite gratitude’ by shouting praise and flattering poetry. That’s what dictators are really good at. They lock you in a dark cell for years, then they announce that they decided to allow you to breath through a tiny hole in the wall and somehow we are all supposed to thank them and praise them as ‘visionary reformers’ and ‘strong leaders’. I usually do not allow my intelligence to be so insulted. However, the announcement that Egypt is now going to have multiparty elections is a positive development. It does not mean that they will have free and transparent elections. In fact, many observers think that the announcement was a political maneuver aiming to drown international criticism and act as a cover for the next electoral sham in Egypt. Those concerns are not baseless and may very well prove to be true before the end of this year. But let us hope that the tide is now pulling in the right direction and that undemocratic forces will eventually be swept away by the competent forces of democracy and freedom in Egypt.

Not very far from Egypt, another significant development burst into being this week. Tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators defied a government curfew and poured into the streets of Beirut. Armed with only their red-and-white garments and the will to conquer their fear, they forced the pro-Syrian Lebanese government to call it quits. Whether inspired by what happened recently in Georgia and the Ukraine or by a boiling desire to finally say ‘enough is enough’, the Lebanese showed to their fellow Arabs that tyranny can not withstand popular will; it never has and never will.

One of the biggest frustrations often expressed by the educated Arab elite is that, while other people in other nations (Romania, Poland, Georgia, Ukraine, etc) brought their tyrannical regimes down by literally walking to freedom, the Arabs seem to always overestimate the strength of their tyrants. They have been made to fear Godzilla so much that they could not even entertain the thought of a Kiev (Orange revolution) or a Tbilisi (Rose revolution). Now that the Lebanese seem to have finally gotten it, one hopes that their neighbors do as well. My guess is that they will and when they do it will be, as Thomas Friedman said, like watching camels fly.

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Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Hope you're having a good time!

Anyway, apparently there *is* some truth to the old Domino Theory after all...

March 01, 2005

Blogger Myrtus said...

hahaha you're so funny!

so, how ABOUT your golf swing? Need help with that? Just remember, grip aim set-up is the most important thing and don't kill the ball, but BE the ball. heheh
BTW I'm a lousy golfer, but I'm really good at putting. If I only I could get the rest of the game right, I could go on tour! Maybe someday I could go on the Moroccan senior citizen's tour, I already found a caddy. (;

March 02, 2005


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