The New Arab Reality has no room for icons

The ignominious fall of Hosni Mubarak, the last pharaoh in Egypt’s long and eventful history, has all the element of foreboding for others like him in the Arab world.

Mubarak resisted, to the last iota of his depleted political capital, to forestall the mighty onslaught of the Egyptian people. In doing so he showed lesser sense of his people’s anger and lesser sensitivity to their rage, than Tunisia’s Zeinel Abedein bin Ali who had fled as soon as the popular backlash swamped his regime.

Ben Ali Mubarak Qaddafi
Ben Ali Mubarak Qaddafi

Mubarak, with more guile and stubbornness, held out longer until the rising tide of a massive discontent forced the hand of the Egyptian army to pull the plug on their unstinted support to his tyrannical rule. In the end, Mubarak had to vacate his throne in well-deserved disgrace. He could have shown more political savvy and walked out with more grace and dignity. But that’s not the way of dictators. They all go the same way: disgraced and humiliated by the same people over whom they had lorded with pharaonic arrogance and cruelty.

That autocrats, universally, are blinded by their myopia, and deprived of the capacity to hear the wailing of their oppressed people, is a time-tested aphorism. Anyone doubting the veracity of this adage needed to look no further–after the recent disgraceful end of Hosni Mubarak–to Egypt’s neighbour, Libya and its own strongman of even greater longevity than Mubarak.

Muammar Qaddafi has ruled Libya for nearly 42 years, and as usual with Arab potentates of his age, with absolute power and brooking no dissent or opposition. The Egyptian drama played out within his hailing distance. But it’s obvious that he learned no lesson from the fall of Mubarak and didn’t bother to take stock of his own house until reminded by his own people, obviously inspired by what Libya’s neighbours, to both east and west, did in recent days.

Qaddafi acquired international notoriety quite early in his long reign as a maverick. He could easily be classified as an international adventurer who used his considerable economic assets to fuel insurgencies and rebellions in places as far apart and different as Northern Ireland and the Philippines. Libyan funds were generously showered on IRA, fighting the British in Northern Ireland, as much as on the Moro Liberation Front, resisting the colonial thrust of the Philippines’ rulers.

But this Quixotic adventurer–who excited the imaginations of Muslims in many parts of the world, so much so that in Pakistan the largest cricket stadium of the country has been named after him–hardly shared Libya’s vast oil revenues with its own people, or for their welfare. Libya, with at least 47 billion barrels of proven oil reserves besides vast gas fields, is rich by any definition. However, its people are still mired in poverty and unemployment among the youth of the country hovered close to 30 percent of those qualified and educated to deserve decent jobs.

But now that the Libyans have revolted and risen, en masse, to demand freedoms and rights denied to them as much as they were to the Tunisians and the Egyptians, Qaddafi has chosen to deal with the challenge as harshly as any dictator blinded of reality would in such hostile circumstances.

Qaddafi may well be gone long before these lines are read. He seems to have signed on his own death warrant by electing to use force, massive and disproportionate force, to quell the uprising of his disenfranchised and long-oppressed people.

One may find it hard to believe but it’s true–something captured live by the international news media, although Qaddafi’s repressive regime clamped down hard on it–that the power-drunk dictator is using mercenaries flown from some African countries, to shoot down his people like they would in a turkey-shoot. Not content with using massive ground force to head off the people’s onslaught, Qaddafi is also deploying the Libyan air power to rain death from the air on the protesting crowds. This is unprecedented, even by the draconian rules of Arab tyrants who have grown accustomed to treating their people like slaves.

It’s regrettable that Qaddafi, or for that matter any other Arab potentate likewise challenged by a people at the end of their tether, doesn’t seem to understand or appreciate that the Arabs, irrespective of whether they are Libyans, Jordanians, Bahrainis, Yemenis et al, have run out of patience with demagogues and bigots who were nothing else but tyrants masquerading as icons of popular goodwill.

The main agenda of the Arab street–be that in Cairo, Manama, Sana, Algiers or Rabat–is focused on regaining the sense of dignity of the people usurped over so long by autocrats and dictators ruling in this or that guise.

It’s amazing, in fact perplexing, for an outside observers that these rulers of the Arab world–being Arab themselves-completely lost sight of the Arab sense of pride and dignity. With unremitting terror as their main weapon of tutelage over their people, these strongmen and icons of power, perhaps inadvertently, spawned a gulf of confidence between themselves and their people. They became prisoners to their own hubris in the process of treating their people with utter contempt like inmates of a big prison.

That hardly anyone is there, in the outside world, to shed a tear on the sad and inevitable demise of Arab autocrats is hardly surprising. This is despite the fact that in their search for legitimacy these Arab rulers–who are now in imminent danger of falling by the wayside like dominoes–cultivated bonds of solidarity with those imperial powers that have never had a speck of sympathy for the welfare or interest of the Arab peoples anywhere in the Arab world.

Qaddafi, quite easily, is the worst example of an Arab tyrant gone berserk under the weight of his people’s vociferous denunciation of his long and oppressive rule. His use of foreign mercenaries to put down his people with brute force is just one symptom of a tyrant totally divorced from the reality of his times.

The rambling, incoherent and boisterous speech Qaddafi broadcast on his captive state television was the loudest testimonial of a supposed ‘leader’ out of all contact with the people he ruled. It wasn’t the discourse of a leader but the rant of a tyrant cracking up like a mafia don faced with a challenge from a rival. In Qaddafi’s case, the ‘rival’ happened to be the Libyan people who had been groaning under the oppressive reign of a tyrant who didn’t concern himself with their welfare at all, besides belonging to another generation of Libyans, if not belonging to another planet. Instead of heeding the call of his people for reforms and opening up of a cloistered system of government, he threatened to unleash the might of his state power against unarmed people, besides calling them names and denigrating the people fighting for their human rights as ‘cockroaches’ and ‘diseased rats.’

So what the world is witnessing is the unravelling of an oppressive system that had kept the Arab peoples, from Morocco to Iraq and from Egypt to Oman, chained and in fetters to the whims and idiosyncrasies of rulers who had arrogated to themselves the sole prerogative of deciding their people’s fate according to their will and agenda.

Not surprisingly, the people’s call from Rabat to Algiers to Tripoli to Manama to Sanaa is one and the same: they want their political space back and want to live in societies that are open, participatory, reflective of their free will and committed to social and political justice.

To a casual observer of the Arab political landscape all that has been happening in troubled spots like Tripoli, Sanaa, Manama and Algiers may well be mind-boggling. And none should blame them for it. Who could have imagined, a mere three months ago that the Arab street from one end of the spectrum to the other would explode like a tinderbox and engulf the region–stretching from the shores of the Atlantic down to the Straits of Hormuz–into the most tumultuous and violent upsurge in recent memory, or perhaps memory stretching back to centuries.

The reaction of long-entrenched Arab rulers in the eye of the storm varies from trouble spot to trouble spot.

Ben Ali of Tunisia has so far been the easiest to dislodge. Mubarak of Egypt used every dirty trick in his bag but was edged out in the end when his power-base, the military, pulled the rug from under his feet. Qaddafi is proving to be the hardest core and a hardened criminal who cares two hoots for his people and wouldn’t shrink from shedding rivers of their blood in defiance. But his ‘bravado’ may be nothing more than the last throw of a desperate gambler’s dice. Qaddafi has already used all the chips in his hands and, no wonder is showing all the symptoms of a paranoid sick man.

The rulers of princely Bahrain, caught at a critical tangent in their autocratic minority rule over a majority that has never been reconciled to them, at least viscerally, have so far reacted with ambivalence. They used crude violence to stem the rising tide of popular unrest but then buckled down quickly, perhaps under pressure from the Americans who have a vital stake in Bahrain because of its being the hub of their 5th Fleet.

Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, cut from the same cloth as Mubarak and Qaddafi, is still hanging tough because of the tacit support of the Americans who shudder at the prospect of the Yemeni people getting hold of their own affairs from the clutches of an American puppet, who has been doing their bidding without a squeak of protest or demur.

That’s another problem confronting the Arab peoples in their struggle to regain their honour and dignity. For well over half a century Arab rulers, especially the authoritarians among them, have been tools of western interests in the region. That’s was the reason that the champions of democracy never nudged their faithful satraps to honour their people’s rights and freedoms. However now that the Arab street is challenging the status quo and declaring it as no longer valid for them the western powers have overnight donned the mantle of their supporters.

Much as these erstwhile imperialist powers–authors, in fact, of much of that tragedy that plagued the ME for so long and condemned its oppressed people to the shenanigans and antics of autocratic rulers–may masquerade as champions of the new mood on the Arab street, it’s arguable what kind of democratic future they favour or savour for the awakened Arab countries and their peoples.

The western fetish for ‘designer democracy’ for Arab countries is no longer something that only pundits could perceive.

This designer democracy potion has two ingredients: it should be Israel-friendly, for one, and moderate, for another. And moderate has a further definition: it should measure up, exactly, to the western definition of moderation, which is another way of saying that an Arab democracy must never question Israeli expansionism and the Zionist complexion of a militarist Israel.

Obviously, designer democracy has no room for the likes of Hezbollah, or Hamas, or even the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt. The Zionist pundits and their apologists are already out in full force spouting advice that the people of Egypt must not be rushed into electoral process because that could only benefit the Muslim Brotherhood on account of its excellent discipline and organization. So the gurus of designer democracy are arguing robustly for a longer period than six months–as long as up to 18 months–before elections are held, in order to make room for new political parties to get organized for electoral battle against the Ikhwan.

In an interview published in the Jerusalem Post of Israel, on February 11, a well-known Zionist activist, Natan Sharansky–as rabid an Islamophobe as fellow-Russian Vladimir Putin–warned that democracy in Egypt may open the door for a ‘new dictatorship’ of the Ikhwan.

The bottom line for these wolves in sheep clothing is that all stops be removed from the way of those, to be pampered by the west and primed with generous resources, to give a tough fight to the likes of Brotherhood. The west-favoured designer democracy is intended to be calibrated and fine-tuned to become a zero-sum game against what the west loves to ridicule as ‘Islamists.’

It’s indeed heartening to see the spring of democracy budding on the boughs in the Arab world, thanks to the bravery and gritty courage of its people. However, the passage to a democracy that pays real dividends to the people shedding precious blood for it is fraught with trap- doors sprung by enemies within and enemies without. It’s best to keep one’s fingers crossed and hope for a denouement that dignifies the sacrifices being given with fervour on the Arab street.