Ready for change, at last - Aijaz Zaka Syed - Friday, February 25, 2011

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When the history of our extraordinary times is written, the pride of place will go to ordinary people of the Middle East. From Tunisia and Egypt to Yemen, from Bahrain and Jordan to Algeria and Morocco, it’s the humble, faceless multitudes who have accomplished the unthinkable – demolishing the fearsome, old order armed with nothing but a prayer on their lips and unrelenting faith. Their matter-of-fact defiance has stripped new emperors of their fig leaf of legitimacy. Revenge of the dispossessed couldn’t have been sweeter.

How utterly wrong were all those stuffy pundits about Arabs and their antipathy to freethinking and doing their own thing. (Okay, go ahead, call it democracy!) Their eternal spring of hope and faith has turned into a ferocious tide that has already swallowed two gilded thrones. If Muammar Gaddafi thinks he can stop it with his fighter jets, gunships and his squads of female bodyguards, he’s living in a fool’s paradise. And using fighter jets to bomb your own people? Only a truly diabolic lunatic, which he is, can resort to something like that. How low can yesterday’s so-called revolutionaries get to protect their long decaying, crumbling palaces and thrones?

But we have been here before. Remember what another self-styled Arab leader visited on the Kurds, shiites and of course his own fellow sunnis? The ultimate target of all the force and fiercest weapons at a tyrant’s disposal are his own people. This is what happened in Shah’s Iran and Saddam’s Iraq. This has been the hallowed tradition of all the so-called Arab republics. Thousands from the Muslim Brotherhood were persecuted and killed in Egypt, from Nasser down to Mubarak. In neighbouring Algeria tens of thousands of Islamists simply disappeared for flirting with democracy and beating the powers that be at their own game by sweeping the elections.

So Gaddafi’s overwhelming and murderous response to peaceful protests is hardly surprising. This is how he – and fellow Arab Republicans – has dealt with dissent or even a harmless political gathering. This is what the tyrants and the empire’s satraps have done all these years. And they have gotten away with murder all these years. Always.

This is how they have perpetuated themselves in power for years and decades. And international champions of democracy and freedom have not just humoured them, they have invariably been found sleeping around with them. All in the name of peace and stability of course.

But their game is up – both for the Arab potentates who have been the curse of the Middle East and their opportunistic, shameless patrons. Gaddafi’s homicidal crackdown on the people power sweeping Libya only justifies those courageous protests on the streets, reminding the world once again about the living hell most of these Arab republics have been for their own people.

And the greater force this self anointed champion of the Arab-Islamic world uses against defenceless civilians, the more he strengthens their resolve to throw him out. No wonder what started as reluctant and copycat demonstrations after the events in Tunisia and Egypt have mutated into a powerful, glorious jihad against the tyranny and oppression the Libyans and Arabs have long suffered. So every bullet that the regime fires at the swelling sea of protestors is proving to be another nail in its own coffin.

Like his fellow disgraced dictators in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt, Gaddafi could go on crowing about fighting till kingdom come. Everyone though, including the colonel, knows he’s fighting a losing battle. Like others before him, he could drag his feet like a vicious urchin for as long as he could. But it’s a lost, hopeless cause, if there was ever one.

No wonder, as in Egypt, everyone around him is jumping ship. His ambassadors to the United Nations and New Delhi have quit in protest against the government going on the rampage against its own people. Both his interior and justice ministers have joined the protestors.

Yet Gaddafi sticks to his guns even as he increasingly looks like a failed Shakespearean hero – or villain rather. Wildly waving his arms and promising death and destruction to his own people, the crazy old man reminds you of another crazy old man, Shakespeare’s immortal King Lear. As inimitable Robert Fisk wrote this week, “The old boy looked bad, sagging face, bloated, simply “magnoon” (mad), a comedy actor who had turned to serious tragedy in his last days, desperate for the last make-up lady, the final knock on the theatre door.”

Rest assured that the final knock will come sooner than Gaddafi and the gang might think. He and his kind are on their way out, no matter how dirty they fight. The end is nigh. You don’t have to be an armed chair pundit to see it. People power will triumph in Libya, just as it has in Tunisia and Egypt. The juggernaut of change unleashed by the desperate action of a Tunisian fruit vendor across the Middle East will come to a rest only when the last dictator standing has gone.

None of this is really surprising. This had to be the natural and logical outcome of the long years of oppression, injustice and all-pervading corruption people have suffered all these years. This is why the voices from the streets of Tunis and Cairo are resonating across the Middle East, from Tripoli to Tehran and from Manama to Marrakesh. The elites will ignore this loud and clear message from the street at their own peril.

We are clearly living in interesting times, as the Chinese would put it. And Arab masses will remember who stood by them and who remained on the wrong side of history. Having promised a “new way forward” with the Muslims, Barack Obama had a rare opportunity to do just that when the ground began to shift in the Middle East. Unfortunately, one has seen the same moral obfuscation and double standards that have characterised successive US administrations. So much for the Change-We-Can our hero once promised!

While the Middle East has metamorphosed beyond recognition over the past two months, Western response to this tsunami of change has been predictable. Everything is still viewed, calculated and interpreted from the prism of what these changes would mean to the Great State of Israel and its geopolitical interests.

The empire is understandably jittery over the prospect of losing all that control and power it exercised over the region even after formally ceding it in the last century. If you have real free men in power, you can’t order them around as the West has done all this while. Those capable of cutting their powerful tormentors to size could also boot out the empire. In a way the West has every reason to fear this change. For the people’s revolt is not just against the gods who have failed them. It’s also against those who have spawned and propped up this corrupt order that has made the Arabs helpless slaves in their own land. Seems the Middle East is ready for change. At last.

The writer is based in Gulf and has extensively written on the Muslim world affairs. Email:

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