I've always thought it interesting that in Arabic the root of the words friend and friendship is "truth".
I've got a friend in northern Virginia whom I've known for over 25 years now.
We haven't seen each other in several years but we still keep in touch and, more importantly, genuinely care about each other. Recalling our chats from so long ago I remember how we delved into so many "truths" for hours and hours long into the night.
Thanks, buddy. I miss you too, habibi.
What Barak Ravid reports in the Israeli daily Haaretz is self-explanatory, just take a look at the image above or click the link for the full article.
The Israeli viewpoint is shared by others of the same persuasion, including some Americans, who fail to understand is that it is exactly this line of thought that has helped the disease that bedevils most of the Arab world spread and take hold of Arab countries and societies and cause headaches and concerns throughout the world, the least of which being economic migration. It also promotes further animosity from within the Arab world. It is both shortsighted and counter-productive.
"Regime stability", "bulwark against extremism/terrorism", etc are catchphrases for maintaining autocratic, single-party regimes that fatten a privileged minority at the top of a pyramid crushing the people languishing at its base. It is the type of political system that brooks no dissension and encourages an inward-looking society ripe for being manipulated by various, and not always entirely benign, forces.
It is also the type of system that gives birth to military genius that orders air force jets to intimidate civilians protesters. The last time an Arab air force was filmed buzzing civilian targets at home was back in 1973 when President Suleiman Franjieh sent Lebanese jets over Palestinian refugee camps and neighboring areas.
There is no doubt that the transition from the presidency of Hosni Mubarak to his successor must take into account the political and diplomatic obligations of Egypt. Order needs to be restored quickly to the country and normalcy resumed. But first there must be a concession from the president and those around him that his time is up. It is an insult to claim or believe that, in a country of 80 million people, it is only Mubarak who can run things. That is an affront to the Egyptian people.
As is the claim by John Bolton and others of his persuasion dismissing this popular movement as a Muslim Brotherhood (MB) plot to overthrow the regime.
Outsiders need to understand that Islam is tightly woven into the fabric of the Arab world. To be perceived as anti-Islam or anti-Islamist is a political death sentence. It is entirely up to the people to decide on the direction their societies take.
The MB represents a part of society (I leave it to the pollsters and statisticians to size it up) and thus must be accorded the recognition it deserves. But it too must be clear in its acceptance of a multi-faceted society with all the ensuing freedoms.
The fact of the matter is that Egypt under Mubarak has suffered a grievous erosion of stature and influence in the Middle East. What we are looking at now is possibly a new Arab order in the making.
countries looking to their interests in the Middle East must do the reverse of what Ravid, Bolton and others advise.
As I write Mubarak is preparing to head off tomorrow's announced "million march". Train services have been halted and barricades are being set up to prevent access to Tahrir (Liberation) Square. It is a test of wills and it will be interesting to see how many people really want the president out and how the army will behave. The military's influence in Egypt cannot be underestimated. It has been the power behind the throne for 60 years but is still being held in high regard by the people. It is in a delicate position now, understandably interested in preserving its privileged position on the Egyptian scene while at the same time being tasked with protecting an unpopular regime.
Just as January 28, 2011 will go down in Egyptian history as a day of wrath and blood, February 1, 2011 will be seen as the day that the popular uprising against Mubarak was either strangled and fizzled out or set the stage for the post-Mubarak period.
The whole world is watching.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has just said America is seeking an "orderly transition" to democracy in Egypt. Read "Mubarak can go but we want someone we know and trust."
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak finally made an appearance late into last night, fired his cabinet and announced continuing reform Egypt. Today, after 29 years in power he finally appointed a vice-president, setting the stage for a possible organized handover of power, keeping it all in the family. Director of General Intelligence Omar Suleiman is the first Egyptian to fill this post since the late Anwar Sadat appointed Mubarak as his vice-president in 1975.
We are now hearing reports from the BBC that the president's sons Gamal (heir apparent?) and Alaa have arrived in London, something Egyptian TV denied.
Interestingly, the Daily Telegraph today published a report claiming the US government backed activists seeking regime change. The secret American document is here.
But I think it would be shortsighted to claim what is happening in Egypt is a conspiracy hatched in Washington.
On the ground the Egyptian army has either been unable or unwilling to enforce the curfew with continuing protests, chaos and looting. My reading is that the army does not want to resort to lethal force as a means of crushing this uprising.
CNN's Ben Wedeman tweeted: "Almost all police stations ransacked, arsenals looted. Suddenly weapons in the streets wielded by thugs. Where is the army?"
There is obviously a serious breakdown in the function of the state. If it cannot defend the people from thugs, criminals and looters can it defend the president?
I wish I was a fly on the wall and be privy to the various secret phone calls from major world leaders to Cairo. I am certain there are frantic behind-the-scenes exchanges attempting to pacify the situation in Egypt while preserving its vital regional role.
But the longer that this goes on the more untenable Mubarak's position becomes... He is in a lonely, dark tunnel and the way I see it there is no light at the end, not even a twinkle.
It is now 19:22 GMT and what we see and hear is that the day's popular protests are being transformed in some places into looting and chaos despite the curfew. Conspicuous in his absence is President Mubarak. About 4 hours ago news networks reported that he would be speaking "shortly". And nothing since.
No other government official has publicly addressed the situation. The regime is in crisis.
*Update: A curfew has just been declared in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez . The order came from Mubarak, the commander-in-chief of Egypt's armed forces. (See below)*
The Egyptian people today poured out on the streets across the country demanding the end of President Mubarak's regime. The pictures speak for themselves; the anger, the passion, the dedication to the cause...
The government has shut down mobile telephone communications and cut internet access. Of course the bureaucrats did not count on the resourcefulness of the protesters.
I believe the Cairo government has been caught off-guard because it is attuned to the security demands of the decades-old faceoff with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). However, seeing the young women and men of the new generation at the heart of these protests, to my mind, explains why the government hasn't been able to head off the unfolding scenes across Egypt. Security arrested this morning several MB members, perhaps hoping to head off what would follow the Friday prayers. But this is not an Islamist-led protest. It's a genuine popular action in which the activists are deploying the modern tools of the communication era.
Two crucial questions pose themselves now:
Ultimately, these are historic days. The people have spoken after a centuries-long silence and I'm glad that they have.
What a tangled situation; sophisticated simplicity, powerful complexity, sublime spontaneity...
Youthful in a body of responsibility, uncharted depths to discover - but you need to look and truly see.
I understand. Do you?
(This post is also published on Mideasposts)
The Arab world is in a state of flux. After decades of paralysis Arab societies are awakening with a fury that autocratic regimes hiding under the guise of republicanism have never seen before.
The Tunisian people's overthrow of Ben Ali (facilitated by the military's non-participation in the repression of the uprising) opened the floodgates to popular expressions of the people's frustrations.
The Arab world's most populous nation, Egypt, teeming with some 80 million people is witnessing massive street demonstrations whose anger is not aimed at a rise in the price of bread or fuel. Rather, the target is the political system first brought into existence by President Nasser some 60 years ago and kept in a state of suspended animation by President Mubarak for the last 29 plus years.
There have also been demonstrations in Yemen calling for President Saleh to quit after 32 years in power, street anger expressed in Libya (whose president Gaddafi – holding onto the reins for over 40 years - denounced the overthrow of Ben Ali) and loud outbursts of protest in both Jordan and Algeria at the state of the economy and consequent suffering of the people.
What I find heartening is the new generation of protestors who are coming to the fore, the youth and the young at heart who are using the 21st Century's powerful tools of new media to organize, spread the word and display a brave, highly organized and civilized face of protest.
No longer are anti-regime demonstrations organized and led by the traditional forces of opposition, usually Islamist. There's a new face of protest emerging in the Arab world, and the world-at-large should take note.
I find all of this very promising and yet I'm under no illusion that regimes will topple in a domino effect. But I trust that what we are witnessing is the beginning of the end of the age of mediocrity that has plagued the Arab world since the end of World War II.
The Arab world has regressed considerably since the Arab awakening of the late 19th-early 20th Centuries. It makes me wonder where it all went wrong when I consider that Egyptian women were granted the right to vote before British women.
What happened was the end of colonialism and toppling of the traditional monarchies were replaced by so-called revolutionary, nationalistic regimes that set about disassembling all the facets of a properly functioning society and state. And all this was done with the tacit approval of Western governments more interested in preserving stability than progress in a crucial region. Well, the chickens have come home to roost.
The Arab regimes, unbeknownst to them, were nurturing through their convoluted form of government a form of extremism unseen in modern times. Then, also unbeknownst to them, they started exporting it. When the liberation of Palestine became a lost cause, secretly admitted yet never publicly acknowledged by the Arab leaders, there was an inward focus. Torture became a sadistic art form. Repression a byword for government. Development and education took a distant backseat to the sole aim of regime longevity.
And so Arab societies regressed, cowered in fear, husbands whispered political protests to wives while looking over their shoulders and children were taught never to repeat what's said at home about the infallible leadership.
For years I've observed with great sadness and frustration, nations of Arabs who glorified the achievements of a distant past while offering nothing in a bankrupt present for a challenging future. I watched as the art movement floundered, literature take a dive, educational systems produce graduates inadequately equipped for a rapidly changing world, sports teams take humiliating beatings on the world stage and creativity and freedom of expression being stifled. Fear. That is the overwhelming emotion in the Arab world. Fear of government, fear of uniforms. And as long as the West got its oil everything was fine. Well obviously it wasn't.
Arab governments are now trying to block access to social networks. What they don't understand is that if you close the door people go in through a window.
A few years ago I bought a T-shirt from a Zendik commune member on a street corner in Washington, DC. Emblazoned on the front is the slogan: “Stop bitching. Start a revolution”. Indeed.
I believe we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the age of mediocrity. For the good of the world I sincerely I hope I am not proven wrong.
9-year old: Dad, can I ask you a question?
9-year-old: Do the Arabs have a lot of money?
Dad: Some Arabs do.
9-year-old: Why don't they use it more wisely?
A man on a long journey through a perpetual desert.
The opinions expressed in this blog are mine and mine alone. They do not represent the views of any of my employers, past, present or future.