March 2005

From the Purple to the Cedar Revolution.

The Winds of Change

From the purple finguered popular defiance in Iraq to the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, it is clear the Middle East stands at a cross roads; could it be the daw of a new era, or just another desert mirage? There is much international optimism that the first  tentative steps along the path towards real democracy may have already been taken.

     By Adel Darwish

A ripple of change is running through the Middle East, said Prime Minister Tony Blair at the closing of his London international meeting in support of the Palestinian Authority.

`` There is a genuine ....ripple of change at the moment,'' said Mr Blair,`` but it is happening throughout the Middle East, and it is important that we encourage it because it is out of there that so many of the issues that we grapple with in the international community arise.''

Was Mr Blair trying to avoid accusations of plagiarising Harold Macmillan's famous phrase ` the Winds of Change' heralding the end of colonialism in Africa, in 1959 in South Africa?

It took the Afrikannas three decades to catch up, as their releasing of Nelson Mandella and dismantling of apartheid coincided with the velvet revolution that swept Europe in 1989; but it took the Middle East another 15 years before the gentle breeze were felt.

Few would disagree that it was President George Bush's hand that dropped pebble in the stagnant pond of the Middle East.

For the Cassandras who have declared the war an irretrievable catastrophe, the Wilsonian belief that democracy would take root in Iraq and spread through the region was no longer a fanciful illusion.

From the `purple finger revolution' in Iraq when near nine million voters qued in polling stations defiance of terrorists' threat, to the Cedar revolution in Lebanon, the change is sweeping through the Middle East, one of the last regions in the world to cling to repressive governments, there is a whiff of 1989 people's revolution that fell the Berlin Wall.

`` As a new dawn of freedom rises on East Europe, '' I wrote in one of Fleet Street papers at the time, `` The Arab world is sleep-walking into a disaster....''; seven month later Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. His action was applauded by many, including the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, who was leading his nation in a crusade for ` self determination,' but was happy to deny the same right to the Kuwaitis and the Kurds.
Sadly, the Middle East region barricaded itself against the winds of change by locking a chastity belt around its intellectual and political organs. Democracy was never conceived despite many futile attempts leading democracy ` doctors' to believe the region was infertile.

Infertility is treated, in regional folklore by a` sudden scare,' like throwing fresh blood on a woman's abdomen, or locking her in a tomb during a moonless night. The war which removed Saddam, who once showed his security chiefs the video of the 1989 fall of Nikolai Chauchescu to avoid a similar fate; provided a ` sudden scare' for the ripple of change to breech the chastity belt, with first signs of life from the embryo of democracy .

In eight weeks, free presidential elections with multi choice, were held in Palestine - and Palestine's new President Mahmoud Abbas condemned suicide bombing against civilian as ` terrorism'-; and parliamentarian elections, the first in half a century, in Iraq; a peaceful, yellow placards of ` enough' movement lead to change in Egypt, and the Cedar Revolution, is sweeping through Lebanon, although the jury are still out since Hizbullah organised a much larger demonstration, that contradicted some of the `cedar demands'.
The second half of February witnessed thousands of Lebanese chanting for freedom, amid all the paraphernalia remembered from Europe in 1989: guttering candles; beautiful long-haired female students with democratic logos lipsticked to foreheads; hastily mass-produced flags; strumming of guitars and the endless felt-tip scrawling of slogans on T-shirts and walls. It certainly has the choreography of revolution right, including a martyr - in the form of Rafik Hariri, whose assassination on St Valentine Day, triggered the current intifadah with its unifying demand of independence, just like the 1919 revolution in Egypt, which, then, united the nation's ethnic, and religious factions. Within 30 months, the Egypt broke away from Ottoman empire as an independent kingdom with its 1923 constitution giving women equal rights among many other civil rights, many of which were reversed by the officers take over of 1952.

The 2005 Middle East is witnessing the dawn of people inspired true revolutions, not military coups that usurped power by some murderers colonel. Elsewhere in the region, the ripple of change has been quieter but no less significant in lighting the freshly trodden avenue of freedom.

Saudi Arabia's round of elections this year and its promise that women will be able to take part next time, is a fascinating revolution of historic proportion, especially for a state in charge of the holiest of shrines, not only for its muslim subjects, but for millions of Muslims of many nations.

A Vatican `fatwa' in February condemned democracy as heresy, sinful like contraceptives and divorce, but tolerated as `a necessary evil,' less harmful than the alternatives. A man of the cloth will never accept an alternative to ` God's law', albeit modern democracies long separation between state and the church. Ever since its condemnation of Galileo for his sinful discovery that it was earth that circled the sun, not the other way round, the religious institution, regardless of the faith it upholds, sees itself as the centre of the universe. Given the fact that the religious institution lends legitimacy to the Saudi government, in a tribal society that has little time for individual's rights, one can realise the gigantic revolutionary significance of Saudi citizens' rush for last month's elections.

In Egypt, no demonstrations passed peacefully since the 1952 military coup , except those organised by Colonel Nasser's one party ` Socialist Union,' SU; others were brutally crushed by police. The yellow placard ` enough' movement demonstration in February, was protected, instead of being prevented, by the police. President Hosni Mubarak stunned his, ruling National Party NP- the legacy of SU- by petitioning Parliament to change presidential election rules to allow multi-candidate elections, just 24 hours after NP leaders dismissed the Enough Movement demands as ` unconstitutional.'

As the Syrian backed Lebanese government resigned, president Bashar Assad of Syria told Time magazine, he will concede to the Lebanese demands to pull troops out of Lebanon, which he announced in speech to parliament March 5. There was even a reform rally held by some 100 people held a protest to mark 42 years since the imposition of emergency laws, which is new to one of few Stalinist style states left; even though they were chased away were chased away by Baathist marchers wielding placards and sticks, but hey were not arrested.
The ripples of change in the region is also indicating that 2005 Middle Easterners are as qualified as their 1989 European brothers and sisters in making the democratic revolution. Human inclination to freedom makes democracy possible, but human inclination to dominate, makes democracy a necessity.

Copyright © Adel Darwish & Mideastnews and its parent company World Media UK Limited 2005. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means or used for any business purpose without the written consent of the publisher. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained herein is as accurate as possible, the publisher cannot accept responsibility for any consequences arising from its use. 

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