Tunisia: an intifada for dignity, not bread
"This is not an intifada (popular uprising) for bread - although hunger and unemployment are two of its main triggers - it is rather an intifada for dignity, and an insubordination against the servitude and humiliation the Arabs have been made to endure for the past 30 years,"observed Abdelbari Atwan, the editor-in-chief of the London-based newspaper Al Quds al Arabi, on the uprising against the Tunisian regime, which forced the country's president of 23 years to leave.
The most striking thing about the recent demonstrations in Tunisia and other parts of the Arab world, namely Algeria and Jordan, is that "the culture of fear" that was impressed on the people for the past decades has been cracked, if not completely destroyed. "So for the first time now, Arab regimes are seriously reviewing their calculations and taking good heed of the same Arab public opinion they have for so long ignored and despised."
The Algerian government cut the prices of food staples by almost half in a bid to contain the protesters. Libya, for its part, is taking proactive measures - like lifting customs charges on basic foodstuffs - to "immunise its unemployed" against "the 'benign' Tunisian virus". The Jordanian government, once oblivious to opposition calls, is now scrambling to do the same.
So, why only now are these Arab governments taking these "pre-emptive measures"?
Three scenarios for the Lebanese government
Now that Syrian-Saudi efforts to defuse the tensions in Lebanon have been dealt a knockout blow with the dissolution of the Lebanese government, there are three probable scenarios that may play out on Beirut's political scene, wrote Saad Mehio, a columnist with the Emirati newspaper Al Khaleej.
The first scenario suggests attempts to form a new government will fail and the country will enter a state of "long-term constitutional and political paralysis" until the party most disadvantaged by the stalemate gives in.
The second scenario is regional and international efforts for a settlement will continue, this time led by Turkey, France and Qatar, under the Syrian-Saudi umbrella. The goal will be to, at worst, prevent the mainly political crisis from becoming a mainly security issue, and at best, to find a formula whereby the March 8 and March 14 movements will live with the dilemma of the International Tribunal for Lebanon.
And the third scenario is that trouble sets off in the streets and the security apparatus imposes a reshuffle of Lebanese institutions that better serves the interests of the March 8 alliance.
These conflicting scenarios show the extent to which Lebanon has become the battlefield for a regional cold war. Beirut will be caught up between two struggling forces: Iran and Syria on the one hand, and the US and its Middle Eastern allies on the other.
Tunisians bend the course of their destiny
"We've been expecting a war in Lebanon, a crisis in Iraq, a blaze in Iran and generally chaos in some other part of the region," commented Tariq al Homayed, the editor-in-chief of the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al Awsat.
"That's where all the eyes were turned, and believe me when I say that most Arab officials were thinking that the crisis in Tunisia would come to an end in a few days. Even the US secretary of state said some days ago that her administration will discuss the state of affairs in Tunisia with [the now former president] Zine al Abidine Ben Ali once the crisis is over."
Suddenly, the Tunisian president took the plane and fled the country, after many years of repression. Other states, just as repressive, have understood the importance of allowing the people to let off some steam. It wasn't the case in Tunisia; the state's unbending clampdown on power and freedoms was bound to trigger an explosion on the streets.
"The compatriots of Abou el Kacem Chebbi - who penned the famous line, 'If some day the people desire to live/Destiny will answer the call' - took to the streets to alter the destiny of Tunisia."
No one will cry for Ben Ali's regime, but the key challenge now is to prevent Tunisia from foundering into a pit of crises, or swapping one dictatorship for another.
Egypt's unity must trump sectarian follies
The days that followed the Saints Church bombing in Alexandria on New Year's Eve, which killed more than 20 Egyptian Christians, may have highlighted the solidity of popular cohesion in Egypt, but it also spotlighted an extremist minority in the ranks of both Muslims and Copts, observed Magdy Shendy, a columnist with the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan.
Maurice Sadiq, an Egyptian Christian living overseas and a member of the National Coptic Association, issued a statement calling for the establishment of an autonomous state for Copts in Egypt. Sources from the Egyptian Church were quick to describe the statement as "paid-for fantasy". It was equally shocking to hear the Islamic preacher Wagdy Ghaneem, in the midst of the frenzy that followed the tragic event, refer to the Copts of Egypt as "the crusaders". More scandalously, he asked the Copts to leave "Muslim Egypt if they didn't like it there".
This whole issue needs to be discussed among the wisest on both sides and the Egyptian state, for national matters that may seem easy to fix can fly out of control when a state is targeted from the outside.
Published: January 16, 2011 04:00 AM