Mar 11 2005

Something to celebrate

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles

A curious thing is happening in Lebanon and other parts of the Arab world. Democracy might be the rule of the people by the people, but once people take up this right, there is no telling what they will decide. Anti-US forces (like those of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah) are temporarily (at least in Beirut) putting their guns aside and taking up democratic tools like non-violent demonstrations and public rallies. Pro-democratic groups in Lebanon are also not automatically embracing the US but are publicly supporting the anti-Israeli resistance. In the run up to the March 9 rally and during it, Nasrallah’s actions and words were clearly in favour of what he calls “silm al ahli” (community peace) in which he insisted on the need to discuss and debate issues.
The anti-Syrian opposition groups in Lebanon were unpredictable in their new rhetoric. Speaking to the media, following the fall of the Karameh pro-Syrian government, Walid Jumblatt insisted that seeking independence from Syria is not to be understood as moving any closer to peace with Israel or rejecting pan-Arabism. However, he insisted, the Arab patriotism that he was speaking about, is not the same as the classical pan-Arabism (often reflected in Baath and other ideological movements).

The importance of these statements lies in the fact that, for the first time in modern Arab nationalism, a respected Arab patriot has succeeded in presenting an alternative and a genuinely democratic form of Arab nationalism. Until recently, most calls for reform and democracy in the Arab world were easily shrugged off as unacceptable because they would be effected in response to American or, even worse, Israeli demands and dictates. For a well-respected Arab leader to state opposition to calls for the withdrawal of troops of a fellow Arab country and still sound supportive of relations with that particular country seems very odd to the ears of most Arabs.

While what is happening in Lebanon is unique in many ways, it has sent shock waves throughout the Arab world, where the populations of the 23 Arab countries all but gave up on the possibility of the success of a peaceful democratic movement that is also patriotic.

To be sure, the Bush administration’s strong push for democracy in what the president calls the Greater Middle East has made Arab democrats very uneasy. On the one hand, this call echoes deep-seated demands that have gone unnoticed in the entire region. Arabs fighting for genuine democracy, human rights and the civilian transfer of power have been gagged, jailed, imprisoned and killed. Those who survived placed themselves in self-imposed exiles to avoid the wrath of regimes.

For the most part, these same Arab democrats believed that fellow Arabs in Palestine deserve the same democratic independence from the Israeli occupation that they were seeking from their regimes. When President George Bush publicly embraced the democratic calls without backing down from his relentless support for the hard-line Israeli occupiers of Palestine, many Arab intellectuals chose silence. They were afraid that responding positively to Bush’s calls will appear to be backing down in their support for Palestine and the right of its people to be rid of the pro-US Israeli government that was responsible for occupation, house demolition, assassinations and other human rights abuses.

The recent successful elections in Palestine have also been a major source of inspiration. Mahmoud Abbas had to compete with a number of competent contenders and won with a solid but nothing close to the 90 something percentage that Arab leaders normally win. This election, that was followed by the elections in Iraq, where voters were given real choices, certainly provided much of the backdrop for the successful turn of events in Lebanon. It wasn’t surprising, therefore, to hear pro-democracy playwrights like the Cairo-based Ali Salem declare on CNN: “We Egyptians are jealous of what the Lebanese have done.”

The Lebanese Intifada has provided a strong model for the Arab world. Pro-democracy movements will no doubt look at the peaceful demonstrations in Lebanon as a patriotic act even though it appears to be in tune with the public wishes of the American administration and even some of the voices coming out of Israel. But while Israelis have expressed pleasure with the anti-Syrian movement, Jumblatt’s statements will dampen their expectations that this turn of events will provide them with a Lebanese government that will quickly sign a separate peace deal.

With two Arab peoples (Palestinians and Iraqis) suffering under foreign military occupation and with most of the rest of the Arab nation suffering from possibly more damaging and painful autocratic rule, the Arab world has never been so fragmented and hopeless. But despite this miserable state of affairs, a glimmer of hope has finally emerged giving lovers of peace, democracy and human rights something to celebrate.

No responses yet

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.