Mar 15 2005

The people v the intelligence services

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles

During the peaceful demonstrations in Lebanon last week, protestors carried huge photo posters of the heads of the intelligence services in Lebanon calling for their resignation or ouster. The thousands of protestors clearly broke the fear barrier by making such a public call against the dark forces that they accuse of running a police state.
The intelligence services are the main power brokers in most of the Arab world irrespective of whether the country in question is a monarchy or a republic. And what has happened in Lebanon is certainly shaking up intelligence services throughout the Arab world.

Political systems in the Arab world have reflected a curious case. Monarchies are moving closer to a constitutional monarchy in which royalty has basically symbolic but unifying powers. On the other hand, the republics of the Arab world are becoming more like monarchies with autocratic leaders grooming their sons, a la monarchy, to take over power after they are gone.

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.

But the change that has begun in Lebanon will not make the resident of the White House very happy. Before American officials start celebrating about the Arab peoples adopting the “D” word, they must take a closer look at what Arabs are saying. 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 Hizballah leader 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 instead 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 favor 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 Karami 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 also 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 genuinely democratic form of Arab nationalism. Until recently, most calls for reform and democracy in the Arab world were easily shrugged off as a response to American, or even worse, Israeli demands and dictates. For a well-respected Arab leader to call 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.

For the most part, these same Arab democrats believed that fellow Arabs  in Palestine deserve the same democratic independence from the Israelioccupation that they were seeking from their autocratic regimes. When President Bush publicly embraced the democratic calls without backing down from his relentless support for the hard-line Israeli occupiers in Palestine, many Arab intellectuals chose silence. They were afraid that responding positively to President Bush´s calls would appear to be backing down in their support for Palestine and the rights of its people to be rid of the pro-US Israeli government that was responsible for occupation, house demolitions, 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 majority but nothing close to the 90-something percentage that Arab leaders normally win with. This was an election, followed by elections in Iraq, where voters were given real choices, and 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 that, “we Egyptians are jealous of what the Lebanese have done”.

Arabs–whether leaders or the people, whether monarchies or republics–are seeing an expression of people power in different countries. The goal is no longer to change monarchies to republics or vice versa. The goal of the popular movement in the Arab world is to remind rulers that people and not intelligence services are the real source of power.


-  Published 10/3/2005 (c)

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and founder and director of Ammannet, the Arab world’s first internet radio station.

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