Tag Archives: egypt

Qualifying Democracy

By Zeinab Khalil, LSA Sophomore at the University of Michigan.

It’s been one year since a young man from Tunisia lit himself with a fire that continues to emblaze our world today. One year since the 26-year-old, college-educated-turned-fruit-seller Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself in an act of severe frustration and desperation against a corrupt, unaccountable and brutal police state. Just ten days after his death, following the rage and protests of the people, Ben Ali’s dictatorial regime was over. And now, the puppet presidents and ruthless tyrants of the region continue to drop, one after another, like dead flies.

Egyptians of all ages voting for the first time.

It’s been one year since the start of the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, an inspirational phenomenon that has captured the hearts and minds of people all over the world – rightly earning the title of the soul of the global revolution that we are witnessing today.

The vain despots and their loyal forces have demonstrated that they are willing to do everything they can to maintain their authoritarian grips on power, while the protesters have just as passionately demonstrated their will and determination to drive them out of power. Thousands of protestors have been killed and continue to be killed in cold blood by the repressive state security apparatuses. Thousands more have been injured, losing an eye (both eyes in some cases), limbs and in many cases, have become paralyzed for life. Yet it is the determination and perseverance, the hope and vision of something better that keeps these people coming out day after day despite the fact that their bare chests are met with live bullets, their signs with tear gas canisters, and their chants with mass arrests and criminal convictions. All because they dare defy an oppressive authority that tells them that they can’t.

And yet, despite the bold and poignant images and stories we’ve seen and heard by these ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things, some continue to question and undermine the efforts of the movers of these revolutions, who are restless and steadfast in their demand for freedom, dignity and accountability. Some have decided to take on the official voice to continue to tell the people that they can’t.

Tear canisters shot at protesters.

Just this week, Israel’s vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon declared that Arabs aren’t ready or worthy of democracy. “We are not sure, to say the least,” he said, “[if] what we’re witnessing now is real democratization.” He continued to dismiss and disparage one of the many achievements and tools of the people in forming nascent democracies by arrogantly asserting that Arabs aren’t ready to vote and that elections for them are actually futile. “We believe that you can’t reach democracy by elections. We believe in a long process.” And of course, as if his comments weren’t uninformed enough, he couldn’t miss the opportunity to dehumanize and invalidate all Palestinians, “We believe the Palestinian society is not mature (enough) to exercise civil society.”

I have something to tell Yaalon and any other Orientalists out there who use their rhetoric to subordinate Palestinians and disdain Arabs by justifying dictatorships and authoritarianism.

My 80-year-old grandmother went out to vote for the first time in her life this week. After waiting for so long, she does not need to be chastised or slapped on the wrists for practicing an inalienable right that she and her fellow Egyptians have had to fight vigorously for. And she certainly does not need to be told that she isn’t ready for democracy by supremacist politicians who dismiss the freedom and dignity of others for the sake of some pseudo stability. She’s already heard enough of that nonsense under the military dictatorship that’s haunted her country for many years, as have many Arabs with their respective, repressive dictators for the past decades.

How hypocritical and shameful of a government that prides itself as being “the only democracy in the Middle East” to not want democracy and freedom for other countries in the Middle East. How embarrassing that Yaalon’s words sound exactly like the words of Mubarak in his last speech, who claimed that Egyptians did not have the “culture of democracy,” or Saleh and Ben Ali who both claimed that Arabs couldn’t possibly understand how democracy works, and used this bigoted ideology to justify their perpetual reigns and fruitless thrones. Of course, Yaalon’s words and Israel’s stance on the pro-democracy revolutions are not new. While government forces in Egypt intentionally ran over protesters with armored police vehicles, President Shimon Peres maintained, “We always have had and still have great respect for President Mubarak” while Ari Shavit contended that Obama had betrayed a “moderate Egyptian president who remained loyal to the United States, promoted stability and encouraged moderation.” (Yeah, running people over cars is actually a moderate thing to do; it’s their fault they weren’t protesting on the crosswalk.)

Pro-Democracy protests erupted across the Middle East and North Africa against authoritarian regimes.

For Israel, it isn’t an issue of democracy or elections coming at a bad time. It isn’t even about elections or time. For Israel, Arabs will never be ready for democracy. Israel does not give a hoot about democracy for people who aren’t Israeli. How can it when it beats down any talk of the self-determination of Palestinians? How can it when it feeds off the propaganda and deception that it is the only democracy in the Middle East?  Without that title, without defining itself against the uncivil and immature Arabs, it loses a big chunk of its identity.

For years, Arabs have been told over and over by their aging tyrants that they aren’t smart enough or wise enough or sophisticated enough for democracy. That they simply aren’t cut out for it. This rhetoric was meant to silence the people, to keep them thinking that the lousy governments they have now are better than not having one at all; as any real attempt towards democracy would ultimately lead to civil war, a failed state, or some other morbid scenario. It helped the tyrants maintain their illegitimate authority and defend their personal interests and financial gains at the cost of their nations’ best and brightest. But the people know better. They’ve proven that they’re smarter and wiser than that and have risen against the indignities imposed on them by their governments, but Israel insists on clinging on to the dying narrative that Arabs are an uncivilized people incapable of self-determination or democracy. By reinforcing these trite, racist labels, Israeli politicians are fooling only themselves, and their words are ultimately irrelevant because the reality of the actions of those on the street from Tahrir to Der’aa to San’aa speak much louder than this empty fiction.

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Will the real Barack Obama please stand up?

By Eman Abdelhadi-LSA Senior at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

The President

Exactly 6 days after he delivered his “much-anticipated” speech on Middle East policy and 3 days after he delivered an address to AIPAC  speaking on many of the same topics, President Obama spoke to both houses of the British Parliament  about US-British relations. The American press hailed the first speech as a “reset on Middle East policy”, and bloggers and writers claimed that the US had finally thrown full support behind the Arab Spring. Pro-Israel writers followed Mitt Romney’s example and bemoaned the President’s proclamation on the 1967 borders as an act of throwing Israel under the proverbial bus. But as an activist and humanitarian, his speeches spoke to me not of the bold moves of a visionary leader but of the delusion and condescension of a Bush Era henchman.

The Community Organizer

Cutting through the rhetoric and niceties to the actual policy implications of his speech on Thursday, showed that Obama was merely spelling out an extension of the US policy of placing American security and economic interests in the region above all else. Even while pledging to support protesters, Obama continued to ignore their foremost demand; just as he had done with Tunisia, then Egypt. His harshest words, to President Al-Assad, spoke volumes. “President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition, or get out of the way.” Lead the transition? How can a man who has waged war on his people, shooting down hundreds if not thousands of protesters while injuring and torturing many more, lead a transition to democracy? Since that first fateful Friday in December when Tunisian vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, the central rally cry of the revolution has been the toppling of the current regimes in the Arab world.  “The people want the end of the regime” has resounded from square to square telling the world that those who rejected democracy and favored corruption for decades cannot, in one magical act of schizophrenia, turn around and lead their governments into a democracy! Apparently Obama has not been listening. A fact only reinforced by his deliberate failure to even mention Saudi Arabia’s massive military campaign against protesters in Bahrain and Yemen. Clearly US-favored stability at the cost of freedom of expression and self-determination is still the policy.

As for the now oft-cited recognition of the 1967 borders, I guess a congratulations is in order to our dear president for finally recognizing what has been decided by international law and affirmed by the global  community and humanitarians every where years ago. But before we jump on the US love boat and hail this step as revolutionary, let’s look at Obama’s speech to AIPAC only 3 days later. Stating that his ultimate priority was Israel’s security, Obama once again re-affirmed the stagnation of American foreign policy. Although he may stand before the world and claim an interest in the humanitarian objectives of both peoples, the reality is that his stance behind Israel is, in his own words, “ironclad”. His desperation to show Israel’s biggest lobby that nothing had changed in US support for Israel was disgusting and shameful considering the Israeli record of human rights violations and unlawful aggression.  Nowhere in either speech did he care to mention the unequal power dynamic between the two players or, while he harped on Palestinians for ending negotiations, Israel’s tendency to violate treaty after treaty after treaty. For Obama, Israel is not a means to peace, but an end in itself, just as it was for Bush and his predecessors.

If these two speeches left me dejected and disappointed, Obama’s talks in Great Britain left me nothing short of heartbroken. I watched as the ex-community organizer from Chicago who once, in near memory, embodied hope and progress, tolerated the superfluous ceremonies of a monarchy smeared with the legacy of colonialism and Eurocentrism. Then that same Obama stood before a podium and reminded his audience that the world still needed US-Brittish leadership, which had not ended. To an audience of British parliament members perhaps this was welcome news. But to those of us who know that leadership for what it was and is, a self-interested, opportunistic tendency to use military and economic prowess to trick the developing world out of its resources and self-determination, this was anything but good news. As Obama condescendingly clung to Western hegemony, his rhetoric echoed the exceptionalism we had become so accustomed to in the 8 years before his election. “It’s very hard to sit across the table from a party that is denying your right to exist, and has not renounced the right to send missiles and rockets into your territory,” he said matter-of-factly speaking of Fatah’s power-sharing alliance with Hamas (which is preventing civil bloodshed between Palestinians as we speak). Could the Palestinians not say the exact same thing to Israel, Mr President? Ironically, in almost the same breath, he re-iterated his opposition to Palestinian statehood being brought to the UN this fall. A dismissal of the UN and its role chillingly reminiscent of Bush Doctrine policies.

As I watched all this unfold I could not help but recall that historic speech to the Muslim world two years ago in which Barack Obama said “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect”. A speech in which he recognized the harms done to the Muslim world by the very American-European leadership he today tries to revive. “Tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.” I could not bear the juxtaposition of the image of a politically young, newly elected Obama standing in front of a red curtain speaking of change, progress and equality and the image of a wizened president touring Buckingham palace with her majesty the queen and referencing the good ol’ days of uncontested US hegemony with Britain as its faithful sidekick.  I cannot help but wonder if in 2009 Obama only spoke in Cairo assuming that he would not be called to substantiate his promises because the Arab world would always be chained into submission by its dictatorial US allies. Or, perhaps in the time the Arabs have used to lift their chains, Obama, the community organizer, has incurred a set of his own. Either way, this is not the man next to whose name I proudly blackened a small black oval on November 4th, 2008.

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