Tweet a changing world 7

America’s magnificent technology, not its dwindling political power, is helping to set oppressed nations free.

Western governments – in particular the Obama administration, obsessively and weirdly convinced that peace and joy would prevail on earth if it could only stop Israel building houses for its citizens in its capital city – have been so blinded by their own misguided assumptions that they are overtaken with surprise by what is happening in  North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and at a loss to know what to do.

The Arab rulers themselves are astonished and shaken. They found it very useful to blame Israel and America for the miseries of those they oppressed, but now the people aren’t buying the excuse, and the rulers fear not just overthrow but the loss of their lives.

It was never true that what happened in and round Israel mattered to the ordinary Arab man and woman (beyond lip-service to the Palestinian cause when they were asked). What matters to them is the struggle to live. A steep rise in the price of food has brought them to furious revolt.

The greater part of the Arab world is in turmoil. The revolution in Tunisia has sent its autocratic ruler scuttling for asylum in Saudi Arabia.

In Egypt, tens (some reports say hundreds) of thousands are out in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. Hundreds have been arrested, but the protests continue. The son of the president has fled to Britain, having sneaked out of Egypt from a military airfield in West Cairo, with his family and an immense quantity of baggage – which suggests that he has a long stay abroad in mind. President Mubarak, now 82 and ailing, has been in power for 30 years. If he was expecting his son Gamal to succeed him, as was generally supposed, that  hope has now been dashed. In any case there were strong forces opposed to Gamal’s succession, chiefly the military – which is probably why they helped him on his way. (In Tunisia, it was the military switching sides from the government to the people that ensured the success of the revolution.)

In Mauritania, Algeria, MoroccoJordan crowds are marching, and the monsters of corruption that keep them hungry are afraid.

They had to wonder, how did it come about that so many appeared on the streets at the same time on the same days, with the same banners in their hands, the same slogans on their lips? How were the protests organized?

The answer is: Twitter, Facebook, and cell phones. When the Egyptian authorities realized this, they tried to block both Twitter and Facebook in a feeble gesture against the overwhelming tide of progress that is suddenly transforming the Arab world. They managed to do it for a short time only. Then they issued banning orders which were not obeyed. They used tear gas, water cannon and beatings to try and disperse the demonstrators. Official reports admitted that three people were killed, two demonstrators and a policeman. An unofficial figure is some 150 dead. But still thousands continue to protest.

The Muslim Brotherhood, however, hovers in the wings to seize power if it can. And if it does, Egypt will no longer be a secular state; diplomatic relations with Israel will almost certainly be broken off; and relations with the US will change for the worse.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah is in the process of putting its own choice of prime minister into power. It is a Shia organization and the prime minister of Lebanon must (by the terms of a 1943 unwritten agreement called the National Pact) be a Sunni. The man designated for the office, Najib Miqati, is a Sunni who is sympathetic to Hezbollah’s demand that the government refuse all co-operation with the International Court at the Hague in its efforts to bring the murderers of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri to trial. As a result, the Lebanese Christians rioted yesterday in many parts of the country. They know  that under Miqati’s leadership, Lebanon will become a proxy for Iran, which created, finances, and arms Hezbollah. The threat Iran already poses to Israel will be greatly enhanced.

What did the president of the United States say that touched on any of this in his State of the Union address last night? Just two sentences:

And we saw that same desire to be free [as in Southern Sudan, recently seceded from the North] in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.

And Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State? She declared yesterday that the government of Egypt is “stable”.

Jillian Becker   January 26, 2011

  • Jed

    I’m getting mixed messages from this article. Is this a good or a bad thing? Are terrorist or radical Muslim organizations responsible for the protests, or are they on the side of the current governments? It seems like the first 9 paragraphs are saying that the people are trying to overthrow the oppressive governments that are in power, and then it starts talking about the Muslim Brotherhood trying to seize power, which would be bad. I’m just a bit confused because it seems kind of contradictory.

    -Jed

    • Jillian Becker

      Except in Lebanon, these are popular uprisings. Nobody knows what the outcomes will be. If the Muslim Brotherhood manages to exploit the crisis in Egypt and take power, it would be a bad outcome. In Tunisia there is a chance that there may be a less oppressive government. The overthrow of a despot is in itself a good thing. But someone or something worse could succeed him.

      Anyway, that part of the world is exploding. Western states cannot remain unaffected by what happens in the Arab world. Yet Obama is apparently trying to ignore this vast upheaval. His childish foreign policy, far from spreading peace, has allowed regimes like North Korea and Iran to advance their aggressive agendas with ever increasing boldness. The question of just how his incomprehension of the Middle East has contributed to the instability in that region – regardless of what it leads to – will incite many an historian to analysis and speculation in the years to come.

      • Frank

        I hate to correct you but Obama does not have a childish foreign policy in the Middle East. It might be an improvement if indeed his foreign policy in that theatre was childish. When it comes to the Middle East his foreign policy is one of a sycophantic nature.

        • Jillian Becker

          Frank – we like to be corrected.

          But can a person or a policy not be both childish (or naive), and sycophantic at the same time?

        • Frank

          Reply to Jillian,
          You may be correct. Perhaps I gave more credit than they deserve. 😉

      • Jed

        The United States is probably the most influential nation in the world, and Barack Obama is one of the most powerful people in the world. He has a responsibility not only to Americans, but also to the rest of the Western world (including Israel) to solidly support America’s allies. I hate to conjecture, but it seems as though Obama either has some sort of ulterior intent to undermine America’s allies or is just incredibly naïve. Regardless, as Frank put it so accurately, his foreign policy is astonishingly sycophantic. Anyway, sorry for pointing out the obvious.

        -Jed

        • Jed

          Sorry, I meant to say that I agree that Obama’s foreign policy is astonishingly sycophantic and childish.