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