The “Arab Spring”… One Year Later

Yesterday, January 25th, marked the Egyptian revolution’s first anniversary. To celebrate this, millions of Egyptians went to Tahrir to protest the current situation in their country:

The protest in Tahrir on Jan 25, 2012.

Yes, the Egyptians are protesting after a parliamentary elections that birthed a parliament with people like these in power. Thinking about it, though, if one wanted to give an overall description to the “Arab Spring,” the most accurate expression would be: rise of the fundamentalists.

It serves as a catchy Hollywood title, no? Arab Spring: The Rise of the Fundamentalists. I should trademark this. And nothing describes the way it is in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries that protested better than this picture:

A caricature circulating currently in Tunisia

Who cares that Egypt has a soaring poverty rate or that Tunisia has a ridiculously high unemployment average. The first thing the new Egyptian parliament did was not to start serious discussions about the country’s future but to refuse to commit to women rights. Again, who cares about women rights, men rights, children rights, animal rights. Who cares about the Copts getting killed on daily basis because of their faith? What matters is saying no to overly revealing clothing and taking extended naps during parliamentary sessions.

Just some food for thought but perhaps one of the few things keeping the society in Lebanon from absolutely crumbling is the fact that fundamentalism cannot and will not get to power.

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The Nakba

Gebran Khalil Gebran wrote in “The Prophet”:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

Imagine this quote being applied to something more concrete than a human soul… imagine this quote being applied to your land.

Your land is not your land. It does not belong to you.

There is nothing harder than having no home – only a transient house, or even a tent, where you sleep the night, worrying what the following day brings.

Some people have been worrying about that issue precisely – where to sleep – for more than sixty years. I am not appealing to any political reason, only humanitarian common sense. There’s a people who has had their land swept away from beneath their feet on the premise that this land does not belong to them, whose homes got ripped to shreds because they were built on a land that was not “theirs” and who are in limbo just because they were the victims of wrong place, wrong time circumstances.

The Palestinian people, and I do not mean its political figures (because those are as rubbish as garbage goes), are a collection of human beings whose lives have been torn apart by years of them being in the middle of a conflict they chose not to be part of.

I shall not go into the history of how they lost their land. After all, the history is well known (Balfour promise, etc…). But the sad thing is how this people is portrayed today: a collection of terrorists voting terrorists to fight those who are good, aka, Israelis.

Sure, the Palestinians have had their share of mistakes. They sought out a country where a country was already built and they have constantly failed to get themselves represented in the best possible way. Arafat? Abbas? Seriously?

But there’s more to the conflict than what ABC, CBS and Fox share with their viewers. There are people who are the victims of massacres against them on daily basis, whose children are used as bullet pillows and whose souls are being hammered with missiles. I firmly believe the holocaust has happened. Whether the number of Jews who died is ten million or one million, it doesn’t mean they were not ruthlessly exterminated at one point. But you’d think going through that ordeal would deter you from wanting to inflict it on another people. Not true, obviously.

I do not advocate equaling the holocaust with what’s happening in Palestine today. But I feel the human life has become of so little value in some areas of the world, it’s sickening.

However, the Arab Nakba (which translates as catastrophe) does not stop with Palestine. Arab countries are infested with dictators who kill their people ruthlessly without caring and who limit freedom, in spite of protests demanding for their basic right to speak.

The Arab Spring, which is also the name analysts have called the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, is slowly turned into another Nakba. Why? Sectarian clashes in Egypt against the Coptic population, just for them wanting to remain Christian in their country. Copts face daily discrimination, having to ask state permission to build churches and must indicate their religious affiliation on their ID cards.  Their schools were nationalized by the government in the 1950’s and over the last several decades they have witnessed terrible massacres. This past weekend witnessed two churches being burned and several dead. And yet, people in the Arab world have turned a blind eye on them and their suffering mean while constantly bemoaning about discrimination against Arabs. Not to mention what has happened to Assyrians and Chaldeans in Iraq, half of whom have fled for their own safety. And no it was not American troops who drove them out.

Add to that rioting in Tunisia that is knowing no end. The Libyan revolution dying a painful and agonizing death amidst an international silence that knows no limit. A Syrian revolution attempt that is the victim of people simply not caring anymore and a Yemeni revolution that’s the victim of them being so geographically distant that they have become also distant from attention.

It doesn’t help as well that the population in the Gulf suddenly got preoccupied with watching Star Academy and counting their oil millions again.

Yes, the Arab Nakba doesn’t stop with Palestine, although they are the bigger victims in it. It’s the story of a whole region of the world that allows itself to be degraded with time by incompetent rulers, indulgent people and hypocrisy without limit. The next time you protest against Israel ask yourself. Do I believe in equality in my own home? Have I treated one of my own citizens differently based on ethnicity or sect? Are people in my own state suffering because they are religiously or ethnically different? Next time you march or protest ask yourself these questions.

And quoting Gebran Khalil Gebran again,

Pity the nation that raises not its voice
save when it walks in a funeral,
boasts not except among its ruins,
and will rebel not save when its neck is laid
between the sword and the block.
Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox,
whose philosopher is a juggler,
and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking.
[…]
Pity the nation divided into into fragments,
each fragment deeming itself a nation.
PS: Thanks to Paul Gadalla for his input in this post.

Some Arabs Need To Get A Grip On Their Egos

I stumbled upon a very interesting article online yesterday, written by Robert Fisk, that discussed mainly how the “Arab Awakening” did not start with Tunisia in December 2010 but with Lebanon in March 2005.

So I shared this article via my twitter page with my friend Ali, whom I knew believed in the idea the article discussed.

Soon enough, I started to receive tweets about how we, as Lebanese, have a false sense of grandeur, how we are “insecure buffoons”, how our pride blinds us, how we claim fake glory, how Lebanon inspires no one, etc…

I wouldn’t naturally reply to such things, but I did reply, only to get even worse tweets about how we, as Lebanese, are basically nothing.

Even some of the comments on some YouTube videos online basically say how ridiculous Lebanon is to run a show like Star Academy while the region is busy running revolutions.

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A Middle Eastern Revolution Overdose?

Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria… and now people wanting to overthrow the system in Lebanon. I find myself wondering if it’s getting way out hand – if people are suddenly beginning to take advantage of this surge in regional adrenaline.

Do we really need to march down and demonstrate to overthrow the system in Lebanon? Is it really the best option we’ve got?

We are the only country in the region that actually has a democracy that functions – regardless of whether you think it functions properly or not, we can still vote, get our voices heard and be able to do marches like the one planned today. Sure, we have many shortcomings but I believe they dwarf in comparison to what the people of Egypt, Tunisia had to go through to get where we were in the 1940s, let alone what the people of Libya are going through as we speak.

To change the system in Lebanon, I don’t believe you need a revolution. I think you need common sense, one that is easily blinded when excitement surges among the people. Look at it this way: say the planned “revolution” succeeds and a secular state is enforced, do you honestly think that will happen without changing the basic foundation upon which the state is built? And by that I mean democracy. Do you really think shoving down secularism down people’s throats would get you further?

The people of Lebanon are not secular people because that is not how they were brought up. To move towards a secular state, you need to have a secular mind – one that is only present in a handful of people currently. And I don’t think the current political atmosphere in the country warrants further upheaval.

The best way, in my opinion, to have a peaceful and logical transition into a secular state is via a major overhaul of the education system. You cannot keep on teaching the same things being taught dealing with the way the country is run and still believe a secular state is plausible. People need to be taught on embracing the different other in a more hands-on approach, people need to be exposed more to the other’s religion and we need to at least have a version of our history that does not stop when the French Army vacated its barracks in 1946. By having an education system that invites people to become more aware of the different other, perhaps we can start moving our minds towards becoming truly secular and understanding that if I, a Maronite, do not have the presidency written for my sect, that’s okay. Or if you, a Shiite, don’t necessarily get the speaker of parliament, that’s okay as well. Same thing applies for the Sunnis and all the other sects.

Moving towards a secular Lebanon is a very hard thing to accomplish. The movement towards that should be transitory and not blunt. It should be accepted and not forced. Therefore, uniting Lebanon starts by letting the people of Lebanon share their ideas and come to common grounds with those ideas. Uniting Lebanon does not come by having one idea forced upon everyone. That would be basically a dictatorship.

On a final note, I invite people not to fall into the misconception that atheism is synonymic to secularism. It has become a common belief among many in Lebanon that the two are inherently related. That is far from the case. I also hope that we appreciate what we’ve got in our country and not take it for granted. We are still the only democracy in the region and it’ll take the countries that have had recent revolutions years to get to where we are today – regardless of what you might think lacks in our democracy. Is a revolution an answer? I don’t think so. Do we need to move towards a secular state? I believe it’s a necessity. How? Let’s just say, don’t get carried away by political excitement.

Open Letter to Hassan Nasrallah

Dear Mr. Nasrallah,

I was sort of surprised today to hear you defend the Egyptian revolution so adamantly. It is a revolution well deserved of all of our support, that’s for sure, but your fiery support was puzzling to me.

You see, Mr. Nasrallah, I fail to understand why you feel that you need to have a speech in support of the Egyptian revolution in the first place, when it’s not the first revolution in the area. Didn’t Tunisia have its own revolution, which was actually successful, a few weeks ago?

Second, I fail to understand why you need to include Israel as the center of your argument for the justification of an importance of a revolution. Shouldn’t the “poor and the free” be enough as cause? Shouldn’t the need for change be enough?

I understand that it is not in Israel’s best interest for change to happen in Egypt. After all, the Egyptian status quo is fine with Israel. But I’m sure that’s not what the Egyptians cared about when they went down in their millions to the streets.

Also Mr. Nasrallah, if you are so keen about defending the rights of the “poor and free”, how come you didn’t feel the need for a speech when “hundreds were being killed and thousands injured” during the Iranian protests in 2009? Weren’t those protesters also free and poor and wanting change? Or is it only relevant when it’s actually one that serves your best interests?

Dear Mr. Nasrallah, do not, if you may, lecture people about revolutions. You haven’t cared about our own need for change in Lebanon, obviously proclaimed by the majority of the people in 2005. On the contrary, you called for an anti-protest a few days earlier to thank those same people that were making us “poor” and suppressing our freedom. So for all matters and purposes, you are a hypocrit – just as many in your political side are – and I do not – nor should anyone – appreciate hypocrisy.

After all, isn’t Israel hypocritical as well?

Sincerely,

Confused Lebanese Citizen

The Domino Effect

It all started in a quiet Tunisian city named “Sidi Bouzid”. An unemployed college graduate was selling fruits and vegetables on the street when his cart was taken by the police due to lack of authorization. He rebelled. He lit himself on fire. And soon enough, his whole city lost its quietness and lit its rebel voice.

A mini-domino game followed. Neighboring cities starting protesting against the status quo in their country: political oppression, unfair elections, squashed liberties. In a matter of days, the whole country was rebelling. They wanted change. They were willing to die for this change. And change happened: the president, Ben Ali, succumb to his people’s demands and resigned.

I will not go into the details of what happened in Tunisia after that. The Tunisians have a long way to go in order to build the country that I believe they deserve.

Tunisia was a major domino piece. Soon enough, many in the neighboring countries of Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania… started to try to implement change in their countries by copycat acts of burning themselves. These didn’t work.

However, on January 25th, Egypt rose. Egypt, the country of the pharaohs, rendered in a near coma after years and years of even worse oppression, decided to stand up for what it is. The people started rebelling. They started to stand up for what they deserve, for the life they should be leading.

Egypt is a country of over 75 million inhabitants. Many of those live such a poor life that describing it is truly saddening. Imagine living with less than $1 per day. That’s not even enough money for a bottle of water in some places. Yet these people lived by.

But on January 25th, they decided their life’s standards were no more acceptable. The Egyptians are revolting. Hosni Mubarak’s 30 year rule is, hopefully, nearing an end. His speech yesterday made it clear that this is a very tired man who cannot rule a country as important as Egypt anymore. He cannot fulfill his people’s needs, regardless of if he ever actually fulfilled them.

My hopes for the Egyptians at this point is to not let their will down. Their army and police are fighting them back. But soon enough, these forces will let down. They are, at the end of the day, part of the people they are trying to keep at bay. These people want to be with the protesters on the other side. But they’re still afraid. So hang in there. I know it’s much easier to preach than to be there. But Egyptians, you are a great population of many, many numbers… use those numbers to your advantage. And know that you are not alone in your fight.

I’m worried, however, that in these countries where the political regime is changing, worse people would take over. It would be catastrophic if the people of Egypt and Tunisia did not go by true democracies now that they have the opportunity to change and instead went by Islamic rule. You might say it is unlikely but these movements are surging in more “open” countries than Egypt and Tunisia, such as Turkey. One would assume that countries where these movements are somewhat strong would have an even bigger surge now that the opportunity is there for them to do so – and ultimately get to power. Islamists arriving to power would be detrimental to the whole region. Now that you have the opportunity to change, let this change reflect positively on the region as a whole.

You might wonder why I chose my title to be “The Domino Effect”. The answer is quite simple. For the region around it, Tunisia was a “Sidi Bouzid”. The power the people of Tunisia showed radiated to their neighboring countries and filled the people of those countries with strength and hope that they could change their lives as well.

The domino effect might also be applicable to the presidents of the countries where this is happening. But presidents are not important. They come and go. They might stay for a while, as has been the case for Tunisia and Egypt. But what really remains is the people. The people are the catalyst of anything that goes on in a country. If they feel subdued, the country is subdued and those who take advantage of that will be happy. The presidents, whose reigns are nearing their end, were taking advantage of their peoples being conformists. But that is no more. Their people are revolting. They want them out. And soon enough, out they will be – along with their dynastic, uptight and oppressive mindsets.

Tunisia was the first chip in a giant domino game involving many countries. And this game was purely initiated by the people. Not other countries making it look like these people started it – but by a single man whose college degree was not getting him anywhere and who didn’t see any horizons in front of him. What I hope those in charge around the world would take out of this is to never take the people they are in charge of for granted. Those people got you where you are and even in the darkest of situations, this people will rise again.

Here’s hoping some other populations follow suit…

And these are pictures of the current protests in Egypt: