In Bahrain last week, the largest protests in memory saw the country's politically disenfranchised Shiite majority saying enough to pro-American King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa's policies. And in Cairo Wednesday the chants included "Enough to Mubarak, Enough to Bush, Enough to Blair,'' along with "We will not be ruled by the CIA" and "Down with the White House."
It was a reminder that while the US has contributed to the shift in climate in the Middle East, a real democratic opening, in the short term at least, may not serve US interests. Most in the region appear angry at America's close relationship with Israel and its invasion of Iraq, and say that statements prodding allies to reform haven't overcome decades of support for Arab dictators.
"There seems to be this assumption that if you're pro-democracy then you're pro-US foreign policy, and that's incredibly misleading,'' says Marc Lynch, a political scientist and expert on the Middle East at Williams College in Massachusetts.
As a secular and modern Egyptian democrat, Jihan Shabaan is the very image of the Middle Eastern citizens President Bush hopes will take to the streets and demand the freedom.
She says a lifetime without political freedoms, in which she's watched average Egyptians drift deeper into poverty, has convinced her to risk everything at the forefront of Egypt's Kifaya movement, which is demanding that President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's long-time strong-man, step down and be replaced by a freely elected leader.
But for Ms. Shabaan and most of her colleagues in the movement, "enough" doesn't apply to President Mubarak alone. She expects a democratic Egypt would distance itself from the US, a long-time ally, and hit out at what she calls decades of "hypocritical" US policy in the Middle East.
"If things really change here, America's illusions that its interests in the region would be advanced by democracy will be laid bare,'' she says. "A real democratic government in Egypt would be strongly against the US occupation of Iraq and regional US policies, particularly over Palestine. We are strongly against US influence."
Despite apparently genuine sentiment, Kifaya organizers say there's also practical reasons to make the distance from the US clear. The government has tried to paint democracy activists as foreign puppets in the past, alleging they take foreign money. "The regime are the ones taking American money. But they always accuse us of having foreign money whenever there are calls for democracy," says Shabaan.
Attitudes like Shabaan's point to a frequently overlooked disconnect. America's conviction that its rhetoric will help secure its interests in the region often clash with the anti-US leanings of many of the Arab world's democracy activists, who generally belong either to Islamist parties or to left-leaning, anti-US groups.
Where I differ, I may outline, is being supportive of Islamic parties. And I AM NOT ANTI-US. I am against US foregin policy. It's literally killing us. Let me, once again, get this straight for those of you who may be reading. I think religion and politics should be separate. Plain and simple. I believe one of the weaknesses of the Bush administration's policies when it comes to the Arab world is that the only reason he is still in power is that he panders to Christian fundamentalists. On the other hand, call me what you will, I believe Islamic parties exist in a similar dynamic. Sure, Hizbullah helped kick Israel out of South Lebanon. But America helped kick Saddam out of Iraq. Let's be honest with ourselves. For the foreseeable future I don't see any way to separate Mosque and State in the Near East. Look at the Palestinian issue and how long it has dragged on if you want to see rhyme to your reason why. Nor do I see a manner in which to wise up millions of Christian Fundamentalists in the US. It's all so ironic how similar the problem is in each place. I can only keep voicing my opinion and trying to promote honest debate.
Though personally, I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place this past month and a half because I've had to own-up to my personal thoughts when Lebanon is added to the equation. I'm feeling more and more marginalized. I always knew it would get 10 times as complicated to explain my thoughts about Lebanon and Iraq. Let me be clear about religion and politics, though. I despise Neocons/Christian Fundamentalists/Big Oil A-holes, and similarly, I am creeped out by Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah. I don't see peace coming to the Near East anytime soon. I have no hope for moderate voices any longer. They are being drowned out by extremists.
Thus, I'm sick of politics. It's exposing nerves I better leave guarded. Because all in all, I'm a peaceful person that only wishes success and some happiness in the lives of friends and family members. I can't help but feel passionate about certain matters. I'm not beginning to understand why I have to validate my opinions to people by repeating them in such a manner. So, I've decided to get more creative (by doing a podcast and other means). As time permits me, I'll continue to do this very thing.
Indeed there are so many injustices happening on our planet today. One of the over-arching ones is that so many people are being more radicalized directly and indirectly because of the war and occupation of Iraq. The other is the complete and utter failure of people addressing the Palestinian cause with urgency and a measured hand. Both of these problems appear to have no end in sight.
There are also other huge problems on the horizon that have been thrown into great relief because of energized interest in the Arab world. I hope more people see them. Dictatorial regimes still dominate the political landscape in most countries in the region. A young, jobless, and radicalized Saudi Arabia is not reforming, so it should be on top of the list. Jordan's Abdullah has no respect for freedom or human rights and is a part of the Axis of Hypocris. There is an increasingly uncertain future for Lebanon as May(?) elections approach and the intelligence chiefs continue to be reluctant to release their grip. And Egypt has no compass with regards to democracy and human rights while continues to be supported unconditionally on the basis that they have signed a peace treaty with Israel. The reality on the ground in Egypt couldn't be more different. People don't like Hosni Mubarak or America. And when will the violence end in Iraq? And who knows exactly what's going on in Yemen, Sudan, and the Horn in general? I could go on, but it saddens me deeply.
There are no limits to the continued hypocrisy. Yet I say "Enough!" in the face of all those that sustain it. Extremists feed extremists. I cannot say this enough.
- ► 2006 (52)
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- Irakast #6, Dedicated to Pope John Paul II
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- Saddam Mubarak: Full Member of the Axis of Hypocri...
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- Rest in Peace, Pope John Paul II
- ENOUGH of the AXIS OF HYPOCRISY!
- The Dirty Sanchez...
- They don't care.
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