Yalla Peace: Emotion and the Arab Spring
By RAY HANANIA
08/30/2011 Jerusalem Post/Creators Syndicate
Now might be a good time to recognize the truth of the Arab pro-democracy transitions and reach out to them in solidarity.
Dictators are going down like dominos in the Middle East, but I wonder if Israelis see the real significance. Described as “pro-democracy” movements, the changes have swept through Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya. No Arab country is immune. Syria could be next. Maybe Saudi Arabia, the Emirates or even Jordan.
And maybe even Israel.
Will the old Arab dictatorships be replaced by democracies, or will they just give way to new dictatorships?
Israelis have a habit of accepting the status quo, sometimes burying their heads in the sand when it comes to making tough choices with the Arabs. It seems they can live with the occupation forever.
To achieve democracy, the Arabs are in for a tough fight. But the Israelis are not off the hook, either. Israel can’t remain disengaged from the powerful dynamics sweeping around it. It can’t continue to avoid the need to act. Israel says it wants to be part of the Middle East. So it should act like it and take some responsibility.
Israelis can say the Arab Spring is the result of Arabs wanting freedom. But the truth is that Israel has made it easy for Arab dictatorships to exist. Yes, by rejecting peace with the Palestinians, Israel gave the dictators an excuse to survive for many years.
I’m not blaming Israel for the brutality of the Arab regimes, but Israel can’t pretend it hasn’t been part of the cause.
Why did the Arab people tolerate their dictatorships for so long? Tunisia under Zine El Abidine Ben Ali for 24 years. Egypt under Husni Mubarak for 30 years. Libya under Moamar Gadhafi for 42 years. Syria under Bashar al-Assad for 11 years and counting. Why do they tolerate oppression in “western-allied” Arab countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates?
The Arab Spring wasn’t a strategy developed by some genius to change the Arab World. The Arab Spring was ignited in Tunisia by an unemployed Arab who couldn’t find a job and set himself on fire in protest.
He didn’t do it because of the Tunisian dictatorship, although that is how it’s being portrayed. Tunisia was the least oppressive of Arab nations. The toleration of oppression by dictators was widespread, the result of a combination of factors, from the power of the public’s emotions to their anger at Israel.
It was easy for Arabs to tolerate dictatorships with their brutality, lack of free speech, absence of free elections and oppression; they were given Israel to bash.
Israelis must ask themselves the hard question: Why is it that the Arabs were always so militant against them, to the point of sacrificing their own lives in suicide violence, while tolerating the brutality of their own existence?
Even the Palestinians who live in Israel as citizens or as the “occupied” have gone along with the status quo, engaging in symbolic protests such as refusing to buy products from Israeli settlements, yet serving as the workers who build the hated “wall.”
Arabs are a very emotional people. What unified the Arab Spring? Was it a desire for democracy, as many claim, or was it really frustration with their own circumstances?
When we speak of the Arab Spring, we must ask the unsettling question: When all the dictators are gone, what will take their place?
The protesters were united not so much by their love of democracy as by their hatred of their dictators. In Egypt, the unity that brought people together to oust Mubarak is now crumbling. In Libya, the unity of the various factions will be put to its first real test when Gadhafi is really gone. Will the rebels stay together, or will they turn on each other?
Is the fight for freedom the unifying factor, or the emotion? Are Arabs coming together on the basis of a principle that their nations deserve democracy? Or is it just another situation where collective hatred of “something” gives the appearance of unity?
Arab emotion is a powerful force. It led them to stand against Israeli domination of Palestine for 63 years, and there is little to show it will dissipate. It has allowed the Arabs to close their minds to their own oppressive governments.
If the Arab Spring has demonstrated anything, it is that Arab emotion can topple governments – Arab and Israeli. Israel is in the midst of its own public outcry, with protesters focused on improving economic circumstances. Now might be a good time to recognize the truth of the Arab pro-democracy transitions and reach out to them in solidarity.
Israelis should engage the Arab Spring, not as an antagonist that occupies another people, but as a nation that seeks fraternity in the Middle East, ushering in a Palestinian nation and removing the emotional tinder that can easily ignite in Israel, too.
The writer is an award-winning columnist and Palestinian activist.
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