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Friday, January 28, 2011

Why Arabs offer hope to the world

Tunisia has overthrown the dictator Ben Ali, who has absconded with their treasury of gold to the Gulf with his harridan wife and pampered children.

Now Egypt is on the streets, demanding the removal of the dictator Mubarak, who has long ruled the country with an iron fist and who intends for his son to inherit his Pharoahdom.

I hope sincerely that the Egyptian people can win their right to self-determination just as the Tunisians have. Mubarak is on the ropes tonight, having shut down the internet yesterday and received a stern warning from the US, which props up his regime, that his time is effectively up.

What's fantastic about this development of democratic protest in North Africa is that it is an unexpected victory from an unexpected source.

For decades now, those of us who believe in the right of people to rule themselves have been despairing as one populist uprising against a Big Man ruler after another was crushed by tanks, guns and the military.

Indeed, ever since Tiananmen Square, it seems like the norm has been for protests to be crushed, or at the very least put down with mealy-mouthed words about 'reform' and a shuffling of the ruling elite. Burma, Thailand, the central Asian states, Zimbabwe - too many peoples to mention have failed to secure their freedom, leading me for one to fear that it was perhaps no longer possible for a nation to liberate themselves.

And of all the places to lead the way and show that it is possible, the dictatorships of Arab Africa are certainly not where I thought this tidal wave of hope would emerge. Brutalised by their leaders, plagued by Islamofascist opposition, demonised by the Western world - these people were poor candidates to show us all what freedom means and how important it is.

I recall Egypt myself with great fondness - a nation of educated young thinkers, curious about the world, philosophers, hard workers. Cairo is a well-behaved metropolis where a woman can walk alone after midnight and not fear being harrassed. Partly, yes, this was the result of a police state. But also, it is the product of a culture which values debate over drinking, camaraderie over casual sex. An honourable people ruled by a dishonourable regime.

In Egypt, they have experienced millennia of tourists visiting the treasures of their country. And so, they are well-practised at haggling and hussling money from their visitors. I quickly learnt one useful word in Arabic that sufficed when all other refusals to bargain fell on deaf ears.

'Imshi!' is not a pretty word. It generally shocks those it is directed to. It generally makes them gesticulate angrily and leave. I used it often to get rid of begging children following me around.

Now the Egyptian people are telling Mubarak 'Imshi!' And in Libya, Algeria, Syria, Jordan, all over the Arab world in fact, dictators are squirming in their palaces, fearing that they will be the next one to be forcibly removed.

Mubarak should mutter and gesticulate if he wishes. He may even attempt to empty the Egyptian central bank like his thug brother Ben Ali did in Tunisia. But he must, in the end, go just as Ben Ali went.

Good luck tonight, Egypt. Hopefully no more blood will be spilt in the transition to democracy.

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