It is imperative for all leaders, be they politicians, economists, intellectuals or media professionals, to recognize that democracy, freedom and human rights have become legitimate rights. In fact they are among the most fundamental rights for Arab people, which have been absent or forgotten in some countries, or stripped away by force in some other countries. These rights are now present in people’s minds and they are not going to go away easily, nor is there an interest for anyone to get them out of the way. Their presence is necessary for the progress of our societies, and they are proof of our societies’ social and political vitality — something of which we stand in dire need. It’s true that there will be those who will be disaffected as a result of this sweeping social movement in the Arab world, whether economically or politically, but they can adapt to minimize their prospective losses. However, many will benefit and the end result will be that Arab societies will develop, grow and progress, and this is certainly in the interests of the overwhelming majority.
We stand before a sweeping structural change in the Arab mind which was until recently at peace with despot rulers, submitting to them, believing their claims, chanting for their slogans, ignoring their mistakes and forgiving their failings and bad deeds. Many, wittingly or unwittingly, used to find an excuse for the ruler. He is either busy sorting out national matters which are more important than internal reforms, or he knows the interest of the country more than the people, or he does want to introduce reforms but his inner circle is corrupt and benefiting from the current situation, and it is preventing him and so on. In the eyes of many, the ruler was never at fault.
It was never hidden from anyone, before and later, that Saddam Hussein was a despotic dictator who wasted the wealth of Iraq and deployed it, across the whole region, in senseless wars and animosities which had no higher goal than to widen his authority, maintain it, and hide the many personal complexes that he suffered from. But Saddam had regrettably enjoyed Arab support on all fronts, political, social and elite, while we, his opponents, were not able to criticize him in front of Arabs, or even say ‘Ouch, this is hurting’ which we learnt in year one at elementary school. Everyone would have stood against us, warning, snubbing, accusing and doubting our sincerity. They would say ‘how dare you criticize this national hero who lifted our heads high and confronted our fierce Persian enemy’. This last statement was said to me by a Kuwaiti friend one year before Saddam invaded his country. After the invasion of Kuwait, and his launching of Scud missiles on Israel, many Arabs regarded Saddam as a leader and saviour of the Arab and Islamic nations. One Moroccan friend told me that the letters of Saddam’s name stand for ‘The Expected Saladin Al Ayyoobi’! (Salah AD Din al Ayyoobi al Muntadhar). When we said this man was a killer and was committing heinous crimes against humanity, Arabism and all religions, they used to ask us ‘but is he the only dictator in the Arab world?’ As though the existence of other dictators justified Saddam sitting on the chests of Iraqis. We told them that not all dictators were the same in their dictatorships and genocidal acts, as Saddam was killing people en masse, and putting his opponents in pools of acids to melt, and accusing his people of loyalty to neighbouring countries. He doubted the Arabism of the Arabs, the Turcomanism of the Turcoman, the Kurdishness of the Kurds and the Islamism of Muslims. But no one listened to us. On the contrary we were accused by many of being ‘agents’ for the enemies of the nation.
But things have now changed. The hidden has been exposed before everyone. Tunisians who lived with Bin Ali for 23 years rebelled against him and forced him to flee the country. Egyptians who stood behind Mubarak for 30 years didn’t have time for him anymore and rioted against him till he stepped down. Gaddafi’s regime which has messed around with Libya for 42 years and changed everything, including months’ names, is now breathing its last after the Libyan people have decided to take the initiative and make the necessary change, whatever the sacrifices. The situation in Yemen is also serious, and President Ali Abdullah Salih faces a determined opposition that is bent on change and will have what it wants sooner or later. Yes, there are still those who do not like change among the dinosaurs of the old era. A few days ago, one supporter of Saddam Hussein wrote an article justifying, without shame, his crimes, and how Saddam’s men were ‘steadfast’ in his support while Gaddafi’s men were betraying him in his moment of truth! But this dinosaur is no measure since he is merely justifying a position he knows very well was wrong and shameful, but this he doesn’t dare admit, as this requires a courage which he doesn’t possess.
Arab peoples have begun to recognize that dictatorship won’t lead them to progress, and that life cannot develop in its presence, and that if Gaddafi, Mubarak and Bin Ali stay in power, they will only lead to more deterioration. People have recognized that they had made a mistake in the past in tolerating oppression and loss of freedoms. They recognize, too, that the battle for Palestine would have succeeded had it been coupled with freedoms, human rights, democracy and economic development. They begin to understand that weak nations that are backward scientifically, educationally and economically, cannot win any battle, whether in war or peace, and cannot progress, but languish in a state of regression, since stagnation becomes regression if others are progressing and you are not.
After two decades of the information and communication revolution, the idea has reached all and the movement of ideas and information has become natural process among all sons of the earth between the points of the two poles. The change that we see now is not a passing one, as some would have us believe. It is enduring, fast-moving and taking roots. What is required of Arab political, economic, social and scientific institutions is to adapt to the new situation, interact with it, and lead it, as progress and development are in the interests of all. It’s a surging current that will sweep away anything in its path.
* Iraqi writer