This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 12/05/2011
- Clockwise from top right: Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Al Assad and Ali Abdullah Saleh
Is it the end of the road for the juggernaut of change in the Middle East? When the Syrians, all electrified by the transformation in the neighbourhood, took to the streets two months ago demanding their share of the Arab Spring, President Bashar Al Assad had thundered: "The Arab Spring stops here!"
And he has, ably assisted by the trusted comrades of his late father, tried every trick in the book. When little seemed to work, he did what was expected: Sent in the tanks and boots to crush the protesters.
Yet the harder the regime tries to suppress the raging inferno of protests and cold fury of a long repressed people, the fiercer it becomes. Hundreds have been killed and by the time this wave of Arab Spring breaks over this mystical land, it may have left behind mountains of bodies.
The casual brutality of these champions of the Arab cause against their own people would shame the cold-blooded Israelis.
It's the same story next door in Muammar Gaddafi's Libya. Thousands have perished in the industrial scale massacre unleashed by the regime and thousands more would have died if the UN had not woken up and intervened.
Ditto in Yemen. After endless negotiations and accepting the Gulf Cooperation Council deal to quit, President Ali Abdullah Saleh still can't bring himself to quit after four decades in power.
It's amazing how these autocrats refuse to learn from recent history and continue to march on, stuck on power and eyes wide shut, into the minefield that has claimed many fellow travellers. They steadily ignore the fate that befell Tunisia's Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak.
And it is even more amazing how ordinary Arabs have turned on their tormentors with a quiet courage that would make Mahatma Gandhi proud. This is an epic battle of wits and wills. And if recent history is any indication, this is a war the Gaddafis, Al Assads and Salehs have already lost.
Freedom at last
Having long remained hostage to history and conspiracy of circumstances by colonial masters and then by their own, they have suffered enough. The ground-shifting changes in the region have set them free. Forever.
Men like Al Assad, Gaddafi and Saleh may delude themselves, and the world, for some time that all's well and they are here to stay and rule till kingdom come. Eventually, they will have to face the writing on the wall though. They are on the wrong side of history and they know it. Only they cannot muster the courage to admit it.
Heavy-handed tactics have only strengthened the resolve of the Arab street to cast off their tormentors, sending them where they belong — in the dustbin of history.
The facade of fear carefully built over the decades came crashing down when a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire in the dying moments of last year. Change is a reality of the new Middle East, whether anyone likes it or not. The Arab League seemed to realise this when it unequivocally condemned the use of force against protesters in Syria and Libya last week.
In a rare tribute to the spirit of our times, the League reminded its members: "The people's demands for freedom and democracy are demands that require support, not bullets in the chests of demonstrators. We call on Arab regimes to speed up reforms, immediately stop using force against demonstrators and spare their citizens bloodshed. These demonstrations point to a new Arab era led by youths seeking a better present and a brighter future."
The Arab elite have been presented with a rare opportunity to be on the right side of history. They face a stark choice: Go with the aspirations of their people and redeem themselves and the region which has been stagnating for centuries despite its rich resources or risk total chaos.
Western or Zionist machinations cannot ground this juggernaut of change. If anyone can end the Arab Spring, it is the Arabs themselves.