Jan 28, 2011

Who am I to say, but I would explain it this way: The leadership model among Arabs has always been the charismatic strongman. Beginning with the Prophet. Who you will remember brought together the warring tribes around Mecca and for a moment kept the peace. As soon as he died, the tribes returned to their feuding. Without someone to hypnotize them, they are at the mercy of their nature.

And so Arab history is filled with good and bad charismatics. Saddam Hussein on the one hand; KIng Hussein on the other. Although don't forget Black September if you remember him only as the monarch with the kindly smile.

And why this obsession with the dictator. Because, as a Moroccan history professor explained it to me, Arab know themselves. "They have always sensed that they need to be 'ruled' and they have been convinced by religion and circumstance that chaos is their true enemy."

But now, you could say, the Arab Awakening is over. Now, it's time to get up and do something.

From Rabat to Riyadh there is a drive to write a new history. What they are saying is, "we have endured this self-imprisonment long enough. We're sick of our ghosts. Now we want to try something else."

Of course, the incendiary for all this is poverty and the incredible distance between rich and poor, the lack of strong middle classes. The false promise that education would be an elevator. The dangling images of wealth and freedom, and sexuality, that they have access to.

So now we are asked to watch whether they can solve this riddle of their nature. Can they find a way out of their fear and ignorance, their addiction to the past, and form a new image of themselves. Can they accept freedom? Can they trust themselves in a way they never have before. Can they find a new way to imagine 'the tribe'.

As for Mubarak, he's finished. The only question is how long it will take him to accept that. His son has fled to London. His son had been the reason to hold on to power.The mob has taken over the central government buildings. But their argument is not with technocrats, which is why Mubarak turning out the whole government is not a solution. The people in the street want the end of a regime. Which is also to say they want a new regime. But what does that mean?

The danger from a Western perspective is that the Muslim Brotherhood, whose party has 10 percent of the power, can somehow take more than their share. They are the medical doctors and Islamic intellectuals who ended up in prison, whose offspring is al qaeda, who murdered Anwar Sadat, who are a fifth column, to be sure....

But they are not the authors of this. They may instigate, they may take advantage. But this turmoil is much more widespread. Much deeper.

Remember this is a country of 80 million people. There are a couple hundred thousand people in the streets. It's not like in Tunisia with a much higher proportion of the population in the streets. That's a true turn of events. This is not that. Yet.


Anjuli said...

It appears the heat under the simmering pots all around the world has been turned up. The thing about pots which boil over- they tend to spray on surrounding surfaces and other pots which are boiling.

Anonymous said...

We are heading near this area soon but will be avoiding Egypt and the whole transforming area. My wife and I were warned away from going to Sharm El Sheik by a neighbor last month before all this started. I'm glad I listened. That was partly about sharks, which now seem like the least of our worries. It will be fascinating to see how all this unfolds. Thank you for your insightful post.