The great transformation taking place in the Arab World is long overdue. What’s happening is not a freak moment in history but is rather a natural reaction to what has been a long suppression of Arabs by other fortunate Arab oligarchs and bands of opportunists. Leaders, they were not. I remember when Omar Suleiman, the supposed Vice President of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, announced the latter’s resignation; I screamed with joy, I was ecstatic. It can happen! It just happened! I said to myself, Arabs can remove a president if that president betrays their trust, if he deprives them from basic dignity and freedom. It first occurred in Tunisia, surprising everyone- even intelligence agencies were unprepared for what was brewing. We did not it see it unfold day-by–day in Tunisia, Zine-Albidine Ben Ali rushed and fled the country, leaving everyone in a state of shock. I remember listening to the prophets of CNN and MSNBC dismissing rumors of contagion of this small revolution. They were wrong; the symptoms for the political and economic ills of Tunisia were prevalent in all Arab countries, hence, the revolution spread from the Atlantic to the Gulf, shaking the throne of some kings and toppling the self-appointed king of kings, Muammar Qaddafi.
Egypt, January 25th, 2011. I was home all day glued to my TV watching Aljazeera Arabic. Hoping for a repeat, I saw the hallmarks, but was not sure. I read books describing historic revolutions but I’ve never lived during or witnessed one, will the Egyptians do what their neighbors did two weeks before them, I asked. I have to stay tuned. Every time Hosni Mubarak appeared on TV, I thought, this is it, only to have my hopes dashed and despair overtake me. During those three weeks, beginning on January 25th, a struggle was taking place between the forces of the despot and the forces of the common weal. Sunday through Thursday momentum subsided and remained so until Friday, bringing another meaning to TGI Fridays, when the Egyptians came out in force after Friday prayers to demand the removal of the regime.
Egyptians did remove the regime, so did the Libyans, but with a heavy price. Moroccan compromised for greater transparency and accountability to the Parliament and elected representatives of the people. Yemenis disposed of the head of the regime but not the regime. Gulf countries bought the people’s hearts and tolerance of the regimes with an expensive and expansive social safety net. The Libyans suffered a huge number of fatalities in their quest for freedom. Freedom has a price. Unfortunately for Muammar Qaddafi, he miscalculated, had he shown mercy to his people and spared them the months of bombing and killing by mercenaries, they could’ve been reciprocal toward him after his capture. Alas, as the common wisdom taught us: you reap what you sow. Arrogance is blinding. Wittingly or unwittingly, Bashar El-Assad is following in Qaddafi’s footsteps, believing that mass murder will save his dynasty.
Bashar El-Assad is betting on the strategic alliance his country has with the republic of Iran and the complex make-up of the sectarian allegiances in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. The Middle East has seen the disastrous consequences of a civil war in Iraq, and is trying by all means to avoid a repeat of such a scenario that could engulf the whole region. Russia will try its hardest not to break with its last ally in the Middle East. If the regime in Syria falls, Russia will lose its last totalitarian friend in the region. The people of Syria, however, are betting on their determination and the tectonic movements around them. Just as no one predicted the spontaneous start of these revolutions, no one can foretell how will they end. One year on, the transformation is still progress.