The Right Devil
Two years ago the Iraqi writer and journalist Zuhair Al-Jezairy published a book entitled, The Devil You Don’t Know, a non-fiction account of returning to his country after 25 years of exile. In 2003 when American and British forces invaded Iraq, Al-Jezairy, who was still living in London, and like many exiled Iraqis, was in two minds about it.
There must be better devils
On the one hand he did not want his country to become the battlefield of yet another war in which new weapons were to be tested. And being a left-wing intellectual, he certainly didn’t want to see Iraq falling into the hands of what some of us used to brand as the Imperialist Forces, and their local puppets.
On the other hand, he was so desperate to see the end of Saddam’s regime regardless of the nature of means used and consequences. Saddam with his absurdly cruel rule and his repeatedly catastrophic policies made Iraqis willing to welcome any redeemer including the devil. Indeed Saddam proved that, contrary to common wisdom, the devil you don’t know might very well be better and possibly the only hope for survival.
Conditions in several Arab countries have not been as bad as Iraq’s but still bad enough for people to seek change by whatever costs and regardless of consequences. The spontaneity of the action and the diverse identities of participants show that the only common aim shared by varies groups of protesters and fighters against the old regime in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and Syria (and soon, hopefully in Saudi Arabia) is to get rid of the rulers and their groomed heirs. Peoples in these countries have known these ruling devils for decades and new generation were getting sure that there must be better devils from the ones they have endured all their life.
Doubts and bleak expectations
The Arab Spring has been met by cheerfully supportive media-coverage world wide. Indeed the bravery of Arab protesters and fighters has been an inspiration for dissidents and protesters from Tehran to Tel Aviv. But euphoric reporting seems to constantly indicate that Arab Revolutions are mere means to end; a clearly identified end which is the establishment of Liberal Parliamentary Democracy and the Rule of Law.
Such presumptuous indication has helped to raise doubts and bleak expectations. Some have started talking about counter-revolution, others, especially shabby remnants of Neocons, have already predicted utter failure and chaos and they are probably waiting to start gloating the moment their prediction comes through; they can not see Arabs liberating themselves by themselves.
However concerned supporters and gentle sceptics feel they must ask, what’s next? Where would this leap into the unknown lead to? Recent news from Egypt has not been encouraging; burning churches and clashes with security forces has led some to warn of possible sectarian violence and civil war and there are widely spread rumours about attempts to reinstate the old regime but with new faces.
In Libya post-Gaddafi, there is fear of chaos and violent dispute between liberators of various loyalties and ambitions. Some Arab commentators have talked of a possible dubious Western arrangement according to which a puppet government, similar to the one which Gaddafi himself had deposed 42 years ago, would be is installed so Libyan oil goes to the right companies. As for Syria and in spite of mounting condemnation against the struggling regime, most recently from its closest ally, Iran, yet the future is still far from clear.
Even Tunisia, which has just had its first free election, peacefully and with impressive turn out has not been spared doubts and scepticism. Indeed the success of Al-Nahada Party would prompt warning of probable danger of Islamisation of the state where men would daily face flogging while women stoned to death. The fact that Al-Nahada is led by some of the most enlightened people in the Arab World, that Rashed Al-Ganoushi, the party’s leader, has made it clear his party’s commitment to democracy, might still not comfort the doubters until reality dispels their worries.
Until the dust has settled
Perhaps that’s what sceptics ought to do; instead of warming up for either gloating or lamenting the lost opportunity of Democracy they ought to wait until the dust has settled. The rule of law requires great many changes, some rapid and some slow, in both state and society. Democracy, however, is not only practiced in Parliament and through voters’ visit to the poll box every five years. The concrete achievement of the Arab Spring, the removal of tyrants and bad government, which has been the clearly defined and shared aim of protesters and fighters, is actually a democratic action.
Democracy, argued Karl Popper, is not about the majority choosing a competent government - for one can’t tell whether a government is competent or not until it has done its job - but rather to get rid of incompetent and bad government. The Arab people who took into the street and took up arms are now practicing democracy the way Popper defined it, only in a direct way and by which people don’t even have to wait five years to do what need to be done.
The Wall has been demolished
The Berlin Wall of fear and political indifference has been demolished in the Arab World. This achievement needs to be constantly emphasised before all the weeping and gloating starts. Rising generations of Arab men and women must be informed of how the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and soon, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and other Arab countries succeeded in getting rid of the old devils, most importantly that they did all by themselves, which means that it can be done again and again. Getting rid of the devils they know, until they find the right devil.
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