21 February 2011

People power in the Arab world and beyond

The incredible wave of Arab liberal popular rebellion, which began in Tunisia barely a month ago, has spread to most of the Arabic-speaking world. Now one of the worst dictators of all may be about to topple.

Protests in Libya began in the eastern part of the country, in and around Benghazi (Libya's second-largest city), several days ago. From the start the Qaddhafi regime's response was brutal, though restrictions on the media have limited what the outside world could see of it. Security forces ruthlessly attacked demonstrators with live ammunition, artillery, and even anti-aircraft weapons. The regime reportedly brought in foreign mercenaries (believed to be from Chad), a clear sign that it did not trust its own army to fight against the people. Hospitals were swamped with horrifically-injured victims. At least two hundred people have been killed, and based on descriptions of the conflict, the real figure must be a good deal higher.

Yet Libyans have not backed down. By some reports, the rebels now actually control Benghazi and have driven away the security forces and foreign mercenaries. Protests have spread to the west of the country, including the capital, Tripoli, where a "massacre" is reportedly under way.

Several top Libyan officials, including the justice minister and the ambassador to China, have resigned to show solidarity with the rebels. Some desert tribes have joined the uprising. There are even reports of some military units switching sides or defecting.

(For an excellent background report on Libya before the uprising, see here.)

Consider the courage it takes for people to stand up to military weapons wielded by a dictator so cravenly determined to cling to power that he will sink even to bringing in foreign hired killers! How many of us would have the guts to do that?

The same courage has been shown in Tunisia and Egypt, in Yemen and Bahrain, in Algeria and Morocco. There are stirrings in Syria, Jordan, even Saudi Arabia. Something profound is happening in the Arab world -- a mass rejection of sclerotic tyranny. Most surprising of all, given the traditional death-grip of Islam on the region's culture, the uprising has not had an Islamist character, despite the efforts of embattled dictators and rightist US pundits to tar it with that brush.

Beyond the Arab world, Iranians are again taking to the streets against their ruling theocracy, and the most powerful gangster-regime on Earth is showing signs of nervousness. And who's to say that even the current mass protest for union rights in Wisconsin didn't draw at least some of its inspiration from Tahrir Square? It will be interesting to see if such mass resistance becomes a more common phenomenon in our own country.

Some of the Arab rebellions may fail -- some of the old regimes may cling to power (at least for now), or malevolent forces may impose a new autocracy in place of an old one. Yet it's hard to imagine such failures lasting indefinitely. Not after hundreds of millions of people have gained such a sense of their own power -- and not after so many Arab soldiers, in case after case, have shown such reluctance to open fire on Arab civilians when a tyrant gives the order.

Finally, my contempt for cynics and the cynical mentality seems vindicated once again. Ankle-biters who snivel that the bad guys hold all the cards and nothing can be done -- they do not achieve. Those who believe that change is possible and are willing to fight for it -- they achieve.


Blogger Cyc said...

The amount of respect I have for these people is immense. Despite such stacked odds they have come together and stood their ground against tyranny. They risk not only their own lives but the lives of so many they know and love, but do so because they care and love for them, so that they might have a better future.

21 February, 2011 14:02  
Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

I read this morning that Gaddafi was bringing in mercenaries from neighboring countries to kill rioters. This guy is brutal and he will not go down without taking a whole lot of other people with him.

22 February, 2011 11:07  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Cyc: I hope they get a real democracy. They've certainly earned it.

RtS: Ads have appeared in some African countries offering mercenaries $2,000 per day. Qaddhafi must be getting desperate. As someone was saying in one of the British papers, when you start bombing your own capital city, you've pretty much had it.

22 February, 2011 11:47  
Anonymous Ahab said...

Infidel753 -- Since you have a background in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies, what are your thoughts on this commentary on Qaddafi's rhetoric?


25 February, 2011 07:18  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

What it says about the Arabic language is basically correct. The differences between dialects are enormous, and "standard" or "Classical" Arabic is different yet again, with a more complex grammar (it still has a case system the dialects have lost, for example), reflecting the way the language was spoken over a thousand years ago. For an over-simplified analogy, imagine if Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and Romania all spoke their own modern languages, but still wrote in Latin and considered it the only "correct" language.

With very rare exceptions, only standard Arabic is written -- the dialects are not -- so a literate Arabic-speaker must know standard well enough to read and write it. It doesn't come naturally to speak it in most situations, though.

The fact remains, of course, that Qaddhafi is a cranky old buffoon with a swollen ego who has spent most of his adult life surrounded by yes-men. He'd probably sound like a fool in any language.

25 February, 2011 09:00  

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