Arabs and the Iranian upheaval

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Hazem Saghieh, 9 - 07 - 2009

The missed chances and false trails of the Arabs’ political projects are highlighted in their reaction to Iran’s proto-revolution, says Hazem Saghieh.

9 - 07 - 2009

When eastern and central European countries turned from communism to democracy following the collapse of the Berlin wall in November 1989, Arabs found themselves facing a great predicament - one for which they were not prepared. They were not acquainted with the youthful democratic forces that were becoming the leaders of those countries now free of Soviet domination. But, more important, as allies of the former Soviet Union, the Arabs looked at the transformation and the forces behind it with doubt and suspicion.

This tendency was reinforced by the fact that the "change" was welcomed by Israel, as well of course as by the west in general. In this context, there were prominent voices in the Arab world who warned against an evil "conspiracy"; and others who spoke of the suspected role of the "Jews". All this increased in turn feelings of aversion and estrangement in east-central Europe itself towards the Arabs.

There was a definite cultural dimension to this complex of attitudes. The prevailing  tendencies of Arab political thought persisted in their allegiance to despotic ways of thinking - whether nationalistic, religious, or class. They turned away from the vibrant and vital emerging ideas from the public squares of Berlin, Prague, and Warsaw that were inflaming the imagination of the rest of the world.

The tragedy culminated when the Arabs sought to justify their stance, naturally by relating everything to the Israel-Palestine issue. But the question of Palestine, with all its principles and values, proved not enough to refine or smarten the Arab bias to totalitarian regimes. Indeed, Arabs behaved and argued as if they preferred to remain in the narrow alleys instead of the wide highway. More significant, they did everything to ensure that they remained in those alleys and lengthened the distance separating them from the highway. In the end, Arabs lost the friendship of states with tens of millions of newly conscious democratic citizens who were preparing to re-enter the arena of history with plenty of enthusiasm. What we, the Arabs, lost was - equally naturally - won by Israel.

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