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An Arab Revolution By: Youssef M. Ibrahim
Gulf News | Monday, March 28, 2005


These are great times in Arab lands. In multiple countries millions are daring to imagine a future radically different from the past. Imagination is a dangerous thing, thrilling and infectious.

When it runs amok, revolution is never far behind and from the shores of Tripoli to the Gulf of Arabia, it appears indeed revolution has landed.

Just a few weeks ago, would anyone have possibly imagined in Lebanon the sight of Syrian soldiers packing jeeps, armoured cars, shutting down so-called intelligence offices, tucking tails between legs, rushing out in the darkness that precedes dawn?

It is more than imagination now.

It is happening. Could anyone have imagined that an upstart opposition movement in Egypt that called itself kifaya Arabic for "enough'' would grow strong enough to disrupt President Hosni Mubarak's hopes of a dynastic rule where his son Jamal succeeds him, surely, as the next ruler over 70 million Egyptians?

Well, guess what?

That little kifaya movement has now cast enough serious doubts over succession that Jamal as well as the entire superstructure of men who have ruled the largest Arab country since 1952 can no longer count on another half a century monopoly.

Picture frame after picture frame on the canvass what is surfacing is an Arab landscape in revolt, fears melting away, people turning suppressed frustrations into action.

A few weeks ago would it have occurred that women in Kuwait would hit the streets in demonstrations demanding the right to vote, or that a senior Saudi royal family figure such as Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal would publicly pledge Saudi women will get the right to vote as well?

And only three years ago, would anyone have imagined that Al Qaida's princes of darkness, the same folks who strutted about after blowing up the World Trade Centre murdering thousands of innocents, would today be on the run everywhere in Afghanistan, Western Europe and Saudi Arabia, tracked, arrested, fleeing, scared, falling one after the other, their funds frozen, their cobwebs and culture of murder teetering ? That is happening too.

Today's terror organisation, Al Qaida, is nothing more than a shadow of its former self. One can imagine that in a couple of years it will spoken of as a thing of the past.

The "Imagine Revolt'' is gathering the force of a snowball rolling down that mountain. The blind and the mighty are tumbling in a way that removes more constraints to further imagination in Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and tomorrow in Syria too.

Back in 2002, would anyone have imagined that by 2005 Saddam Hussain, the most ruthless dictator in modern Arab history a man who boiled his critics in acid, gassed his own people would be now lingering in a small cell at one of his former Baghdad palaces.

Saddam, the fierce, Saddam the invincible, is growing a tree in the backyard of that cell, awaiting a trial which will sentence him to die.

Outside Saddam's palaces, Iraqis are electing a parliament, erecting a government, no matter how imperfect.

And Arab people are learning to bargain over power, constructing a life beyond tyranny. Eventually those same Iraqis will end American occupation too. Have no doubt of that. Once free, a people can imagine and do anything.

Amazement

Over on the West wing of the Arab world, one watches with amazement as the one and only, the great leader of the Great Libyan Popular Socialist Jamahiriya I believe that is the last official name of Libya the unique leader Muammar Al Gaddafi, has turned into an "informant'' to Western intelligence services, singing like a canary, delivering tonnes of evidence against his various terrorist friends from the Irish Republican Army to the Abu Nidal group he once adopted and armed.

This is a transformation that defies imagination. It isn't finished.

So far, Gaddafi acknowledged he ordered the shooting down of two civilian planes one American and one French killing 500 innocents. He agreed to pay compensations left and right. He vowed to abandon his previous politics in the hope of hanging on to his present position.

Yet, last week Saudi Arabia and the United States have officially accused him of plotting to kill Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2003 and are now preparing to unroll official indictments for a second round of Gaddafi hunting.

Imagine what is next: Libyan opponents in exile will dig out those lists of hundreds who have disappeared, were assassinated or still linger in jail. I imagine it will only end with the regime falling.

Far fetched, you say? Not anymore.

Above all, imagine where the Lebanese snowball, now rolling, will stop. This small Arab people of 4 million living inside Lebanon and 10 million outside are roaring like lions. And 250 million other Arabs are watching in awe.

Lebanese Christians, Shiites and Druze started out demanding the truth over who murdered their Sunni Muslim leader, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14.

What they got was beyond imagining. They eyeballed Syria into ending its 30 years of occupation. They toppled one prime minister who was a Syrian puppet, they destabilised the whole apparatus of the secret Lebanese police and are about to topple their president.

Before they are done, they will have created a model of peaceful revolt or ignited an armed one.

The United States, France and the United Nations all heard Lebanon's cry and are standing by, preparing to crush any Syrian attempt to interfere again. Iraq replayed? Nothing is impossible.

Still many among Arabs, paralysed by years of tyranny, believe all this is a passing phenomena, that rulers accustomed to engineering repression will prevail.

That is missing the bigger picture: those rulers are now seriously off balance; the times are different and today's world stands firmly with those rising in anger.

As the Arab saying goes, "the thread has split''. Those worry beads are scattering all over the floor, beyond anyone's control. There is nothing beyond the realm of imagination.

Youssef M. Ibrahim, a former Middle East correspondent for the New York Times and Energy Editor of the Wall Street Journal, is Managing Director of the Dubai-based Strategic Energy Investment Group. He can be contacted at ymibrahim@gulfnews.com




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