Maja van der Velden on Thu, 3 Feb 2011 11:37:18 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Fwd: Ich bin ein Araber

Begin forwarded message:

Ich bin ein Araber

01 February 2011

First Tunisia. 

The first time I visited an Arab country was in 1985. Bourguiba was on his last legs. His uneventful day was always the top item on state television news, but by then they were filming him only from behind so as not to show his face (clearly, he was already dead and they just didn't want to upset anyone). Just after I left, the Israelis bombed Tunis. It was the first inkling I had that the PLO was headquartered there. (I was not very sussed). 

Then Egypt. 

A year later, in Cairo, I fell in love with mango juice, staggering from sidewalk juice-stand to sidewalk juice-stand like a fructose junky on a binge. The usual writers and artists ranted against the regime and went to the book fair. Two million people a day commuted into and out of the city. Egypt was about to blow. Nothing happened. Crossing the Sinai you glimpsed burnt out tanks. Container ships passed magically through the sand like apartment blocks on a conveyor belt. 

When I went to work and live in Palestine three years later it was because I thought the Intifada was the best chance for democracy in the Arab world. Just an occupation to get rid of. I was not entirely right about that.  

Many years later, in 2002, when George Bush started talking about democracy in the Middle East, an American friend of mine, someone who'd lived and worked just as long in the region, said "I guess we should be careful what we ask for. Whenever American presidents start lecturing you about democracy you gotta know it's because they're about to beat somebody up." Iraq. Allah yerhamoo. 

In 2004, this idea: "Democratic transition processes have been underway in most countries in the Middle East for over a decade, and in some places over a much longer period. Yet, the media and policy debates in much of the world assume that democracy is something alien to the region. The international debates over democracy in the Middle East are largely devoid of questions about how democracy develops, despite what we know about the development of democracy in Europe and elsewhere. Rather than debate what models of liberal democracy to import, we should be trying to explain democratic development in the Middle East by asking about the social foundations of transitions already underway." I didn't get funding. 

We all know the formula: Democracy = US dominance + US strongman(regime change) = Democracy. 

Democratic rule amounts to 'our man, their problem'. 

We all quietly accepted the formula: it may be their problem, but without our man 'the beards' take over. Tehran on the Mediterranean.

Then Tunis. Then Egypt. 

Someone called this the Arab world's "Berlin moment"....and then immediately withdrew the thought. I mean, think about it: what external power was propping up East Germany? Such comparisons are not permissible. 

But next time you are in the US, have entered your thumb print and photo into the system, have made it to the hotel, and have the TV tuned to Fox news, CNN, or MSNBC, stop and close your eyes and listen. As the cant settles into its rhythm it is not impossible to imagine that outside there is a bread line which extends down the block, there are no books in the book stores, the internet has been unplugged, and in the town grey clad security police are bundling dissidents into black sedans. 

The people of Tunis and Egypt have rescued themselves from tyranny and in the process rescued the very notion of freedom. Does that sound odd? (It felt odd to write it). It shouldn't. Not today. Because in the past two weeks (after months of struggle, years of just plain getting by) the people of Tunisia and Egypt have taken back those ideas from the neo-conservative think-tanks of the Washington beltway and the pseudo religious demagogues of the Muslim worlds. They have taken these ideas back and placed them from whence they came: in our streets, in our city squares, in our voices. They have given these ideas back to us. 

For this, they deserve our thanks. At this historic moment, they deserve our solidarity. 

Ich bin ein Araber. 


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