The Arab Spring that started last year is now blooming with freedom and democracy. One can feel its fragrance all over the region and even beyond it. People in Tunisia and Egypt — the two countries where the popular movement for democratic change started first — have seen democracy have its first run, i.e. they have held elections. They are set to move on to the next stage of writing constitutions and working out a new compact between society and the state.
Morocco and Jordan, two traditional monarchies have begun to move toward popular participation. The Moroccan king in his wisdom and pragmatism allowed free and fair elections leading to the victory of the Islamists — which is clearly the new trend. Bahrain, Yemen and Syria have witnessed popular uprisings against the old regimes at varying degrees. Furthermore, the political feeling driving the change is the very modern notion of a representative government.
What the Middle East is witnessing is a very old historical struggle between the old regimes, built on dynastic tradition, and the new social forces wanting to claim power on the ground of the sovereignty of its citizens. In every age and in every part of the world, the old regimes have resisted this classic quest of the people to redefine their relationship with power. History, however, doesn’t give us a very clear pattern of people always winning and the old regimes dying out quickly. The rulers have silenced people with their power, but the mystique of freedom is that its dream never dies.
When we celebrate the success and sacrifices of the Arab youth in sowing the seeds of freedom by their blood, we must also remember those who suffered silently in solitary torture houses and ultimately met their Creator without the world knowing about them. There are countless such stories from the Middle East at large. Torture, violence and the use of state power to crush the human spirit in the Middle East were weapons of choice of the old regime and still remain so. The world at large has looked the other way for oil, markets, stability and security.
Syria is one place where tyranny reigns supreme. Bashar al-Assad continues to rule through state terror, suppressing dissent and peaceful protests by indiscriminate and disproportionate violent means. His father, Hafez al-Assad, another of the Arab world’s repulsive characters, left a horrible legacy of violence against his own people. Sadly, Bashar is walking down the same terrible path to cling on to power. The Syrian regime is committing genocide as it undertakes planned massacres of its own people suspected of resisting its rule.
There is total media blackout of the resistance and of the peoples’ uprising against the ruling Syrian regime. The glimpses of atrocities that are filtering out, thanks to the courage of some Western journalists and brave Syrian men, women and the young resisting the regime, are quite shocking.
More shocking is the silence of the Arab and the Islamic states and the insensitivity of their civil societies as the worst violations of life, liberty and property are being conducted by the Syrian regime. These states have skeletons of their own. But they must know that if the situation in Syria is not settled through peaceful change, then the conflict that will ensue will divide the Middle East and its neighboring regions along sectarian lines and breed violence on a much larger scale.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2012.