The late King Farouk of Egypt, in one of his more whimsical moments, said after a game of cards, “there will be only five kings left in the world, the four in the pack and the King of England.” The House of Windsor in Britain has survived, but the monarchies and autocratic regimes in the Arab world, on the other hand, appear to have run out of steam and are tumbling down like a house of cards.
It all started with the revolt in Tunisia, a tourist attraction, a country where nothing untoward or unseemly ever seemed to happen. The insurgency was therefore as unexpected as it was sudden, and in a matter of days the fires of revolt were fanned by a fervent desire for change. Egypt was next and, for at least a fortnight, protesters in three major cities held centre stage, defying attempts by the police to oust them. Mr Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled the roost for 30 years in the land of the pharaohs, tried his best to hang on. While threatening fighter jets streaked overhead and his supporters clashed with protesters in Tahrir Square, he warned of impending chaos and uncertainty. Nobody listened. At first, the western media was cautious and a little guarded, and the commentators in the studios didn’t quite know which way it was going to end. But as the patriarch started to weaken, the reporting was stoked by a certain self-righteous pleasure, an almost joyous malevolence. The die was cast. Mr Obama gave the thumbs down signal, and Mr Mubarak took his place in the queue behind the effigies of Mr Battista, Mr Noriega, Mr Suharto and Mr Marcos.
Just when the media thought that this was the end of it, violence erupted in Bahrain, then in Libya, Yemen and finally in Morocco. Meanwhile, in the land of the pure, the prime minister who just didn’t know quite what to make of the Arab awakening and wondered if they should start storing sandbags, nevertheless remained unfazed and announced with characteristic aplomb, “Pakistan is not Egypt.” Zahoor, The Express Tribune’s brilliant cartoonist, wholeheartedly agreed as he sketched a wasteland with scraggy leafless trees, a few burnt out stubs and an emaciated, partially naked plebian stretched across the railway tracks.
Just what caused this sudden awakening in the Arab world? Were the series of outbursts that unleashed unprecedented fury the result of a sort of political osmosis, where a revolt in one Arab country triggered off a rebellion in another, which was ripe for a militant remonstration and waiting for somebody else to take the plunge, or have some intelligence agencies been hatching sinister plots to destabilise the Arab countries? The street corner cynic usually blames the CIA for all the ills in the Third World. But in this case it would be ridiculous, especially when Bahrain and Egypt have been staunch allies of the United States and Israel has viewed events in Egypt with understandable disquiet. The protests in Egypt are secular and certainly appear to be indigenous expressions of disgust against a deeply-entrenched corrupt political system and a hated dictator who, like Mr Suharto and Mr Marcos, thrived on rigged elections. The Arab world will never be the same again, but if these events lead to the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state, then the sacrifices would certainly be justified.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2011.
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