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Politics Time To Cut Mideast Dictators Loose

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Time to cut Mideast dictators loose

January 30, 2011
Haroon Siddiqui - The TORONTO STAR

What’s happening in Egypt and across the Middle East is unprecedented. Scenes like this we have not seen since the 1979 revolution in Iran. Equally clear is that the American-led Western model of dealing with the Arab world is broken.

Talking democracy and propping up dictatorships is no longer sustainable. Nor is Washington’s tightrope walk, “standing by” the hated Hosni Mubarak regime while talking up the freedom of speech and assembly of Egyptians. Such phony attempts at identifying with the protesters draw the mocking response: Where have you been for 30 years?

Also laid bare are the Orwellian phrases used by Western, especially North American, governments and the media to hide the truth.
The despotic regimes in our camp have been marketed as “stable,” “moderate” and “modern,” which have been battling antediluvian extremists, anti-American and anti-Israel “Islamists” and “terrorists.”

Some regimes have indeed had the stability of the graveyard. Even that’s no longer assured.

There’s nothing “moderate” about regimes that treat their citizens no differently than Iran. Hosni Mubarak has been no less a tyrant than Baby Doc or Papa Duvalier. Or Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia. Or Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen. Our friends, all.

There’s nothing “modern” about rulers who are corrupt to the core, preside over vast nepotistic networks and provide little or no transparency to finances or governance.

What of the hordes we are warned about and against whom our allies were ostensibly the buffer?

From Tunisia to Yemen, Algeria to Egypt, they have the same demands — oust the despots and the thieves; end the oppression; give people basic freedoms and the basics of life so some don’t have to self-immolate themselves in protest.

The crowds in Cairo chant, “Silmiyah, Silmiyah” (peaceful, peaceful), telling each other not to give the security thugs the excuse to crack open some more skulls.

They all want what we want — freedom, democracy, equality, equal economic opportunity, dignity.

And if many among them hate us, it’s not because they hate our values but because we thwart their quest for our values. It’s our gas canisters, water cannons, guns and bullets that are being used on them.

They are not the crazy bearded mullahs who were said to be waiting in the wings. They are instead a diverse lot, led mostly by young, educated, secular democratic activists of the emerging civil societies empowered by the Internet and social media.

They are not shouting for the sharia but rather chanting: “The crescent and the cross against torture and murder;” “Muslims and Christians, we all demand change.”

What should the West do?

Make a clean break. Cut the dictators loose. Make an unflinching commitment to democracy and human rights. Anything less would smack of George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda,” which was never taken seriously either by the rulers or the ruled in the Middle East.

Read the riot act to Mubarak: No more crackdowns on the protesters. No mass arrests. No banning of rallies. No censorship. End the 1981 Emergency Rule that allows de facto martial law. No more fraudulant, fixed elections.

Clear space for a fair and free presidential election this fall, monitored by international observers. Don’t put roadblocks in the way of opposition candidates, such as Mohamed ElBaradei.

Failing that, the U.S. will withhold its $2 billion a year military and civilian aid.

Adopt similar approaches to Yemen, Algeria and others. But start with Egypt.

As important as Egypt is — the largest Arab nation and the first to have signed a peace treaty with Israel — it no longer wields the regional influence it once did. The emerging players are democratic Turkey and the oil-rich benevolent monarchies of Qatar and the U.A.E.

Egypt also is not the bulwark against Syria, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah it is portrayed to be — the proof being that they are stronger than before. Saudi Arabia has far more clout in Lebanon and Syria than Egypt does.

But making a clean break with the regime in Cairo would send the right signal to the region and help usher in a democratic era that ultimately will be the best guarantor of stability, security and peace for Arabs and non-Arabs alike.

Haroon Siddiqui is the Star's editorial page editor emeritus. His column appears on Thursday and Sunday.




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