Sunday, March 06, 2005

Stirrings of Freedom

As usual, the new column from renowned Middle East scholar Dr. Fouad Ajami is a must-read:

Today the Arab world is beset by a mighty storm. For decades, the American choice in Arab-Islamic lands was stark. The "civil society" there was truculent and malignantly anti-American, while the rulers seemed like eminently reasonable men willing to strike bargains in the shadows. It was easy to accept their authoritarianism as the cultural practice of the Arabs: This was what Bush called the "soft bigotry of low expectations."

Deep down we may have suspected Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (news - web sites) of double-dealing and bad faith in the diplomacy he pursued in the region, in the kind of official culture his regime spread in that surly, unhappy land. We suspected he was taking our dollars while nurturing a culture of anti-Americanism and antimodernism. But we tolerated that terrible bargain. We accepted with resignation that the Islamists were a worse alternative than the military regime. Now the ground has shifted. A budding popular opposition has taken to the streets of Cairo. In one poignant word, its banners proclaim its politics, and tell us so much about that country and its modern-day pharaoh: Kifaya (enough) is the name of the movement. Egypt has wearied of its ruler, of his family, of the mediocrity of his regime. "Enough" said the crowd that wanted done with the emergency decrees, with the corruption and the plunder. The cancellation by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites) of a visit to Cairo to protest the arrest of a member of Parliament who dared question pharaoh's will was overdue. We owed it to these people. More important, we owed it to ourselves.


We don't know for sure if the American public shares Bush's passion for the pursuit of freedom. We know that America has paid dearly for this democratic movement, in both blood and treasure, for this democratizing push was given force by Iraq's elections. But the outlines of a new Arab world may now be dimly seen. A brilliant American officer, Lt. Col. Mark Martins, whom I met in Baghdad, allowed himself a moment of satisfaction. "Democracy is not a luxury car," he E-mailed me last week. "It is an all-terrain vehicle and good for fighting insurgency."

A Sudden, Powerful Stirring


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