The world turned upside down
“WE ARE in the middle of a geological event. An earthquake of epoch-making dimensions is changing the landscape of our region. Mountains turn into valleys, islands emerge from the sea, volcanoes cover the land with lava. … what is happening now in Egypt will change our lives. “ — Yuri Avneri
This is not just about dominoes, nor just about Israel and Palestine (as Avneri goes on to say). If Egypt comes out of this as a vibrant democracy, releasing energies and creativity in an E=MC-squared chain reaction of possibilities, it will be a world-shaking event for decades to come.
♦ It will expose and weaken the whole edifice of “safe” client regimes propped up by American interests.
♦ It asks, if universalism means every person should have the same human rights, why should democracy, hope and a real life for Egypt’s 80 million people take second place to Hebrew Israel’s 5 million, for which every scrap of international law is expected to be sacrificed?
♦ The divisions are not between left and right, capitalism v. socialism, or secular v. religious but between closed, totalitarian societies and those that at least attempt to function according to universal human rights and international standards, which inevitably means pluralism and freedom of information.
♦ Israel’s trajectory is in the opposite direction, driven by an agenda that puts it systemically into conflict with universalism and hence human rights. Israel (‘a villa in the jungle’ according to Ehud Barak) can only seem to shine next to the stagnant, deadened half-life of the neighbouring Arab world. But could it end up as the only non-democracy in the Middle East? In the glare of new light from Egypt, Israel will show up for what it is, as a destructive dark star of political anti-matter.
♦ Bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy Zawahiri have been stuffed. Not only is far bigger social change coming by placards than bombs; not only has Al Qaeda been left miles behind the curve; but its very latest divisive and murderous violence, against Egypt’s Coptic christians, has been stunningly answered with joint Coptic and Muslim prayers in Tahrir Square to commemorate martyrs of the street battles. If the names of Bin Laden and his ilk were yesterday’s battle-cry, Cairo and Tunis are tomorrow’s. As Mark LeVine observes in Al Jazeera, “playing on the longstanding chants of Islamists that ‘Islam is the solution’, protesters are shouting: ‘Tunisia is the solution’.” And as he says, “the amalgam of social and political forces behind the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt today — and who knows where tomorrow — actually constitute a far greater threat to the “global system” al-Qa’eda has pledged to destroy than the jihadis roaming the badlands of Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Yemen.”
♦ What’s more, this may even be understood in Washington. Not only Pax Americana (summed up by an ex-CIA pundit as “Oil, Israel, Stability”) but the War on Terror too have been severely dented by just two weeks of action on the streets.
♦ Since 2002 the Arab world has accepted the two state formula for Palestine in the form of the Arab Peace Initiative. What if Egypt and/or Tunisia were to break the “international consensus” for two states and persuade the Arab world to take a fresh look at a democratic state for all in historic Palestine?
♦ The events produce the final postscript on the invasion of Iraq. Not only were there no weapons of mass destruction, not only was the invaded Saddam in the same general ball-park as the propped-up Mubarak, but he also could and should have been toppled by his own people, at a cost no doubt in many lives but still a fraction of those who have died from the invasion and since. The last shreds of self-justification by Bush, Blair and their gang (that “the world is a better place without Saddam”) have been blown. And now, inspired by Cairo, Iraqis are taking to the streets to try to put right some of the damage.
♦ If Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood becomes just another piece in a great jigsaw of interests and voices, it could signal an end to the ‘Islamic-state’ bogey. Khomeiny, when he stole the 1979 Iran revolution, came in on the flood-tide of an Islamic revival. Today’s Muslims, not least in Egypt, don’t want a clerical dictatorship any more than they want a secular one.
♦ Islamist parties and movements themselves are also less inclined to the hazards of confrontation, absolutism and domination and the whole business of running countries, but rather towards participation and influence as a conservative social movement. Democracy and its movement in Egypt, and these changes in the character, aims and methods of the Islamist movement could in turn push back the tide of Islamophobia that’s disfiguring many countries with an upsurge of racism.
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