The Road to Democracy

By George S. Hishmeh – Washington, D.C.
There were many memorable episodes in the glorious Egyptian Revolution, recorded in photos or on the Internet, that are bound to remain in memory of most people for many years and may foretell the future of the shaky Middle East.
But the ripple effect triggered by both the Tunisian “Jasmine Revolution”and later the  Egyptian “Day of Rage” is bound to re-ignite the revival of Arab Nationalism across the Arab World – –  a movement that saw its heyday during the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser who was instrumental in the overthrow of the Egyptian monarchy in 1952.

What has been noticeable so far has been the diehard commitment of the new Egyptian generation, men and women of all walks of life who assembled day and night for more than two weeks in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square during their successful shakedown of the Mubarak regime. And what was very pleasing and reassuring was their surprise readiness to clean the large square when many of them joined hands voluntarily in sweeping the area and removing the abundant garbage.
This was a striking development especially for anyone who has seen apartment dwellers in main Arab cities shaking tablecloths or rugs from the balconies sometimes unaware of passers by. This time around the youngsters seemed to be telling all that Tahrir Square is now their home, much like their own places of residence which are also kept clean. The message being they wanted to keep their country clean, much like their attempted sweeping out all remnants of the discredited Egyptian regime. 
This Revolution of the Young was also remarkable for the role of the Internet, especially the social media highlighted by the crucial exchanges on Facebook with fellow travelers inside the country or abroad. Needless to say the enterprising Aljazeera, which regularly had patriotic songs of the late Egyptian popular singer Um Kalthoum heralding important announcements or news. This not to belittle the role of Alarabiya and BBC Arabic in their hourly monitoring of the events overwhelming major Egyptian cities. Equally fascinating has been the role of cell phones which could be spotted with demonstrators, either messaging colleagues or taking photos of their parades.
As determined not to be left behind, The New York Times itself had an original twist. It carried a large gold-framed photo of President Mubarak, which apparently was hanging in the Presidential Palace, covering  more than half the front page of its “Week in Review” section, But the photo of the youngish-looking dictator was illustrated upside down.
Equally stirring was the domino effect that the intifada (uprising) had in the Arab World. Many Arab leaders appeared shaking in their boots, hurling all sorts of promises. Iraq’s prime minister pledged to cut his salary in half and that he would not run for a third term. Syria allowed the introduction of social media. A new Jordanian government has been formed. The Palestinians will also be holding national elections next September. But the three countries that continued to face serious turbulence were Algeria, Bahrain and Yemen, whose president announced a last-minute decision to cancel his trip to Washington.
But if the Arab World has been galvanized by the demonstrators’ demands for democracy, the West, particularly United States, has been meanwhile at wits end. U.S. policy statements at the beginning of the Egyptian revolution seemed disjointed, frustrating many of its listeners, officials and non-officials.  But at the end President Obama’s speeches hailing the new status quo in Egypt calmed many in the region, allowing them to take a deep breath of fresh air. 
Still the road ahead is bound to counter major obstacles from both parties in the Arab world, those who regained honorable control of their homeland and those remaining autocrats who undoubtedly were unhappy by the American turnaround as Mubarak fell in disgrace. All undoubtedly may still be wondering whether they can trust the American administration to come to their assistance, now that two countries have yielded to their peoples’ outcry and ousting two pro-western rulers.
The road to democracy in the Arab World will not be a smooth ride. There are bound to be many pitfalls that may frustrate many freedom fighters. Dr. Naseer Aruri, chancellor professor (emeritus) of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, wondered whether “isn’t it time for Washington to revisit its entire policy in the whole Middle East to insure that democracy can indeed flourish in a atmosphere of political dignity.”
But citing one major frustration, he continued in an article this week in Counterpunch, saying that “as long as the Palestinians live under Israeli control and are humiliated daily, they won’t be attracted by the virtues of democracy.” 
Time is running out fast.

– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. Contact him at:

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