In the year 2003, and when people were marching in the millions against the imminent war on Iraq, I chose a demonstration in Beirut that was one of the smallest. Organized by groups of leftist youth, around three thousand demonstrators walked under the banner “no to war, not to dictatorships”. Some criticized the slogans for equating the “War led by the US” with “Saddam who was one of our own”. Other demonstrators on that same international day of solidarity with Iraq marched holding pictures of Saddam Hussein, equating opposition to the war with the support of Saddam, the dictator; following a cherished Arabic proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.
Since then, and with the aid of Mr. Bush’s post 9/11 clear dichotomy between good and evil, we continued to choose not friends, but enemies of enemies. Bush had already decided that what the majority of Arabs cherished and aspired for was evil, and many of the Arab leaders (read dictators) presented themselves as the defenders of these same things. Saddam was not the only one who was clearly an “enemy” of the US agenda in the Middle East, but so was Assad of Syria, the Iranian regime, radical Muslim groups, Aljazeera of Qatar, you name it. All those rose in popularity, not because they had by necessity any intrinsic qualities that make them worthy of that support, but because they appeared to be against that which we too stood against.
The dichotomy Bush created was deeper and has inflicted countries across the world; that of Security vs. Freedom, as if both can’t coexist. We were told that since the dangers against us were so blatant, we had to let go of some of our freedoms to guarantee protection. Regionally, Iraq was descending into chaos, and life there was not one the citizens of the Arab countries wanted, so many of us chose to keep our dictators and their tight control. Some of leftists in Tunisia thus, were convinced by their dictator that having him in control (despite him being the enemy) is better than having the chaos and control of the Islamic groups as in Algeria. When the army indiscriminately attacked civilians in Lebanon’s Nahr el-Bared in 2007 and held prisoners without trials, some were OK with it because, “after all” as one friend put it “we don’t want our country to become another Iraq”. The same goes for many of the countries allied with the USA in the region, including Jordan and above all Egypt. Was that not exactly what Mubarak has said and done in the past couple of weeks? His exact words were “If I resign now there will be chaos”, and his actions as he released his thugs and camels on the demonstrators gave us an example of what chaos is.
This was not always the case though. What I learnt about politics as a child in the 70’s and 80’s was very different. I was told that dictatorships were evil, including that of Saddam, Assad, and Mubarak, no matter what agenda they claimed to follow. That Arab dictatorships in particular (though I was raised in an Arab nationalist house) were evil and that freedom inside these countries was not only a goal by itself, but also the only way we could obtain liberation from the Israeli occupation and the imperialist agenda in the region. That occupation and oppression were one and the same; in fact that the former was not possible without the latter. That security and freedom were one and the same; indeed the former was not possible without the latter.I am reminded of this now, not only by the words of one soon to leave dictator, but by the clarity with which the Egyptians have been stirring their revolution.