Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Change Gonna Come

Mohammed Bouazizi, 1984-2011

At the end of his 26 years in this world, Mohammed Bouazizi doused himself in solvents and set himself ablaze, and died of his burns 3 weeks later. Did he have an inkling of the fire that his own self-immolation would spark?

As I write this, people are waking up for Fajr prayer in Cairo. There are massive demonstrations planned after Jumah prayers. As my previous post demonstrates, I tend to be conservative in my predictions - I tend to bet on things staying the same, because that has been, in my experience, the safe bet.

I'm going to revise that prediction now. Many of the dictators of the Arab world are finding themselves backed into corners, particularly in Egypt and Yemen, but also in Jordan, Algeria, and probably also Libya. When they heard of what happened in Tunisia, some Libyan associates of mine seemed uncharacteristically ecstatic, especially given their typical reticence to discuss politics.

I don't know if Mubarak will fall tomorrow. Even if he does fall, I don't know if he won't just be replaced by one of his current associates, an opportunist who sees that the old man isn't going to get any younger anyways.

It does seem apparent, at this point, though, that a sea-change has taken place in the world of Arab presidents-for-life - the pseudo-monarchs who don't call themselves kings, but nevertheless rule as despots and groom their own family members to take power when they retire or die. An Arab president has been forced to leave office against his will, and that does set a precedent. If it didn't, the streets of Cairo and Sana would not have thronged so.

There is also a tremendous irony, that the American rhetoric about bringing about a flowering of democracy to the Middle East has proven so empty. They, along with the British, French, and Israelis, have been publicly professing a desire to free the people of the Middle East, all the while building stronger and harsher cages for them, frightened of the reckoning that would come if their prisoners ever got loose. Yet a vegetable seller with a can of paint-thinner has accomplished far more than the entire might of the US military-industrial complex could have, even if it had been honourable in its intentions.

I pray, and I urge anyone reading this to do the same, that the demonstrators are successful in influencing their governments in a meaningful, permanent way. I fear, though, that Mubarak in particular won't allow that to happen. Something big will happen, but if the security forces cooperate (and I pray they won't) the response could be extreme, designed to make an example of the poor earnest souls who will take to the streets in a few hours.

Either way, I don't think that the sparks lit by Mohammed Bouazizi will fizzle without something dramatic happening.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011


I have had a lot of thoughts about what happened recently in Tunisia, and people who are familiar with the politics of the Arab world all wondering aloud "Will this spread?" Maybe, but not soon, is my guess. At any rate, Maher Arar wrote this very insightful piece for the Globe and Mail. While I'm mildly upset at the title, and the linguistic trap it perpetuates, it's still worth a read.

. . . The White House remained quiet about the situation in Tunisia almost until the end, although police had by then killed dozens of peaceful protesters. It wasn’t until Mr. Ben Ali was over the Mediterranean that Mr. Obama applauded “the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people.” This face-saving statement came just two days after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated that Washington was not taking sides.

The French position was similar, although with the twist that Nicolas Sarkozy’s government offered to send anti-riot police to help crush the uprising. After learning that Mr. Ben Ali had fled, Mr. Sarkozy had a change of heart, refusing French residency to the dictator. . . .

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Phantom Menace

While I frequently deride the Ottawa Citizen for being the looney bin of the Postmedia newspaper empire (formerly the CanWest media empire, before the company brightened my day by going broke), it has to be said that a glimmer of sanity is occasionally seen from the paper, despite its propensity for American-style wingnuttery.

While the wording of this piece by Dan Gardner is occasionally unfortunate (as I discussed in this post from 2008), the diction doesn't negate the importance of the point he makes. Nor does it make his shots at professional bedwetter Mark Steyn any less delicious.

Anyhow, here is the article.

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