December 24, 2003 Special Dispatch No. 633

Arab Columnists Envy Georgia's Political Revolution: Tbilisi Spring, Arab Winter

December 24, 2003
Special Dispatch No. 633

The November 2003 "Velvet Revolution" in Georgia inspired columnists in the Arab press to compare the democratic political ferment there to the political barrenness of the Arab world. The following are excerpts from five articles:

'Why the Georgians, Why Not the Arabs?'

In a column criticizing the Arab elite, Sa'ad Mahyew wrote in the UAE daily Al-Khaleej: "Why aren't Arab societies experiencing revolutions similar [to Georgia's]? Why are they comatose while all the peoples of the world – including those of Africa – have since 1989 been dancing to the rhythm of a single genuine and universal revolution sweeping [the world] towards the mill of democracy? Why has the Arab region still not sprouted democratic and liberal movements offering the Arab peoples an alternative to the existing variety of despotism and authoritarian regimes? Is it true [what they say in the Arab world] – that Islam and democracy are contradictory?

"Such painful questions raise doubts about our identity, our nature, and even our political maturity… [Our situation] has objective and historical causes that can be treated. [Why], for example, for over a century… has the nationalist option in the Arab world been given precedence over the democratic option? This is true not only regarding Palestine… Lebanon, Syria, or Iraq, but also for many Arab peoples that sense that their autonomous decision-making capability has been expropriated and their sovereignty abandoned.

"… The social and cultural mosaic pushes the Arab elites into focusing on [maintaining] consensus and national unity instead of on quiet [democratic] struggle over the [form] of government. Sixty years of tyranny in the name of rosy dreams of liberation, unity, and independence have led to the exploitation of the Arab world's civilian societies, and have dried up their sources of renewal, innovation, and creativity…

"We have convincing excuses, but excuses won't suffice… What prevents the Arab elites from developing plans and ideas to ensure a combination of nationalism and democracy? Didn't the nationalist forces in Western Europe act in precisely this way? Isn't this what one third of humanity is trying to do today? What prevents the establishment of frameworks for national unity based on general liberties and on human and women's rights? Couldn't something like this… lead to stronger national unity, not weaker?" [1]

The Arabs Live On A Different Planet

Al-Nahar columnist Sahar Ba'asiri compared events in Tbilisi with the political scene in the Arab world and in her own country, Lebanon: "Watching the 'flower revolution' in Georgia on television, I felt envious… The crowds massing at [the parliament building] to carry out their will pained me – as if they and we Arabs lived on different planets, and on our planet none know the meaning of the will of the peoples…

"… [The Georgians] are providing us, the Lebanese, with a chance to muse on the death of [our] political life, [our] total yielding to monotony… and to the supreme celebration of surrender in which [our] land lives.

"The crises and shortcomings have been piling up for years… Everyone is apparently helpless to initiate [anything]… The citizens gaze at [what is being done] in despair or indifference… [even when] infuriated by crises… because [in the papers] they read only… choruses wishing them and their country well… Whence cometh to us… this capability of giving in to this reality of decay?

"[Georgia's] events did not come from a vacuum… But such incidents happen on Planet Earth, so those amongst us who are worried can relax: Until the Arab world comes back to Planet Earth, what happens in Georgia has nothing to do with us – except for [providing us with] an event that we can muse upon, if we so choose." [2]

The Pro-Saddam Perspective: Popular Revolutions Will Reach the Arab World Too

Abd Al-Bari Atwan, the pro-Saddam, pro-bin Laden editor of the London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, foresaw a Georgian fate for Arab regimes too. In his article "A New Lesson for Arab Rulers," he wrote: " The peoples of the Third World and their politicians were taught a useful lesson by the democratic opposition in Georgia.… The neutral stance of the military institutions and security apparatuses… [was the result of their recognition] that in democratic countries, leaders come and go, but the peoples who remain are the source of sovereignty.

"These popular revolutions will inevitably reach the Arab world as well. The bestiality of the dictatorial regimes – that are up to their necks in plundering the [national] sources of wealth, reject general and individual liberties, lack an independent legal system, and have a monopoly on jobs and places of employment – [indicates] that things have become intolerable. Most unfortunately… these revolutions [in the Arab world] will not be quiet ones – not because the Arab peoples are bloodthirsty, but because the regimes of the Arab world consider their peoples to be of no importance.

"These regimes prefer to rule by fire and iron, and their military and security apparatuses are always ready to 'educate' the people, out of corrupt motives and for the sake of dictatorial regimes. What makes the option of violence virtually unavoidable is most Arab regimes' resistance to reform and their refusal to answer the calls of pro-reform democratic forces. When they do answer, this answer is limited to cosmetic alterations aimed at buying time…

"Over the past 20 years, oil revenue in the Arab [region] has reached more than four trillion dollars. Yet the Arab [region] remains the most backward in the entire world. There are barely any health services; the educational [systems] are collapsing; infrastructures are obsolete; [the term] 'growth' has no place in the governments' dictionaries; and the common denominator of all Arab countries … is corruption.

"… In a country like Saudi Arabia, whose per capita average income from oil was once $28,000 and today has dropped to less than $7,000… when citizens try to protest against [the situation], they are suppressed, arrested, and charged with deviating from obedience to the regime, and are punished 'by the sword' – that is, with [beheading], for destroying the country's [morality and virtue].

"The Al-Qa'ida organization, one of the by-products of repressive and dictatorial [Arab] regimes … has become an umbrella and an ideology into whose shade crowd ephemeral extremist Islamic organizations for whom violence and bloodshed are the only means of expressing their despair and inner turmoil. Murdering civilians is criminal and unjustified. But we have the right to ask what the regimes have done [for] these people. Have they achieved honorable lives for them? [Have they made] all equal before the law? [Have they] uprooted corruption or ended torture and humiliation in the prisons…?

"The dictators of the Arab world are certain their regimes are forever, and they refuse to acknowledge that there is such a thing as 'the people.' That is the reason for the fear [that revolutions will end] in a bloodbath… It would be interesting to know if the Arab leaders will find time to board their official planes… to flee in safety to their comfortable havens of exile where they deposited the tens of billions of dollars [of their people]." [3]

'We Are Used to Repression and Humiliation'

In his column in the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour titled 'The Holiday Is Only for the People of Georgia,' 'Oreib Al-Rantawi wrote: "Only the Georgians, Christians and Muslims alike, are entitled to celebrate this holiday. The Georgians realized their will by appropriating the reins of power… and deposing a notorious symbol of a corrupt [regime] who spread his luxurious mansions across the country – as Arab leaders have done and still do.

"[Unlike the Georgians], we Arabs must settle for humiliation and indignity, because our holidays … bring us [only] more theft and more plundering of our lands, our rights, and our sovereignty… And as if our lot were not enough, the latest Global Corruption Report [4] ranks Arab countries as a group as the most corrupt countries of the world – the only list on which we [Arabs] lead the entire world. Nevertheless … our pathetic official media never stop commemorating our national holidays, our reform movements, our leaders' birthdays, and our coups…

"In the Arab world, [rulers] still issue 'religious rulings' banning demonstrations because they deviate from the 'Shar'i [religious] principle' of obedience to authority. Sanctions, demonstrations, and strikes are considered … threats to security and stability and violation of the traditions of our culture and our society. [Even] discussion of [concepts such as] homeland, sovereignty, and honor is considered a forbidden satanic abomination… What holiday can we celebrate? Of what achievement can we boast?… We belong to peoples grown accustomed to humiliation and repression, to secluding ourselves within our homes. We are the people of the streets and the alleys, who long ago stopped feeling life and vitality." [5]

The Problem Is Islam's Central Position in Society

In his column 'The Georgian Revolution,' for the Saudi government daily Al-Watan, Khales Jalabi wrote: "Shevardnadze's seat toppled like a pillar of salt washed away by a great flood… The popular coup, [carried out] without a drop of blood being spilled, and with no Palestinian-style suicide bombings, is an entire lesson for Arabs. Yet the Arabs pass by the signs, refusing [to believe]. They believe only in killing to solve problems…

"The political changes in Serbia [and] Georgia took place in regions not thought to be regions of progress and cultural advancement… These uprisings succeeded when the masses poured into the streets. Were such a thing to happen in Arab countries, the blood flooding [the streets] would stretch as wide as the Euphrates and the Nile. "What, then, is the secret? How do peoples find the way for quiet change, and manage to do it without bloodshed, while among us suicide [bombers] grow thick as weeds in spring…? This phenomenon among us lies in [our] cultural reservoir, the lion's share of which is taken up by religion. Until the important issue of concepts [and values], such as Jihad or the meaning of democracy, is resolved, the [procession of] wounded, dead, and coffins will continue toward [our] hospitals and cemeteries." [6]

[1] Al-Khaleej (UAE), November 25, 2003.

[2] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), November 11, 2003.

[3] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), November 24, 2003.


[5] Al-Dustour (Jordan), November 25, 2003.

[6] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 3, 2003.

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