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Saturday, January 15, 2011
Clip and save: NYT item reviews upheaval across Arab world without relating it to Israel

[Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA:

No. It isn't Jewish construction in Jerusalem.

In point of fact the unrest has absolutely nothing to do with and of
Israel's activities or even existence.

That doesn't rule out, of course, the possibility that some ruler may find
that instead of solving the problems that are the source of tension in their
country that they divert the wrath of the mob by seeking conflict with
Israel.

And that's the problem with the naïve assertion that somehow peace in and of
itself would provide Israel with security if we forfeited defensible borders
and gave the Arabs everything they wanted.

Because there is a world of reasons an Arab leader could choose conflict
with the Jewish State that have absolutely nothing to do with Israel.]

Joy as Tunisian President Flees Offers Lesson to Arab Leaders
By ANTHONY SHADID The New York Times January 14, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/15/world/africa/15region.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Hours after President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia
on Friday, a Lebanese broadcaster, in triumphant tones, ended her report on
the first instance of an Arab leader to be overthrown in popular protests by
quoting a famous Tunisian poet.

“And the people wanted life,” she said, “and the chains were broken.”

The day’s seismic events in Tunisia, the broadcaster, Abeer Madi al-Halabi,
went on, would serve as “a lesson for countries where presidents and kings
have rusted on their thrones.”

Tunisia’s uprising electrified the region. The most enthusiastic suggested
it was the Arab world’s Gdansk, the birthplace of Solidarity in Poland,
which heralded the end to Communist rule in Eastern Europe. That seemed
premature, particularly because the contours of the government emerging in
Tunisia were still unclear — and because Tunisia is on the periphery of the
Arab world, with a relatively affluent and educated population. Yet the
street protests erupted when Arabs seemed more frustrated than ever, whether
over rising prices and joblessness or resentment of their leaders’ support
for American policies or ambivalence about Israeli campaigns in Lebanon in
2006 and Gaza in 2009.

Tunisia’s protests were portrayed as a popular uprising, crossing lines of
religion and ideology, offering a new model of dissent in a region where
Islamic activists have long been seen as monopolizing opposition. Even if
they serve only as inspiration, the protests offer a rare example of success
to activists stymied at almost every turn in bringing about change in their
own countries.

“A salute to Tunis, which has opened the road to freedom in an Arab world
devastated by years of waiting on the curb,” said Burhan Ghalioun, head of
the Centre d’Études sur l’Orient Contemporain in Paris and a political
science professor at the Sorbonne.

That the events in Tunisia took place far beyond the region’s traditional
centers of power did little to diminish the enthusiasm they seemed to
generate. In fact, the very spectacle of crowds surging into the streets and
overwhelming decades of accumulated power in the hands of a highly
centralized, American-backed government seemed an antidote to the despair of
past years — carnage in Iraq, divisions among Palestinians and Israeli
intransigence and the yawning divide between ruler and ruled on almost every
question of foreign policy.

The protests’ success gripped a region whose residents have increasingly
complained of governments that seem incapable of meeting their demands and
are bereft of any ideology except perpetuating power. The combustible mix
that inspired them — economic woes and revulsion at corruption and
repression — seemed to echo in so many other countries in the Middle East,
American allies like Egypt foremost among them.

Al Jazeera headlined its broadcasts: “Tunisia ... the street creates
change.”

Mohammed al-Maskati, a blogger in Bahrain, put it more bluntly on Twitter.
“It actually happened in my lifetime!” he wrote. “An Arab nation woke up and
said enough.”

Through the eight years of the Bush administration, democratization was at
least a rhetorical priority of American policy in the Middle East, even as
the United States maintained its support for Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other
authoritarian governments in the region. On Thursday, as the protests in
Tunisia were escalating, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a
scathing critique of Arab leadership and the region’s political and economic
stagnation. Her comments seemed one attempt to reposition the United States,
which backed Tunisia’s dictatorial leader as a partner against terrorism.

In the end, the most dramatic change in the old Arab order in years was
inspired by Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old university graduate who could
find work only as a fruit and vegetable vendor. He set himself on fire in a
city square in December when the police seized his cart and mistreated him.

A Facebook page called Tunisians hailed him as “the symbol of the Tunisian
revolution.” “God have mercy on you, Tunisia’s martyr, and on the all free
martyrs of Tunisia,” it read. “One candle burns to create light and one
candle beats all oppression.”

In Egypt, his name came up at a small solidarity protest.

“Egypt needs a man like Mohamed Bouazizi,” said Abdel-Halim Qandil, a
journalist and opposition leader who joined dozens of others at the Tunisian
Embassy.

The momentum of Tunisia’s street protests overshadowed other instances of
dissent in the Arab world. In Egypt, protesters, often lacking in numbers,
are occasionally beset by divisions between secular and religious activists.
The mass protests in Lebanon that followed the assassination of Rafik
Hariri, a former prime minister, in February 2005 ended up deepening
divisions in a country almost evenly split over questions of ideology,
sectarian loyalty and foreign patrons.

Tunisians’ grievances were as specific as universal: rising food prices,
corruption, unemployment and the repression of a state that viewed almost
all dissent as subversion.

Smaller protests, many of them over rising prices, have already taken place
in countries like Morocco, Egypt, Algeria and Jordan. Egypt, in particular,
seems to bear at least a passing resemblance to Tunisia — a heavy-handed
security state with diminishing popular support and growing demands from an
educated, yet frustrated, population.

In Jordan, hundreds protested the cost of food in several cities, even after
the government hastily announced measures to bring the prices down. Libya
abolished taxes and customs duties on food products, and Morocco tried to
offset a surge in grain prices.

“It’s the creeping realization that more and more people are being
marginalized and pauperized and that, increasingly, life is more difficult,”
said Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American
University of Beirut. “You need little events that capture the spirit of the
time. Tunisia best captures that in the Arab world.”

Despite the enthusiasm, the scene Friday night in Cairo might serve as
caution.

The protesters who gathered at the Tunisian Embassy in the upscale
neighborhood of Zamalek chanted slogans into a megaphone and waved red
Tunisian flags. They went through a litany of the region’s strongmen — from
Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya to Hosni Mubarak of Egypt — and warned each
that his day of reckoning was coming.

“Down, down with Hosni Mubarak!” some chanted.

“Ben Ali, you fraud! Mubarak, you fraud! Qaddafi, you fraud!” others
shouted.

They were ringed by police officers in black berets, and outnumbered by
them, as well. They had little room to maneuver. And an hour later, the
protesters went their way, a Tunisian flag flying from one of the cars, as
it ventured down a largely empty street.

Nada Bakri contributed reporting from Beirut, and Liam Stack from Cairo.

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