The Arab Spring

by Samer Beyhum

Creative commons mike_pete_jan2012

Long has it been since a revolution of significance spread across the Arab world. Many of us have been predicting these events for decades, and becoming disenfranchised when it never hit. but now it has and the winds of change are blowing strong. I am Lebanese. I am no stranger to the hardships of war. Lebanon, a small country in comparison to other Arab states, lies on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. Strategically placed as a land mass linking Europe with Africa, the Middle East, and the Asia. A land made famous in the bible for its cedar trees and the place where Jesus was said to have turned water in to whine. A crossing point for all the crusades heading for the holy land. Lebanon was invaded and influenced by many ancient cultures, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Ottomans. Known in ancient times as Phoenicia, land of the sea faring merchants who exported the alphabet across the Mediterranean. carved out into a country after the first world war by the French and English, gaining independence from the French mandate by 1943 only to be invaded by the Syrians and the Israelis in the 1970’s. Lebanon has witnessed many civil wars; the most recent started in 1975 and ended in 1990. it was a bloody civil war the ripped families apart and brought death and destruction to much of land. With Beirut, the capital, associated with the phoenix of leaned, rising out of its own ashes a multitude of times across the stretch of time that defines humanity.

Civil War, though there is nothing civil about it, was all that I experienced throughout my childhood. My family was displaced 13 times in the span of one year. Armed militia men invaded my grandmother apartment, threatening to kill my uncle, placing a gun to his head, because they suspected him of being a Syrian spy. My mother’s family are naturalized Lebanese of Armenian-Russian decent who once resided in Homs, a Syrian city. People were killed for less than that. Check points all around would stop people and kill them based on their identification card, if their religion happened to be the wrong one. For you see, Lebanon, a country the size of Cape Breton, is home to no less than 18 formally recognized confessions. Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Druze, Maronite Christians, Orthodox Christians, Catholic Christians, Assyrian Christians, Armenian Orthodox and Catholic Christians, protestant Christians of various sorts, and Jews. Yes, Jewish communities, even though a minority, exist throughout the Arab world.

The French did us Lebanese a major disservice by stipulating the division of power based on a confessional system. The president has to be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shia Muslim, and many other government and public posts are also divided as such between the other confessions. It is a draconian system that does not serve the interests of the people but that pits community’s one against the other. The local leaders capitalized on this system and grew in power, each proclaiming to be the protector of his respective faith, sowing fear in their constituents minds to keep them in check, an act that is echoed on a grander scale with different Arab countries who use the imperialist « hegemony » of the west and the threat of the « occupying » Israeli armies to keep their peoples repressed and controlled with fear and hate.

Lebanon is also the most liberal of all the Arab countries. A country where you may find a scantly dressed woman walking side by side with a fully vialed woman. Given Lebanon’s demographic religious diversity and it’s liberalism one might suspect the entire nation of being bipolar. Unlike most Arab countries Lebanon is not exactly ruled by a single dictator, but the Lebanese system of government is almost as bad as there had been one. That and the fact that Lebanon’s ruling class is made up of feudal lords, many of whom have committed crimes against humanity and continue to rule the people, taking them down the path of uncertainty as they now struggle to claim a greater share of the pie since the Syrian and Israeli occupations technically ended. Right now Lebanon is divided in to two main camps; the western ailed March 14 group and the Syrian-Iranian allied March 8 group. Both groups are tarring the country apart and forcing more of Lebanon’s youth to pursue immigration to another more « stable » country.

In contrast, the majority of the Arab world is ruled by a single identifiable dictator rather than a collection of « elected » dictators as it is in Lebanon. In the Arab world, decent is harshly suppressed by the secret service, or Mukhabarat as they are known in Arabic, people disappear without a trace on a regular basis, publications are censored, the media is censored, even the internet is censored. Yet the internet is a wild card. It is a relatively new form of communication that cannot be completely controlled or censored. It is virtually impossible to do so. Not even china can sensor every aspect of the internet, try as they may. The internet has provided a wonderful tool for the people, especially the youth, to communicate with one another across borders and to discover for themselves the truth behind the lies of their respective regimes. To see how people from different parts of the world live, think breath. To see how the the rest of the world is free to live their lives without oppression. To learn that they have human rights and that they have a right to stand up for those rights.

One by one, the Arab peoples began to revolt against tyranny, oppression and bad economic conditions made so by the grate divide between the haves (the people in power) and the have nots (the general population). People have had enough. The result? The Arab spring that we now see before us. It started with the self-immolation of one Tunisian man. And as his body burned, the spark of revolution grew to a flam first as the Tunisian dictator fell and spread to Egypt as a fully-fledged fire that ousted yet another dictator. Arabs across the Middle East and North Africa where galvanized. before these events they all felt that they never stood a chance but now, witnessing the events unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt they became emboldened. Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Libya, all caught the raging flames of revolution. In Bahrain and Saudi Arabia the protesters where brutally suppressed, though i doubt we have heard the end of it just yet. In Yemen the fire still rages on to depose Salah, their dictator. In Libya, the revolution took a nasty turn as Kaddafi was once more exposed to be the despicable brutal and ruthless dictator that he is, using the full strength of his military to suppress, murder, and slaughter his own people rather than give in to their demands. the events in Libya are a sad tale that will hopefully come to a positive conclusion, hopefully sooner than later.

All this time, the Syrian regime of Basil al Assad, laughed, secured in the knowledge that his people would never revolt against him. The memory of the 10,000 dead of Hama was still fresh in the minds of the Syrian people, the thought of revolution against this oppressive regime seemed remote. But yet again the spark has ignited the flames of revolution, although a little behind schedule, this time in Syria. Several month earlier, when Egypt witnessed its own revolution, Assad gravely claimed that Syria is not Egypt or Tunis and that the revolt would never hit there. Many of usl wished for him to eat his own words, and now he has done so.

Yes people are dying as a result of these revolutions, not every revolution is worthy of Martin Luther King or Mohandas Gandhi. Yet these events go to show the extent that these peoples are oppressed, suppressed, denied their dignity and human rights. The west fears that this is a movement that will culminate in extremist Islamic elements taking over the place of these « secular » dictators, but I, for one, do not believe it to be so. There may be Islamic elements introduced in to the mixture but I strongly doubt that the people who have fought and shed their blood to win their freedom from oppression will ever allow one authoritarian regime to be replaced with another. The fear at the moment is Iran, with their semi-theocratic system and their meddling throughout the region, especially in Lebanon. But even Iran is no stranger to protest and revolutions. Iran, as it exists today is the product of a revolution gone wrong, yet even now, as we have witnessed in 2009, there is an opposition to the tyranny of the ayatollah, and although the Iranian opposition is quiet at the moment, the more the regime tyrannies to suppress it the more likely it is to erupt like a volcano some time very soon.

Syria will change, Libya will change. All the Arab countries that have witnessed a revolution will change. It is not a matter of if it is a matter of how long. This change is inevitable and has been brewing for a very long time. This changed has done what the west with their invasion of Iraq and their meddling in the affairs of other Arab nations could not achieve; mobilize the moderate Arabs to rise up against the brutal dictators and call for a democratic regime.

Lebanon is on the verge of a civil war. Due to the vacuum created by the Syrian withdrawal, and due to the meddling of foreign nations, Iran, Syria, America, France, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, Lebanon stands now at the edge of the precipices. A group has risen from within all this chaos, emboldened by the Arab spring, to demand for change. This group is calling for the downfall of the sectarian regime. This group is calling for a truly secular state. They are religious people, Muslims, Christians and Druze, they are atheists and agnostics, they are the voice of moderation and of the people whom have had enough of the feudal leaderships that have, and continue to, destroy Lebanon. Every week their numbers increase as they march for the downfall of the sectarian regime. But they face an uphill battle against 18 dictators and their blind followers who see them as traitors to the faith. These followers of the feudal lords are vicious and have no understanding of the meaning of secularism. Be they Christians or Muslims, these blind followers of the sectarian regime are religious extremists who wish to impose their values, and their values alone, upon all the other peoples. To them, secularism is a danger that will erode their way of life. A way of life built on the blood and suppression of others. They are like the people in Plato’s cave. They know nothing more than the cave and the fake light that feeds them all their limited knowledge of the world. Yet the anti-sectarian protesters continue to march on and gain in numbers. One day, the Lebanese dream of secularism will prevail. The dream and aspirations of the entire Arab world will prevail. Yet it would be naive to think that life will immediately become better. It will still take decades before the dust settles and the results properly assessed, and it may take many more revolutions before the Arab world is stable, by western standards, again. yet i remain hopeful, for without hope Pandora would have been lost.

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