The Arab Tea Parties

By: Guest Authors

By: Richard Billies

Over seven years ago President George W. Bush called for governments throughout the Middle East to make democratic reforms, insisting that “freedom can be the future of every nation.” In a speech to the National Endowment for Democracy President Bush said, “The advancement of freedom is the calling of our time. It is the calling of our country.” Referring to Arab and Muslim states throughout the region, Bush said, “In many Middle Eastern countries, poverty is deep, and it is spreading, women lack rights and are denied schooling, whole societies remain stagnant while the world moves ahead. These are not the failures of a culture or a religion. These are the failures of political and economic doctrines.” Here is a link to a report by Margaret Warner of PBS:

Fast forward to today: what precipitated all of the democratic uprisings across the Arab world? I’d like you to think back to the fall of the Soviet Empire. Henry Kissinger posited that the perception of power rather than power itself was the most important thing that a nation needed to cultivate. For all the years of the Soviet Union their citizens were told that the walls surrounding them were meant to keep out intruders from their Socialist Paradise. When the citizens of Moscow visited the largest McDonald’s in the World in Red Square they realized that they had been lied to all those years. When they were allowed to view the West on the internet they realized that they had been lied to. What followed was the rapid collapse of Soviet Empire.

Something similar is happening in the Arab world where the widespread use of the internet, twitter and email has allowed the so-called Arab street to view the world as it is not as the authoritarian governments want them to think it is. In 2010 they viewed the rise of the American Tea Party movement. Through the internet they saw regular citizens begin to change the government of the United States. “Why can’t we do that?” they seem to be saying. As George Bush asked what was different about the Arab world that they couldn’t have democratic governments, the people of the Arab world are beginning to answer that they can.

The fall of the Tunisian authoritarian regime in mid-January after a month of sometimes-violent protests started the democracy ball rolling. A month later we have the sight of Hosni Mubarak being driven from the power that he exercised for thirty years in a mere eighteen days. In Yemen the authoritarian President Ali Abdullah Saleh vowed not to run when his term of office expires in 2013 and also said that his son would not run. He then invited opposition leaders to talks. In Algeria large crowds of protesters called for the ouster of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in a gathering that the government failed to stop. He promised democratic reforms and more job-creation measures. In Jordan King Abdullah acquiesced to calls for the dismissal of his prime minister. There have been protests in Bahrain and the government has made financial concessions to its citizens. There have been protests in the Sudan but as yet have failed to gain momentum. In Iran there is a protest march scheduled for Monday February 14th but the government has warned against it. According to opposition web sites the security forces have stepped up the arrest of opposition figures.
What does all of this unrest tell us? I think several things are responsible for the revolts:

• George Bush was right! The people of the Arab world are no different than other people. They want democracy. Even the left is conceding that he was right:
• The authoritarian governments of the Arab world are no longer perceived as powerful by their citizens. The Emperor has no clothes! They’ve looked behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain and realized that there’s nothing there but an old man with a big megaphone.
• The internet is the great leveler. People in the Arab world are watching the West and saying “Why can’t we have that”.
• Internet communications methods such as email and twitter can mobilize an entire country. Egypt tried to shut down the internet but by then the genie had gotten out of the lamp.
• The American Tea Party movement gave the peoples of the Arab world an excellent example to follow that normal people can change the world.

“Not far from here where we gather today is a symbol of freedom familiar to all Americans — the Liberty Bell. When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public, the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration, and a witness said: “It rang as if it meant something.” Today, the call of liberty is being heard in Baghdad and Basra, and other Iraqi cities, and its sound is echoing across the broader Middle East. From Damascus to Tehran, people hear it, and they know it means something. It means that the days of tyranny and terror are ending, and a new day of hope and freedom is dawning.” George W. Bush, Speech to the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
December 12, 2005

Today across the Arab world George Bush’s words are turning to action.

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