Arabs Celebrate the End of an Era

Arabs Celebrate the End of an Era

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After Tunisia and Egypt, it is time to celebrate. For decades, the Arabs have been on a course of misguided politics. It is high time to allow talent to lead, privilege to spread and freedom to shine.

Millions of young people dream of a better future. Citizens are no longer scared to think, to ask pivotal questions and imagine the unimaginable. We must affirm dreams, reinforce new found courage and embrace an epic movement. This is not the time for observers to be cynical and suspicious of change.

The people are proud and the despots are shamed. This is how it should be. So much has happened, so fast. Two tyrants were swiftly deposed. Twenty regimes internally tremble. All rulers review their bets on the future. Some relax freedoms and others make compromising promises. A few introduce cosmetic change. Overdue elections suddenly surface. Citizens receive money and the hungry receive bread to keep quiet. And of course, there are those “perfect” regimes who remind us of how privileged it is to be their citizens, and how wise of others to think of change.

This new Middle East era beckons many “firsts”. Political overthrow is peaceful. The youth organize and lead the uprising. Resistance does not project all the blame for grievances on agents beyond national borders. Women play an active role - is this the start of a gender revolution? And finally, mobilized crowds do not exploit religious symbols in addressing injustice. Is God being rightfully taken out of divisive politics?

It is too early to second guess these brave revolutionaries. The agents of change are mindful that the military should be the next layer of authority to be challenged. It seems wise of this fragile movement to have targeted the ruler and his security apparatus first. The time for shaming the military would have to come sooner or later, especially if men with decorated uniforms show the arrogance of deposed rulers.

The process of empowerment should be monitored closely. The awakenings have been largely spontaneous. People had been morally and politically buried alive for decades. The opposition needs time and skill to order priorities, chose leaders and to inhibit opportunists. With inspiration, new leaders will sober the fanatics who would rush with simplistic solutions. With patience they will overcome a deep-rooted mindset of paternalism and sexism. They will stay sensitive to local culture and respectful of faith and tradition. The fundamental, i.e. what makes real difference and benefits all, will have to be liberated from the fundamentalist.

State building takes decades to fully mature; its pattern, direction and pace are not predictable or guaranteed.

The Middle East will never be the same. Desired change is taking place without terror from the inside or surgical wars from the outside.

Ghassan Michel Rubeiz is an Arab American commentator, and was a Middle East representative at the Geneva-based World Council of Churches.