Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Egyptian pro-democracy campaigner Saadeddin Ibrahim believes that the war will help bring democracy to the region.

Pressure for reform from Washington, which says it is fighting to liberate Iraqis from President Saddam Hussein, could also force change on Arab governments, many of which face U.S. and domestic criticism for poor records on civil liberties.

"Once the dust settles... other Arab leaders will not fail to read the writing on the wall. That their time is over and the only way to survive is to initiate reforms," Ibrahim told Reuters in an interview.

"If they don't they will face both internal pressure and external pressure."

Ibrahim said the United States had concluded that lack of political freedom in Arab states helped spawn anti-U.S. militant Islamists such as those it blames for the September 11, 2001 attacks.

For that reason, the United States might be ready to apply extra pressure on Arab governments to extend rights, although Ibrahim questioned Washington's long-term engagement.

Egypt, a U.S. ally governed since 1981 by President Hosni Mubarak, had shown signs it was ready for change, albeit piecemeal and superficial, he said.

Proposals by the ruling National Democratic Party to establish a council for human rights and abolish state security court trials were a sign the government was ready to consider some move towards reform.

Saudi Arabia, where power rests on a century-old alliance between the Saud royal family and religious scholars, had also made a gesture towards reform when Crown Prince Abdullah began considering a draft petition calling for constitutional rule.

"The war in Iraq has created a new reality (to which) leaders and regimes in the Arab world must adjust," Ibrahim said.

Anti-war protests had helped awaken political consciousness in countries such as Egypt, the most populous Arab state, where anti-war protesters have at times chanted anti-government slogans and clashed with riot police.

"It suggests Egyptians are no longer afraid to demonstrate, and that is the beginning of the end for an autocratic regime," Ibrahim said.

After an early clash involving riot police, the government has managed to control protests, placing its own supporters at the head of some. But if the war drags on, demonstrations could provide a vehicle for public political organisation, he said.

"My feeling is that this, while good for the Arab masses and for the average man, it is not good for governments who are used to monopolising everything," Ibrahim added.

Not sure that I want the people out protesting the war, you know, the ones who also chant, "Death to Israel" and sing the praises of Saddam and bin Laden, are the ones I want getting power in the Middle East.

< email | 4/01/2003 11:48:00 AM | link

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