A non-partisan journal of the left.

New Year Resolutions in the Arab Spring

Wed 2nd Jan 2013

Arab Spring. Spring? What Spring. It's snowing a blizzard out there!

I recently wrote an article suggesting that events in Egypt demonstrated a woeful lack of our Arab understanding of democracy (LPJ, 17 December 2012). I fear that this hypothesis has started the New Year clearly embedding itself as a pure fact.

I had argued that the recent vote on the new Egyptian Constitution was far from democratic. I based my argument on the fact that the Egyptians saw fit to announce an interim result after barely half those eligible to vote had voted. I argued that such a move was calculated to influence the outcome in favour of President Morsi. Finally, I suggested that President Morsi's 'democratically' elected Government would get its way on the new Constitution and then set out to dismantle the very democratic system that brought it to power.

Well! Egypt has a new Constitution. The rest should be history.

Regrettably, 2013 has started in a most ghastly realisation of my pessimistic forecast. The Egyptian comedian, Bassem Youssef, has dared to poke fun at President Morsi on a private Egyptian television satellite programme. A charge has been filed against him for parodying the President's speeches. I am not sure what the legal basis for this charge is. Neither am I certain what right an ordinary lawyer has in filing such a charge. Nor am I at all clear why, in a democracy, a citizen could not make fun of a politician. Imagine where we would be in Britain if our Deputy Prime Minister were unable to sing his apologies for failing to keep an election promise on tuition fees or where we would be if we could not make fun of ex-Conservative Chief Whip's use - or non use - of very rude words like "plebs" (the word f*ck was apparently all right) or where we would be if we could not make merciless fun of Prime Minister Cameron knitting his childlike eyebrows when he wants to pretend that he is in deep thought about Europe before he says what he always says about "hard decisions" and being "in it together" (I have always had a clear idea what the "it" stood for - just add the customary teacher's shush sound when silence is required and we have the "it" that we are in together!).

Michael Zimmerman, in the Jerusalem Post, has commented on the Arab Spring as being lacking because it has not been accompanied by minorities' rights being protected which he rightly calls "a central feature of democracies". I would argue that in an emerging democracy comedians are certainly a minority since most people are too cautious to crack any jokes - though God knows that laughter is the only way of surviving in an oppressive regime - but then jokes are whispered quietly.

There is a lesson to be learnt by many of us - especially us Palestinians - that the only truth has come out of the keyboard of our pet hate: an Israeli commentator. Not that we are likely to listen to him or to anybody else. Old habits die hard and democracy is a hard won and difficult to maintain habit.

Like New Year resolutions. Maybe Morsi, Assad and other Arab leaders should call an Emergency Arab League meeting to discuss three New Year resolutions: freedom, freedom and freedom.

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