“May you live in interesting times”. That’s what Confucius supposedly said, wishing an enemy a life surrounded by worries and obstacles. Well, these here are certainly interesting times. It’s as if the entire world has gone on its head.
In Tunis, a dictator of twenty years has fallen and in Egypt another one is almost certainly on his last legs. Breathlessly, people are talking about a possible wave of ‘People Power” movements sweeping through the Arab peninsula like a wildfire, taking down the Assad and Hashemite dynasties in one fell swoop.
Who could have possibly imagined this happening? A while back, when regime change was all in the rage, it was assumed that only through foreign intervention could dictators fall.
Well, I guess that these events have proved all those theories a bust. No matter what a leader does, either throwing his citizens in jail, torturing or even killing them, eventually people decide that they’ve had enough. There is always a tipping point, where even the fear of death becomes a moot point. I’m quite interested in finding out whether these ‘popular’ movements can do more than simply force a change in government.
Eventually there must be a body politic willing to govern and from what I can see, Tunisia hasn’t found one. And for all the calls from Western leaders for the “will of the people to prevail” I’m curious about American and European reactions to a government led by the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist parties.
The last time an Islamist party won free and fair election it was ostracized, embargoed and attacked. I’m talking about Hamas. The people spoke and their voices were ignored. Will this time be different?
We live in a time where there is a glut of information. The internet and satellite television have made possible things that we couldn’t even imagine. Wikileaks has thrown eggs on the faces of superpowers and revealed that very often, the emperor, indeed, had no clothes. Seeing governments squirm was quite a satisfying sight and I would be a liar if I pretended not to enjoy every minute of it.
BUT, the recent revelations on Al-Jazeera didn’t give me the same amount of enjoyment. Titled the ‘Palestinian Papers’, the broadcaster revealed the secret negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.
What was revealed was shocking. Palestinian negotiators were willing to sign away their people’s right to return in exchange for peace. I was taken aback and I can only imagine what residents of Ramallah felt. Al-Jazeera might have inadvertently brought to an end to the Middle Eastern peace talks in their current form and driven another nail into the Fatah coffin.
The information Age is truly upon us and the old ways of doing things has been its first victim. What was previously deemed ‘secret’ is now liable to end up in the public forum. What we are witnessing is the power that can be unleashed when people have information. It is up to governments worldwide to use this trend to their advantage. What people are asking for is transparency and accountability and woe unto governments that do not provide for this.
As the events in Egypt and Tunisia have shown us, it’s a zero sums game. Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media have led the way in democratizing the information highway and they’ve obviously tapped into a deeply human yearning for self expression and self realization.
While these are interesting times we are in, they aren’t cursed times. We are in exciting times, we shouldn’t fear them.