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Egypt: Toppling Stereotypes and Dictators

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A lot can happen in a month. When Egypt saw in the New Year with a suicide bomb attack that killed 24 Coptic Christians at a midnight mass, the symbolism was as clear as it was ominous. This is only the beginning.

For those of us who hail from the Muslim Middle East, whether we are religious or not, the escalating violence and intolerance that culminated in that attack, were a source of shame and grief.

With every death, the line between moderate and radical seemed to blur. How much longer could we implore not to be judged by the most extreme amongst us, when it appeared the extremists were leaving the moderate voices drowning in a sea of intimidation and fear?

For decades, Arabs have been offered a false choice: secular despotism or radical Islamism. For those of us who believed the Middle East deserved better, the future was looking bleak indeed. The circle seemed never-ending: the dictators held onto power by invoking the radicals causing the oppressed population to seek solace in religious-based organisations as the only organised opposition. The increasing persecution of Christian minorities and growing influence of fundamentalists were signalling an unstoppable march towards Islamism.

But that was before the death of Mohammed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian graduate who set himself on fire in a desperate protest against the authoritarian regime that made his life impossible.

If only he could have known what his death has done for the Arab world, both in the Middle East and those of us in the Diaspora. His act of desperation set off an unprecedented wave of protests across the region that finally put to rest the stereotype of the lazy, passive Arab. For decades, Arabs have been told they needed a ‘strong man’ in power to fight off the radical waiting in the wings.

Iran was the bogeyman, the warning of what would happen if the secular dictators lost their grip on power. Treating their citizens as if they neither longer for, nor deserved democracy, these strongmen have had the support of the West who, despite their professed love for freedom, decided that a ‘stable’ Middle East was preferable to a free one.

But the Middle East was never stable so much as stagnant, and such stagnancy can never last. In 18 days, the people of Egypt, led by the web-savvy youth have not only toppled the strongest dictator in the region, they have toppled stereotypes about Arabs themselves.

Hungry for freedom and yearning for a representative government they have changed the face of the Middle East forever.



Written by Ruby

February 14, 2011 at 12:11 am

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