What the Arab papers say
Jan 17th 2011, 15:21 by The Economist online
THE Arab press has been awash with responses to the protests in Tunisia deposing Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali. Their views range from from elation at the fall of Tunisia's president, to concern over how the power vacuum will be filled and speculation about which corrupt Arab leader could be next to fall.
In al-Sabah, a Tunisia daily, Mohamed al-Taweer revels in patriotic pride:
..the sons of our nation have demonstrated to the world once again that, by its peaceful nature which rejects all violence and extremism without exception, nothing can stop the desire of the people for freedom, democracy, and social justice.
Salih Atiya, also writing in al-Sabah, praises Mohammed Bouazizi, the man who sparked the protests by setting himself on fire, and the other protesters as martyrs, marvelling at the fact that Mr Ben Ali really is gone:
May we dare dream? But then, doesn't every reality start as a dream? "Should the people one day truly aspire to life, then fate must needs respond"!
These last lines are from the final verse of the Tunisian national anthem, which has been widely quoted in newspaper editorials, in tweets and on Facebook pages throughout the Arab world since Mr Ben Ali's expulsion.
In the Lebanese opposition newspaper, al-Akhbar, John Aziz suggests some lessons to be learned from the uprising in Tunisia:
All the blood, sweat and bullet-torn flesh have demonstrated how the neo-conservative model was wrong, how democracy can come about without foreign fleets, without the imposition of the star-spangled banner, without the smiling faces of Jay Garner and David Petraeus. Second, democracy can grow out of cultures of military repression without resorting to Islamic radicalism and without devolving into a situation of "one man, one vote one time!" Third, not only has America failed to promote democracy in this region, it has actually propped up regimes which stifled its flowering.
Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of al-Quds al-Arabi, a pan Arab daily, congratulates the Tunisians on the ouster of Mr Ben Ali:
Thank you to the Tunisian people. Thank you to the martyrs whose sacred blood helped achieve this supreme victory. Thank you to the army for turning their backs on the tyrants and siding with the people, upholding the security and stability of their country over all else.
In Dar al-Hayat, a London-based Arabic newspaper, Mostapha Zayn criticises Mr Ben Ali for his failures as a leader:
The Tunisian government could have been a model for the Arab world. And indeed it was, albeit a model of oppression and martial law in a region already infamous for oppression and martial law.
In Saudi Arabia, which offered refuge to the fleeing Mr Ben Ali to the bemusement of many of its citizens, Qaynan al-Ghamidy controversially compares democracy in the West to democracy in the Arab world, writing in al-Arabiyya:
Are the Western values of justice, freedom, and democracy suitable for Arabs? There can be no denying that they are. As the second caliph Umar bin al-Khattab is said to have asked: "How can you enslave people when their mothers bore them as freemen?"...If an iconic figure like Umar promoted such values values as freedom, justice, and accountability, do the Arabs really need to imitate the West?
But whereas the West translated these values into tangible laws and civil institutions, the Arabs and Muslims merely touted them without following their spirit. And this is the fundamental difference between Western and Arab civilization. But now, with the Tunisian uprising, no one knows what direction their compass will point them. In any case, those Arabs who sincerely care for their country should study what is happening in Tunisia and do what needs to be done immediately to recreate the same set of facts in their own land.
The editor-in-chief of al-Watan, a Saudi paper, argues that the protests are not just about food prices, but injustice, making many other regimes ripe for change:
Any observer of the scene from non-Arab nation would note that while the issue of bread prices ostensibly set the spark for these protests, there were already fires smoldering under the ashes. In every country witnessing demonstrations protesting living standards, the focus has quickly shifted towards civil freedoms and corruption. ...It appears that most regions are poised to undergo an orange revolution if conditions continue on their current trajectory.
Burhan Ghalyoun, a Syrian writer based in France, analyses Ben Ali's failed strategy in a Tunisian newspaper, El-Chourouk:
The Tunisian uprising which has been raging for the past month wasn't a surprise to anyoneanyone, that is, except the ruling elites, who had complacently believed that they had found the magic formula that would allow them to stay in power for the rest of time and stave off the change so urgently hoped for since the downfall of President Habib Bourguiba. This formulaapplied by most Arab regimesis derived from the Chinese model, which combines two elements: first, cordoning politics from the public sphere by prohibiting even civil society activism, much less direct political action; and second, taking control of the economy, whether through direct foreign investment, accumulating wealth by means fair or foul, or outright expropriation.
Tariq al-Hameed cautions that initial excitement may be misplaced in an editorial in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, a widely read pan-Arab newspaper:
What makes these unfolding events so serious is that, because of the closed nature of Tunisia's repressive society, no one knows if the protests which have swept the streets are organized or spontaneous. We don't know if this is going to end in the replacement of one dictatorship for another, if this is a true revolution riding the wave of popular discontent, or whether it will result in any real improvement. We don't know if the inscrutable Tunisia of yesterday has emerged from its closed doors or whether it has only plunged deeper into the unknown depths, adding just one more tragedy to the endless tragedies of the Arab world.
Muhammad Ya'qouby in the Algerian Echorouk Online compares Tunisia's revolution to that of Algeria over two decades ago:
Granted, Tunisia is lagging 23 years behind Algeria's 1988 revolution, assuming of course that there is a single, uniform path to democracy But Tunisia could become a shining model for the Arab world if it manages to avoid the pitfalls of its neighbour's experience and take the right approach to democracy, avoiding the demagoguery and lack of foresight which marred out our political transition. The Algerians took to the streets in 1988 to demand lower prices, an end to corruption, and an end to discrimination. Twenty three years later, they are still seeking the same things.
On the other hand, Wa'il al-Qandeel of an independent Egyptian newspaper, al-Shorouk, predicts that Tunisians will succeed in forging a truly democratic future:
I don't think that these downtrodden Tunisians are going to accept anything less than complete concession to their demands. The time for incremental gains is past; the name of the game now is comprehensive change. If this comes to pass, verdant Tunisiathat enchanting little country on the Mediterraneanwill become the role model for a brave new Arab world.
For full translations and commentary, visit Meedan.net