Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Hurriya Is Arabic for Freedom:
Just Listen to Egypt Roar
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, February 15, 2011
“Just listen to that roar,” urged a CNN correspondent in Egypt,
as thousands of Egyptian protesters charged, fists pumped, against hundreds
of armed Egyptian security forces. What a roar it was, indeed. The protests
have shown the world that Arabs are capable of much more than merely being
pitiable statistics of unemployment and illiteracy, or powerless subjects of
‘moderate’ but ‘strong’ leaders (an acronym for friendly dictators).
The times are changing, and British MP George Galloway’s comment about the
Arab lion roaring again seems truer by the day. The Egyptians have revolted
in style, and their revolution will go down in history books with such
adjectives as “great”, “noble” and “historic”.
Truth be told, Arabs
have had their fair share of conjured ‘revolutions’. Arab regimes have
always been generous in how they ascribed the loaded term to their military
coups or other stunts designed to impress or intimidate the masses. Any
modern history of the Arab world will reveal an abundant use of the term ‘thawra’
– revolution. The label has been useful, for those who dared criticize a
regime, or demanded basic rights (such as food) could then be dubbed enemies
of whatever make-belief revolution the men in power championed. Innumerable
Arab political prisoners were designated ‘a’da’ al-thawra’ – enemies of the
revolution – and they paid a heavy price for their ‘crimes’. In Egypt alone,
rough estimates put the current number of political prisoners (from
different ideological backgrounds) at 20,000. The figure must be much larger
now that the new enemies of the revolution – i.e. most of the Egyptian
population – have dared demand freedoms, rights, democracy, and the biggest
taboo of all: social justice.
If there is any revolution deserving
of the name, it is this one. Thanks to Egypt, people the world over have
been forced to re-think their previous idea of “Arabs”. Even many of us who
insisted that the future of the Middle East could only be decided by the
people themselves had eventually started to lose hope. We were told our
words were redundant, sentimental, and, at best, an opportunity for poetic
reflection, but not realpolitik. Now we know we have been right all along.
Egypt is the clearest possible manifestation of the truth of people shaping
their own history - not just in the Middle East, but anywhere.
spontaneous popular revolution in Egypt was a most befitting uplift to the
collective humiliation that Arabs have felt for so many years, but even more
acutely since the US invasion and utter violation of Iraq.
“It became almost a burden being an Arab”, a caller told Al Jazeera. Looking
“Middle Eastern” became sufficient grounds for suspicion in international
airports. It was not considered entirely racist to ask such questions as
“Are Arabs capable of achieving democracy?” In fact, heated media
discussions emanated from the type of questions that pondered what Arabs
were – or rather, were not capable of achieving. Every war against the Arabs
was done in the name of “bringing” something to people who seemed impeded by
their own collective failures. In one of my first political science classes
at the University of Washington, years ago, the professor told us that we
would be “examining the Middle East, which consists of strong governments
and weak peoples.” With the exception of Israel, of course.
media has long repeated the mantra that Israel is the Middle East’s only
democracy. Combined with serious doubts regarding the Arabs’ readiness for
democracy, the conclusion offered is: Israel carries similar values to the
US, the West, the First World, the civilized hemisphere, and the Arabs
epitomize all the ailments of the world. It matters little that Arab regimes
were made ‘powerful’ by the backing of their western benefactors, or that
oppression – in the name of fighting the enemies of peace and progress – was
urged, financed and orchestrated with western interests in mind. The fact
that the bullets and canister teargas that killed and wounded numerous
Egyptians had the following words inscribed on it in Arabic: ‘suni’a fi al-wilayat
al-mutahida al-amrikyia’ – Made in the United States – was also deemed
entirely irrelevant to any discussion on how and why Egyptians were being
suppressed or why the Arab Lion must never find its roar.
much-feted Mossad was taken by surprise,” wrote Uri Avnery. The CIA was too,
although US lawmakers are trying to determine “whether the CIA and other spy
agencies failed to give President Obama adequate warning of the unfolding
crisis in Egypt” (as reported by Greg Miller in the Washington Post,
February 4). Senator Dianne Feinstein who heads the Intelligence Committee,
accused the intelligence community of ‘lacking” performance. The CIA should
have monitored Facebook more closely, she suggested.
But there can
be no telling when a nation revolts. Most of the chanting multitudes have no
Facebook accounts. They don’t tweet either. In Tahrir Square, a man with a
moustache, dark skin and handsome features carried a cardboard sign on which
he had written, rather hurriedly: “I want to eat. My monthly salary is 267
(Egyptian) pounds – approx $45 – and I have four children.”
want to breathe the air of freedom. Others still want justice. Dignity.
Equality. Democracy. Hope. How can such values be measured, or safeguarded
There is a very popular word in Egypt - al-Sabr. It means
patience. But noone could predict when the patience would run out. Arab and
Egyptian intellectuals didn’t see it coming, and even the country’s
opposition parties were caught by surprise. Everyone tried to catch up as
millions -of long-oppressed Egyptians erupted in astounding unison: hurriya,
hurriya, adalah igtimayyia – freedom, freedom, social justice.
when we were told that a religious strife was about to engulf Egypt, and
that the people were subdued to the point that there was no hope, millions
of brave Egyptians declared a revolution that brought Muslims and Christians
together. The courage and the bravery they displayed is enough to restore
our faith in the world - in the human race, and in ourselves. Those who are
still wondering if Arabs are capable of this or that need not ponder
anymore. Just listen to them roar, and you will find the answer.
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter:
Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), available on Amazon.com.