How the Arabs Turned Shame into Liberty

(New York Times) Fouad Ajami - Over the decades, Arabs took the dictators' bait, chanted their names and believed their promises. They averted their gazes from the great crimes. Out of malice or bigotry, that old "Arab street" had nothing to say about the terror inflicted on Shiites and Kurds in Iraq, for Saddam Hussein was beloved by the crowds, a pan-Arab hero, an enforcer of Sunni interests. Nor did many Arabs take notice in 1978 when Imam Musa al-Sadr, the leader of the Shiites of Lebanon, disappeared while on a visit to Libya. In the 1950s and 1960s, rulers rose and fell with regularity. Monarchs were overthrown with relative ease as new men, from more humble social classes, rose to power through the military and through radical political parties. By the 1980s, a new political creature had taken hold: repressive "national security states" with awesome means of control and terror. The new men were pitiless, they killed with abandon; a world of cruelty had settled upon the Arabs. Fear was now the glue of politics. Today's rebellions are animated, above all, by a desire to be cleansed of the stain and the guilt of having given in to the despots for so long. The writer is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

2011-03-03 00:00:00

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