Monday, February 28, 2005

Good News From The Middle East 

The pro-Syrian government of Lebanon has fallen, clearly the result of massive demonstrations by Lebanese citizens. The LA Times has the story here.
BEIRUT — With shouts of "Syria out!," more than 25,000 flag-waving protesters massed outside Parliament today in a dramatic display of defiance that swept out Lebanon's pro-Syrian government two weeks after the assassination of a former prime minister.

Cheering broke out among the demonstrators in Martyrs' Square when they heard Prime Minister Omar Karami's announcement on loudspeakers that the government was stepping down. Throughout the day, protesters handed out red roses to soldiers and police.
A similar, if less conclusive development occured over the weekend when, in a surprise announcement, President Hosni Mubarak ordered the election laws be amended to allow multiple candidates to run for the office of President.
"The election of a president will be through direct, secret balloting, giving the chance for political parties to run for the presidential elections and providing guarantees that allow more than one candidate for the people to choose among them with their own will," Mubarak said in an address broadcast live on Egyptian television.

Mubarak — who has never faced an opponent since becoming president after the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat — said his initiative came "out of my full conviction of the need to consolidate efforts for more freedom and democracy."

The audience before him at Menoufia University broke into applause and calls of support, some shouting, "Long live Mubarak, mentor of freedom and democracy!" Others spontaneously recited verses of poetry praising the government.
Okay, old habits die hard. Yes, Mubarak's sudden embrace of something resembling a democratic election may ensure the continuation of his dynasty, but it's still good news.

The AP report of all this places Mubarak's decision in the context of the two recent elections in the region, Iraq's and the Palestinians, "that brought a taste of democracy to the region," as well as the US's sharp criticism of the arrest by Mubarak of an opposition leader.

Don't let that get on your nerves; you are going to hear triumphalist echos of that again and again.

The head of an Egyptian human rights organization, while welcoming the development, gives the causal factors a somewhat difference emphasis: Hafez Abu Saada, director of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, praised Mubarak's "unexpected step," which he said reflected local, regional and international pressure. To its credit, the AP includes a centrally important statement from another Egyptian voice, although I would say the importance of Aida Seif el-Dawla's statement reaches beyond the AP's characterization of it as "tentative." "This concession is made to the United States of America. It is better for him (Mubarak) if this decision came as a result of the national dialogue with the opposition parties and in response to the protests against the law," she said. "Let us wait and see, because a free campaign of more than one candidate requires more than a statement from the president."

The difference here is crucial and crucially missing from the right wing take on what is going on in the Middle East, which is fast becoming the general take of the SCLM on the subject.

To be continued later this afternoon, and there is much more to say and think about. For now, take a look at what Abu Ardavark has to say about reactions to what's happening in Egypt, as well as an interesting discussion of alarmism about Turkey in the WSJ online, that is traced back to MEMRI.

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