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If one were to confine their reading to progressive outposts, one could be forgiven for believing that a glorious new age of freedom and democracy is emerging in the Middle East. Yet while it is arguable that democracy, as represented by the overthrow of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, and ongoing unrest in Yemen, Algeria, Libya, Bahrain and Iran, may indeed be developing, the idea that freedom is an integral part of such developments is questionable at best. The “people’s triumph” as it was referred to by Anand Gopal in a column for The Nation, may yield a far less triumphant future, when short-term jubilation gives way to long-term reality.
As expected, while events are still be viewed through progressive, rose-colored glasses, the removal of despotic regimes in the Middle East accrues to Barack Obama’s credit. The “Bush Doctrine,” a central plank of which included the idea of establishing democracies in the region to combat terror, is dismissed by Nation columnist Ari Berman as a “messianic, barrel-of-a-gun foreign policy,” which pales by comparison to the “grassroots, bottom-up spirit of the Obama [presidential] campaign.” Mr. Berman extrapolates: “Would the Egyptian youth have taken to the streets during the invasion of Iraq? Only to denounce the imperialism and recklessness of the United States. It was only after the election of Barack Obama—and his repositioning of the United States as a friend to the Arab world, most notably during his visionary speech in Cairo in June 2009—that pro-democracy activists in Tehran and Cairo saw a friendly ally in the United States.”
Perhaps Mr. Berman’s memory is somewhat faulty. When Iranian protesters took to the streets to protest Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s stolen election–within days of Mr. Obama’s “visionary speech”–the president decided that “meddling” in Iranian affairs was a bridge too far. ”It is not productive, given the history of US and Iranian relations to be seen as meddling in Iranian elections,” he said. The president went further at a later time, explaining that ”[t]he difference between Ahmadinejad and [Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein] Mousavi, in terms of their actual policies, may not be as great as has been advertised.” Perhaps the president might explain how the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most politically viable “opposition group,” whose slogan, ”Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Koran is our law, jihad is our way, and dying in the way of Allah is our highest objective” represents a contrast “in actual policies” to the Mubarak regime.
And then there is the characterization of the Egyptian protesters themselves. Uri Aveny, writing for Counterpunch, described them as “non-violent, their demands were reasonable, their actions were spontaneous, they obviously expressed the feelings of the vast majority of the people. Without any organization to speak of, without leadership, they said and did all the right things.” Yet several news people covering the uprising were roughed up, including CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who claims he was beaten by “pro-Mubarak supporters.” Perhaps he was. Or perhaps not. As Cooper himself put it, ”There was no rhyme or reason to it—it was just people looking for a fight, looking to make a point, and punching us.” ABC’s Christiane Amanpour had her car surrounded by part of the mob. She reported that they said, ”We hate Americans.” And in a story which CBS News sat on for almost a week, it has been revealed that reporter Lara Logan, “covering the jubilation,” as CBS put it, was sexually assaulted by a mob of Egyptian men who beat her up badly enough to put her in a U.S. hospital, where her condition is described as “serious.” It was reported that the men were shouting, “Jew, Jew!” as the assault took place.
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