Freedom is 'God's gift to humanity'
by Salim Mansur
As people's insurrections spread in the Arab world, it might be useful for those watching the mayhem gather pace to take time out from television and reach for some historical perspective.
There is no substitute for such perspective to put in context the Arab drama unfolding before our eyes. And like a play of several acts, it will have many scene changes before the curtain eventually comes down.
From North Africa to the Persian Gulf, Arab regimes are trembling. Some will fall and others will change colours to barely survive.
The Libyan thug Moammar Gadhafi did not imagine his thugocracy could so quickly unravel. He might meet the fate of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, executed by his rebellious soldiers, or that of Saddam Hussein, with a noose around his neck.
But as the drama unfolds, three things will increasingly stand out.
First, former president George W. Bush, despite those who ridiculed him, was right in insisting, "Freedom is not America's gift to the world; it is God's gift to all humanity."
Arabs could not be denied freedom, nor condemned to the rule of despots. Bush was right in promoting the freedom agenda — though fair-minded individuals can have disagreements on the details and how it is implemented — and right in bringing regime change in Iraq.
Secondly, freedom and democracy slowly taking roots in post-Saddam Iraq — despite the immense effort of some Arab regimes and Iran's tyrants in league with marauding tribes and thugs to destroy the constitutionally elected government in Baghdad — is profoundly altering the politics of the Arab world.
This will be Bush's legacy.
Thirdly, the recent events in Cairo confirm the Egyptian state has remained strong and the military has held the centre. This has prevented the sort of anarchy into which Libya's thuggish regime is sinking.
All of this brings me to recall Tahseen Bashir (1925-2002), an Egyptian diplomat likely few, if any, who read this column would know.
Bashir was born and grew up in Alexandria during the inter-war years of the last century when Egypt experienced a rare moment of liberalism. He came to the U.S. as a young man, studied and graduated from Princeton, became a diplomat and served Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak.
Bashir also served as Egypt's ambassador in Ottawa from 1981 to 1985. He belonged to a generation that embraced liberalism, and he was keenly aware of what could be Egypt's role in the transition of the Arab world from ancient to modern.
Bashir counselled peace between Arabs and Israelis as children of Abraham. And he famously described Arab politics stating, "Egypt is the only nation-state in the Arab world; the rest are just tribes with flags." It is the closed and obsolete world of Arab tribes that is falling apart. And to place in context events unfolding across the Arab world, one of the most insightful explanations is a book published some 20 years ago.
David Pryce-Jones's The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs is as relevant today as it was when it was first published. Another similarly relevant book is Fouad Ajami's The Arab Predicament first published in 1981.