The habits of command

Abdel-Moneim Said provides the flip side of the coin:  the Arab perspective on the question whether freedom can spread to places that have long been unfree.  Said contemplates Arab “exceptionalism”:  “For two decades now the Arabs have been spoken of as a special case, as a people unlike other peoples. Apparently, what is good for others is not good for us.”  His conclusions don’t differ materially from those of Robert Conquest:

What we see now is the tip of the iceberg. We don’t know whether the Sudanese agreement will hold. We don’t know whether the election of Mahmoud Abbas is the beginning or the end of the struggle for Palestinian salvation. We don’t know whether the Iraqi elections will bring national unity or civil war. We don’t know whether thae changes in Saudi Arabia are the start of real reform, or a ripple across a stagnant pond. We don’t know whether the constitutional amendment is the beginning of a comprehensive political makeover in Egypt or a measure designed to stall reform.

We don’t know whether the Lebanese protests will nudge the country towards independence or chaos. All these questions lack answers.

All we know is that the bureaucracy, conservatism and fundamentalism that surround us remain strong. They are forces that thrived on our exceptionalism, and they will stop at nothing as they try to drag us back.



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