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John Jackson

John Jackson

Posted: February 7, 2011 12:10 PM

The philosopher Slavoj Zizek makes a wonderful analogy between the moment a dictator like Egypt's Mubarak faces downfall and the Tom and Jerry cartoons. Tom the cat runs off a high precipice and hangs in mid air with nothing below him but a long drop. Only when he looks down does he suddenly fall. Everyone is waiting for Mubarak to look down.

As the Egyptian dictator hangs suspended in the air, politicians across the Middle East, Europe and America are holding their breath. Some have quickly scrambled for a new narrative, having been caught out for their support of a despicable regime. The discomfort on Hillary Clinton's face when she talked about the best interests of ordinary Egyptians was painful.

However, some old war horses refuse to budge despite the fig leaves covering their true agendas having long since blown away. Tony Blair's warnings about Islamists hijacking the Egyptian revolution are predictable -- but no longer work to mask his true concerns. It is not the rise of Islamists but the fall of client regimes that he and others fear the most. If they had a principled objection to extreme forms of Islamic rule, the stoning of women, public executions and the like, they would not have supported the Saudi regime all these years. The Egyptian people are on the verge of bringing an end to a shameful status quo that worked for Western interests in the Middle East and against the interests of the region's people. It is a delight to see the pawns become the kings and the tables turn.

Egyptians have not only started to dismantle a dictatorship but also the chauvinistic mythology perpetuated about Arab political culture by many western leaders and media. The sub-text of all the nuanced statements coming out of Washington and a number of European capitals (until the last few days) is this: Arabs need strong men to rule them to avoid chaos, instability and extremism; Democracy is too risky, Islamists will be voted in and threaten the region and in particular Israel; Therefore it is acceptable to have client regimes who oppress their own people as long as they serve western political interests.

We can see from all the incredible interviews from the streets of Cairo and Alexandria that people are very clear and thoughtful about what they want. So many have been asked a recurring question by journalists: "Who should lead Egypt after Mubarak has gone?" and in nearly every interview I've seen, the response has been: "Whoever the people of Egypt vote for." I haven't seen a single protester give their personal choice for a new leader. It is that generosity of spirit and clarity of purpose that has been so inspiring. They have exposed the parody of the Arab street that we are continually fed by many in the media. The universal demands of dignity, human rights and democracy is what this groundswell represents. It is the opposite of what we are told the people in this region are all about.

I hope that when Mubarak's final descent begins, in true cartoon style, he brings down a few others who are hanging onto cliff edges and thin branches below him. The brave people of Tunisia and Egypt are reminding us of an age-old lesson -- that the real world is the one we choose to create not the one we are told to accept.

 
 
 

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