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    The Face of Madness

    If ever there were a reason for why the current Arab awakening is a glorious, if overdue, phenomenon, it was encapsulated by the insanity of Moammar Qaddafi’s by-now-infamous speech on Monday night in which he urged “loyal” Libyans to “capture the rats” of subversion. It contained every cliché imaginable, ideas that have been peddled to the Arab street for decades and which have been in these past heady weeks exposed, to borrow from the Egyptian commentator Mona Eltahawy, as the opium of the Arab people.

    The demonstrators in Benghazi, parts of Tripoli and elsewhere in the beleaguered North African nation have been accused of being on drugs and of being in the pay of foreign governments. But what else can a despot who has ruled a country with an iron fist for more than four decades do? The rhetoric reeked not only of desperation, but also of madness.

    Yet, despite the bloodshed, we have seen magnificent acts of courage from the demonstrators who have braved the bullets and those soldiers who have refused to kill their countrymen. We have seen two fighter pilots seek political asylum in Malta rather than fire their deadly payload into the pro-democracy demonstrators. These are not the actions of state servants who believe their country is under threat from sinister forces hell-bent on inciting sedition. They are the actions of people who can smell the whiff of genuine change.

    Qaddafi, like the other Arab rulers who were forced to step down, ruled his country with one weapon: fear. Now the fear of fear has gone. Even his ambassadors are speaking out against him. Now the international community must seize the initiative and bring all the pressure it can to bear upon the regime to step down and ensure a smooth transition of power with an interim administration.

    For it surely must be all over for the Qaddafi family. The cult of the personality is over. The Arab world is shedding what German historian Jacob Burkhardt called the “veil woven of faith, illusion and childish prepossession” when he described the awakening consciousness of the Italian Renaissance. Indeed, we might just be experiencing an Arab Renaissance of sorts. For too long the majority of the Arab world has played second fiddle to their regimes. Now they want a say. They will no longer just accept and keep quiet.

    All Arab nations must take a long, hard look at themselves. Ben Ali has gone. Hosni Mubarak has gone. It is likely that Qaddafi will be toppled. There has been violence in Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria and Iran. The people now have a voice, and they have seen what can be done if they present a united front to the totalitarian regimes that have taken much and given little. The days when ruling families would appoint ambassadors, key civil servants and army generals from their extended family or inner circle are numbered.

    Their people have travelled and been educated abroad. They have witnessed democracy firsthand, and they will no longer be silent. They want to play a genuine part in their countries’ future. The message to the regimes is clear: The people want a more equitable say in how their nations are run. They will no longer be told what to do and think. They have a voice, and they want to be heard and treated with respect. They want a transparent government and a legal system that operates independently of the government. These are the demands of the Arab world in 2010.

    In Lebanon, we have different challenges, and the journey to fully-fledged democracy is still not complete. Even in this, the most democratic of Arab countries, we too still place too much emphasis on the personality. We too need to decide on what is good for ourselves rather than what we should accept. Our mechanisms are in place, but there is still an unhealthy disconnect between those empowered to represent us and how, in reality, we are represented.

    If events in the region are anything to go by, the winds of change will blow for some time yet. The latest we hear is that in Libya the army is in disarray and fragmenting. This could either lead to the eventual expulsion of Qaddafi and his family, or it could lead to civil war. The Libyans must decide. We hope they choose wisely.

    NOW Lebanon

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