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The first demand - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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I can almost imagine the scene in front of my eyes, and can hear a senior government official in Djibouti being interviewed by a major news satellite channel, commenting on the state of affairs in his country, and on the demonstrating masses in the street, saying: “Please… we are different from Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Sudan and Iraq”…as the broken record goes.

The amount of lies which the Arab governments tell, in order to crudely justify their positions, is truly amazing. All those demanding freedom are either deceived, externally influenced, hallucinating, intoxicated, mercenaries, terrorists, or ‘rats’. These governments did not think even for a moment that those who took to the streets were sincere in their demands for dignity and freedom. Exorbitant sums of money have been spent on military arsenals, under the pretext of attacking Israel and defending the [Palestinian] cause, yet this government bravado has only manifested in the fight against innocent and unarmed citizens. Dozens of slogans were raised to condemn imperialism, backwardness, and the bourgeoisie, yet these words did not resonate with the ordinary citizen. The governments continued to repeat this rhetoric, as the saying goes: “talk big, and keep talking, until people fear you”. In these Arab regimes, constitutions and established systems could be amended in the blink of an eye, yet genuine reforms required committees and extensive consideration before being approved.

However, even if the dignity of the citizen is meaningless, his blood is still priceless. Regardless of whether the protests were incited externally, or internally, or whether there were “hidden fingers” working behind the scenes, or whether the protestors had taken “hallucinogenic” pills or had been “intoxicated”, the demands for freedom, rights to expression, equality and justice, and an end to corruption, all are natural, logical and worthy claims. We must not change the subject by focusing on the means, instead of the content and the message of the protests. Otherwise, it will be too late, and any reforms offered would be regarded as outdated concessions. The voice of freedom must be louder than the voice of conflict. The people have been suppressed, and have become unable to resist, build, educate, improve or develop. Hence priorities must be given to the first demand [freedom], and then we can consider the less important aspects.

People are fed up with watching their dreams become nightmares, their future turning into a dark present, executioners becoming rulers, fear replacing hope, and disgrace replacing dignity. In these Arab regimes, words such as dignity, unity, brotherhood and purity are more commonly associated with the names of football clubs, rather than being applied on the ground in public life.

Furthermore, it is not logical or fair that to say that we must secure a dignified and safe exit for the president, before people’s demands are met. Some regimes have failed to provide dignity to the people for over three decades. As for political hallucinations put forth by Arab regimes, such as claiming that the protestors are agents of al-Qaeda, or drug addicts, this kind of disregard for the people is no longer acceptable. Similarly, the false slogans which Arab military rulers once raised have also been exposed, as it turns out they have lost more land and dignity than they had promised to regain [from Israel]. It is no longer possible to conduct a policy of lies, deception and false slogans. For the Arab nations today, dignity and freedom are the first demands, and the crisis will not alleviate unless these demands are met.

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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