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Hurrah for Egypt!

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THE IMPOSSIBLE has happened. The Egyptian parliament, democratically elected by a free people, has convened for its first session.

For me this is a wonderful, a joyful occasion.

For many Israelis, this is a worrisome -- a threatening -- sight.

I CANNOT but rejoice when a downtrodden people arises and wins its freedom and human dignity. And not by the intervention of outside forces, but by its own steadfastness and courage. And not by shooting and bloodshed, but by the sheer power of nonviolence.

Whenever and wherever it happens, it must gladden the heart of any decent person around the globe.

Compared to most other revolutions, this Egyptian uprising was bloodless. The number of victims ran in the dozens, not thousands. The current struggle in Syria claims that number of victims every day or two, and so did the successful uprising in neighboring Libya, which was greatly assisted by foreign military intervention.

A revolution reflects the character of its people. I always had a special liking for the Egyptian people, because they are -- by and large -- devoid of aggressiveness and violence. They are a singularly patient and humorous lot. You can see this in thousands of years of recorded history and you can see it in daily life in the street.

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That is why this revolution was so surprising. Of all the peoples on this planet, the Egyptians are among the most unlikely to revolt. Yet revolt they did.

THE PARLIAMENT convened after 60 years of military rule, which also started with a bloodless revolution. Even the despised king, Farouk, who was overthrown on that day in July 1952, was not harmed. He was bundled into his luxurious yacht and sent off to Monte Carlo, there to spend the rest of his life gambling.

The real leader of the revolution was Gamal Abd-al-Nasser. I had met him several times during the 1948 war -- though we were never properly introduced. These were all night battles, and only after the war could I reconstruct the events. He was wounded in a battle for which my company was awarded the honorary name "Samson's Foxes," while I was wounded five months later by soldiers under his command.

I never met him face to face, of course, but a good friend of mine did. During the battle of the "Faluja pocket," a cease-fire was agreed in order to bring out the dead and wounded lying between the lines. The Egyptians sent Major Abd-al-Nasser, our side sent a Yemen-born officer whom we called "Gingi" (Ginger), because he was almost totally black. The two enemy officers liked each other very much, and when the Egyptian revolution broke out, Gingi told me -- long before anyone else -- that Abd-al-Nasser was the man to watch.

(I cannot restrain myself from voicing a pet peeve here. In Western films and books, Arabs often bear the first name Abdul. Such a name just does not exist. "Abdul" is really Abd-al-, which means "servant of," and is invariably followed by one of Allah's 99 attributes. Abd-al-Nasser, for example, means "Servant of (Allah) the Victorious." So please!)

"Nasser," as most people called him for short, was not a born dictator. He later recounted that after the victory of the revolution, he had no idea what to do next. He started by appointing a civilian government, but was appalled by the incompetence and corruption of the politicians. So the army took things into its own hands, and soon enough it became a military dictatorship, which lasted and steadily degenerated until last year.

One does not have to take Nasser's account literally, but the lesson is clear: now as then, "temporary" military rule tends to turn into a lasting dictatorship. Egyptians know this from bitter experience, and that's why they are becoming very very impatient now.

I remember an arresting conversation between two leading Arab intellectuals some 45 years ago. We were in a taxi in London, on our way to a conference. One was the admirable Mohammed Sid Ahmad, an aristocratic Egyptian Marxist, the other was Alawi, a courageous leftist Moroccan opposition leader. The Egyptian said that in the contemporary Arab world, no national goal can be achieved without a strong autocratic leadership. Alawi retorted that nothing worthwhile can be achieved before internal democracy is established. I think this case has now been settled.

AS WINSTON CHURCHILL famously said, "democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried. ... The bad thing about democracy is that free elections don't always turn out the way you want them to."

The recent Egyptian election was won by "Islamists." The tumultuous first session produced by this whiff of freedom was dominated by deputies with religious beards. Elected members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the more extreme Salafists (adherents of the Salafiyeh, a Sunni tendency which claims to follow the teaching of the first three Muslim generations) form the majority. The Israelis and the world's Islamophobes, for whom all Muslims are the same, are aghast.

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Gush

Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the Israeli (more...)
 

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