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Editorial: The Arab street calls out for freedom

February 2011

What started in Tunisia as the self-immolation of 26-year-old fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi desperately seeking economic justice, appears to have ignited the Arab world—literally and figuratively.

While the future is difficult to predict, those of us who value democracy, the rule of law and respect for human-rights can rejoice. An arrest warrant has been issued for ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who, with his wife, Leila Trabelsi, and other members of the formerly all-powerful family, have been accused of illegally acquiring assets and transferring funds abroad during his 23-year reign. Twenty-three years!

In Egypt, there is no end in sight to the populist rioting and demands that Hosni Mubarak quit after 32 years in office. The naming of his intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, as vice-president to stem popular rage, seems doomed to fail. Thirty-two years!

In Algeria, there were three self-immolation deaths of similarly young and desperate men. There was rioting in Yemen, where half the population is illiterate. The country has been ruled for 32 years by President Ali-Abudllah Saleh. Thirty-two years!

In Jordan, ruled by autocratic King Abdullah II, there have been the largest demonstrations in 20 years.

Libya, ruled with an iron fist by Muammar El- Qaddafi for more than 40 years, may well be next.

The U.S. ambassador in recently published Wikileaks documents wrote that two of the ruler’s sons had “provided enough dirt for a Libyan soap opera” and threaten his rule. The dirt included a New Year’s Eve party in St. Barts where Beyoncé reportedly was paid $1 million for her performance. Another Qaddafi son was accused in London of beating his wife, sending her to hospital with a broken nose. Forty years!

Morocco cannot be far behind. Last May, five protesters from the Association for Human Rights were sentenced to three years in jail for challenging slogans hostile to the monarch, another sign that Mohammed VI has not stopped his father’s habit of jailing and torturing opponents. Unemployment of the university-educated reached 20 per cent, similar to what it is in Tunisia and Syria.

Attempts to stifle dissent by closing access to the Internet and its social networks, as in Egypt, will not quell the demand of the oppressed and underemployed on the so-called Arab street. They demand responsible government that res­ponds to their needs rather than filling the pockets and feeding the corrupt desires of rulers who will not be replaced.

Though the short-term result might be chaotic conditions, a shift to liberal democracy in the Arab world can only be for the better.

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