Wednesday, September 28, 2005
The drumbeats against Iraq that originate from the League of Arab States and its Egyptian apparatchiks betray the panic of an old Arab political class afraid that there is something new unfolding in Iraq -- a different understanding of political power and citizenship, a possible break with the culture of tyranny and the cult of Big Men disposing of the affairs -- and the treasure -- of nations. It is pitiable that an Egyptian political class that has abdicated its own dream of modernity and bent to the will of a pharaonic regime is obsessed with the doings in Iraq. But this is the political space left open by the master of the realm. To be sure, there is terror in the streets of Iraq; there is plenty there for the custodians of a stagnant regime in Cairo to point to as a cautionary tale of what awaits societies that break with "secure" ways. But the Egyptian autocracy knows the stakes. An Iraqi polity with a modern social contract would be a rebuke to all that Egypt stands for, a cruel reminder of the heartbreak of Egyptians in recent years. We must not fall for Cairo's claims of primacy in Arab politics; these are hollow, and Iraq will further expose the rot that has settled upon the political life of Egypt.
It was the luck of the imperial draw that the American project in Iraq came to the rescue of the Shiites -- and of the Kurds. We may not fully appreciate the historical change we unleashed on the Arab world, but we have given liberty to the stepchildren of the Arab world. We have overturned an edifice of material and moral power that dates back centuries. The Arabs railing against U.S. imperialism and arrogance in Iraq will never let us in on the real sources of their resentments. In the way of "modern" men and women with some familiarity with the doctrines of political correctness, they can't tell us that they are aggrieved that we have given a measure of self-worth to the seminarians of Najaf and the highlanders of Kurdistan. But that is precisely what gnaws at them.
An edifice of Arab nationalism built by strange bedfellows -- the Sunni political and bureaucratic elites, and the Christian Arab pundits who abetted them in the idle hope that they would be spared the wrath of the street and of the mob -- was overturned in Iraq. And America, at times ambivalent about its mission, brought along with its military gear a suspicion of the Shiites, a belief that the Iraqi Shiites were an extension of Iran, a community destined to build a sister-republic of the Iranian theocracy. Washington has its cadre of Arabists reared on Arab nationalist historiography. This camp had a seat at the table, but the very scale of what was at play in Iraq, and the redemptionism at the heart of George Bush's ideology, dwarfed them.
Read it all.