The Left

Middle East harbinger?

Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post reports a possible harbinger in the Middle East:

A few hundred people gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square two weeks ago to mark the third anniversary of the second Palestinian uprising with the usual government-approved “demonstration” against Israel and the United States. Then something interesting happened: The lackluster chants in support of Yasser Arafat suddenly gave way to real protest slogans, denouncing the Egyptian regime for recent price increases and shortages of staple foods.

“We want a new government; life has become unbearable,” shouted the protesters, according to an account in the weekly edition of Al-Ahram, a leading Egyptian newspaper. Their numbers quickly swelled by office workers from surrounding buildings, the demonstrators denounced Egypt’s autocratic emergency laws and its ruling party as “the source of our ruin,” while police informants posing as reporters frantically took notes.

For decades corrupt and repressive leaders of Middle-Eastern regimes have used enmity toward Israel and sympathy for the Palestinians to divert the attention of their people from the regimes’ own failures. Maybe that old trick isn’t working so well any more.

Diehl urges the Bush administration not to fall for the same old promises of “reform”– which never seems to materialize– from the governments of countries like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Instead he urges the administration to “refuse to settle for the flowery promises being unveiled by its clients, and instead forge alliances with those Egyptians and Jordanians and Saudis who are demanding change — and who want to hold their regimes to their words.”

Exactly. That’s what the Left should be fighting for, not just in the Middle East, but everywhere democratic forces are struggling against repression. The US must send a clear and public message to these forces: “Even if it angers your rulers, even if it makes our relationship with them more difficult, we’re on your side.”