Egypt,  Middle East,  The Left

Freedom and double standards

Cross-posted from Hanin Ghaddar at Now Lebanon and applying not only to the Lebanese Left

My Facebook friend Nabila posted a status message this weekend: Are we near to saying “I am proud to be an Arab?” or shall we wait a bit for Morocco, Jordan and at least one more country?

I know Nabila from college. We were very good friends, but as we grew older, we grew apart. After college, she became more religious, began wearing the veil and turned into a vehement Hezbollah supporter. Apparently, according to common friends, my “different opinions” on Hezbollah and religion poisoned our friendship.

Despite this, we maintained a minimum level of communication over Facebook. When I read her status, I could not resist commenting: Syria next!

I was wound up because I read in the papers that a Syrian citizen set himself on fire that same morning in the town of al-Haskah. My friend didn’t like my comment and replied: Wishful thinking, Hanin. It was the only Arab country who said NO to Israel and your beloved country, USA.

What have Israel and the US got to do with it? Why does everything need to be about them? I was shocked, perplexed and disappointed by her reply. I thought she would agree with me that Assad’s Syria is similar to Mubarak’s Egypt in many ways: the lack of democracy, plenty of political prisoners and the undemocratic elections that keep the same leader in the same job year after year.

Wishful thinking? It suddenly came to me that my friend and all those who did not wish the Syrian people to take to the streets do not mind a dictatorship or an autocratic regime as long as it publicly says no to Israel, even while behind closed doors negotiations are well underway.

Then I remembered. In 2009, when the Iranian Green Revolution took place after the presidential elections, the same people who are cheering for Egypt today said nothing. Except for a few opinion writers here and there, and one petition published in newspapers, the Lebanese people remained silent.

My friend Nabila and her fellow Hezbollah supporters, including many who belong to the Lebanese Left and are now organizing daily demonstrations against Mubarak in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Beirut, said and did nothing to support the Iranians who demonstrated peacefully in 2009 against their dictator. Why? Because Iran dislikes Israel.

Democracy, free speech and the simple right to demonstrate without being raped or executed all are unnecessary for many educated pro-Hezbollah Lebanese. That’s exactly why they stood behind Hezbollah as it went about destroying the pillars of the 2005 Independence Intifada bit by bit, and secretly celebrated the recent coup against March 14 when Hezbollah-led ministers withdrew from the cabinet, leading to the appointment of Najib Mikati, the party’s choice for prime minister.

On Facebook and Twitter, the case is similar. People in Lebanon have turned social media into a political tool to support the Egyptians in their uprising. I could not but feel sad for the young Iranian people who feel abandoned as they watch Lebanese rally behind protesting Egyptians and Tunisians.

Both the Syrian and the Iranian regimes must be happy with these double standards. Iranian state media has been portraying the demonstrations in Arab countries as a struggle against Western puppets in the region, taking inspiration from Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

Of course there was no mention of the masses and their demands for economic reform, political freedom and democracy, which mirror those of the Green Revolution and the Lebanese Independence Intifada.

Following the Tunisian uprising, Hezbollah also issued a statement via its media relations office offering praise to the Tunisian people. “Hezbollah believes it is the Tunisian people’s right to choose their representatives and elect whom they find appropriate to rule their country… Hezbollah calls upon leaders to learn from what happened in Tunisia… Hezbollah recalls history when the Iranian people exiled the Shah, who was not received by any of those countries he used to serve,” the statement read.

And yet, in 2009, and in response to questions about Hezbollah’s stance on events inside Iran, Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem said that Hezbollah has nothing to do with Iran’s internal affairs. “We do not side with anyone. What is happening has nothing to do with our situation,” he said, while Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah labeled the protests an “internal Iranian matter.” Double standards if ever there were.

But this we have come to expect from Hezbollah. However, it is still surprising to see that its educated supporters and those activists on the Left do not realize the hypocrisy of the party when it comes to the fight for freedom and justice. On the contrary, they adopt the same double standards as if reasoning is a sin and criticizing Hezbollah is unimaginable.

Tunisians and Egyptians are calling for freedom, democracy and economic reform. They speak for everyone in the Arab world who believes in these principles. Hezbollah and Iran have no right to take advantage of the mood created by them to boost their status. On the contrary, this should make them more concerned.

My dear Nabila, the man who burned himself in Syria Saturday morning did it for a reason. I’m sure he did not do it for fun.

(Hat tip: Adam Barnett of One Law for All)