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Posted on February 2, 2011 | View 585

In the sands of Arabia

India must shed its navel-gazing caution on the history being made in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and, hopefully, other Arab lands. A million men marching against Hosni Mubarak is significant not just because rebellion against authoritarian rule is being led in this part of the world neither by the sword nor by the Book, but by people power.


This could well be the moment when democracy gets its chance in the Arab nations, after having been throttled by the Cold War and its surviving aftermath. The end of the decades-old Hosni Mubarak regime does seem imminent.


And with Egypt's historically central role in Arab politics, developments in Egypt might herald the dawn of a new era in West Asia. The key question is what form and substance this apparent change-in-the-offing will take.


With President Mubarak so far doing little more than shuffling his government like a pack of cards, and the people insisting nothing less than his ouster would suffice, one feasible way forward would be for some sort of national front, which encompasses opposition groups and parties, to engage with those elements from the regime who may have realised the inevitability of change.


The latter is coalesced around the people's anger against continuing authoritarian regimes and the basic lack of democracy. In fact, democracy has also been held hostage in the region due to blanket US support for Arab dictators, who have used the idea of potential threats from Israel and Islamists to stave off any change.


In that context, one of the most significant aspects of these widespread protests has been their secular nature, and an utter refutation of the Al Qaeda-idea that only violence can effect a change in West Asia.


It is inevitable that popular anger against regimes propped up by foreign support should contain foreign policy dimensions. But it is important that these Arab popular movements do not give in to anti-Israel hysteria and focus on democratising their national polities.


Democracy, ultimately, is what will bring resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and that is where their immediate focus should be. India, the US and all other democracies should embrace the change in Arabia.

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