The Tunisian contagion
After ruling Tunisia for 23 years, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has taken refuge in Saudi Arabia. He is ensconced in a palace covered by date palm trees in Jeddah. So another puppet of the West has gone to live in ignominy in the kingdom.
Ben Ali has followed the trail set by self-proclaimed Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada who, after ruling over Uganda for eight years (1971-1979), had made his last sojourn to the Saudi kingdom, where he died in 2003 and is buried. However, the Tunisian uprising has jolted the tinpot rulers and Western proxies in the Middle East.
As Le Monde reported, Ben Ali’s wife Leila Trabelsi, a former hairdresser, took with her 1.5 tons of gold ingots to Saudi Arabia. What one holds against Muslims is their greed, which is unsurpassed. Could it be something like a genetic flaw?
However, 1.5 tons of gold, extracted out of millions of tons of ore, is now the proud possession of Ben Ali. All one wishes him is: May you live long to enjoy your pickings, friend.
What happened in Tunisia is no miracle. The change was in the offing because Tunisians, like large populations of many Muslim countries, have seethed in anger against their corrupt ruler and his repressive regime propped up by the West.
Although the Tunisian upheaval is just the beginning, it may well be the harbinger of freedom for the enslaved people in the Middle East ruled by assorted dictatorships and monarchies. None other than Moammar Gaddafi lamented Ben Ali’s overthrow and told the Tunisians that they would regret what they did.
When public protests and sheer street power manage to dislodge a tyrant and force him to flee for his life, it is understandable that others like him in the neighbouring countries get jitters.
Similarly, Egypt’s 82-year-old “Pharaoh,” as defence analyst Eric Margolis calls Hosni Mubarak, must feel the tremors caused by Tunisian insurrection. He has already ruled the land of the Pyramids for almost three decades and now intends to install his son, Gamal.
But Hosni Mubarak’s intelligence chief, Gen Omar Suleiman, will probably scupper his boss’s plans, even if the aspiring intelligence guru himself is as young as 75.
After Israel, Egypt is the largest recipient of US aid in the region. The US provides financial support and military equipment to the Egyptian government just to keep the Egyptian people in check.
As a result, ordinary Egyptians disappearing during midnight knocks are a common phenomenon. Imperial power has assigned a similar role to the armed forces of many other Muslim countries in the region and outside it.
If we analyse the circumstances under which the Tunisian rebellion took place, it is manifestly obvious that the conditions there were similar to those existing in our own country – soaring food prices and unemployment, including that among educated youth, cronyism and outrageous corruption by the ruling elite.
Western politicians may have many shortcomings, including that of the heart and the cup, but cronyism and plunder by their families is not one of them. It’s essentially a soft spot of good Muslim rulers and politicians alone.
Look for such signs in the present political dispensation. The sons and daughters of various shades of politicians are gearing up to rule over the hoi polloi with emaciated bodies and sunken eyes.
When the hungry are taking their own lives, Yousuf Raza Gilani – the lavishly dressed prime minister, who would be a matinee idol as long as he doesn’t speak – announces the construction of parliamentarian lodges (along with 500 servant quarters) costing three billion rupees.
The only explanation that comes to mind is that scions of saints and saintly families, who never had to earn an honest two-time meal through sweat and hard work, would be unlikely to have respect for public money.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in Lahore. Email: [email protected]