Middle East

Middle East

From Georgia to Planet Arabia

Palestinian man watches TV
Politics as spectator sport: A Palestinian refugee watches the news near Bethlehem (Photo: Musa al-Shaer/AFP-Getty Images).

I felt embarrassed when I watched Georgia’s “Revolution of Roses” on television, not because of any particular opinion I have about former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze or his opponents, but because I’m an Arab and I’m Lebanese.

I was embarrassed by the flood of people asserting their will, as if they were from another planet, or rather, as if we Arabs are on another planet that doesn’t know the meaning of the word “will”—the will of the people, of course—and I was annoyed by the timing of it all, coming as it did on our national day in Lebanon.

But once again we see a people with a beating heart, a people that decides to get out of a bitter situation and face the challenge of change. We’ve seen it before, in Serbia, Indonesia, and other places. Once again the Arab peoples are given a chance to ponder how to get out of their own reality, and we Lebanese have a chance to ponder the death of our political life and to celebrate our complete surrender to its ossification.

We’ve seen the crises pile up year after year, and now everyone, without exception, seems powerless to think of anything new. It’s not that Arab nations face insurmountable problems, it’s that the people are too weak to resist the temptation—born of despair, indifference, or official neglect—to watch the region’s crises as if they concern only the government. How can we Lebanese, politicians and citizens, find the energy to come to grips with an untenable situation?

Some might say that what happened in Georgia wasn’t the spontaneous expression of popular will but a result of Shevardnadze’s having lost the support of Washington. There might be a grain of truth to this, but the events in Georgia didn’t come from nothing. Some things cannot be ignored: Shevardnadze had long played Moscow and Washington off each other, thinking he could keep playing the game and that no one would object to his fiddling with the elections. But he lost in the end. He didn’t realize that the corruption and poverty in which he drowned the country produced a situation that required only a straw to break the camel’s back. That straw was his insistence on twisting the expressed will of the Georgian people. The error broke his rule, his popular authority, and his credibility in Moscow and Washington.

So rulers can be called to account—by the people. But this happens only on Planet Earth. So those who are a bit worried can rest assured that until the Arab region and its peoples return to Earth, all we can do is think about what happened in Georgia. That’s the closest we’ll get.