Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

"Arab Spring" Pushes the Palestinian Issue to the Surface
KITAMURA Fumio  /  Journalist

July 4, 2011
The storm that swept across the Arab world left behind a dramatically changed political landscape in the Middle East. The swelling tide of mass protests against authoritarian dictatorship led to the exile of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, the regional power, and spread further to Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. Until now, Japan and western countries had pursued a Middle East policy based on the premise that authoritarian governments such as that of President Mubarak were here to stay. They did not imagine that the very foundation of these dictatorships could be shaken.

How were the anonymous masses able to bring down their authoritarian governments? Many observers have noted that mass mobilization was made possible by such "new media" as Twitter and Facebook. Certainly, Information Technology has led to remarkable advances in communication. But the repeated eruption of mass demonstrations is evidence that the Arab people had been nurturing a strong hatred against their rulers, which boiled like magma at the bottom of their hearts. And that magma was fed by anger with their government for its corruption and suppression of free speech, humiliation caused by poverty and a sense of stagnation among the youth who saw no hope in their future. Theirs was not a movement motivated by a specific ideology or political group.

In his New York Times column, Thomas Friedman mentioned a young protester who was waving a placard that declared "I am a man," and wrote that these uprisings were about regaining human dignity. In Cairo's Tahrir Square, over 100,000 people exploded with joy when they learned of Mubarak's resignation. An Egyptian friend was on the scene and reported to me that "the square had become a place of festive celebration for people who had just won back their pride and confidence."

The greatest challenge for the new government in Egypt lies in getting its people to experience the "pride of being Egyptian." Devising concrete measures to do so will be difficult. Self-esteem is not only about guaranteeing minimum living standards. It also involves the psychology and pathos of eliminating discrimination by others. The road ahead seems marked with elements of uncertainty and anxiety. However, one thing is certain – dealing with the Palestinian independence movement will be a major task for the Arab governments.

The Mubarak government followed a policy of voicing support for Palestine's right to self-determination while ignoring the plight and pleas of the Palestinian people through its actions. Israel had been maintaining a military blockade to clamp down on the Gaza Strip, effectively controlled by the militant Palestinian group Hamas. The Mubarak government closed off Egypt's border with southern Gaza, helping Israel's strategy of containment. The United States positioned Egypt at the center of pro-American Arab countries and poured massive military and economic aid. At the same time, the U.S. government continued to give tacit approval to Israel's isolation policy for Gaza.

But in the hearts of the Arab people there is a deep sympathy for the suffering and shame felt by the Palestinians, which seem all too close to home. The tragic fate that has befallen the Palestinian people is seen as a symbol of the hardships faced by the downtrodden Arab masses. In the eyes of these oppressed masses, the Mubarak government must have seemed a disgrace to "Arab dignity." The Palestinian issue is at once a matter of politics as well as emotion.

There was a Middle East expert in Japan who argued that the Arab Spring had nothing to do with the Palestinian cause. However, on May 28 following Mubarak's downfall, the provisional government opened the border with the Gaza Strip and allowed traffic to and from Egypt. They must surely know that the Palestinian issue was indeed part of the underlying magma. Palestinian policy built upon the tacit cooperation between the United States, Egypt and Israel is now in need of serious reconsideration. The new situation created by the Arab Spring has forced the U.S. administration of President Barack Obama to explore an alternative course for its Middle East policy. What President Obama decides to do next will have a decisive impact on the degree of trust placed in the United States by the Arab world.

The writer is a former Professor of Shukutoku University and former London Bureau Chief and Senior Editor of the Yomiuri Shimbun.
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2011年 7月 4日







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