- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2004

Mark it on your calendar: Next month, the Arab Middle East will revolt.

However, generals with tanks and terrorists with fatwas won’t be leading the revolution. This time, Arab moderates and liberal reformers — the Middle East’s genuine rebels — are the insurgent vanguard.

Put a circle around Jan. 9. That’s the day Palestinians go to the polls to elect a president. In the desperate, divided and terrorized Palestinian statelet, electoral politics (ballots) are replacing pistol politics (bullets). That is a revolution — a worldview-shattering, history-creating revolution.

Draw another circle around Jan. 30. That’s Iraq’s first election day. Underline the two weeks prior to Jan. 30. That will be a savage fortnight in which terror campaigns and political campaigns collide. Democratic candidates will be assassinated and polling stations will be blown to bits, as Saddamite and al Qaeda reactionaries — the Middle East’s ancien regime of tyrant and terrorist — attempt to force an oppressed people to submit one more time to the yoke of fear.

But they are going to fail. Even if Iraq’s election shifts to February (unlikely, since Iraqi leaders such as Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani oppose any delay), the ultimate vote will produce a triumph for the oppressed.

For years, the Arab street (a violent drag controlled by tyrants, their power enforced by terror) kept Arab moderates and democratic reformers in the Arab alley or the Arab jail. The Arab street also has served as a theater for choreographed displays of anger, usually directed at Israel and the United States. Addressing the real sources of Arab deprivation and degradation, autocratic oppression and systemic corruption, was verboten.

The U.S. reaction to September 11 — specifically, its strategic offensive reaction — is taking the gun out of the hands of tyrants and terrorists. Removing Saddam Hussein began the reconfiguration of the politically dysfunctional Arab Muslim Middle East — a dangerous, expensive process, but one that gives Middle Eastern moderates the chance to build states where the consent of the governed creates legitimacy and where terrorists are prosecuted, not promoted.

Toppling Saddam also toppled the myth of the “Arab strongman,” a point unfortunately missed by critics of the Iraq war. The Arab strongman was a romantic, Superman story of militant rescue and revenge, but it was also a justification for dictatorial rule. The armed strongman would drive the Israelis into the sea. The strongman would restore Arab prestige, at the point of a sword or the blast of a nuclear weapon. But these bloody miracles, permanently scheduled for the near future, required submission to tyranny. To advocate liberty, to promote free trade, to critique the corrupt, to demand a voice in governance — these undermined the strongman and thus undermined “the Arab cause.”

Saddam’s collapse and his arrest smashed the myth. The death of Yasser Arafat hammers a remaining fragment. Interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is seizing the opportunity with unexpected boldness. This week, Mr. Abbas called the second intifada a mistake. While proclaiming the Palestinians’ right to “resist [Israeli] occupation,” he insisted on using peaceful means. Mr. Abbas thus frames the election as a choice between responsible, peaceful politics and extremist violence.

This adds even more substance to the Palestinian election — evolution on top of revolution. An Arab electorate is being challenged to legitimatize the peace process with Israel. Underline that sentence in Day-Glo red.

A successful Iraqi election following the Palestinian vote would make it a six-pack of electoral defeats for the twin evils of tyrant and terrorist. The other four? Australia returned pro-war-on-terrorism Prime Minister John Howard to power. In Afghanistan, voters braved Taliban terrorism to elect a president. In the United States, President Bush won on the family value of protecting and projecting liberty. And people power thwarted thug attempts to steal Ukraine’s presidential election, with a new vote set for Dec. 26.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.



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