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February 28, 2005

The "Arab Street" Explodes

But not in quite the way our reporters expected... or wanted.

Bringing down a government isn't necessarily the start of anything, but...

Lebanon's Prime Minister Omar Karami has announced he and his government are resigning, two weeks after the murder of former PM Rafik Hariri.

The move came as crowds protested in Beirut, calling for Syrian troops to leave the country.

The Lebanese parliament was also debating an opposition-sponsored motion of no-confidence in the government.

"I am keen the government will not be a hurdle in front of those who want the good for this country," Mr Karami said.

"I declare the resignation of the government that I had the honour to head. May God preserve Lebanon."

His announcement came after a break in the parliamentary debate, which was being televised live.

A cheer went up among more than 10,000 protesters who had gathered in Martyrs Square to demand the resignation of the government and the withdrawal of Syrian troops.

They had defied a ban on demonstrations, which Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh said had been made on the grounds of "supreme national interests".

I remain skeptical, but... what if it actually works?

What if the elections of 30 January actually spark a demand for democracy, and a Middle East more concerned about improving its own future than blaming its failures on the "Zionist entity" and "US foreign policy"?

Update-- Chris Hitchens Wonders Why No One Uses the Term "the Arab Street" Anymore: Except, perhaps, ironically:

The return of politics to Iraq has had many blissful secondary consequences, one of them apparently minor but nonetheless, I think, important. When was the last time you heard some glib pundit employing the phrase "The Arab Street"? I haven't actually done a Nexis search on this, but my strong impression is that the term has been, without any formal interment, laid to rest. And not a minute too soon, either.

In retrospect, it's difficult to decide precisely when this annoying expression began to expire, if only from diminishing returns. There was, first, the complete failure of the said "street" to detonate with rage when coalition forces first crossed the border of Iraq, as had been predicted (and one suspects privately hoped) by so many "experts." But one still continued to hear from commentators who conferred street-level potency on passing "insurgents." (I remember being aggressively assured by an interviewer on Al Franken's quasi-comedic Air America that Muqtada Sadr's "Mahdi Army" in Najaf was just the beginning of a new "Tet Offensive.") Mr. Sadr duly got a couple of seats in the recent Iraqi elections. And it was most obviously those elections that discredited the idea of ventriloquizing the Arab or Muslim populace or of conferring axiomatic authenticity on the loudest or hoarsest voice.

The London-based newspaper Al Quds al-Arabi, which has for some time been a surrogate voice for "insurgent" talk in the Arab diaspora, polled its readers after the Iraqi elections and had the grace to print the result. About 90 percent had been favorably impressed by the sight of Iraqi and Kurdish voters waiting their turn to have a say in their own future. This is a somewhat more accurate use of the demotic thermometer than the promiscuous one to which we have let ourselves become accustomed. Meanwhile, the streets of, say, Beirut have been filled with demonstrators who are entirely fed up with having their lives and opinions taken for granted by parasitic oligarchies.

Per Capita Update: Taking the protests to be of about 25,000 people, as some have reported, Ray Midge calculates that, proportionante to the US population, that would be about 1,350,000 people protesting here in America.*

Which would be quite a protest.

Heck-- as CNN considers it headline news when 60 people gather to protest the war (no word yet on whether or not they'll begin providing major coverage when 80 people gather to drink at a bar and watch sports), one would imagine they'll be quite vigorous in reporting this story and its ramifications.

* Are his numbers accurate? No idea. I was assured there would be no math required on this blog.


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posted by Ace at 03:06 PM

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