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Beware of the Worried Arabs… Beware of the Worrying Arabs

Beware of the Worried Arabs… Beware of the Worrying Arabs

Monday, 4 November, 2019 - 10:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The intelligence chief sits confused in his office. His duty is to inform the president of the situation in the country and to propose ideas to break the impasse. He will not use the word “impasse” in his report. He must avoid the word that annoys the ruler and suggests that the doors are closed and can only be opened with serious concessions.

The decision-maker does not like the word “concession”. He has a deep feeling that the people are greedy. The more concessions you give them, the more they demand.

The director thinks carefully. Things were easier under his predecessors. The map of the whole republic was well-maintained. Back then, only the official version of the news made it to newspapers and screens. The media did not need to be reminded of the red lines. At night, the intelligence chief knew which headlines would appear in the morning, if he did not edit them himself. It was not possible to publish what threatens public order or questions the credibility of the government. Economic figures were manipulated to suggest that the wheel was turning. And that the rule is good. Problems were sensed before they occurred and were given the necessary remedies.

Security was stable. When a reckless minority was insolent enough to throw public objections, remedies were readily available. The person was summoned to the headquarters and brought in a state of anxiety or semi-surrender. He was accused of working for suspicious targets. If he insisted on his stance, he was accused of acting for the benefit of the enemy, with or without his knowledge. The man soon realized that his safety and that of his family was at risk. He chose not to take the risk.

If the man was affiliated to a certain party, he underwent some disciplinary measures that could cost him some teeth or nails. The man would come out broken. No newspapers would report what he had gone through, while the state television would be busy with more important issues.

The intelligence chief opens his hands. That world is over. If the intelligence summons a teenager and treats him with two slaps, newspapers, televisions and social media would scream in protest. Statements from human rights organizations would start to flow and the State’s reputation would be tarnished. Social media would call for demonstrations and protests and the streets would boil.

A dangerous criminal has entered the equation without permission. They call it a smartphone. It reduced the parents’ ability to control their children. It also reduced the State’s authority over its citizens. It is the most difficult entity to deal with in the Republic. As a witness and observer, it records, photographs and sends. It is the commander of protests and the leader of the instigators. The intelligence apparatus used to tame them, censor them, restrains them, or prevent their names from infiltrating the pages.

Today, every citizen is a journalist and a writer. What can we do with the flood of statements on Twitter, Facebook and others? The management of the Republic was easier. It was a party for the distribution of shares on the components, regions and parties. The size of the quota was associated with full loyalty. People were appeased by employment, contracts and parliamentary and ministerial seats. Everything was subject to formal treatment before its announcement, including unemployment, inflation and the five-year plan figures. Punishment was available to those disseminating doubts or frequently using question marks.

He asks for another cup of coffee. The world has changed and people were no longer the same, especially young men and women, who could no longer be controlled by the State. They communicate through social media and pour into to the streets. They utter big and dangerous words. They want to “overthrow the regime” and prosecute the “corrupt political class.” They want a transitional government with “honest and unpolluted” names and free and transparent elections under international observers.

They also say that sectarianism is dead. They violate the previous rules of communication with officials, politicians and symbols as if they want to re-establish the country by shouting, “All of them means all of them.”

They vow that they will not make the mistake of their parents when they were silenced by sectarian and regional sensitivities and bright promises. They want what is more dangerous: to “return looted money.” They do not know that the distribution of spoils was part of the stability formula.

It is so difficult to deal with this angry generation when its youth take to the streets, block roads or burn tires and make accusations. If the anti-riot forces responded to them with tear gas, their image would shine on the screens and they would gain the sympathy of viewers around the world. If one of them was killed, his funeral would turn into an opportunity to re-launch the movement and bring more crowds to the squares. Fear was the guard of order and stability, but they killed the guard.

It is so difficult to deal with the Twitter generation. Dealing with terrorists is easier. You monitor their calls, trap them and beat them without mercy.

The intelligence cannot be held responsible for the recent developments. Politicians went too far in confiscating the mines of the Republic.

With their conflicts and clashes, they aired their dirty laundry in public and on social media. They cut off the branch they were standing on.

This is a different generation… A generation of youth who are tired of poverty and corruption… A generation of people who want their voice to be heard… who want a modern state, an independent judiciary and a modern school. They want job opportunities, instead of unemployment and emigration.

The intelligence chief asks himself: Has social media contributed to the birth of a different Arab people, who accept nothing less than living in a country that deserves to be called as such? Is a new generation born in Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon? A generation who can no longer return to the house of obedience, whether by rubber or live bullets? Wasn’t it better to be aware of the gathering of clouds before the downpour of protests?

The old treatments and remedies have expired. Force will not save expired formulas.

The intelligence chief will not recommend declaring a state of emergency and pushing the army to collide with floods flowing into the squares. He will try to say that an era has ended and attempting to prolong it with blood is fraught with risks and consequences. He will write: Beware of underestimating an Arab generation of people who are worried about their future and who have become worrying for governments. The solution is listening to them, not declaring victory over them.

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