With Mideast revolts, 'it's cool to be Arab'

AFP , Tuesday 1 Mar 2011

Popular revolts across the Arab world gave rise to a long subdued sentiment

The Moroccan and Palestinian flags are held high as anti-government slogans during a demonstration at Bab El Had, in Rabat, Morocco Sunday 27 February 2011. (AP)

The popular revolts shaking the Arab world have injected a sense of pride in peoples across the region often labelled as 'terrorists' or 'backwards' and for long subjected to repressive regimes.

"For the first time in my life, I am proud to be Arab," Ahmad Jamil, a 35-year-old Jordanian engineer, told AFP. "Now I can stand tall."

Since the downfall of the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents and subsequent uprisings in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain, thousands of Internet users from Tunis to Sanaa have been proudly proclaiming their "Arab identity".

"I was born in Tunisia, lived in Egypt and gave my blood in Libya," writes Kareem Saif on a page of the social networking site Facebook called "I am Arab".

"I was beaten in Yemen, passing through Bahrain. I will grow up in the Arab world till I reach Palestine," he adds. "My name is LIBERTY."

The page, aimed at supporting the revolts in the region, has so far garnered more than 3,000 friends.

Several other pages reflecting the renewed sense of pride in being Arab have popped up in recent days on the web, among them "Proud to be Arab" and "A united Arab world".

Messages of brotherhood, such as "Tunisia loves Bahrain" or "All Arabs with Libya", have also spread across the net.

"We have gone from an Arab nation described as apathetic and humiliated to a nation where revolutions have grabbed world attention," said Areej Abdulrazaq Alfaraj, a 24-year-old Saudi national.

She added that she dreamt of witnessing social and cultural uprisings similar to the French Revolution.

"I am an Iraqi and I am proud to see that young Arabs are capable of changing things," said Aamar el-Ojaili, while Amal Silaoui, a 22-year-old Palestinian living in Tunisia, enthused about a feeling of being "reborn".

The 20th century saw a number of Arab countries gain their independence from colonial rule or nurture the dream of pan-Arabism with the rise of the charismatic Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser.

But the current tsunami effect of the Tunisian revolt has taken everyone by surprise, most of all Western countries whose leaders have for the most part supported the regimes crumbling one after the other, experts say.

"In general, when you have a revolution, there is a charismatic figure, a clear-cut ideology, members of society in favour and others opposed," said Georges Corm, a Lebanese economist and historian.

"What is happening in the Middle East is exceptional in that all members of society, of all ages, are taking part with no ideological or partisan slogans," said Corm. "Their slogans are simple and direct, put forth with wonderfully clear language and without any charismatic figure.

"This is something new in our contemporary history."

The revolts sweeping the region have also rid many Arabs of a sense of submission to their often tyrannical leaders and allowed them to once again dream of an Arab nation.

"The hell with religious, tribal and geographical differences," said Areej, of Saudi Arabia. "Look at how Europe united despite language differences. "Why not us?"

Sari Hanafi, a sociology professor at the American University of Beirut, noted that for the first time in the region's history, it was not the political elite but people "at the bottom" bringing about change.

"Having the Egyptian army apologise to the people is unheard of," he said.

"They (the West) are seeing something new," Hanafi added. "They are looking at civilised, peaceful people, not the stereotypical image of the bearded Arab."

The English-language Saudi daily Arabnews perhaps put it best when it published a screaming headline during the Egyptian revolt.

"It's cool to be Arab again," the headline read.

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