Fleeting Scenes |
Al Hayat - 05 June, 2012
Author: Ghassan Charbel
Did we learn anything from seeing Saddam Hussein devour his opponents? Or from his decision to deal a 'special strike' against Halabja, his crazy adventure in occupying Kuwait, or from his highhandedness following the international embargo against his country? Did we learn anything from the fact that he subjected his country to the yoke of occupation, or from his desperate pleas before the court, and the sight of the hangman’s noose wrapped around his neck? Did we learn anything from the sight of his body hanging in a beleaguered country?
Did we learn anything from seeing Gaddafi perpetrate the massacre at the Abu Salim prison? Or from seeing him send his executioners and henchmen to hunt the ‘stray dogs’? Did we learn anything from the bombs he sent out through his embassies into every direction, from the festivals of delirium which he was fond of, or from the troops he dispatched to Uganda and Chad? Did we learn anything from how he squandered lives and funds, from his dream to wipe Benghazi off the map, and from how he took the protesters to be mere tools in the hands of the major powers conspiring against the Great Jamahiriya? Did we learn anything from how he begged the ‘rats’ to keep him alive?
Did we learn anything from Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s flight, and how he left his palace and presidential seals behind, and the country which he had a tight grip upon for a long time? Did we learn anything from the interior ministers who cooked the election results for him in advance, and the reports that deluded him into thinking that the people loved him, and that those who disliked him were nothing but a venal bunch of advocates of obscurantism?
Did we learn anything from seeing Ali Abdullah Saleh leaving the Palace that he loved residing in, and in which he took pleasure in dancing over the heads of snakes over three decades? Did we stop and pore over how he was compelled to taste the bitter medicine, after he resisted and manoeuvred for so long to keep it off his lips?
Did we learn anything from Hosni Mubarak’s insistence on following in the footsteps of the pyramids, in seeking an everlasting stay in power? Did we learn anything from his refusal to make one statement in which he opposed bequeathing his post, or from his turning a blind eye to vote rigging in the last parliamentary elections in order to hold all the cards to the present and the future? Did we learn anything from seeing him taste the bitterness of stepping down, from the sight of him being taken to the dock on a stretcher, or from the moment he heard the life sentence against him being pronounced? Did we learn anything from his paroxysms on the plane that took him to the Tora prison, or from the anger of the people in reaction to the ‘reduced’ sentence against him and the verdict of innocence granted to his two sons?
Did we learn anything from the danger of resting on the laurels of that are the reports drafted by the heads of the security services, which claim that they are the watchful eyes, that the situation is excellent and is under control, and that the people demand nothing more but for the President to remain in his post - as a shepherd, a leader and a saviour? Did we learn anything from the sycophancy of the advisers that is tainted with both cowardice and blind loyalty? Did we learn anything, or did we take what we saw to be fleeting scenes that do not force us to change course to avoid falling into the abyss?
I heard all these questions from a ‘retired’ Arab politician from a beleaguered country. We talked about dissidents, corpse by corpse, and the citizens who vanished into thin air during the reign of the Leader. We talked about mass graves and the squandered billions, about the Ruler’s ability to abuse the country and its people, and about a country living without a constitution or the law, contenting itself instead with the Historical Leader as a source of wealth, as a guarantor, as a cushion and as a banner, all at once. We talked about countries that the Leader takes with him to the abyss, when the palace is taken away from him along with his life.
The politician said that the absolute ruler becomes quickly disconnected from reality and the people, and that history soon becomes his only converser. He said that the ruler himself becomes deluded into believing that the people truly love him, and that this is perhaps why he considers every call for reform a type of sabotage, and every call for change a betrayal and a conspiracy.
Our conversation dragged on until the night took over Paris. The Politician said that he envied those born in that city. A few weeks earlier, the President’s name was Nicolas Sarkozy and now his name is Francois Hollande. The first bowed down to the ballot boxes and left with Carla. He did not hole up in the Elysée with his supporters or his clan. He did not cut off roads and start shooting. This is the secret: institutions, respect for the constitution, transparency and accountability by the public opinion. A president left and another came, and the institutions continued to function. And one of the best things the new president said is that he wants to be a normal president serving under the constitution and the law.
The Politician said that he follows French and British newspapers regularly. The French newspapers, for instance, are currently analyzing the results of Vladimir Putin’s visit to France, while publishing pictures and witness accounts of the massacre in Houla. Meanwhile, the British papers are covering Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, and also publishing painful images from Syria, comparing them to the scenes once seen in the former Yugoslavia.
These are countries that work, produce, gather, elect, oppose and celebrate, while other countries bemoan, die, collapse, and commit suicide, with the images of the massacres perpetrated in them competing over space on the screens.
In the end, the Politician expressed his concern for Syria, “because of its insistence on not learning from the experiences of others, dealing with them instead as though they were fleeting scenes”.