The slap heard round the world
(Page 2 of 2)
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This mental liberation seen in Cairo's Tahrir Square – accelerated by Al Jazeera satellite TV – then ignited the hopes of the Arab world's 360 million people, spread over 22 countries from Morocco to Yemen. Their story, as well as those of the region, are still unfolding, with difficult – even dangerous – changes to negotiate.
In Cairo, one protester's sign read, "Forgive me God, for I was scared and kept quiet."
Street scenes of these newly born citizens have been enough to persuade many Army soldiers in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya not to fire their weapons.
This transnational "Arab spring" now has many in the Middle East asking why they remained mentally stuck for so long in a pernicious perception of themselves as a passive people, cowed by ruthless rulers, even as democracy triumphed in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and parts of Asia over the past decades.
"We were like dead people for 30 years," one Egyptian told the Toronto Star. In fact, the 2003 US invasion of Iraq was premised on a prevalent theory in the West that Arabs need to be forced into freeing themselves of their dictators and monarchs.
Such a mental turnaround was foretold in 1970 by famed Arab poet Nizar Qabbani:
Arab children, Corn ears of the future, You will break our chains, Kill the opium in our heads, Kill the illusions.... You are the generation that will overcome defeat.
History is still in motion among Arabs, acted out in street battles and diplomatic maneuvers. But in the hearts of many, the past is now just history.