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The Arab Street and Lies

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Dear Arab protesters,

From Tripoli to Sanaa, and from Cairo to Damascus, you are taking to the streets to topple your governments. The fabled "Arab street" has, after many predicted eruptions that failed to materialize, at last been heard from.

There is still a great deal we don't know about you -- though we do know that you've displayed tremendous courage, particularly in Libya and Syria, where the regimes are firing on and murdering peaceful demonstrators by the score. Some of you are Islamists, who would usher in even worse regimes than the ones you hope to replace. Some of you are clearly hoping for economic change.

As for those of you who shout "Freedom! Freedom!" -- like the demonstrators in Syria -- we deeply hope that you mean what we mean by freedom -- a pluralistic, Western-style society.

But one thing is pretty clear: You take a dim view of your current leaders' honesty. You've been lied to for so long and so thoroughly that rumor and gossip are more readily trusted than official pronouncements.

Little wonder. Saif el-Islam Gaddafi, son of Libya's oil-rich and blood-soaked ruler, has told the world that protesters in his country are "mercenaries" and "anarchists" who are "on drugs." Muammar Gaddafi has told the world that the people of Libya "love" him.

Just in the past several weeks, as the regime in Syria has killed at least dozens and perhaps hundreds of demonstrators (and as regime thugs have prevented the wounded from reaching hospitals for treatment), Bashar al-Assad has claimed that those protesting against his government are "armed gangs" and "saboteurs." The Ministry of the Interior, which began firing on demonstrators during the first week of peaceful marches, issued a statement declaring that "there is no more room for leniency or tolerance."

Assad also gave an interview to The Wall Street Journal a couple of months before demonstrations began in Syria, offering the dictator's interpretation of unrest in Egypt and Tunisia. He let fall a cascade of gobbledygook like this: "This current will lead to repercussions of less creativity, less development, and less openness. You cannot reform your society or institution without opening your mind. So the core issue is how to open the mind, the whole society, and this means everybody in society including everyone." But in the midst of the dense mud that passes for thought from Assad, there were one or two howlers.

What provoked the Arab people's ire? It was "internal and external," the president explained. Regarding the latter, he said "... It is about the problems that we have in our region, i.e. the lack of peace, the invasion of Iraq, what is happening in Afghanistan and now its repercussions in Pakistan and other regions. That led to this desperation and anger."

As for internal conditions, Assad allowed as how joblessness might be a problem in some parts of the Arab world -- though not in Syria.

"We have more difficult circumstances than most of the Arab countries but in spite of that Syria is stable. Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people."

Hosni Mubarak emerged from his well-guarded villa in Sharm el-Sheikh on April 10 to deliver a televised speech denying he had enriched himself as president of Egypt. The former president, who had enjoyed, in addition to the presidential palace, a multimillion-dollar townhouse in London registered in his son's name, a fleet of Gulfstream jets, the above-mentioned villa on the Red Sea, and no one yet knows how much cash in offshore accounts, was caught in his own net. Having accustomed his people to lies, he is now outraged that Egyptians believe he commands something like $70 billion in stolen treasure -- a figure that is almost certainly grossly inflated.

But we ask, in light of what you see happening in your countries, in light of the venality of those who have held power over you for so long, whether you might reconsider everything they've told you.

In addition to dishonesty about themselves, Assad, Gaddafi, and the rest have woven a skein of falsehoods about Israel, about Jews, and about the United States. You've been told that Israelis are subhuman beasts who shoot Palestinian civilians for pleasure, have no historic link to the land of Israel, use human blood in religious rituals, and plot conquest of the world. You've been told that the United States is at war with Muslims, in the pocket of the Jews, bent on conquest, plotting to steal the Arab world's oil, and guilty of war crimes against Muslims.

As you attempt to free yourselves from the tyrannies your leaders have inflicted on you for decades, perhaps you will also free your minds from the shameful poison they have purveyed.

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