x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

To all the lunatics in charge: keep your heads in the sand

The one trait that unites the world's politicians is their refusal to learn from their – and other people's – mistakes.

If history has taught us anything, it's that history has taught us nothing. The one trait that unites all politicians is their refusal to learn from their - and other people's - mistakes.

From the Middle East to the US, 2011 will be remembered as the year that this folly came back to haunt them. But you wouldn't guess it by the way they continue about with their business.

Arab dictators have increasingly developed an ostrich-like tendency to ignore what is happening on the streets, to go along with their well-established penchant for cruelty and oppression.

Who would have thought back on February 10, when Hosni Mubarak gave his final, delusional televised address to the Egyptian people, that he and the ousted Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali would end the year looking like two of the more reasoned leaders in the region?

Consider the competition. Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni tyrant who cried wolf, promised to sign a GCC plan to step down three times only to back out at the last minute. Eventually, patience ran out and he had to walk. In Libya, the lunacy of the Qaddafis plunged the country into a savage conflict to which there could be only one outcome. Muammar Qaddafi was captured, appropriately, in a sewer - echoing Saddam Hussein's demise in Iraq - and shamefully, if not entirely inexplicably, executed by Libyan rebels.

But the clear winner of Delusional Arab Dictator 2011 must be Bashar Al Assad. His incoherent interview with Barbara Walters last week was followed on Monday by municipal elections so inconsequential they were boycotted by most opposition parties.

Such stupidity is not reserved to Middle Eastern politicians. In the United States, the Republican Party race is the gift that just keeps giving. Herman Cain was confused about which side Barack Obama was on in the Libyan civil war ("Do I agree with saying that Qaddafi should go?") but incredibly, was sure that he would have done a better job; Rick Perry ("Oops") was confused about which one of three federal agencies he would shut down; and Michele Bachmann ("kids need jobs") was just confused.

Mr Obama, some believe, might only have to keep his eye on the teleprompter to bag another term. But even the normally cautious president - to paraphrase Sarah Palin - attempted to put lipstick on a pig on Monday by congratulating Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki in turning Iraq into "sovereign, self-reliant and democratic" country.

Still, nothing could compare to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's pandering comments to the Jewish lobby. His preposterous claim that Palestinians are "an invented race" has been mistakenly put down to ignorance alone. It is in fact an eloquent summation of the depths to which sycophantic GOP politicians are willing to stoop in their desire to get the all-important Jewish lobby behind them.

The unwavering support by US politicians is certainly not replicated by Israel, which must be galling for the American people, including Jewish Americans, at a time their country is going through difficult times. But they too are no longer fooled, as the "Occupy" movements have shown.

Egypt was not like Tunisia, analysts told us earlier this year. And Libya was not Egypt. Syria cannot be treated like Libya. And all are different from Yemen and Bahrain. The riots in Britain bore no resemblance to the Arab uprisings, or even to protests in Greece or Spain. And the Occupy movements in the US are nothing but a fad and not to be likened to genuine revolutions.

These tiresome lines may be true but ignore the simple, inescapable fact that there is still a common, existential thread running through all the protests: the people on the streets no longer trust their governments.

For years, governments took their people for granted; the madness of 2011 has put an end to that. The lunatics, it turns out, have been in charge of the asylum all along.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae

Follow on Twitter: @AliKhaled_