You know the old chestnut about laws and sausages? That people who love them should never watch how they are made, lest they lose their appetite for them.
This is, of course, false. It's more a matter of overcoming that initial repulsion, then going on to make sausages and laws. But there is a sort of "virginity lost" at the point of witness, and the mystery disappears. If one goes on to make sausages or laws, the mystery is replaced by something like a craftsman's pride in their work.
I grew up with a variety of sausage called "U.S. Foreign Policy". Eventually, after growing up and trying my hand at altering its recipe, I lost my taste for it and went on to other things. But today will prove to be one of those watershed days that I hope both changes both the sausage and my attitude towards it.
In Islamic tracition, there is an enormous importance placed on witnessing "with your own eyes". The very declaration of faith begins with bearing witness, and direct eyewitness is very important in interpretations of the law.
So, we've seen with our own eyes that started in Tunisia has spread wider, to other similar autocratic regimes. The scales have fallen.
Scale 1: Central to their power in the past is an ability to do the work of statecraft, the sausage-making if you will, out of eyesight of the common man. It is an old saw among people who have contempt for arab states that they have no sense of democracy, that they are tribal, and that any attempt at democracy is only going to be a thin sham over an autocracy. Mubarak is an excellent example of the self-fulfilling prophecy in this case. Always making closed-door negotiations, one story for his handlers and another for his supporters. He is a picked man, and he was picked by people who believe this is always true of all arab states.
Scale 2: Now, from the other side, "everyone knows" on the so-called "arab street" that these autocratic states collaborate with the CIA and say one thing to their American and Israeli masters and another to the people. The template of this belief goes back just over fifty years to the coup that put the Shah of Iran in power, and established the SAVAK as the arm of the opressor, trained, supported, and funded by the CIA and the Mossad. Everyone "knows" this. But it all happens out of eyesight, out of mind, and so it can't really be verified. But if you try to change this, you'll get stepped on by the CIA and the Mossad.
Funny how silly these convictions seem now. But I've heard them said by diplomats, analyists, pundits, students, and so on for years and years. Yes, I have witnessed it: This is, indeed, the sausage.
Well, whatever was "the true sausage" in the past, things are changing. As we've all seen, social networking has allowed people to hear the firsthand witness of people in other countries. The satellite networks have allowed people to see what's going on on the street and see people standing up to their governments with their own eyes. And Al-Jazeera and Wikileaks have allowed people to see the humiliating contempt that their western allies hold their leaders in, and that their leaders persist in pretending they are fighting.
Above all, I think the exposure of the sham peace process that has replaced Oslo is the real key to what happened last month: It is becoming confirmed by eyewitness to arabs that up to now, the U.S. and Israeli leaderships would only accept yet another client state like Egypt or Jordan over Palestine. It is becoming confirmed by eyewitness to Israelis that it was their own right-wing leadership is negotiating in bad faith and with contempt of international law and democratic process. And it may even be becoming confirmed by eyewitness to Americans that their government has enforced an anti-democratic and anti-freedom agenda in the Middle East. These were all well known facts, but there's something about seeing the sausage being made firsthand that changes things.
I've heard Americans say that for them, this sausage-witnessing experience was, for them, watching the Vietnam War on TV and being inspired to go out and march against the war. But without a shooting-war, this post-colonial malaise is not the kind of thing that gets watched on TV. But, coming from a sausage-making family, I've been watching this sausage. I've seen it go from bad to worse. It established the Shah and SAVAK, and so spawned the Islamic revolution. It aided and abetted the Mujahadeen against the Soviets, and so spawned Al-Qaida and its affiliates. It propped up Saddam Hussein against Iran, and so led to two Gulf Wars, and four Proxy wars in the Levant. It propped up the Islamicists against the PLO, and so turned Hamas from a social experiment into a armed resistance group.
But today will be key to stopping the relentless shuffling of the sausage. Mubarak is forcing the hand of his erstwhile allies. He's saying to Suleiman "I'm showing this false choice between you and me for what it is," and he's saying to the Americans "Back me, too, or I take the military down with me," and he's saying to the Israelis "If I go down, the military goes down, too, and then you can deal with the Brotherhood in charge" Not bad a chess-move for the old man.
And he's right, within the casing of this old sausage. His allies have only this old thinking in their heads. Unfortunately for the people of Egypt, it's the old thinkers who control the very real tanks and aircraft and communications networks. This could go very badly. And seeing how heavy a hand AIPAC slapped down Obama last time he threatened the status quo, I don't see any real change coming from the Americans. It certainly won't come from the Likud. And it won't come from Suleiman.
Personally, I don't care if none of these parties get what they want. But I hope very much they all get what they need: an final rest to this twenty-year-old-zombie-sausage made out of the shambling remains of the Cold War.
So it's up to the people on the street in Egypt, and today is probably the turning point. However it goes, though, people have now witnessed the sausage being made, and the witnessing has put them off said sausage. I'm hoping that this process of going off continues—that Arabs, Jews, and Americans all get a good hard look at the sausage and decide not to eat it anymore.