MIDDLE EAST: `Kifaya` is the bud of a new movement on Arab streets
Youssef M. Ibrahim

The recent protests in Cairo and Beirut have been organized with the chant of a new Arab movement: kifaya, Arabic for enough.

The word, says the Egyptian democracy advocate and sociologist Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, is fast becoming a mantra for millions of Arabs wanting to seize their own destiny.

Certainly the slogan has surfaced in banners carried into those street demonstrations, but more important, it has now found its way on to television shows, read in opinion columns by Arab pundits and certainly advocated by millions of Arabs in the privacy of their homes from Casablanca to Riyadh.

Could this one word be a harbinger of a muscular popular Arab revolt such as the movement that guided millions of people in Eastern Europe in shedding their tired old despotic regimes after the fall of the Soviet Union?

Skepticism abounds, but so do telltale signs that it is, in fact, building up into a people`s revolution, certainly in Lebanon, but also in Egypt and to some extent elsewhere in the Arab world.

Ever since the assassination of former prime minister of Lebanon Rafiq Al Hariri on February 14, the Lebanese have taken the lead from the Egyptians, who started the kifaya movement.

Egyptians have, for a year now, been asking President Hosni Mubarak not to run for a fifth, six-year term at age 77 or at least to create the mechanism for orderly succession.

The Lebanese adopted the slogan in their street protests as a vehicle to demand that Syria end its 29-year occupation of Lebanon.

Could these be early warnings of an Arab political tsunami? If so, which ruler or what Arab policies are next in the line of fire?

Certainly, across the region kifaya is now addressed to concepts of government including dynastic tyrannies handed down from father to son, massive theft of public funds, the prevalent lack of transparency in business and the conduct of the affairs of state and mental retardation spread by imposters posing as religious leaders.

To all of these, Arabs have, for some time now, said kifaya.

The events of Lebanon and Egypt, however, suggest that like a rain forest awakening to a new dawn, 1,000 other sounds are rising from the ground across the vast Arab landscape. Arabs are questioning their conditions in varying degrees of loudness.

Freedom, human rights, rule of law and entitlement are all on the agenda for what may very well be a popular uprising that transcends the ordinary. It is coupled with another morphing of the proverbial Arab street as it reexamines America too.

Whether they like or hate American policies in this region, many Arabs catch themselves quietly approving, and indeed enjoying, the pressure that Washington is exerting on their governments to democratize and cleanse their act.

Around the Arab world nowadays, many will tell you: look here, starting with a messy invasion in Iraq, the Americans have delivered a few things, including ridding Iraqis of a bestial dictatorship, giving them a first taste of free elections and significant freedom of speech.

Then, they might say: whether the intentions of President George W. Bush were good or bad, the result seems a significant advance in the human, legal and constitutional rights for 27 million Iraqis. That is something good for them and good for other Arabs, is it not?

Surely many Syrians across the borders from Iraq must be wondering why not a similar change in Damascus?

And given the raw sentiments in the aftermath of the killing of Hariri, many of those same Arabs may not mind seeing American muscle deployed against Syria to lighten up on Lebanon and clean its own government.

This may not improve the situation between Arabs and Israelis, but it will certainly improve the quality of life for millions of Syrians and Lebanese.

Arab governments seem to get the point. Either under popular pressure or out of ire at Damascus, they have refrained from extending `sisterly` support to Syria as it faces this gathering storm of American, French and world pressure to get out of Lebanon.

This kifaya tsunami has done damage in Egypt already. Its rumblings were strong enough to persuade Mubarak into a hesitant declaration that he would contest his fifth presidential term against some opponents instead of running alone in a referendum.

Whether he means it or not remains to be seen, but the kifaya folks will not let up.

Egyptians were quick to swat down carpetbaggers who rushed to color the president`s concession as a great advance for mankind, reminding them that already two-thirds of the world have free presidential elections.

The bottom line is that more Arabs are really saying to their leaders that words are cheap, so please show me instead of just telling me.

Youssef M. Ibrahim, a former Middle East correspondent for The New York Times and energy editor of the Wall Street Journal, is managing director of the Dubai-based Strategic Energy Investment Group