CAIRO: Egyptian sociologist and rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim characterized the recent political unrest in Iran as part of “the flowering of a Spring of Freedom in the Middle East, in an op-ed published Thursday in the Wall Street Journal.
Ibrahim linked the Iranian “Green Revolution to the success of moderate parties in recent elections in Lebanon and Kuwait.
He also encouraged President Barack Obama to pursue democratization efforts and free elections in Egypt.
Last week, the same newspaper published an op-ed by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak advocating the establishment of a Palestinian state as a basis for establishing peace between Israel and neighboring Arab states and improving relations between the US and the Muslim world.
Both Ibrahim and Mubarak praised Obama’s June 4 speech at Cairo University, but each drew starkly different messages from it.
Mubarak focused on Obama’s call for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. He called Obama’s speech “a turning point in America s relations with the Muslim world , saying that the address proved “it is issues of politics and policy, not a clash of values, that separate the Muslim world and America.
Mubarak added that it “is the resolution of these issues that will heal the divide and urged the international community to work quickly in establishing borders for a future Palestinian state.
Ibrahim, however, focused on Obama’s remarks on democratic freedom as well as women’s and minorities’ rights, saying that “Obama s Cairo speech seems to have energized the democratic spirit in the Middle East.
Ibrahim linked “the Obama effect to record voter turnout in Lebanon and Iran, as well a sharp increase in turnout by Maronites and women in Lebanon. He wrote that recent elections “clearly indicate that Islamist parties have lost significant ground to their moderate counterparts.
Ibrahim’s argument reflects his position as a leading proponent of democratic reform in Egypt and one of President Mubarak’s outspoken critics. The founder of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, Ibrahim was convicted in May 2001 for his human rights reports on Egypt and receiving unauthorized funds from abroad. Sentenced to seven years in prison, his conviction was overturned on appeal.
He was cleared of all charges in 2003, and has lived in self-imposed exile since 2007. Currently a visiting professor at Harvard, Ibrahim said he won’t return to Egypt until all civil suits filed against him for allegedly tarnishing Egypt’s image are resolved – either rejected by court or ending in acquittal.
He was heavily criticizing for meeting then-US President George W. Bush and allegedly calling for cutting US aid to Egypt for its poor human rights records and lack of democratic reform.
In his op-ed, Ibrahim wrote that “Obama should insist that the Egyptian regime allow free and fair elections. Given the elections in Lebanon, Kuwait and Iran, he and his advisers should resist overreacting to the mistakes of the Bush administration by backtracking on democracy promotion.
While Mubarak and Ibrahim focused on two different aspects of Obama’s speech, their messages are not necessarily contradictory, according to Nabil Abdel-Fatah, a political analyst from the Al-Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies.
Echoing the message of Mubarak’s op-ed, Abdel-Fatah praised Obama’s speech for attempting “to solve the Palestine problem by returning to the negotiation table. However, he also characterized the Iranian protests as indicative of “a new spirit in the Middle East. This is the spirit of the Spring of Tehran.
The defeat of Hezbollah and protests following the Iranian election demonstrate a new movement towards reform and a rejection of extremist politics, according to Abdel-Fatah.
Regarding Iran, he said, Obama must walk a fine line between showing support for the protesters and injecting himself too forcefully into the election dispute, which would allow “[the] Iranian ruling elite to use the American interference in Iranian internal politics.