I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time keeping track of who is responsible for the Arab uprisings.
Back in January, when the self-immolation of a desperate fruit vendor sent thousands of protesters into the streets of Tunisia, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali blamed “hooded gangs who have attacked public institutions during the night and even assaulted citizens at home, in a terrorist act that cannot be tolerated.” That didn’t quite foot the bill for him, because later on in that televised speech, he went on to fault “a small group of hostile elements who are offended by the success of Tunisia, and are filled with resentment and grievance, because of the progress and development achieved by the country”; “ill-intentioned elements who have used the issue of unemployment, and exploited an isolated act of desperation”; and, last but certainly not least, “those who are deliberately harming the interests of the country.”
As for Hosni Mubarak, he seemed to think all the ruckus in Tahrir Square on January 25 was due to “some infiltrators who tried to force slogans,” “those who entice chaos and looting public and private property,” those who “knock down what we have been building” and those who instigate “further plots that shake the foundation and stability of the country.” In his interview with Christiane Amanpour a few days later, Mubarak blamed “the Muslim Brotherhood”—I suppose it’s important to offer just the right scapegoat for the right audience. Mubarak also repeatedly warned Egyptians that they should be cautious of the example of other countries, which have sunk into “chaos.” On that point, at least, Mubarak seemed to agree with much of the American pundit class: Egypt is not Tunisia.
Well, we all know how that turned out.
Then there is Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Muammar, graduate of the London School of Economics, and apparently the intellectual of the Gaddafi clan. In his speech to the Libyan people earlier this week, he blamed the popular uprising in Benghazi, Zawiyah and elsewhere on “opposition figures living abroad,” on people who “try to use Facebook for a revolution to copy Egypt,” on those who “want to storm the police stations,” on protesters who were “drunk” and “on hallucinogens or drugs” and on those who “want to establish an Islamic emirate.”
Still following? There’s more. Saif al-Islam also felt that “the Arabic media is manipulating these events” and warned that he wouldn’t let “Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and the BBC trick us.” Then he finished it off by saying that “Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt.” It’s almost as if all these Arab autocrats are reading from the same script.
Perhaps fearing that his son’s speech hadn’t served up enough boogeymen, the elder Gaddafi went for the big O yesterday. “It is bin Laden,” he said.
Which raises the question: whom will the next Arab dictator blame?