November 10, 2009 | Op-ed

One Wall Falls, Another Rises

By Dr. Walid Phares

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was a benchmark that made an impression on me, as it did on millions of people around the world. The sight of thousands of East Germans pouring into West Berlin, particularly the youths who had never experienced freedom before, was a surreal scene not only for the people of Europe, but also for those of us born in the Middle East.Westerners looked with shock at the peoples of East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Soviet Union surging against totalitarianism. Central Europeans stared with awe at the countries who never surrendered their liberties to Communism. Soviet propaganda told Western Europe for many years that the comrades on the other side of the Iron Curtain were happy with their status and wanted nothing to do with the West and its “bourgeois” freedoms.

During those November days twenty years ago, the free world learned that behind the wall of shame, people wanted nothing more than freedom. The apologist machine lied for decades. The Soviet peoples were similarly indoctrinated by the Marxist version of madrassas to believe that America and NATO were at war with the proletariat and were plotting to destroy the great achievements of Stalin and his successors. None of that was real, and the long-fooled citizens on both sides of the separation line came together to celebrate freedom.

The day when the Wall came down in Berlin, I and many other advocates for liberty in the greater Middle East hoped to see the wave of liberation hit our shores too. The region's peoples had been suffering from totalitarianism fully as much as the Soviet bloc's nations throughout the twentieth century. But unlike the luckier societies rising to freedom in Europe, the populations south and east of the Mediterranean had been oppressed nonstop for centuries and ignored by the international community during the Cold War.

As newly freed communities shattered the wall and burst into West Berlin to experience human freedom, all imaginable forms of oppression were striking the Arab world and Iran. In Sudan, in addition to a horrific genocide unrecognized by the United Nations, thousands of Africans were taken into slavery. In Algeria, the Berber Kabyle minority was suppressed; in Mauritania, southern blacks were living in servitude; in Egypt, Copts were assassinated; in Iraq, Kurds were gassed and Shia buried in mass graves; in Iran, minorities brutalized and youth harassed; in Libya, dissidents were tortured; the Syrian regime occupied most of Lebanon and massacred thousands of Sunnis in Hama. The list is too long to exhaustively review. We hoped the tidal wave of post-Soviet democracy would smash authoritarianism in the Middle East. How lucky were the people of Berlin, Prague, and Warsaw to live those exhilarating moments.

But the wall that came down in the heart of Germany freed only Europe. The peoples to the south weren't so lucky. Worse, another wall, thicker than the Iron Curtain, was erected to isolate oppressed populations of the region even further. Oil regimes and Jihadists had no intention to release the captive nations to freedom soon. As Soviet tanks withdrew from Eastern Europe, Syrian armor invaded East Beirut, Saddam's divisions marched into Kuwait, and political prisoners filled dozens of the Abu Ghraib prisons in the region. It took twelve years for a Western coalition to free the peoples in the region in response to 9/11. Afghans enjoyed the crumbling of the Taliban in 2001, Iraqis got rid of Saddam's Baath in 2003, and Lebanon witnessed the end of Syrian occupation in 2005. Regardless of the often uninformed debates within the West, civil societies still in chains hoped to obtain freedom: Darfur's genocide was finally recognized, women's apartheid noticed, and human rights abuses registered at last in Washington and Brussels.

However, as the world celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Berlin miracle this week, the underdogs in the Middle East are losing hope at a dizzying rate, especially as the U.S. administration, whose leadership ran on the slogan of “Hope,” is engaging dictatorships and Jihadists instead of reaching out to the democrats of the region. In Cairo, President Obama pledged to abandon the struggle for democracy in the Middle East in return for acquiring the “respect” of the authoritarians. In Accra, the intervention to save Darfur was cast aside. When millions of youths demonstrated in Tehran, Washington retreated from “meddling” in this struggle for freedom. Reformers lost their U.S. donations, and instead of engaging dissidents, the Obama administration is stubbornly trying to cut deals with the oppressive forces in the region.

Hence, when the U.S. President doesn't attend Berlin's celebrations, it makes sense, as his administration is abandoning the underdogs in the Middle East. Mr. Obama has no speech to deliver in Berlin, for the next wall to be torn down is being built in the shade of the new U.S. policy.

Dr. Walid Phares is senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and is writing a comprehensive essay on the forthcoming Middle East democracy.


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