Yalla Peace: What's the alternative?

The extremists are the only other option in several Arab countries and they offer an even more frightening future – devoid of any freedoms.

Many are closely watching the events in Tunisia, where protesters have brought down the repressive, half-century old dictatorship that saw one tyrant replaced by another.
The people of Tunisia, like most people in the Arab world, have never tasted real freedom. In 1987, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali staged a bloodless coup that unseated one tyrant and placed the future of the country in his hands. That ended when a young college graduate set himself on fire last month to protest oppressive government policies, setting off riots and protests in the streets.
Ben Ali has fled, but his oppressive policies and government are being absorbed by his political pals, and the call for democracy and freedom in Tunisia is going unheeded.
Many would like to see the fires of freedom spread across the Arab world and into Israel, where the Jewish state enjoys a dual system – full democracy for some and less for others.
It’s even worse in the Arab world. Although Israel is far from a perfect democracy, the Arab world is anything but. There are no freedoms in Egypt, Jordan, Syria or Lebanon, where sectarian violence is again rearing its ugly head, this time with a Hizbullah vengeance. Lebanon is the Arab country that has been closest to real democracy, but religious fanatics continue to threaten that goal.
Egypt is a dictatorship. The so-called president, Hosni Mubarak, reportedly ready to retire or at least preparing for his own death, is pushing his son as his successor. Nepotism is a key characteristic of Arab dictatorships, and Egypt is no exception.
The real threat to the Mubarak dictatorship is in fact the reason why he remains in control of that impoverished, oppressed country. The religious fanatics are the only alternative to Mubarak’s secular tyranny, and they offer an even more frightening future – devoid of any freedoms.
The fanatics are a gathering storm in the Middle East, and the only answer so far has been dictatorship to prevent them from taking control in several Arab countries.
Lebanon is a good example of how religious extremism from Hizbullah is threatening to destroy the secular democracy that the country has barely enjoyed. Already, Hizbullah is slowly taking control.
Elsewhere, Iraq has a puppet government controlled by the American military – it had elections but it took more than eight months of American wheeling and dealing to bring them to a semblance of closure.
Jordan is in a precarious position. Ruled by an absolute monarch, it faces the same religious fanaticism that threatens Egypt. When confronted with a choice between religious extremists and the existing tyranny that controls Egypt, Jordan and even Syria, tyranny looks far better.
That’s the future for the Arab world. Israel could help stand up to the religious fanatic threats, but its failure to bring peace only feeds the religious fervor, as Hamas gains in strength each day that peace is not achieved.
Tunisia may symbolize a people’s revolt against tyranny and oppression, but it’s not a pattern that will soon repeat itself in other countries.
The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. www.YallaPeace.com