In Focus: Stealing Hope

In Focus: Stealing Hope

Four weeks ago, the Arabs were cursing the American model and gleefully anticipated its fall. It has fallen already because of the financial crisis that hit the global economy. But two weeks ago, everyone suddenly turned to hail the same model that gave Barack Obama the opportunity to become the first black president in American history.

It is a superficial analysis that reduces Obama’s victory to merely getting rid of the neo-conservatives and turning over their page, without understanding what this victory reflects of profound changes affecting the infrastructure of the political and cultural system in the United States.

Those who think that Obama, despite his personality and talents, is an individual phenomenon or that his victory was merely the culmination of his personal ambition that started with his famous book “The Audacity of Hope,” published two years ago, are mistaken. He is the iceberg of a new generation that started to sweep the American political life and re-define many of its concepts in an unconventional manner.

The new generation has managed to get rid of the legacy of the Republican and Democratic parties that is based on partisan division and intersections between lobbying groups and candidates. This generation has not started its fight in the corridors of Washington, between the Capitol Hill and famous Willard Hotel rooms, or in barbecue in which political stars are made. Rather, they started in Harlem, Des Moines and Charleston alleys, among the poor communities in Illinois and Philadelphia, and in the aftermath shelters of Hurricane Katerina in New Orleans.

Obama didn’t run the US presidential race relying on his political achievement that would be insignificant if compared to his rivals’ and competitors’; hiding behind the color of his skin, leaning on his ethnic links; or depending on his ideological and religious affiliations as is the case in the Arab world. Rather, he ran the presidential race to express the aspirations and hopes of a new generation of American politicians, whose convictions have been formed in the era of globalization with all its philosophical and humanitarian dimensions. He ventured into the race with the will to achieve the eternal message of America’s founding fathers, to make political participation a tool to serve people, not vice versa.

People in the US are looking to the future, and we are looking to and struggling over our past. The Americans got rid of slavery and human oppression, and we still practice political, ethnic, tribal and gender discrimination on a daily basis.

The difference between the American society and the Arab communities is the same difference between Barack Obama and Mohamed Atta, who led the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It is a difference between two contradictory worlds: Obama’s world that is blessed with freedom, hope and dream, and Atta’s that plunges in superstition, ignorance and fear. It is also the difference between the culture of life and the culture of death; the desire to “change” and the desire to “destroy.”

Obama entered history from its widest door as the first black president in the White House, and Atta entered history from the back door as the first man to kill 3,000 people in less than two hours. Obama ended the era of the white man’s monopoly of presidency, and Atta ended the era of the armies’ monopoly of killing and destruction.

US presidents work to serve those who elected them, but people in the Arab world work to serve their rulers and surrender to their oppression and suppression. US presidential candidates create hope, and candidates for the presidency in our countries steal it. This is actually the difference between us and them.

Khalil Al-Anani is an Egyptian expert on political Islam and democratization in the Middle East and is a senior fellow at Al-Ahram Foundation. E-mail: [email protected]