"Revolutions consume their sons" is a well-known saying, borne out by history. It's strange that no one has coined such a saying in reverse, about revolutions consumed by the rebels who lead them - leaders with a vision who seize power in the name of the people, for the sake of the people and with the support of the people, but are not consumed by the revolution at all. On the contrary, they cling to the reins until they are old and gray, subjecting their people to decades of torment and buckets of sweat and tears.
Take Fidel Castro of Cuba, for instance: The legendary guerrilla fighter who came down from the mountains 44 years ago to liberate his people from poverty and corruption, and like his presidential colleague, Yasser Arafat, forgot to take off his uniform; the great redeemer who almost got his country and the whole world mixed up in a nuclear war, who led his people to the trough of U.S. economic sanctions, whose dictatorship has done a good job of keeping Cubans as destitute as ever.
An example closer to home of a rebel consuming the revolution is Gamal Abdul Nasser, the Egyptian colonel who headed the military coup that toppled the corrupt regime of King Farouk.
Quick as a wink, Nasser became the darling of the Egyptian people. It's hard to remember a leader in these parts, in the new Middle East or the old, who got the masses cheering like he did. With his charisma and power, he might have steered the region toward peace and prosperity, but in his desire to become head of the Arab world, he led his people from war to war. Thousands of people were killed by the mustard gas he used in his campaign against Yemen, and the terrorist cells he operated in the Gaza Strip butchered children on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. He got respect, but at the cost of hunger, poverty and tens of thousands of war dead.
When Nasser died (in his bed), the military junta appointed Anwar Sadat, his deputy, to succeed him. According to French journalist Eric Rouleau, Sadat was considered something of a blockhead. They called him "hmar" (jackass) behind his back, and chose him because they thought he would be easy to manipulate. But it was this hmar who dropped the Yom Kippur War on us, demonstrating the limitations of power on both sides and showing us the path to peace in return for territory.
Yasser Arafat is more like Nasser, in terms of the tremendous harm he has caused his people, his refusal to accept the existence of the State of Israel, his alliance with the Soviet bloc, his wholesale embrace of terror and the like.
Arafat, who has been in the revolution business almost as long as Castro, who survived Jordan, Beirut, a pact with Saddam and a plane crash, was on the way to establishing a state in 1993, in the wake of the Oslo Accords. But the moment he set foot in Gaza, he forgot his commitments and launched a new wave of terror that destroyed the Israeli peace camp and turned the lives of the Palestinians into hell.
Like Nasser, Arafat remains a revered figure in the territories, despite the poverty and the devastation. Don't be fooled by the inauguration of the Abu Mazen government. Relevant or not, as long as Arafat lives, Abu Mazen won't be able to move a pinky without the chairman's say-so.
Ariel Sharon has never headed a revolution, apart from winning the elections twice by a larger margin than any prime minister before him. Like Arafat, he is a national symbol, although under his stewardship Israel has never been worse off. In mentality, Sharon is closer to Arafat than to Menachem Begin, who had the courage to give up all of Sinai and evacuate the settlements.
The two old foes are still fighting yesterday's war. Arafat is still chief of the PLO, battling the Jews, and Sharon is still living in the era of reprisal attacks.
There is no chance that the man who built most of the settlements will dismantle them, and there is no chance that Arafat will affix his signature to any clause that surrenders the Palestinian right of return. What does seem likely is that the window of opportunity will have to wait until these two are no longer running the show.
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