The Birth of a New, Still Faceless, Middle East

No, it was not like the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall fell because of a process of inner maturation, not an external invasion. The Berlin Wall fell in the wake of a quiet civic revolution, and not a smoky, violent war. October 1989 opened the way for a rapid process full of hope for the integration of Eastern Europe into the West; while April 2003 opens the way for an unclear Middle East process, ripe with evident dangers.

Nonetheless, the comparison between the toppling of Saddam's statue in Baghdad on Wednesday afternoon and the fall of the Soviet monuments of 13 years ago is not entirely superficial. Both cases constitute historic moments. Both events are the noisy collapse of a tyranny, seemingly incomprehensible moments of mass liberation.

This is not only about Iraq, of course. It's not only about Saddam and his regime. It's about the entire region. This time it's for real, and not a fiction: What was born this week in Baghdad was a new Middle East.

Nobody yet knows what it will look like; nobody yet knows what demons could erupt from within it; but one thing is clear: It won't be what it has been for the last 50 years. It won't be a region ruled by a series of petrified and corrupt tyrannies. What had existed here for the last 50 years won't be here anymore.

The chill of anxiety crept down the spine of every Arab dictator this week; and it was a justified chill. The persons who conceived and planned and executed the war for Iraqi freedom - a pretentious term that suddenly doesn't sound so ridiculous - are very serious Americans. They are merciless, ruthless and unsentimental. They are convinced that their life's mission is to save the West, and they do not mean to fail in their efforts.

Damascus is in line; so is Riyadh, perhaps even Cairo; and the turn of the Yesha Council is sure to come too. The entire Middle East is now on the Americans' operating table. The entire Middle East is now going to feel the surgical scalpel of Washington's neo-conservatives.

Everything is still wide open and the possibility of Iraq descending into chaos and anarchy still exists. The Anglo-American occupation could yet turn sour and go wrong. However, after the fall of Baghdad, all one can do is tip one's cap to the gang of denigrated cowboys sitting in the White House and Pentagon. One must pay homage to the small band of determined people that toppled the Soviet empire of evil in the 1980s and is now grappling with the current axis of evil; and one must hold in high regard the American simplicity and its tendency to see everything in black and white, as good or bad and not to hesitate wrestling with evil and declaring war on it.

Now, everything depends on the Arab societies; everything rests on the Arab public - the Arab demos, liberated during the last few weeks in Iraq by the U.S. Marines. The Marines granted the Arab world an opportunity they have never before been given.

Thus, what began this week puts not only 24 million Iraqis to the test, but 250 million other Arabs too. Will they manage to form free societies? Will they manage to run their lives in a democratic and rational manner?

For the sake of the Iraqis, the Arabs and also the Israelis, one must hope they will pass this test. It should be hoped that the moment of the collapse of the Saddam monument in Baghdad this week was also the moment of the birth of a new regional order and not the creation of unprecedented disorder.