Wednesday, October 19

Accountability comes to the Arab world

"It is not April, as T.S. Eliot would have it, but October that is turning into the cruelest month for the old men who have long ruled the Arab world. And it is accountability - in the Middle East, the most elusive of concepts - that troubles them the most.

With the start of Saddam Hussein's trial on Wednesday and a UN investigator due to report to the Security Council by Oct. 25 on the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, October could be the start of an Arab Autumn, in which we shed the old and prepare for the new.

We are so unused to seeing our leaders held accountable that the sight of Saddam answering charges of premeditated murder, torture and forced expulsion and disappearances when he goes on trial for a 1982 massacre of Shiites may prove cathartic for people across the entire Arab world, not just in Iraq.

While ordinary Arabs might be wishing the same fate on their leaders, our dictators will no doubt be squirming. They will either remain as quiet as they have been over the bloodbath in Iraq - which they have been all too willing to ignore as long as it means humiliation and potential defeat for the United States - or there will be calls for a fair trial from the very leaders in whose countries such a thing is a luxury. ..."

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