Egypt, Liberty, and the Filling Pump

The gas station I patronize is operated by an Iranian expatriate named Behrouz. He is charming, personable and friendly, a secular Muslim who, as he informs me, has little knowledge of the Koran and regularly attends Sunday service at his neighborhood church, a gesture in interfaith dialogue. An engineer by profession, Behrouz made his living as a real estate agent before the housing market collapsed, and has since taken over the franchise of the self-service outlet where his good nature, no less than his competitive prices, attracts a loyal clientele. Having graduated from a top French university and being fluent in four language — Farsi, Arabic, English and French — his expertise would have qualified him for something far more lucrative and prestigious than real estate or running a filling station, but immigration has its costs. Nevertheless, he considers himself fortunate to be living in a country like Canada where he need not fear the midnight knock at the door.

Whenever I stop by, we invariably engage in wide-ranging conversations about the Middle East, the scourge of jihad, the Iranian mullocracy and, of course Israel. Behrouz professes to be a “great fan” of the Jewish state, which he visited as a boy when relations between the two countries were amiable and reciprocal. Compared to the Islamic nations, he says, Israel is indeed “a light unto the world.” He recalls with undisguised horror the atrocities of the mullahs, curses the murderous practices of the Ayatollah Khomeini and his successors, and reserves a special place in hell for Jimmy Carter, who betrayed the shah and facilitated Khomeini’s coup d’état.

He is no more kindly disposed to Barack Obama, whom he accuses of having abandoned the Iranian people and for having by his silence during the popular uprising last year tacitly supported the regime of Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “Obama,” he says, “is the son of Jimmy Carter and he will make the same mess in the Middle East as his political father.”

Our recent countertop discussions have naturally turned to the events in Egypt. Behrouz is a profound believer in the rule of law and individual freedom and a passionate enemy of theological despots and military oligarchs wherever these “sewer rats” can be found. Thus he was delighted by the flight of Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali into much-deserved exile and further encouraged by the mayhem in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez. “Liberty is coming to the Arab world,” he assured me. “George Bush was right to bring democracy to the Middle East. Soon the Arab countries will be like Israel. Tunisia and Egypt are the future.”

Here I could not but disagree with his quaint, if touching, predictions. I argued that as much as he hated Mubarak and sided with the demonstrators, the results of popular uprisings in the Middle East were not particularly consoling. After all, what was the ultimate outcome of the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon or the Green Revolution in Iran? As for the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, it was instructive to note that the leader of the outlawed Islamist Ennahda Party, Rachid Ghanmouchi, and his entourage had now returned to cheering multitudes in the streets of Tunis. Moreover, newly democratic Iraq with its Sunni/Shi’ite divide seemed to be sliding into a condition of violent anarchy, despite George Bush’s high-minded intentions.