One shiny day the citizens of Tunisia woke up from their deep sleep and decided to rise against their brutal dictator. They have yearned for democracy all their lives, believed in it, dreamed of it; and this year seemed the right time finally to get it. All that was needed was a little story to accompany it, a straw to break the dictator's back, and off they could go for the ride.
This is the picture we are getting from the news reports in the West -- beautiful and romantic-- but late last year in Tunisia, the rage and anger of the youth would not be not lost on you. When you spoke English, the young of Tunisia were nice only if you spent money; if not, you were treated like trash. "You, rich people, why can't you give some of what you have to us?" But if you switched to Arabic, it was enough to elicit the most immediate and sincerest of apologies. "So sorry! We did not mean what we said, brother!" They ask ask where you are from; we told them Lebanon. This would get you even more respect. "Do you know Hassan Nasrallah?" "Of course we do." "Allah bless him. He is the only one who can stand up to the Jews!"
Those young people are the youths demanding democracy and freedom now.
How did Hizballah-lovers turn into freedom-lovers in just a few days?
The answer lies with Al-Jazeera -- not the Al-Jazeera in English, which is like the BBC; but the Arabic Al-Jazeera, which is more extreme than Hamas.
From the beginning -- almost from the day a young fruit-seller set himself on fire in a God-forsaken town in Tunisia -- Al-Jazeera was there to drive the story. Al-Jazeera, the most powerful media in the Arab world, adopted the unknown man and wrought him into a worldwide hero. Masters of public relations, and using their handsome and beautiful anchors, this sophisticated, polished, sharp, politically entertaining, and ideologically-driven network reaches more homes and hearts than any other channel in the Arab world. From day one, Al-Jazeera took the Tunisian fruit-seller to heart.
Does Al-Jazeera care about poor fruit-sellers? Not really.
If they did, they would not have to move to Tunisia to find them. There are poor fruit-sellers in Qatar, where Al-Jazeera is stationed; there are poor fruit-sellers in Saudi Arabia, living under the most miserable conditions. As far as Al-Jazeera is concerned, they can rot in hell.
But not so the poor fruit-seller in Tunisia. This was a story Al-Jazeera could not pass up -- and everything around it: Every little demonstration got huge exposure -- on TV and the net, day after day, demonstration after demonstration. Little Tunisia, long neglected by the Big Arab Brothers, suddenly gets its day. Finally Tunisia is no more the laughing-stock of the Arab world. No more being told: "You are not Arabs, you are Berbers." Now Tunisia is on top of the news, ahead of the times, even. Al-Jazeera decided it was so.
This filled the Tunisians with pride - and with courage. This was the fuel they that they needed. Democracy? Democracy! What the Tunisians on the street wanted most of all -- and what Al-Jazeera was happy to provide -- was pride.
Al-Jazeera understands the power of pictures. It was a marvel to watch how it used this power after Ben Ali fled Tunisia. Al-Jazeera got its hands on a couple of soldiers who kissed demonstrators, plus two policemen who were seen crying -- or almost crying -- during the same demonstration. This video was shown again and again and again and again, creating the feeling that the "Army and Police are with you. Keep on going, Tunisians!" Once Al-Jazeera decided a situation was so, it could be made a reality. No one could argue: it was Democracy in the Making!
But in all the tumult, no one remembered to ask: "Why is Al-Jazeera not championing democracy in Qatar?" -- where Al-Jazeera is owned by the rulers there.
Granted, almost nobody liked President Ben Ali. His pictures everywhere were an eyesore. But, by themselves, they were not enough to drive people into the streets. No, what people yearn for most of all in the Arab world is pride; Al-Jazeera was happy to provide it. Now even the brothers from Lebanon are looking up at them. Hello, Mr. Nasrallah. See? We are now heroes, too!
To understand why Al-Jazeera promoted all this, all you had to do was watch the Arabic Al-Jazeera while these demonstrations were going on. One of the first people Al-Jazeera put on its screen, and in its pages, was the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan.
And what does the Muslim Brotherhood -- and extremist and fanatic organizations --have to say about what is happening in Tunisia?
They love it! They were, in fact, the first to support the "Tunisian Revolution" -- way before most in the West.
And why do extremists Muslims now support democracies?
Do not expect them any day soon to support a new Iranian Revolution: Their support for "democracy" in Tunisia has to do with Ben Ali's policy of imprisoning Islamists -- a policy they distinctly do not like.
In Tunisia today, as in the rest of the Arab world, the wave of extremism is growing. More and more women wear the Hijab; mosques are getting fuller and fuller -- but for many, not fast enough: The only way to keep this trend gaining momentum is by getting rid of Ben Ali.
Al-Jazeera, driven by extremist ideology, has been playing the game of news-manipulation for many years. Jerusalem is just one example: For years, the editors at Al-Jazeera have come up with the strangest of stories about what "the Jews" are planning in secret there -- building, for example, a synagogue right under the Al-Aqsa mosque! Yes, exactly there, deep in the belly of the earth. And Al-Jazeera could "prove" it. Always. Many a time, as those who follow Al-Jazeera know, violent demonstrations in Jerusalem occurred right after Al-Jazeera had come up with some bizarre story about yet another plan by the Jews to "storm Al-Aqsa." Do not question why "the Jews" were doing it: it did not really matter. Al-Jazeera always knew how to package its stories with captivating images and "detailed" maps. They are very convincing.
And Al-Jazeera keeps on doing it.
The "Al-Jazeera-Leaks," as some Arab news media call the recent Al-Jazeera stories about the "secret" Palestinian Authority's negotiations with Israel, is another example: It is an attempt by Al-Jazeera to discredit the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Just as the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority are gaining momentum -- and country after country is recognizing Palestine -- Al-Jazeera comes up with revelations that the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, and his underlings are selling the Holy Lands to the Jews for pennies -- they are the traitors. And who is not a traitor? Hamas! A simple equation, courtesy of Al-Jazeera. Only this news item is too big to be told just in Arabic: Al-Jazeera English is also joining in. A rarity.
As for Tunisia, i it was not Twitter, Facebook, or the iPad that drove the Tunisian revolution -- it was only Al-Jazeera. It was not the hate of Ben Ali, as big as it was, but the love of Allah, which is much bigger.
Although the story of Tunisia is not yet over -- the final outcome is far from clear -- Al-Jazeera, like Ben Ali, can see its influence and control start to fade.
That is why it is important now to set the record straight: how a Qatari news peddler used a Tunisian fruit peddler to change a map, and maybe a lot more than that.