Editorial: When the donkeys laugh …

Monday, March 19th, 2012

The donkey has been treated unfairly. Throughout Arab pop culture, donkeys are referred to as dumb animals and the various nomenclatures for its cousins (baghil, ja'hish, etc) have all been used to demean people.

Someone who you want to label as an incompetent buffon might be called a donkey (humaar). A pedestrian who crosses the road ahead of incoming traffic, for example, might invoke the casual commuter's ire and receive the pop euphemism of the Equus africanus asinus.

"Don't make an ass of yourself," a comment loosely connected to "Don't play the goat," warns people not to trip up and act the part of the fool.

But the donkey's contribution to society is so recognized in some Western cultures that it has become the symbol and mascot of the American Democratic Party. That is not to say that Obama and fellow Democrats are stupid, idiotic, or lacking in intelligence and competence. Au contraire, the donkey represents hard work, determination, and resolve.

Two years ago, a number of Iraqi politicians convened in Northern Iraq to establish the Party of the Donkey. While some commentators chuckled, party members said their constitution embraced that only through hard work and resolve could Iraq be resuscitated.

So, why does the donkey still get a bad rap in most Arab countries?

One banner during the Tahrir uprising read "irhal, irhal ya humaar" (leave, leave you donkey).

Whether former President Hosni Mubarak was being compared to a donkey or vice versa is purely conjecture at this point.

In much political satire and cartoons, Arab leaders have been portrayed as donkeys when dealing with Israel or the US.

Try as they may to denigrate donkeys everywhere, the Equus africanus asinus remains king in most Arab countries.

Just take a look at any kareta or caro - donkey-drawn carriage usually festooned with old paraphernalia or vegetables. Once it takes to the road it dominates; all traffic grinds to a crawl as cars, busses, even pedestrians must walk in the shadow of the donkey.

The year 2011, and events since, will prove to be a pivotal one for the donkey.

Sudan is divided, Libya is in hot pursuit. Syria is in civil war, Lebanon gets on its two feet only to have internal strife kick one right from under it. Saudi Arabia is facing increased dissent, and swiftly cracking down in true Wahabi fashion (someone tell them that the Prophet Mohammed was the ultimate rebel against the system) while Yemen's presidential elections appear to have stimulated dozens of attacks on security forces resulting in hundreds dead in a matter of weeks.

In Egypt, it's anyone's bet what kind of political system will run the country as many hope for economic revival and increased security to get the gears of industry rolling again.

Iraq, to host the next Arab League Summit, is still playing musical bombings at the rate of 10 a day, while Bahrain, protected by its Western interests reveals the extent of its respect for human rights.

And Palestine? What Palestine?

In the Middle East dance of fools, the donkey is likely to get the last laugh.