Madiba and the Middle East: Nelson Mandela's lasting legacy in Arabia

Published December 8th, 2013 - 11:14 GMT

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nelson mandela in algeria
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Image 1 of 8: Algeria: In his autobiography “The Long Walk to Freedom,” Mandela said that the Algerian revolution closely resembled South Africa’s. In 1961, he visited the Algerian Liberation Army headquarters in Morocco for a joint training camp. Algeria was the first country Mandela visited after his release in 1990.

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Image 1 of 8: Morocco: Rabat was a strong supporter of the ANC during the days of apartheid. Since 1962, King Hassan II asked his Minister for African Affairs, Abdelkarim El Khatib to support Nelson Mandela by providing substantial funding, training and weapons for his struggle.

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Image 1 of 8: Tunisia: The nation declared Saturday a national day of mourning. Mandela mediated the release of President Moncef Marzouki from jail in 1994 from the regime of Zine Abidine Ben Ali. The spokesperson for Ennahda government said that Mandela’s efforts to reconcile with former enemies have inspired their time in office.

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Image 1 of 8: Egypt: Mandela remarked that Nasserism’s anti-imperialist philosophy inspired the ANC during the early days of the struggle. Today, Egypt could benefit from Mandela’s spirit of reconciliation. If he could forgive his white rulers, the Brotherhood and the military can surely forgive each other for past trespasses?

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Image 1 of 8: Palestine: The PLO recognized the ANC as one of the movements fighting oppression around the world and Mandela never forgot his party’s close ties to Palestine. When Yasser Arafat died, he called him “an icon in the proper sense of the word.” He repeatedly called on Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights, Lebanon and the West Bank.

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Image 1 of 8: Israel: Mandela resented the support Israel gave the apartheid regime. Israel was one of the few nations who didn’t extend a hand after his 1990 release. Proving his talent for forgiveness, while Mandela stressed the need for Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 borders, he also called on Arab nations to recognize their right to exist.

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Image 1 of 8: Syria: President Bashar Assad issued a statement saying Mandela’s life was “an inspiration to freedom fighters and a lesson to tyrants”. He presumably then went on to peruse his personal dictionary that has carefully been stripped of the word “irony.”

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Image 1 of 8: Jordan: The United States has asked all flags to fly at half mast for Mandela - an honor that has been extended to a few select other leaders including King Hussein of Jordan. Mandela also teamed up with Queen Noor for the United World Colleges Initiative to provide affordable education to students around the world.

Following the passing of Nelson Mandela last week, there has been an outpouring of grief from around the world. U.S. President Barack Obama said Mandela “achieved more than can be expected of any man”; French President Francois Hollande said “Mandela’s message will continue to inspire fighters for freedom”; while former Irish President Mary Robinson said that Mr. Mandela “represented the best of our values.”

From the messages posted on social media to the statements made by world leaders, it seems Mandela’s life resonated with people the world over, regardless of race, gender, age or location. His single-minded focus, tireless drive and spirit of forgiveness inspired people who face a struggle on an individual or political level.

As the world grieves a great man, perhaps it could be argued that Mandela’s demise is felt especially keenly within the Middle East. 

Since the earliest days of his imprisonment, Madiba (the nickname given to Mandela by the South African people) identified closely with the Palestinian cause and the plight of the Palestinian people moved him greatly. The Israeli ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel has been quoted by the BBC as saying that Mandela told him, “You change your attitude towards the Palestinians; we will open a new page with Israel."

According to an article in the Arutz Sheva, Mr. Mandela declared as recently as 1990 that “We do not regard the PLO as a terrorist organization. If one has to refer to any parties as a terrorist state, one might refer to the Israeli government because they are the people who are slaughtering defenseless and innocent Arabs in the occupied territories”   

However, Mandela was not an enemy of Israel or the Jewish people - his contention with Israel was closely related to the Palestinian struggle for freedom. Mandela was a great friend of the Jewish people and had a special place in his heart for many individuals of South Africa's Jewish community who helped him in his early years, like Mr. Arthur Goldreich, the white Jewish ANC activist who helped hide Mr. Mandela as a young man.

Given Mandela’s lifelong commitment to the Palestinian cause, it is no surprise that the Middle East has been especially saddened at Mandela’s passing. In addition, people across Arabia have long hoped (and are still hoping) that events like the Arab Spring produce a leader like Mandela and the change that he caused in South Africa.  

Among other displays of mourning, the Jenin-based Freedom Theatre announced that it will be dedicating its upcoming performances of The Island as a tribute to Mandela – the play focuses on the plight of Palestinian political prisoners and is based on a true story set during the years of apartheid.

And in a far humbler (but yet equally heartfelt) tribute, the Al Bawaba team has put together this slideshow that casts a look back at Mandela and his involvement with different countries of the Middle East.  President Obama said that “Mandela no longer belongs to us; he belongs to the ages.”

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He told Israel in the face: "Go back to your pre-1967 borders and (I and) Arabia will recognize Israel's right to exist".
Right on to the very core and solution of most of the Middle East absurds and paradoxes (created by... who'else?) !!!

Giuseppe (not verified) Sun, 12/08/2013 - 13:21

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