Let the scent of Jasmine spread
Egypt: Sandmonkey’s last post; Mubarak’s assault on the press; Mubarak’s mob rule; Military and Intelligence at Egypt's Democratic Dawn; Political allegiances have shifted under repressive regime; Into uncharted territory.
Tunisia: Women play an equal role; Mothers of the jasmine revolution; The defeat of fear.
Where else? Will Yemen be next? China’s microblogs censor the words ‘Egypt’ and ‘Tunisia’; Will the Hashemites fall?
Live updates: More from Kellie on Twitter; Ashraf Khalil’s Uncut blog.
Alan A reports on the secular, liberal nature of the movement for freedom in Egypt so far, with a cautiously optimistic assessment of the chances of the Muslim Brotherhood gaining the upper hand from the chaos. He quotes Martin Bright, who takes the opportunity to show that Islamism’s fellow travellers in the West (including those linked to aristocratic Foreign Office Arabism, such as Frances Guy and the Conflicts Forum crew: “One of the most wonderful of many wonderful aspects of the anti-totalitarian uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt is that they have nailed the myth that Islamism represents the “authentic” voice of the Arab street. This was always a pernicious nonsense and the diversity of those demonstrating across the Maghreb and Egypt has been one of the most noticeable features of the revolt.” Other optimistic views come from Ghaffar Hussain, Seph Brown, and Maajid Nawaz.
Paul Stott, on the other hand, has a rather more pessimistic view.
Andrew reports on the movement for democracy in Algeria, sparked by the Tunisian uprising. Particularly inspiring is the Manifesto for Rights and Freedoms adopted by the opposition groups, which, among other things, declares for: “Separation of the political and religious domains to guarantee individual freedom – the ground of political modernity.”
Grounds for cautious optimism too from Gaza, where the popular movement is a major threat to Hamas rule.
Shlomo Avineri: What Netanyahu should say to the people of Egypt; Gershon Baskin: Encountering peace.
Anti-Zionism and Marxism
One of the most depressing aspects of both events in North Africa, especially Egypt, and the leftist commentary on it, is the power of the anti-Zionist narrative. Take as an example this well-written Marxist analysis at 19th Brumaire. Here’s one sentence: “Ahmed Ezz, the personification of the unity of personal corruption, neoliberalism and abasement to Zionsim has resigned.” What does “abasement to Zionism” mean? Why “abasement” and not, say, “accommodation with”, given the Egyptian ruling class and the Israeli state clearly have interests in common? Why talk about “Zionism” and not about, say, the Israeli state? There is something about the demonic Z-word that takes this phrase out of normal political discourse into another space. The demonic Z-word is a blunting of materialist analysis. (For more on insane anti-Zionism, see Snoopy. One of the things that is clear is that anti-Zionist antisemitism also pervades the pro-Mubarak camp, which makes the leftist anti-Zionist nonsense even more pernicious.)
On the other hand, I like the clear class analysis presented in this post. It is a common theme of Western liberal accounts of these events to focus exclusively on the “Western” highly educated Twittering middle classes. (This was a common thread in coverage of the Green movement in Iran too, which nicely facilitated the vulgar materialist accounts from the objectively pro-Ahmadinejad left who dismissed the Green movement for the same reason the Western liberal media loved it.) In fact, it is clear that (as with the Green revolution), working class people of all sorts, unionised and non-unionised, better educated and less well educated, men and women, religious and secular, are taking the main role on the streets of North Africa.
I wish the Trotskyite left would take Trotsky’s concept of permanent revolution more seriously. Trotsky argued that in “countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries”, it fell to the proletariat to deliver the liberal democratic freedoms won in Western Europe and North America by the rising bourgeoisie. The cobweb left vaguely remember the bit about the proletariat, but forget about the value of the liberal democratic freedoms they fight for.
Yet another bad response from the left is the kneejerk Third Worldist support for authoritarian or “second campist” nationalism. This is manifested, for example, in Andy Newman’s Socialist Unity website, which worships Nasser and thinks the Egyptian army is the heroic saviour of the revolution.
Flowers after the winter
Another common narrative on the left which irritates me is the cynical way it uses phrases like “colour-coded revolutions”, often prefixed with phrases like “State Department commissioned”. In that narrative, the mass uprisings against despotism in Iran, Belarus, Ukraine and elsewhere are trivialised and denigrated. I have read a surprising number of bloggers who don’t like the phrase “jasmine revolution”, because it sounds too much like one of the colour-coded ones. But it recalls, for me, the carnation revolution of Portugal in 1974, which is in many ways a model for the uprisings going on now, seemingly impossible in a vicious totalitarian dictatorship which had absolutely no space for civil society, but bursting up from below to totally overwhelm the armed might of the state.
Realism and idealism
In my last post on the uprisings, I made some comments on the role of America, which I want to clarify a little. The dominant tradition of American statecraft in the last half century or so, exemplified by Henry Kissinger and equally by Zbigniew Brzezinski, has been to materially support authoritarian regimes (and even in some cases totalitarian regimes) as bulwarks against hostile regimes. Sometimes the hostile regimes were so vile as perhaps to justify a lesser evil impulse, but in more cases than not the results were disastrous.
The American state supported the brutal dictatorship of the Shah – so it is not surprising that anti-Americanism was one of the ingredients of the Iranian revolution in 1979. Western governments supported and armed the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan – and we have been reaping that whirlwind in the form of al-Qaeda and the Taliban ever since, from Pakistan to East Africa. We supported Saddam’s fascist regime – and there is no need to mention the baleful consequences of that. We have enabled repressive military, quasi-military and soft Islamist regimes throughout the region. There was a brief moment in the wake of 9/11 when “neoconservative” figures like Joshua Muravchik, Paul Wolfowitz, Natan Sharansky and Condoleezza Rice articulated an alternative policy. But the exigencies of the war on terror itself kept America entangled with a new set of unsavoury lesser evils. And, increasingly, there was a turn against idealism, and the Obama administration, which benefited from that backlash in 2008, has tended towards the old ways rather than any ethical foreign policy.
The extent to which the Egyptian revolution, and all the other uprisings on the Arab street, have an anti-American dimension, however unpalatable, it is an anti-Americanism fuelled by the foreign policy tradition of Kissinger, a tradition from which Obama has utterly failed to make a clean break. (Similar things argued by James B, much more pithily, and Marko, more carefully. Oh, and it’s not just America: It’s France. It’s Peter Mandelson. It’s David “Mubarak is a friend of Britain” Cameron. It’s Tony “Mubarak is immensely courageous and a force for good” Blair.)
The position neoconservatives take on Egypt will reveal the extent to which their commitment to democracy in Iran, in Ukraine, in Belarus, in Syria and so on is real or mere rhetoric. According to Jeffrey Goldberg, some key neocons, such as Elliot Abrams, are supporting the revolution and sharply criticising the Israeli establishment for its support for Mubarak.
Marko Hoare: The West faces another Bosnia moment; Christopher Hitchens: The shame factor; Mohammed A. Bamyeh: The Tunisian Revolution: Initial Reflections; Poumista: Globalise the jasmine revolution; Abbas Milani: Iranian revolution echoes in Egypt; Rosie Bell: Changed, utterly changed; Peter Rison: An Arab renaissance; Sacha Ismail: What the British left is saying; Martin Thomas: How revolution can be confiscated by counter-revolution; Peter Ryley: Thoughts.
Keywords: Egypt, Tunisia, Iran.
Related posts: Between Burke and Paine in the twenty-first century; Revisiting between Burke and Paine in the twenty-first century; Decentism: Burke and Paine again; Decentism and defectors, lumpen and otherwise.