الخميس، 12 مايو 2011

The Arab Revolution Is Marching On -- Arabs Recover Their Dignity‏

This an advance view of my article to appear in the quarterly journal Contemporary Arab Affairs.
The Arab Revolution Is Marching On -- Arabs Recover Their Dignity
An Editorial
By Ziad Hafez

Like the phoenix arising from its ashes the Arab revolution is living a renewal. I guess the late President Nasser must be smiling from wherever he is as he is watching the peoples of Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Tunisia (for the time being) leading an upheaval, if not the first popular revolution in contemporary Arab history.  And yes, it is one Arab Revolution taking place in various parts of the Arab homeland. The Arab nationtoday, the Umma, is different from what is was in early January and has completely metamorphosed.  She is more assertive and less afraid of its dictators and their Western allies.  She has reclaimed her destiny, her dignity, and her identity, an identity that many chose to ignore and even deny her existence.

Some would say that the second Arab Renaissance/Revolution has started on January 15 in Tunisia with the fall of her her ruler, others would say on January 25 in Tahreer Square in Cairo. More historically oriented observers would put the Arab renewal with the defeat of Israeli forces in Lebanon, the floundering US occupation of Iraq, or the Palestinian resistance and steadfastness in Occupied Palestine.  Irrespective of when and where did this renaissance start the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt (and the ongoing revolts in other countries) are there to stay and change the face of the Arab world and with that the rest of the world. 
Indeed, regimes enjoying the unconditional support of Western powers are crumbling at the time of writing these lines (late February 2011).  Those who were surprised by the turn of events are those who were drunk with the arrogance of power and narcissism.  The fumbling and contradictory statements of Western officials about the events unfolding in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Libya, in Yemen, in Bahrain, and before that in Lebanon with the demise of Prime Minister Hariri’s cabinet, underscore their lack of understanding of the Arab Umma.  Western countries advocating their ‘democratic’ ideals and values had and still have as strategic allies corrupt autocratic rulers who are oppressing their people and plundering the wealth of their countries.  Hence, it is no surprise that they are caught by…surprise!

The revolution in Arab countries broke several myths and misconceptions.  The first myth is the ‘absence’ of the Arab street.   Renegade Arab scholars seeking refuge in the West and in the columns of an Arab press toing the line of autocratic petrodollar regimes have gone out of their way to disparage, mock, deride, and express contempt of what they denominated the ‘so-called’ Arab street.  The various expressions of discontent, revolt, and resistance to the dictates of Western powers aligned unconditionally with Israel have all been dismissed as ‘terrorist rhetoric’, ‘insurgents’ blabber’, or ‘extremists’ hysteria’, and so forth.  Tangible actions of resistance were even considered ‘terrorism’.  Opposition to Arab governments was even deemed at some time as a ‘threat to US national security’ as during and after the Israeli war on Lebanon in July 2006.  Ever since the tragic events of September 2001 Arab rulers were stifling Arab calls for political, economic, and social reform in the name of the ‘war on terror’ as ordered by the United States.  Arab masses were afraid of their rulers who plundered their homelands and denied any shred of dignity to their people.  Arab rulers were more afraid of the West and Israel than of their own people.  Today, Arab rulers fear their people and watch in dismay as a helpless and toothless Western rhetoric cannot prevent the anger of Arabs of toppling their most hated and feared autocrats.

The second myth to crumble is the Islamic threat raised as a scarecrow, propagated in the West, and a rallying battle cry against any reform, any manifestation of justice in the Arab homeland.  To their apparent dismay, the revolution in both Tunisia and Egypt (and in other places) were not organized and promoted by Islamic movements, even though editorials warn about the possible ‘theft’ of such revolutions.  Events did show that although Arabs are quite religious they are not ‘Islamic’ in the Western sense.  Islamic movements did rally the revolution but they certainly did not lead or organize it.For over twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Western media with their ignorant pundits, and mediocre politicians and officials, have brandished the ‘Islamic threat’.  Democracy, it was said would bring to power ‘extremists’.  ‘Democracy is incompatible with Islam’! The ‘Arab street’ has proved them wrong as the revolution took place in more than two countries within a month without any ‘extremist’ claiming the credit for it!

The third myth is the ‘support’ given by Western governments to local autocrats.  Ben Ali’s search for an exile refuge in France was turned down.  Italy said: donot even think of it!  At the end, neither the United States nor former colonial powers could not salvage a cozy relationship that had lasted decades, a relationship that was clearly hurting the Arab people.  Wikileaks revelations about the ‘high esteem’ Western chanceries held Arab autocrats were already announcing the fickleness of such alliances.  Arab autocrats are realizing that while opposing the West in general and the United States in particular may be dangerous, yet an alliance with the West and the United States is a lethal blow to their survival among their people.  The monarchies in the Arabian Peninsula may be pondering that fact nowadays!

The fourth myth is the ‘softness’ of Arab youth.  They were portrayed as more preoccupied with the latest communication gadgets, virtual relationships and reality, a craving for consumption, than with the conditions of their own society.  They demonstrated their ability to communicate, to plan and organize, and mostly to mobilize and execute.   They also showed an uncanny ability to focus on specific demands winning the approval of the larger segments of society. Modern communication tools proved in the end to be weapons of ‘mass revolution’.  A joke runs wild in the Arab world:  Mubarak had died and was greeted in the other world by Nasser and Sadat who asked him about the causes of his death: ‘Poison’? Nasser asked, ‘bullet’? Sadat asked.  ‘Twitter and face book’ Mubarak replied!
As to the lessons learned, indeed it may be still early to draw definite conclusions.  But at least some facts have been established with certainty.  Arab peoples have developed a sense of identifying the critical moment to conduct successful revolutions.  It answers the question of why now or not before or later. It is the conjunction of domestic, regional, and international factors that are necessary ensure the success.  In the past, local and international factors were not in sync to allow success.  Egypt in particular had witnessed several popular uprisings over the last thirty years or so.  At that time, hegemonic powers like the United States were fearsome.  Arab regional autocrats had the momentum.  Nowadays, the strategic retreat of the United States in the region has been instrumental in limiting the support it lent to their client autocratic rulers in the region.  The defeats (or ‘lack of success’) of Israel in her military adventures in Lebanon and Gaza have also contributed to the weakening of autocratic rulers.  The impasse in Occupied Palestine killed a negotiated settlement, if in the first there ever was one!  And finally, the accumulation of mistakes, injustice, and an acute sense of loss of dignity at the hands of Arab autocrats provided the critical mass for an explosion.  The revolution is an accumulation of past experiences at expressing rejection of unjust conditions.  In a sense, it is a continuation of the first revolution of the fifties, an upgrade of the resistance movements in Iraq, Lebanon, and Occupied Palestine.

The first lesson of these revolutions is that they are a clear expression of rejection of a style of government deemed subservient to the will of foreign powers and especially that of the United States.  Policies implemented at the suggestion of foreign powers and international financial institutions have led to a generalized impoverishment.  Furthermore, Arab regimes aligned with Western policies in the region have created a deep sense of alienation and loss of national dignity.  To a large extent, the revolutions resemble the insurgencies against foreign colonial powers in the last century.  These revolutions are a rejection of subservience and also an expression of recovery of national dignity.  Arab regimes were based (and some still are) on dependence, corruption, and dictatorship.  The youths led popular revolts negated them.
Second, the Army in Arab countries was no longer believed to be a modernizing institution.  In fact, it had been sidelined by local autocrats and was no longer part of the political process even though it was thought to be the backbone of Arab regimes.  The recent revolts saw the Army tilting to the side of the people and not to that of autocrats.  In the past, the Army thought legitimacy from the people; today it is subservient to its will and provides legitimacy to people’s demands for reforms and change.

Third, traditional political parties have been overwhelmed by the dynamism of young uprising educated groups who have mastered modern technology as a means of communication, mobilization, organization, and implementation of any mass action.  The network of relationships developed by such instruments and tools bypassed traditional means of spreading the information, mobilization, and execution.  Political parties in the Arab world will have to adjust to such new realities if they are to be of any relevance in the future political process.  The conduct of the revolution in the streets of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen without the leadership of such parties could be an indication of the declining relevance of traditional political parties.
Now as to the orientation of such revolutions it may be too early to state the course they are going to take.  However, contacts with organizers in the field (both in Tunisia and Egypt) have indicated that the domestic agenda cannot be separated from the Arab national agenda.  The call for political reforms, for more openness and participation of all political forces are likely to translate into more assertive policies toward the Palestinian tragedy.  Autocrats will no longer be there to pursue policies agreeable to the United States.  The Camp David accords and peace treaty may not be abrogated but will likely be voided of any useful content for the security of Israel.  The latter is likely to consider its southern front exposed. Libyans, Yemenis, Bahrainis, Tunisians, and Egyptians do feel strongly about Palestine and have expressed their resentment towards their government policies.  They have also made it clear that these revolutions are part of a global Arab revolution. The era of dependency, corruption, and dictatorship is over. 

As to their domestic orientations both revolutions are likely to assert more openness, more transparency, more egalitarianism, more equitable distribution of benefits and wealth.  How successful will they be may be for some a matter of conjecture but one thing is for sure accountability for failures and mistakes will take place.  Their economies will no longer be directed by the ‘suggestions’ of the IMF and the World Bank but by those who will provide a national vision for sustained development.  One may also hope that a transformation from a rent based economy to a productive one will take place.  It will require not only far fetching reforms but also a new way of thinking, even a new economic paradigm.  The Arab Renaissance Project, a document assessed in the last issue of this journal has called for a renewal of the cultural heritage.  This may lead to a new Arab epistemology, also a concept described in this journal (Hafez, Vol. 3, No.3 2010 ‘A review essay’).

In the end, the Arab Revolution has entered history as much as the American Revolution War, the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, and last but not least the Iranian and Turkish Revolutions.   It will take some time to study the impact of the Arab Revolution but one thing is for sure:  the world will no longer be the same as before.

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