Friday, March 18, 2011

The Arab Uprisings: Leadership, Violence and Ideologies

The approval by the UN security council of the no-fly zone over Libya comes at the time when the rebels are fighting an uneven battle in defense of the liberated areas in the East as in the West of the country. The no-fly zone was requested by the Arab League which has not yet met a foreign intervention in the Arab World it did not like. The Libyan revolution is now exactly where the forces of reaction, both Arab and Western, wanted it to be: between a foreign intervention by a savior to whom it will remain indebted, and between being crushed and slaughtered by Qadhafi. This needn't be like that, but the Arab countries have just been sitting and watching it happen, while some Arab regimes have even encouraged it.

It is not that military intervention between Arab countries are unheard of. They have happened before, and continue to happen as we speak, with the Saudi forces in Bahrain killing peaceful protestors and taking over the control of the country. The Saudis also intervened directly in the battles between the Yemeni regime and the Hawthi rebels in 2010. The Syrians intervened in Lebanon in 1976, in the middle of a war of liberation, which was about to end with the defeat of the conservative forces. The issue is that Arab regimes will only intervene physically in support of reactionary forces: Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon. This is what their interests dictate, this is what the Imperial master will allow. But why do we not, as Arab people, join the Libyan struggle? This remains to be answered.

In Egypt, the people is voting tomorrow on the amendments to the constitution. This is a very symbolic referendum (only yes or no votes), as it will be the first free election in Egypt, and the turn-out is expected to be very high. The Muslim Brotherhood, and apparently the ancient regime are in favor of the amendments, while a lot of the liberals and radicals and "intellectuals" want a completely new constitution. Yet, among the"no" voters, there are very rich capitalists who benefited and supported the old regime such as Naguib Sawiris, who has shared interests with Israeli companies. There are also Muslim TV preachers (for lack of a better word) such as Amro Khaled. It is going to be wait and see.

The thing with Egypt is that we may soon come to a time when a strong and powerful ideology will be needed in order to bring things together. The "leaderless revolution" and the new model of self-assembling networks have been tremendously successful, because, as Rashid Khalidi put it in a recent talk in Beirut, "the mukhabarat went looking for leaders to arrest and they found none". This approach, which has clearly been very effective and has offered a new perspective on how to organize, has been showered with praise and admiration. But it appears to me that this grassroot action has been accompanied with an absence of an ideological framework. Some will say this need not be like that, and that these leaderless networks are compatible with the adoption of an ideological framework. I am not so sure.

Some groups that have taken part in the Egyptian Uprising definitely have an ideology: the Muslim Brotherhood and some of the leftist groups. Even the ancient regime could be said to have developed its own self serving ideology, based on neoliberal thought adapted to dictatorship. But I am talking about the grass-root movements, those same movement that have mobilized hundreds of thousands, and which would like to be seen as leaderless. I was doing some research on neoliberal thought a couple of days ago and I stumbled on this old but still very relevant article by Susan George in which she says:

Let me stress how important it is to understand that this vast neo-liberal experiment we are all being forced to live under has been created by people with a purpose. Once you grasp this, once you understand that neo-liberalism is not a force like gravity but a totally artificial construct, you can also understand that what some people have created, other people can change. But they cannot change it without recognising the importance of ideas. I'm all for grassroots projects, but I also warn that these will collapse if the overall ideological climate is hostile to their goals.
Somehow, I feel that "The people want to bring down the regime" is not sufficient as an idea. What the uprisings have achieved is great. No, it is huge. It is magnificent. The people who have organized and conducted the uprising have deconstructed the regimes and are able to hold the state accountable. But we need to build a state, a just state that serves its citizen. We need economic policies, food policies, waste policies, energy policies, education, health, water, and many many others. How do we achieve that without being anchored into ideas still eludes me.

The other issue that has been nagging me is the over-emphasis on the alleged non-violent nature of the uprisings. I have said in a previous post that they were not non-violent: how can you call a thousand dead in Egypt alone non-violent? How can you call what Mohammad Bou Azizi did to himself non violent? Of course, the Libyan madman and the Saudis quickly proved my point: there is violence in there, and violence is being directed towards the most disempowered.

All this has to do with the meaning given to violence by the spin doctors of the modern world. When the powerful are violent, no one notices. But somehow, the victims and the oppressed are expected to use only non-violent means to face violence. Does anyone notice the absurdity of this proposition? When Israel bombs Gaza and assassinates people, this is merely a small item in the news. Can you imagine the headlines in the Western press if rockets were launched from Gaza? For decades now, western liberals have been urging us to come up with a Palestinian Gandhi, while their states use their tax money to arm Israel. And many among the oppressed, wanting to ingratiate themselves with the West and to appear civilized, hold a similar discourse and get in return a pat on the head, while the heads of their compatriots get blown to pieces by the bombs of the powerful.

The Lebanese Resistance, of course, showed a different perspective. It defeated Israel twice on the battlefield. This created a disequilibrium in the construction of violence as provided to us by the West through media and other forms of cultural imperialism. The failed attempts to disarm the Resistance must be seen in this light: the need by Imperial forces to reinstate the understanding of violence as a tool of the powerful only, an idea that was imposed over the past decades. And in this process, the Empire seeks servants who will help it implement its plan, because they can gain crumbs that wil be left to them to pick. Anyone who remains unconvinced is invited to consult the wikileaks of the July 2006 Israeli war in Lebanon, and to focus specifically on the positions of the March 14 poles, and how they do not hide their support of the Israeli agenda. What has been leaked is hugely important, but this needs a post of its own.

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