Saturday, February 12, 2011

Learning from the Arab Revolutions

I was on my way to Dahiyeh yesterday when the news from Egypt spread in Beirut: Mubarak was gone, gone too was goon-in-chief Omar Sulayman. The traffic in Beirut is never easy but I swear it was worse than usual, as if people had gone out into the streets. Then we started hearing fireworks, and then suddenly there were parties everywhere, motorcycles and cars carrying flags were circulating, bursting with young people celebrating the fall of the tyran. On Al Jazeera later I could see that similar spontaneous celebrations had also taken place elsewhere in the Arab World.

The elation of the Arab people is understandable: Tunisia was the spark and Egypt will fuel change across the region. There is no going back on that, whatever the outcomes of the uprising. And while it is far too early to try to discern the details of the future government of Egypt, there are learnings that have been achieved from the past month of Arab revolution.

1. The conspicuous absence of religious fundamentalism from both Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. In spite of the repeated warnings by the ignorant liberal and not so liberal thinkers in the West, the great scarecrow they use to justify keeping the Arab people under dictatorships, islamic fundamentalism, was nowhere to be seen. Yes there are Islamic movements that are part of the uprisings. Yes Islam is a mean of organizing and educating especially among the poorer classes in much the same way as the theology of liberation was in Latin America. Yes, religious movements can go horribly wrong, and can become oppressive and criminal, but so can secular movements. Do you need a lesson in history? And lets remember that the most fundamentalist of the Islamic movements and regimes, including Saudi Arabia and its spores, were fabricated by the Empire to serve its purpose in the wars for world domination.

2. The Empire appeared totally taken aback by the events which caught it unprepared (in French, they say "depasse par les evenements"). It had a plan B and a Plan C, but it needed a Plan Z. The events happened so quickly and the protestors were so fierce and committed and focused that all available strategies to quell the wave sounded anachronistic. These were recipes from an age long gone. The only people who haven't noticed that this age is gone are the rulers of the empire, their media voices and the dictators of the Arab World. Every one else listened to them with awe, not believing that Clinton, Obama, Ben Ali, Sulayman, Mubarak or the mainstream media could be so silly. I think it will take them a while to recover from realizing the harsh truth: that their tactics don't work anymore. We are not scared of the 6th fleet. We are not scared of economic sanctions. We are not scared of the CIA "crisis unit" and other Blackwater-style experts. We are not scared of the cutting-off of aid money, bilions we never saw anyway, and which are used to fund the servants of the Empire. We are not scared of you anymore. Can you hear that? WE HAVE NO FEAR.

3. It is not only fear from the reprisal of the Empire that has dissipated. We have also come to realize that tyrans and dictatorships are weaker they appear. They can keep millions of us under their control only because they instill fear into us through extreme violence applied to a relatively small number of people, and then letting it be widely known. But the facts are here: a tyran's shelf life, once the people rise up, is about 18 days. This is what Tunisia showed us, this is was Egypt confirmed. Steadfastness is key.

4. Dignity is a prime mover of people. This is a very crucial realization, because it means that revolutions will happen in spite of truck loads of food aid or of the "donations" oil-rich regimes are now making to their people in the hope of keeping them quiet. I have long maintained that the success of the Resistance in South Lebanon was not due, as some detractors would have it, to its social institutions that offer services to the people who are affiliated with Hizbullah. The Resistance is powerful because it has given dignity to people. Mohammad Bou Azizi did not immolate himself with fire because he could not find a job, but because he was humiliated by the Tunisian police. If you listened carefully to what the people in the Tahreer squares of Egypt were saying, you could not but see this clearly (but you have to speak and understand Arabic). There are important implications to this: one is that we shall not accept humiliation anymore: هيهات منا الذلّة (Go look it up). And the other is that both the neo-liberal fallacy (everyone can be rich if they work hard enough) and its reality (to make lots of money you have to create injustice) cannot alone explain the immense desire of people for emancipation. The spiritual (in the sense of non-material) is at least as powerful as the material, if not more. Incidentally, this also poses serious challenges to the concept of "human security" that has been peddled by international organizations and especially by the UN as a means to pressure some regimes that are dictatorial and poor not those that are dictatorial and rich and of course serve the Empire.

5. In both the Tunisian and the Egyptian cases, the organization model of the uprisings is interesting to study: it is a cellular organization, that relies heavily on communication and uses a combination of old and very modern means and methods. Its leadership is extremely fluid, I would call it nodal, which gives it tremendous resilience, because there is no one central "brain" that can be destroyed, bought, or corrupted. In many respects, it has similarities with the way digital information systems are organized, and it is no surprise that these same systems played an important role in organizing action. I am not talking here only about internet and facebook and twitter, but also about cell phones and satellite media. The role Al Jazeera played in the Egyptian uprising will be the subject of many PhD thesis. This would also make for a very interesting study on how our ways of thinking and organizing, especially among the youth, has been influenced by the technologies that have changed our world.

6. And my final learning of the day: The days of the Zionist entity are numbered, and I may even see its demise in my life time. But this, the Zionists already know: I can hear their weeps across the border.

1 comment:

northshorewoman said...

I enjoyed reading your overview of the learnings from the Arab Revolutions. You aptly -- with acumen and heart -- draw together a number of key points. Thank you for posting and sharing.