The Arab Spring,10 Years On…

I believe that one of the most important political/cultural/social movements of the last ten years was the Arab Spring. Therefore, I thought it deserved the initial post here at the relaunch of STL. But as I tried to put something together as a coherent argument on something about it, I realized that I am at a loss. The way in which it did not substantially work for the better leaves me lost even after ten years. I have no sure feelings, beliefs, or convictions on the period, or what is now called the “Arab Winter.” I can say I was so hopeful at the time that it almost lent itself to elation, but now I feel nothing but such dense disappointment; almost hopelessness. I have read books, articles, and saw many documentaries and news pieces on this most important set of events, yet I cannot put my finger on any argument to be made. Maybe it’s because I am a Westerner; a Roman Catholic. Maybe it’s because I was not there on Cairo’s Tahrir Square, or the destroyed streets of Aleppo, or at the Libyan storm drain where Qaddafi was found and killed. Maybe it is because I do not want to believe something negative. I don’t know. But below is a strategy, something I hope that can salvage the movement using the stories of the those times. Maybe something to look to inspire the future.

Simply put, What happened between the end of 2010 and the end of 2020? My thoughts are scattered below: 

Up until December 2010, the North African country of Tunisia was as typical of an Arab state as it gets: a history of empire and colonialism; a hopeful independence; a state-centered, socialist economy; a slide into dictatorship implemented through secret police (Feldman, 2020). This small, coastal nation on the Mediterranean Sea did not seem out of the ordinary in any way compared to its’ neighbors..

Then on December 17, 2010, a young Tunisian named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself afire to protest against police harassment. He died on January 4, 2011, but not before his gesture went viral, sparking protests against the country’s authoritarian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the people’s poor economic situation. Ben Ali’s 23-year-rule ended 10 days later when he fled to Saudi Arabia, becoming the first leader of an Arab nation to be pushed out by popular protests. What happened next across the Arab world, what we now refer to the as the “Arab Spring,” followed something like this:

On January 25, 2011, thousands of Egyptians marched in Cairo, Alexandria, and other cities, demanding the departure of President Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power for 30 years.  Then on February 11, as more than a million took to the streets, Mubarak resigned and handed control to the military.

The Muslim Brotherhood-linked government of Mohammed Morsi was then elected in 2012, but was overthrown the following year by the military led by the general, now president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

On February 15, in Bahrain, protesters took over the Pearl Square roundabout in the capital which they renamed “Tahrir Square”, and demanded a constitutional monarchy among other reforms. But their camp was stormed by riot police three days later, killing three people and injuring many.

The same day the Bahrain protests started, the Libyan police used force to break up a sit-in against the government in the second city, Benghazi. The country’s leader Muammar Gaddafi pledged to hunt down the “rats” opposing him. The uprising turned into a civil war with French, British and American air forces intervening against Gaddafi. On October 20, 2011, Gaddafi was captured and killed in his home region of Sirte by rebels who found him hiding in a storm drain. The country is now split between rival eastern and western-based administrations.

On March 6, a dozen teenagers tagged the wall of their school in southern Syria with “Your turn, doctor”, referring to President Bashar al-Assad, a trained ophthalmologist. The torture of the youths sparked mainly peaceful protests at first, and calls for democratic reform. But with violent repression by the government, the revolt turned into civil war. Syria’s war also contributed to the rise of the ISIL (ISIS) group and renewed conflict in neighboring Iraq, culminating in a genocidal attack on minorities in the north of the country.

On October 23, 2011, Tunisians streamed to the polls for their first free election, in which members of the Ennahdha movement triumph.

On February 27, 2012, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled for 33 years, handed power to his deputy Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, after a year of protests. The Arab world’s poorest country, Yemen also descended into violence following initial protests.

Russia, who with Iran is al-Assad’s biggest ally, started air attacks against Syrian rebels on September 30, 2015, changing the course of the war. After 10 years of fighting, which left 380,000 dead, al-Assad was able to claim significant victories.

Ten years after Tunisia, It all seems for nothing when put together like that, does it not? All those aspirations for a more liberal-democratic pan-Arab region. A Guardian-YouGov poll published on December 17 even finds that a majority of populations of nine countries across the Arab world feel they are living in significantly more unequal society today than before the Arab Spring. And read here about Bouazizi’s legacy in his own country.

But maybe not all is lost. Let’s look at some social movement theory from Han and Wuk Ahn (2020) that may pick up the Arab Spring up from the canvas someday:

“Studies of social movements have benefited from the examination of narratives. Social movements are defined as networks of informal interactions between a plurality of individual, groups, and/or organizations engaged in political or cultural conflicts, on the basis of shared collective identities. Activists use stories to make sense of the reality surrounding them, motivate collective action by forging collective policymaking. Narratives unite participants in social movements and are utilized as tools. To be effective…social movements should not just mobilize financial and human resources, utilize political opportunities, and present solid transition plans but should also adopt effective frames. Narratives provide actors with tools to turn themselves into heroes with a powerfully mobilizing identity when they lack established organizations or coherent ideologies [38]. Narratives translate feelings of shame and individual responsibility into feelings of empowerment, efficacy, and entitlement.”

So maybe the people of the Mid-East will someday be able to launch a new uprising, one taken from the stories of the those contentious politics that have occurred over the last decade. At this point, I admit I really do not know. I feel as if I’m just clinching at straws to pull something positive out of it all, something positive in this Arab Winter.

What do you think? Leave comments below. 

Here is a good video piece from Al-Jazeera I find particularly moving that centers on the professional and amateur reporters who documented the movement. Maybe those reports and films will serve to inspire those of the next Arab Spring, if it ever occurs. 

Obama Admin Failing to Follow ‘Don’t Do Stupid S***’ Policy in Egypt

One of the promises the Obama administration made when it came to foreign policy was simple and straightforward: Don’t do stupid s*** (stuff).  While they’ve been successful in living up to that mantra by doing things like making the nuclear deal with Iran, they’ve failed miserably and disgracefully in Egypt.

A recent piece from the AP not only illustrates this fact but should be very disturbing from a national security perspective.  The article points out how the young in Egypt, who supported the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood, are now disillusioned with the idea of democracy and are turning to jihad.  A startling tidbit from the story says it all:

Once sympathetic to Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, some of them resent it as weak and ineffectual.

“Now we know there is only one right way: jihad,” said the law student, Abdelrahman, showing off scars from pellets fired at him by police shotguns during protests…He spoke bitterly about the series of ballot box victories in 2011 and 2012 that gave the Muslim Brotherhood political dominance and made Morsi the country’s first freely elected president.

Democracy doesn’t work. If we win, the powers that be, whoever they are, just flip things over,” he said. “The Brotherhood thought they could play the democratic game, but in the end, they were beaten.” (Emphasis added)

The article goes on to describe some of the brutal tactics the state has employed against protesters and notes the young man quoted above is on his way to supporting and joining ISIS.

And what has the Obama administration done about this abuse of human rights that is driving more people toward extremism?  Supported and armed the abusers even further and has now boasted about those arms in a YouTube video, which was recently pointed out by Glen Greenwald.

Greenwald also adds a quote from a recent piece in the NYT (mostly fluff) about Secretary of State John Kerry supposedly taking a stand (but not really) against Egypt’s human rights abuses.  The quote should not just be noted.  It should be burned into the brain of everyone that thinks the U.S. is always on the right side of things when it comes to who we support around the world.  It just speaks volumes and no democracy with any morals should allow this type of thinking from their elected government:

“American officials . . . signaled that they would not let their concerns with human rights stand in the way of increased security cooperation with Egypt.”

That quote should turn everyone’s stomach.

And this isn’t to say the Muslim Brotherhood would have been a perfect friend to the U.S. or that they didn’t do  things that were seen as utterly awful in the eyes of many.  It was a fledgling democracy and things got very ugly and even fatal at times.  But it was the choice of the people of Egypt at the time and, most importantly, the alternative appears to be incredibly worse with the disaffected now looking toward joining ISIS.

The cycle of violence here is as black and white as it gets.  The Muslim Brotherhood is overthrown and an authoritarian regime takes power and abuses human rights.  The United States then backs that regime by arming them and allowing them to abuse their power even more.  The angry youth who lose faith in democracy take up arms and choose a path of violence.  The U.S. sells more arms to a brutal regime to crackdown further.

This is the equivalent of handing Jack the Ripper a set of knives, knowing he’s already killed people, but politely asking him to just use these on food.  There’s no mystery as to how this will work out.

Egypt looks like a bad situation getting worse at the moment and the United States is exacerbating the problem by knowingly arming an abusive government.  We’ve done it many times before and many innocent people have been slaughtered by U.S.-backed regimes around the world.  It’s yet another example of how not to do foreign policy yet the Obama administration is doing the same old stupid s*** we’ve seen too many times before.

5 Quick Political Facts for Today (2/15/15)

  • John Boehner apparently has no idea what goes on in Congress despite being the Speaker.  Boehner stated it was important to investigate Benghazi again because some questions haven’t been answered, like these:

“Why wasn’t the security for our embassy in Libya given to our ambassador after repeated requests the night of the event,” Boehner continued. “Why didn’t we attempt to rescue the people that were there? Why were the people there told not to get involved?”

All of those questions have already been answered and answered multiple times by the Congress Boehner allegedly leads.  Maybe he didn’t notice the last report since the Republicans strategically released it on a Friday late in the day so the news cycle wouldn’t pick it up.  This was done, of course, since it debunked every argument they’ve made about questions still existing about the attack.  Regardless, the propaganda machine continues…

  • Republicans further show their immoral and disgraceful position on hard-working immigrants.  The GOP is out to stop immigrants with children who have worked jobs and paid taxes to the government for years from getting proper benefits for their contributions.  And it should be noted that many illegals have paid taxes and been a boost to federal tax coffers, particularly since they get little out of federal programs.  Some other commonly believed myths are busted in the article and should always be pointed out when discussing the issue:

Over the past decade, immigrants in the U.S. illegally have paid an estimated $100 billion in Social Security payroll taxes, even though few will ever be able to collect benefits…At least half are paying income and payroll taxes…Even if these immigrants pay taxes, they are ineligible for most federal programs. They cannot legally get food stamps, unemployment benefits, Pell grants or federal student loans. They cannot get Medicaid, except for emergency medical services, and are ineligible for subsidies under Obama’s health law.

  • Shiites are now reacting to ISIS brutality with brutality of their own, which has been going on since “Mission Accomplished”.  If people chose to ignore the fact that Shiite death squads were executing Sunnis in Iraq as soon as Saddam Hussein was out of power, that’s their choice to be ignorant.  But violence begets violence and that situation forced people to turn to more violent groups like ISIS so they could take revenge for the countless murders of their friends and families.  This isn’t to say it was/is right for anyone to join an extremist group or death squad.  But it does show how horrible the U.S. plan for post-invasion Iraq was just an absolute disaster and there is little that can be done by the U.S. to fix this bloody situation now.  And with this vicious reaction by Shiites against Sunnis, this situation is continuing to get worse.
  • The West is still disgracefully and inexplicably supporting the brutal monarchy in Bahrain.  Great piece by one of the activists for change in Bahrain who recently had his citizenship taken away from him after years of punishment, including torture, for expressing his opinion and calling for a better government in his home country.  It is a very reasonable question to ask why the West continues to display such hypocrisy on democracy when it comes to certain areas of the world.  (Spoiler alert: it’s oil.)
  • Egypt purchases military planes from France at the expense of its people.  I mentioned the purchase of the Rafale fighters a few days ago but this article points out two further realities of the purchase.  First, it’s not needed: “One thing is very clear,” says (Jon) Alterman (senior vice president and director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies). “On the basis of national priorities there is no military urgency to buy more combat aircraft.”  Second, by spending the money on the military instead of infrastructure or social programs (clearly taking a cue from the U.S., unfortunately), this means the spending won’t go to put Egypt’s unemployed to work, which includes more than half of its citizens under the age of 25.  Stupid priorities now will equal a bad situation in the future.

5 Quick Political Facts for Today (2/12/15)

  • United States’ defense spending is still pretty ridiculous.  The United States spends over four times as much in its defense budget as its nearest rival, China.  In fact, its budget comes close to matching that of its 14th closest rivals put together.”  Just imagine where the U.S. could be in terms of truly important areas like education if we just cut that budget in half and spent the money on improving schools or infrastructure or shoring up Social Security for good.  But I guess it’s good that we can use our absurd military spending to stabilize places around the world like in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen and help keep the antiquated idea of monarchy alive and strong in places like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.  Yay, America!
  • France sold the Egyptian government military equipment.  24 Rafale fighter jets along with other supplies amounting to over $5 billion will be headed to the government that came to power in a not-a-coup military coup.  While the Egyptian government is seemingly making some strides toward logic, it’s probably far too early to start selling them equipment that they may decide to use on say, I don’t know, their own people.  But, like the U.S. military industrial complex, when you have a bunch of war equipment burning a hole in your pocket, gotta find somewhere to sell it no matter how immoral.
  • U.S. crime rate continues to fall and it’s not because we are throwing more people in jail and prison than every other country on the planet.  A new report offers no definitive explanation as to the reason for the continued decline of crime but does state that mass incarceration is not the culprit.  And the incredible decrease should continually be noted since many people believe the opposite due to the way the media sensationalizes crime:

Between 1991 and 2013, the violent crime rate declined by more than 50 percent, according to FBI figures. During the same time frame, property crime fell by 46 percent.

  • Droughts in the U.S. are going to get a lot worse despite how bad they have already been in recent years.  Quite a bit to digest in the article but the key reality is this: droughts will start lasting for decades, not years, because of man-made climate change.  In other words, things are super great now in places like California and Texas compared to what they will be in the future if nothing drastic is done to avert the crisis.  At least there aren’t any climate change-deniers in power in Texas because that would just be crazy…  Speaking of Texas-style crazy…
  • On gay marriage, insane right-winger Ted Cruz morphs into…a moderate democrat?!  It’s true as the last-ditch effort before the nationwide legalizing of gay marriage coming in June is to apparently try to pass a bill calling for states’ rights on the issue.  Saying it should be left up to the states to decide is basically the exact argument many Democratic politicians were making 10 years ago when they were too cowardly to just stand up for what was right (I’m looking at you, former presidential candidate Kerry).  On a side note, the language Cruz and his ilk use on the issue is both ridiculous and vicious.  He states his bill will “safeguard the ability of states to preserve traditional marriage for their citizens” (emphasis added).  This suggests “traditional marriage” will simply cease to exist if gay marriage is ever allowed, which has already proven to be clearly untrue and is just a ranting from a madman.

Egypt’s Lack of Democratic Values

02egypt-articleLargeOn Thursday, three journalists working for Al Jazeera’s English-language network were ordered a retrial ain Egypt after a sham proceeding in which they were given between 7-10 years in prison for “…conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to broadcast false reports.” The reason for this is two-fold:

1) Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, like all new strongmen, wants to possess as much control over the press as he can. He is afraid that a currently tumultuous political climate may sweep him out of power just as quickly as it brought him in. This is why the three were arrested in the first place.

2) Al-Jazeera is based in Qatar, a state that has long shown favor towards the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. But the Brotherhood was also former President Mohamed Morsi’s movement, who was brought in after democratic elections that resulted from the Arab Spring. Now since the ouster of Morsi, and the installation of el-SiSi, Al-Jazeera has been leading a critical viewpoint against el-SiSi for the last 18 months. But under pressure from Egypt, the Saudis, and the UAE, Qatar has put an end to its anti-el-SiSi campaign. Therefore these latest events may lead to the release of the three A-Jazeera reporters as a quid pro quo for the less critical look at el-SiSi.

So all in all, these three men were fulfilling their obligations to the essential ingredient of a functioning democracy, namely, the freedom of the press. We cannot make informed decisions without the information pertaining to the matter at hand.

The Mid-East region demanded more rights in the streets and squares just a few years ago and yet these events come right out of the old ways.

Also, for more on this cause, checkout the website for the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) where you can find a good graphic entitled “2014 prison census: 220 journalists jailed worldwide.” It is a worldwide map of states currently imprisoning journalists with the offending countries highlighted and the number of prisoners being held. The page also includes some good charts and even a listing, nation by nation, of each journalist known two be serving time their.

 

 

 

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What to do with Egypt?

f6a95436-6006-45d3-bf8d-7daec911bf22-460x276A great piece by Khaled Diab in The Guardian on the current situation in Egypt as the news coverage in the U.S. fades away.

Read Here.

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Egypt Now Fertile Ground For Extremists?

egypthirshbannerA good article by Michael Hirsch in The Atlantic proposing that Egypt may become the new, fertile recruiting ground for Islamic extremists and how the lack of a clear American foreign policy stance on recent events is just increasing the odds of this happening.

Read Here.

Egypt 2013 or France 1848 from Marx

11EGYPT-articleInlineI wrote a post a while back about the need for the experts and press to not to sound a death knell regarding the democratic revolution in Egypt just because of the difficulties having occurred their. But the “difficulties” are getting quite serious, I now observe.

So related here is a great article in the NYT by Sheri Berman, a political science professor at Barnard College, who applies Marx’s analysis of the 1848 French uprising to the current uprising in Egypt, and hopefully Egypt will not hold such a bloody experiment in politics as the Europeans did in the 19th century.

Read Here.

A Pic and Thought for the Day

I mean, really, how does it work like this?

Two Upcoming Protests Sunday May Clash in Egypt

Opponents of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi protestAn article in The Guardian relates that both Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi’s supporters and liberal anti-Morsi protesters may clash in huge protests tomorrow in Alexandria. On Friday, two protester’s were killed (one an American) and 70 were injured with large numbers on both sides being reported that even larger protests will be held on Sunday.

The anti-Morsi protesters are critical of the Muslim Brotherhood’s religious fundamentalism. They say that Morsi himself is becoming too authoritarian and has exerted too much control over the nation’s media institutions. But on the other side, Morsi supporters say that the president was democratically elected and the Brotherhood’s religious bent is good for Egypt.

But what I’m concerned with is that the media is blowing these events out of proportion. They need to be reported on but I do not like the rhetoric I am hearing stating that change in Egypt is over and the hope for democracy is waning. What we need to remember, though, is that democracy needs time to develop. There needs to be time for the building of institutions, for the holding of fair elections, and a strong government not held hostage by political uprisings in Tahrir Square and the streets of Alexandria.

Democracy is not dead in Egypt, in my opinion, for there are a lot of similarities between the events in Egypt and those that occurred in France between 1789 and 1898. There was Napoleon, Louis Bonaparte, the manning of the barricades, and the Paris Commune. These anti-democratic actions in France all took place until a true democracy was created over a 100 years later. The creation of a democracy does not usually run as smoothly as the one that was created here in the United States.

Read Here.