Sun 27 Mar, 2011 01:29 am
I am hoping we can avoid a train wreck...so I would ask people to avoid discussing the rights and wrongs of the intervention in Libya.
I am really fascinated to have a discussion about what exactly we are seeing happening, and why now?
Especially from people who have some understanding and knowledge!!!
I know these are countries I know very little about, and I would love to learn more about what all this means and what people think may come from it.
I would respectfully ask that people ignore those they consider trolls, and perhaps ignore what they see as unpleasant comments, or address the meat of the comment more than the dressing.
what exactly we are seeing happening
From an academic point of view (whether psychological, sociological or philosophical ), the words "what" and "we" are co-extensive and mutually interactive. There has been a quantum shift in global communications over the last few decades such that "events" no longer have limited locality in time (due to video re-showing) or space. For example, a recent student march about higher fees in the UK was orchestrated with the chant of "Cairo, cairo...." in synchrony with the Egyptian uprising ! The "error" in any analysis of the Middle East phenomenon would be to assume a simplistic anthropomorphism of "countries with vested interests". What we are seeing is as much an epiphenomenon of global technology as much as it is any expression of political aspirations. Such "aspirations" are always relative, never absolute, as indeed are demagogic boundaries.
That's one of the things I have been particularly interested in...the effects of communication technology and the increasing difficulty governments are having in blocking external media sources.
You have to hand to Orwell . His "Ministry of Truth" was certainly prophetic.
The interesting question is whether "aspirations" which are stimulated by the sharing of information about "possibilities", could ever be satisfied. Given the unequal distribution of the world's resources, this looks doubtful without conflict.
As far as the distribution of resources goes, a good deal of the dissatisfaction of people in the middle east very likely stems from the lack of the distribution of the wealth in petroleum rich countries. However, to say just that would be a gross over-simplification. In fact, Libya and Bahrain are the only countries so far in which there is any appreciable amount of oil wealth involved, and in neither of those cases is that the issue. In Bahrain, the unrest dates back to the early 1990s, and was initially a product of the dissatisfcation of a Shi'ite majority with a government based on a Sunni monarchy. Even that would be an over-simplification, because the new Emir made nice with the Shi'ite majority in the beginning of this century. In fact, although the unrest there is still a result of the dissatisfaction of a Shi'ite majority, both Shi'ite and Sunni religious conservatives want a much more strictly controlled society, and one which essentially keeps women hidden, and keeps them in the lowest of a second class position.
There is an appeal to journalists in describing the middle east as a monolith, in describing what is happening as an upwelling of a desire for democracy by a uniformly oppressed populace. That, too, would be an oversimplification, because the motives in each country differ, appart from the superficial objection to decades of rule by one man or one party. So, for example, Egypt has had a secular, military-corporate government since the successful 1952 coup which got rid of King Farouk. Getting rid of Mubarak hasn't changed that, either. It may appear that having gotten rid of him meant it was all over but the shouting, but that's not really the case. The test of whether or not there has been real reform in Egypt will come with the effort to amend their constitution, and to hold open and fair elections. I think they have a good shot at genuine reform, but it will only come so long as the membes of the military-corporate ruling class do not feel personally threatened by the process.
The people of the middle east (and even that is not entirely accurate, as the tumult so far has been largely in North Africa) may all seem to want the same thing, but that's misleading. Egyptians probably do want a secular democracy, and because of that, they may get it. The people of Bahrain essentially want democracy only to the extent that the Shi'ite majority and those among the Sunni minority who share their religio-social aspirations want to take charge and impliment a move right into the 8th century. Bahrain was Persian and Shi'ite before a Sunni emirate took over, and there was long peace between them, because the Arab tribal values of the emirate coincided with the social values of the Pesian majority. Oil wealth, however, has lead to the westernization of that society, and that is unpleasant to the social conservatives of the politically active (and therefore noticeable) portion of the Shi'ite majority. It cannot even be said with any assurance that all Shi'ites want that social conservatism, or what proportion of the socially conservative Sunni minority would support the changes called. Some key parts of the social agenda the social conservatives are calling for is the removal of lingerie displays in shop windows, a prohibition on drying underwear on clothes lines out of doors, the strict imposition of what can best be described as purdah, and some extremists are even calling for the prohibition of windows in house which would allow the inhabitants to see into the street (and, or course, allow passersby to see into the houses).
When i have a few moments, i'll try to give you a view of how the socio-political scene in the Muslim middle east and North Africa has developed in the last roughly century and a half.
By the way, there is poignant (and pungent) irony in support in liberal circles of the West for Bahraini self-determination, given that that would likely lead to the sort of socially-conservative state which western liberals abhor.
Isn't that the issue?
Do we just support self-determination if we like the outcome?
The Muslim Brotherhood derives from a syndicalist movement in Egypt in the late 19th century. Intelligent men there could see how the native labor force was being exploited by the French building the Suez canal, and then by the English administration (the English had rushed in to forestall the French from colonizing this last, and oh-so-crucial portion of the North African littoral). Their agenda was not just concerned with labor issues and equity, but because it was originally that, it lead inevitably to a sense of wounded nationalism.
One of the planks of the Brotherhood's platform was a call for the use of Quranic Arabic, rather than what they saw as the degraded patois of speakers of Arabic in the region. That in turn inspired people in the Lebanon who joined the call for the use of Quranic Arabic, and expanded that into what became known in the West as pan-Arabism. (There are specific individuals associated with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and with the birth of pan-Arabism, but i haven't really the time to go look them up right now, and i don't think their names are that important.) At the time, though, quixotically, the "enemy," if one wanted to think in those terms, was, outside Egypt, the Turk. The Turks, of course, are Muslims, so the Muslim Brotherhood did not get off the ground and running as a religio-social movment in the middle east, because there wasn't necessarily disconent in the region with that aspect of people's lives. The Muslim Brotherhood did not expand beyond Egypt's borders until the 1930s.
Even pan-Arabism remained a largely academic interest until the Turks had been defeated in the Great War. Prior to 1920, oil production was largely the interest of England. In the late 19th century, the reciprocating steam engine (steam driven pistons like a giant automobile engine, but relying on coal-fired steam rather than gasoline) was replaced by the steam turbine (using oil-fired boilers to produce steam at higher temperatures and at greater pressure). This allowed the Royal Navy to build bigger battleships, which cruised faster and carried heavier armament. The culmination of the development of the new design was HMS Dreadnought in 1906, which gave it's very name to the type of warship made possible by the use of efficient steam turbines. (Ironically, Winston Churchill, for reasons of political careerism, at first opposed the dreadnought building program--the irony will be seen shortly.)
This lead to the first western oil company in the middle east, APOC, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which is today British Petroleum--BP. The value of petroleum for a variety of applications had been known for more than half a century, but the Royal Navy's new thirst for bunker oil increased the demand by orders of magnitude. Winston Churchill had become First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, when he abandoned immediately the phony stance he had taken with Lloyd George years before (which had bascially been a call--cynical on Winston's part--for butter rather than guns) and that was immediately dropped as he called for an expanded dreadnought building program. With the end of the Great War, the tentative plans for dividing up the middle east by the English and the French needed to be "firmed-up" and Clemenceau had his hands full with French armies in middle Europe attempting to deal with the mad scramble for territory by the Czechs, the Serbs, the Poles, the Romanians and others. There was a good deal of French military adventurism elsewhere, too, but that's not to the point. Basically, the English were given a free hand, and the aging and aged Arthur Balfour was given the portfolio. The bright, energetic, eager young man chosen to second the elderly Balfour was Winston Churchill.
The initial plan foresaw the French getting a roughly crescent-shaped swathe of the middle east south of Anatolia (think: Turkey) running from Beirut to the Persian border. Winston immediately saw that that would never do, because that would leave the oil fields of Mosul in French hands. The eventual result was that Iraq was created, in an incredibly arrogant and stupid attempt to join the oil fields of what the Public School English insisted on calling Mesopotamia into one nation. Throughout the middle east, after the war, the English attempted to impose a Hashemite monarchy on the people of the region--it was not a success. The only Hashemite monarch left is the King of Jordan.
In that national abortion which is called Iraq, Churchill had joined the oil fields of Mosul, a region largely inhabited by Kurds, with the oil fileds around Tikrit (home, eventually, of Sadam Hussein) where ethnic tribal Arabs were in the majority, to the oil fields in the south around and to the north of Basrah, where the majority population were the descendants of Persian Shi'ites (with a very small minority of tribal Arabs known as the marsh Arabs). The Kurds were mostly Muslim, and i couldn't tell you if they were primarily Sunni or Shi'ite, along with a healthy sized minority of Syriac Christians and even some frankly pagan animists--the Kurds seem ever to have been tolerant of religious dissent. An irony of Sadam Hussein's brutal reign is that the great national hero is the man the west calls Saladin--who was a Kurd. In central Iraq, the ethnic Arabs were Sunnis, with a large population of Shi'ites in Baghdad. The south was overwhelmingly Shi'ite. I don't think i need to rehearse the joys that mix has brought the world.
Outside the Persian gulf region, the population of the middle east is largely Sunni, and in terms of Islam, largely liberal. But an important factor in the mix is that in the Arabian peninsula, the al-Saud clan had long ruled or attempted to rule the peninsula. Before the Great War, the last Saud state had been overthrown, and the leader of the clan found refuge in Kuwait. After the defeat of the Turks, the Ibn Saud (son of Saud, the name of the head of the clan at any particular time) approached the English with the proposal that they recognize him as the ruler of Arabia. He promised two things. One was to protect pilgrims to Mecca and Medina, the sine qua non for authority in Arabia. The other was to cooperate with and assist the English in finding oil in Arabia. You can imagine how long it took the English to snap up that bait. It made for a stable government in Arabia because the Hashemite monarchies had come from a clan on the shores of the Red Sea, seen by most Arabs in the peninsula as arriviste hill billies. The Ibn Saud was accepted as King on a "the devil you know" basis. It was not without opposition, but "Saudi Arabia" (not yet called that) was a British protectorate from 1915, and by 1930, any serious opposition had been quashed. The Ibn Saud was canny enough to recognize the Emirs of the Persian Gulf (he owed a debt to the Emir of Kuwait), and they accepted his rule in Arabia in return for the recognition of their authority in their traditional emirates. An ominous event during the Second Saudi state in the 18th century was the marriage into the al-Saud clan of the Wahabbi clan, who became increasingly a fundamentalist Sunni religious leadership. Today, many observers consider the Wahabbis (meaning all the adherents and not just the clan) to be the most conservative and militant of Sunni fundamentalist. For example, the Yemeni bin Laden family are Wahabbis in terms of their religious adherence.
Throughout the middle east, there was great dissatisfaction with the way England and France had carved up the region. As was the case with Africa, the new "nations" had been created largely by men sitting around in their luxuriously appointed offices in London and Paris and drawing lines on blank white maps. Winston Churchill, of course, had been careful to screw the French out of any significant petroleum deposits, but they don't seem to have minded much at the time. Most loyalties in the region of the middle east and northern Africa were to clans (think Somalia) or to tribes--as in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Tunesia, Algeria and Morrocco. Traditional monarchies in the middle east and northern Africa dating from before the Great War were cases of a clan or tribe negotiating their authority with the other clans and tribes--think Saudi Arabia and Morrocco--and then ruthlessly crushing any remaining opposition. The imposition of the Hashemite monarchies after the war was largely a failure, none of them lasted, except the one in Jordan, where the Brits long remained in force in the Palestine-Transjordan protectorate.
The pan-Arabist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries provided a focus for the discontent in these countries. From pan-Arabism arose the concept of Arab socialism. For the Paris-educated men of the Lebanon and Syria, that had much the same meaning as it does in the west--a center-right progressive political movment. For most of the middle east and North Africa, though, it meant nothing like that. It meant a return to the "traditional values" of Islam (as promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood, which began to spread out in the middle east in the 1930s) and the insistence on the use of Quranic Arabic, along with a return to the pre-colonial system of the Ulama. An alim is a righteous man. The plural is ulama, and means the body of righteous men in any community who should have authority over the community, advised and guided by one or more imams. The pan-Arabists really had no notion of how to create a national government.
But others did, and the result was a raft of various "Arab socialist" movements. In Syria and Iraq, this was the Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party. As with so much in the middle east and North Africa, it would be a mistake to think that the Ba'ath Party of Syria and the one in Iraq were the same. In Syria, a minority tribal leader, Assad, took over the party and negotiated his rule (and the succession of his son) with the backdrop of Israel as the boogeyman. That may be unravelling now. In Iraq, a law student named Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti took over the party from within, and assured his rule by employing an "us against them" theme among the ethnic Sunni Arabs of central Iraq, surrounded and outnumbered by Kurds and Shi'ites. In both Syria and Iraq, the Ba'ath parties were allied with what the West called Young Officer, or more commonly, Free Officer movements.
In most nations of the region, the people most likely to recieve a foreign education were military officers. After all, a loyal and a competent palace guard is a necessity for any ruler, especially an unpopular one. Sadly, it didn't work out that way for the King of Iraq. In Egypt, at first, the only organized resistance to the corrupt rule of King Farouk and the hated British was the Muslim Brotherhood. The Free Officers movements tended to be secular, and in Egypt, the military officer class became alarmed at the thought of the Muslim Brotherhood successfully outsing Farouk and taking over the country. Along with a foreign education, most of these officers acquired foreign tastes, and weren't enamored of the idea of losing these newly acquired tastes to the rigor of Quranic "purity." In 1952, the Free Offiers movement of Egypt successfully overthrew Farouk, as much to forestall the Muslim Brotherhood as for any other reason--they weren't necessarily devotees of the ideals of democracy. The orgiinal leader of the coup, Naguib (sp?) was a Sudanese, so in 1954, he was edged out by Nasser. The government became a military-corporate government. Anwar Sadat was Nasser's right-hand man, and held many important portfolios in the government before taking over after Nasser's death. Hosne Mubarak was Sadat's right-hand man, and also held various portfolios in the government before taking over after the assassination of Sadat. That he seems to have intended that his son should take over from him, establishing a dynasty, may have lessened support for him in the military-corporate clique which has ruled Egypt for almost 60 years now. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Egyptians have gotten what they want now, and certainly it is a mistake to assume that anything significant has really changed there.
Finally, an instructive example from Algeria. In Algeria, a popular Islamist movement won the elections necessary to take over the government. The army was having none of that, and shut down the government before the electoral winners could even effectively form a government, and have been sitting on a populist powder keg ever since. They may not be exactly comfortable sitting there, but they've managed to hold on for quite a while now. Several times in the threads about Libya, people have mentioned Algeria coming to the aid of the alliance against Kadaffi. Fat chance. There is no good reason for that military junta to support a popular democracy movement in any other country, and lots of good reasons not to. In many nations in the middle east and North Africa, with very many significant variations of detail, the governments in power have little reason to look favorably on popular democracy movements. Apart from their own authority, there are often great mountains of oil money at stake, too. Because of clan and tribal loyalties, the "nations" of the middle east and North Africa aren't true nations in the sense that we understand the term. This in large measure accounts for the success of military corporate rule (as in Egypt and Algeria) and military dictatorships (as in pre-war Iraq and in present day Libya). The military man's loyalty is to his military comrades, without reference to clan, tribal or religious loyalties (most successfully in Egypt), but ultimately, to his own pocketbook. And, once again, the one rule about statements about this region is that there are no rules. Kadaffi is a military dictator in the Stalinist mode, and he's also a minority tribal leader.
I have no doubt that people can come here and find errors of detail in what i've written. Have fun with that, 'K?
I was not providing either advice or bromides. I was just pointing out that many people may be less than enchanted with the outcome of populist movements that they choose to support.
Jesus..it's time for bed and you post THAT!!!
Don't think I'm ignoring your posts if I don't respond for a bit!
That's cool. Even a brief and incomplete outline such as that requireds quite a lot of explanation.
The long history of authoritarian regimes is well known but doesn't explain why only now has the "Arab Spring" arrived. So I won't waste too much time going backwards into deeper irrelevance and focus on what really is different this time around:
The "why now" portion of your question must start by crediting the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi
was the catalyst that pushed things over the edge. Of all the factors this is the most clear tipping point.
Across the region such humiliation is a huge motivation for anger at the authoritarian incumbents but any narrative that does not credit Mohammed Bouazizi as being the catalyst is incomplete. His self-immolation did what even Egypt's rallying case of Kahled Said's murder
could not. Kahled Said's murder simmered for months, but Mohammed Bouazizi had more influence on Egypt's revolution because the successful toppling of the Tunisian regime inspired them in ways that their anger over cases such as that of Kahled Said could not.
After this a substantial amount of credit must go to Twitter, Facebook and Al Jazeera (through satellite tv, that can't be blocked as easily as other tv technologies) for providing the pan-regional coverage that helped it spread and the means through which to organize youth. These were the tools that made the uprisings harder to subdue.
Everything else, IMO, is nearly incidental compared to the above factors. Self-immolation is a very dramatic form of protest and this isn't the first time such an instance by one individual has shaken a corner of the world
TLDR version: Self-immolation, Facebook, Al Jazeera and Twitter. In that order. Another way you might look at it is technology (which really encompasses the FB, twitter, satellite tv and cell phones that played huge roles) evolved into something that the regimes couldn't shut up.
I forgot to credit the Tunisian military for ousting Ben Ali. Had they just repressed the Tunisian revolution this would have died in Tunisia just like Iran's last attempt died there.
Iran's last attempt died there?
So, do you think Robert you have any idea of what might come of all this?
Like how real is the Syrian declaration they will end martial law?
It should be noted that it cannot be said with certainty, at this time, that anything substantive has changed in Egypt. That yet remains to be seen. If there is a revolution in Egypt, it ain't over--not by a long shot.
This sort to thing is hugely important. When women from the factories marched in the street in Petrograd in 1917, the Cossacks refused to intervene, and the Tsar's regime collapsed quickly (if felt like overnight to a lot of people then). When amored units were set into Moscow in August, 1991, and Boris Yeltsin stood on tank to defy the rump of the Soviet government, the decision of the troops not to fire on their fellow Russians was decisive. At the same time, it should be remembered that when the PLA followed their orders and swept the demonstrators from Tianamen Square, that democracy movement collapsed fatally.
Twitter and cell phones can be important for spreading the words--but they won't stop bullets. The attitude of the police and the military, so far in our history, remains decisive.
My earlier comments, Miss Wabbit, were intended to show the broad influences in the middle east and North Africa, and to emphasize that each country is different. I don't for a moment see this as some kind of "Arab Spring," that's just some nonsense of the jargon type of which news media are so fond. Certainly, this is just my opinion. In the most succinct form, that opinion is that little has changed, and there is still a good deal of water to run under the bridge before we can know just how important these events are. Twitter and cell phones didn't help the Persian kids in the street over the last couple of years.
The reason i'm not buying some kind of Arab Spring is this: so far, Tunesia is the only place where it appears that people have accomplished their goals. In Egypt, there were three goals (the press, having almost no memory, short- or long-term, seems to have forgotten this entirely). Those three goals were to get rid of Mubarak (check), amend the constitution to limit presidential terms (we're waiting) and hold free, open and fair, multi-party elections (we're still waiting).
I don't say it won't happen--but i would like to point out that outside Tunesia, nothing of substance has yet happened. Of course, Tunesia and Egypt are in North Africa. Nothing of substance, not even something superficial like the ouster of Mubarak, has happened in the core of the Arab world.
Iran's last attempt died there?
Yeah, I'm talking about the 2009-2010 attempt at revolution there that was crushed. This time around they had those leaders under house arrest to make sure that they couldn't get it started again.
They'll get it started again one day, but that one was successfully quashed by the regime.
So, do you think Robert you have any idea of what might come of all this?
In the short term I think there is little chance of much read fundamental change (in relation to how many nations have seen protests) but I think the genie is out of the bottle and that this will have long-term effects on the region in terms of the youth's willingness to protest.
That they are protesting at all is a big deal in some of these countries. This is an awakening of political power, even though it may be some time before the power is fully realized.
Like how real is the Syrian declaration they will end martial law?
I think they'll make some smaller concessions like that. But it's a bit unclear whether or not the government is controlling the snipers who are firing on the protester or not. Sometimes the government calls the protesters "martyrs" which is a very mixed signal if they are the ones killing them.
In any case, I do not predict widespread change in Syria just yet, but this is a change in narrative that will have repercussions IMO.
Put it this way, I think there will be token reforms in Syria, but it's no longer a country where protest just does not take place. This is itself a change.
In Bahrain I think there will be some token reforms as well, and in Yemen I think there will be an eventual regime change (within 6-12 months).
One thing that I forgot to mention is the role the economic crash is playing in all of this. It's always "the economy, stupid" and these aren't exceptions. A big part of the unrest is economic unrest and in the near future we are going to see the giddiness of self-determination start to exhibit cracks of frustration, because despite the well-deserved freedom this is not going to immediately solve the real sources of unrest (which came to bear largely due to economic grievances).
So you may even see re-revolutions. Places like Egypt have only won a symbolic victory, the construction of their future will take time. A key thing I am watching for now is how much patience there will be for the process.