Free Markets, Free People


Has“Arab spring” skipped summer and fall and headed into winter?

Probably.  I assume, to some (and they will know who they are) this will come as an “unexpected” turn of events:

Six months after young, liberal activists helped lead the popular movement that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, the hard core of these protesters was forcibly dispersed by the troops. Some Egyptians lined the street to applaud the army. Others ganged up on the activists as they retreated from the square that has come to symbolize the Arab Spring.

Squeezed between an assertive military and the country’s resurgent Islamist movement, many Internet-savvy, pro-democracy activists are finding it increasingly hard to remain relevant in a post-revolutionary Egypt that is struggling to overcome an economic crisis and restore law and order.

"The liberal and leftist groups that were at the forefront of the revolution have lost touch with the Egyptian people," says Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center. "These protesters have alienated much of Egypt. For some time they’ve been deceiving themselves by saying that the silent majority is on their side—but all evidence points to the contrary, and Monday’s events confirm that."

Rather predictable, at least among those who objectively observe how the world usually works.  As I said early on, the most ruthless and best organized will win this little bout and it was obvious it was the army and the Muslim Brotherhood that shared those attributes.  They also came to an early agreement/alliance between themselves.   At that point, you knew the movement started by the “young, liberal activists” variously described as “Arab Spring” and the “Twitter Revolution” was doomed.

Proof?

The backlash among rank-and-file Egyptians became evident on July 23, when a march by revolutionary activists heading to the defense ministry was assaulted by residents of Cairo’s Abassiya neighborhood. More than a hundred people were injured.

Egypt’s secular and liberal activists have been campaigning for postponing parliamentary elections, initially planned for as early as June, so that they could better organize themselves and compete against the more established Islamists.

Elections have been pushed to November, but the liberals and the secularists appear not to have taken advantage of the delay. Instead of organizing themselves into a coherent bloc, they have set up minuscule rival parties and feuded among themselves, say analysts and diplomats.

"There is a power game going on—and the liberals and the entire secular movement are the weaker element, while the Islamists and the army are strong," said Laila Soueif, a liberal activist and human-rights campaigner who teaches at Cairo University.

The secular and liberal activists let the revolution pass them by while they feuded and fought among themselves.    Meanwhile the army and Brotherhood took advantage of the situation and are now poised to take control of the country – “democratically” of course.  And they’re certainly not going to agree to a delay in elections to allow their rivals for power any chance of better organizing themselves.

I think it is probably pretty clear what the outcome of elections will be and who will end up being squeezed out.   The secular and liberal activists have missed their moment.   Meet the new boss – same as the old boss.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

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23 Responses to Has“Arab spring” skipped summer and fall and headed into winter?

  • If you expect absolutely nothing good to ever come from the middle east then you will never be disappointed.

    Civilization was begun in ancient Sumeria,  The Egyptians had some early math and science, and social and spiritual laws were promulgated by the ancient Israelis

    And it has been downhill ever since.

    The less we have to do with them the better.

  • Sadly I wish it was “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.  But really, it’s “meet the new boss, far scarier than the already horrible but at least not completely religiously motivated old boss”.

  • … the square that has come to symbolize the Arab Spring.

    I’m curious: for whom does it symbolize “the Arab Spring”?  Did the Arab Spring ever really exist outside the wishful thoughts of Western liberals?  Were the revolts and protests in the Middle East EVER about liberalization and democracy, or merely about getting rid of one set of despots only to replace them with another set?  Do Arabs as a whole even WANT liberal, Western-style democracy?

    • “Do Arabs as a whole even WANT liberal, Western-style democracy?”

      EXCELLENT QUESTION

      The Bush and Obama administrations thought so and continue to think so, and the generals appear (for career purposes) to have bought it. Civilizing stone age goatherds into a modern democratic society seems like a reasonable and not-at-all arrogant goal, doesn’t it?

      • Their religion doesn’t work for Democracy, or anything other than some from of theocracy.  But they’re not all goatherds by any stretch of the imagination, and thinking they are is a dangerous and conceited underestimation.

        Quite the contrary, the leaders of radical Islam may want to consign their people to the 12th century, but they understand US very well, and they are by no means primitive in their planning.
        If we tried and failed, at least we tried.  That’s to be remembered when the necessarily ugly parts occur later on, as they will.  Given that we’re not going to turn it all into a glass parking lot, it would be good to have some people THERE remember we did try another approach first.  It will be rebuilt eventually, it will change eventually.  The rush of forward progress will leave the 12th century clingers behind,  They know that, this is their gambit to prevent it.  But it will fail.

        We’re just not ruthless enough to do it ourselves….right now.

        • “But they’re not all goatherds by any stretch of the imagination, and thinking they are is a dangerous and conceited underestimation.”

          It’s a fair point and one that I concede. I was using a bit of rhetorical excess, but I think you’re right.

          Agreed, also, about lack of American ruthlessness. The Romans didn’t have this problem.

          • Sadly, for them, and ultimately for our own post war consciences, we’ll get there, they’ll see to that because they don’t understand we’re fundamentally inheritors of the Victorian empires thinking on people who hurt you.  We don’t fold, we get even, and they get to be destroyed.

            They’ll get us to the point where we treat Islam as we did the idea that the Emperor of Japan was god on earth and the Koran will get a re-write by moderate Islamic scholars, think of it as the ‘King James’ version.

            I won’t be around to listen to the teachers tell the kids what bastards we were 40 years after the last bullet leaves the barrel though, so I’ll pretend that won’t happen.

      • Civilizing stone age goatherds into a modern democratic society seems like a reasonable and not-at-all arrogant goal, doesn’t it?

        Pangur: I supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan not because I thought democratizing Islamic countries was a great bet — I’ve been pessimistic about Islam since reading the Qur’an twenty-five years ago — but because I thought it worth trying before radical Muslims attack the West with serious WMD leading to a war in which hundreds of millions of people might be killed.

        That horror remains a serious possibility. We may have bought some time with those wars that could be valuable. Islamic countries are aging and squandering their oil power. If we can get through another couple decades, they may weaken so much that they will no longer pose these threats. It’s still not impossible that their young people will turn away from Islamism, though not this year.

        • “I supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan not because I thought democratizing Islamic countries was a great bet”

          This sounds good, and I think a lot of people thought it would work. I know I wanted it to once I realized our commitment was made.  However, it’s an ahistorical way to think. Transplanting 800 years of western-style democratic thought and tradition (i.e., Runnymede to today) simply cannot happen in a nonwestern society in a generation or even three. My suspicion is that we’ve made things worse by our interventions, in no small part because we’ve meddled in a part of the world which we don’t understand, or want to. Short of “kill them all” — not our policy — the sooner we leave, the better.

          • Pangur: Some bets are more informed than others, however a bet is a hope that something might happen, not a belief that it will.

            And no it’s not “an ahistorical way to think.” Human progress is the story of previous conventions being overturned. By your reasoning, the transition of Japan to Western-style democracy after WWII should have been impossible.

    • “Do Arabs as a whole even WANT liberal, Western-style democracy?”
      Frankly, I think the Iranians are more ready for a liberal, Western-style democracy than most of the rest of the Middle East.
      Until you have lived in the 12th century, you have no idea what you will miss.

      • Wow.  What an amazing question.  I guess the SEVERAL pluralistic democracies that existed just a few decades ago don’t count.
        Or all those purple-fingered Iraqis…who had a hell of a lot more commitment to voting than I have ever had to show.
        Same with Afghans who walked for miles to polls, under a fatwa from the Taliban that would mean death.

  • Six months after young, liberal activists helped lead the popular movement that ousted President Hosni Mubarak >>> You gotta understand that in this part of the world, “liberal” means only stoning women instead of beheading them when they get uppity and try to read or act like they deserve basic human rights

    • Your remark reminds me of an amusing series that Iowahawk did.  If I may recommend the most recent:

      http://iowahawk.typepad.com/iowahawk/2011/05/this-new-roommate-is-driving-me-nuts.html

      On a more serious note, I fear that you are spot-on: there seems to be a very powerful bloc in the Middle East that really seems to like the medieval lifestyle of stonings, beheadings, religious courts, etc.  I doubt that it’s monolithic through the region; I suspect that it’s less powerful in countries with higher levels of education such as Iran and Iraq, and stronger in countries that are more backwards, such as A-stan and Detroit.  However, it’s shown itself to be utterly ruthless.  Further, it’s a big selling point when you can plausibly claim that you are doing God’s work.  Who are ya gonna trust: the thuggish dictator who is clearly in it for himself, or the pious cleric who is trying to establish God’s kingdom on earth?

  • Somewhere in Maine there’s a professor trying desperately to come up with a way it can all be Bush’s fault.

  • “Human progress is the story of previous conventions being overturned. By your reasoning, the transition of Japan to Western-style democracy after WWII should have been impossible.”

    Huxley, interesting but ultimately I disagree. We destroyed Japan thoroughly enough to start not literally from scratch, but enough that they were willing to adopt our imposed system of governance. You can call it progress, but it was imposed after a devastating defeat rather than occurring in a self-imposed way. We’re not willing to do this in the Middle East. To make your analogy work, we’d have to march into most or all of the Arab capitals (including that of our “friends” the Saudis) and force a government on them. We have not done this.

    As far as the progress of history goes, I don’t assume that all progress leads to democracy or democratic forms of government. Given the history of democratic forms of government versus nondemocratic forms of government in the world, it seems to me that the latter are far more common and in (some) ways more preferable. Of course, the USA’s founding fathers had a deep mistrust of democracy, and constructed a federated republic with some democratic features, but lots of nondemocratic (or antimajoritarian, if you like) features to counterbalance.

    • Pangur: You made the grand unqualified claim, “Transplanting 800 years of western-style democratic thought and tradition (i.e., Runnymede to today) simply cannot happen in a nonwestern society in a generation or even three.” I pointed out an obvious counter-example and now you are adding a loophole to protect your grand claim. So I can assume that whatever counters I might cite, you will declare another exception.

      The fact is that neither of us knows the future of Islamic societies. Change is difficult and the odds favor that things will continue as before — until they don’t. One could just as well argue that it would be impossible for a fractious group of 7th century tribes to unify and take over half of the Western world. Yet they did.

      • Hux,

        I distinguished your example on the facts. I think it was a reasonable point because the situations were indeed factually different. Also, I think my grand claim is valid, because the conditions resulting in our polity were and are unique. The ME has no democratic tradition to speak of; we, on the other hand, have a long and storied one. Yes, it was pretty general claim, but still valid.
        Agreed that we can’t know the future. But I tend to believe (based on historical foreign involvement in the middle east) that the change brought about by our involvement will be limited.  Also, as a practical matter, I find it bad policy that we should try nation-building at all. I find it arrogant that we’re trying to impose democracy on states that are essentially undemocratic. Finally, I don’t think we have enough at stake in the ME to spend a dollar or a drop of blood there. Of course this is a minority view, even after years of futility.
        Good chatting with you about this.


         

  • Pangur: Your point is reasonable, but that’s a far piece from being true. In history, reasonableness works until it doesn’t.

    The main objection I would raise to your argument is that, while the ME “has no democratic tradition” to speak of, the ME does exist within the global community which grows more intimate with each decade as technology pulls us all closer and closer together.

    Muslims are deeply influenced by the West. In fact, it’s not too much to say that Islam itself is a Christian heresy. In the space of a few decades Judeo-Christian influences via Muhammad transformed the Arab world from polytheism to monotheism. That happened because monotheism had already been developed over centuries by Jews then Christians, and Muhammad was able to jumpstart Islam from those traditions. I’m not crazy about where he took monotheism, but my point is that he could do so rapidly because Judaism and Christianity already existed.

    Whether the blood and treasure we have spent in Iraq was worth it remains to be seen. However, there is no question that we removed a thoroughly vile and dangerous dictator, that the Iraqis supported that, and that our efforts at nation-building were somewhat successful. I consider it arrogant to dismiss these benefits and the courage of those Iraqis who put their lives on the line for a democratic Iraq.

    That said, I don’t support any further expenditures in Muslim countries. We have spent enough and we need to restore our own country.

    Good chatting with you too.