Notebook, 12-13 February 2011: Milestones . . .

The Arabic speaking world has again become politically articulate, and it is exhilarating to behold.

First of all, let me offer my congratulations to the protesters, my thanks to the Egyptian Army for the way it fulfilled its role thus far (regardless of the indifferent period when the NDP’s thugs were unleashed on the protesters) and my appreciation to Al Jazeera, who, more than any other news outlet, refused to let this protest be crushed in secret.

All of you have good reason to recall your roles in these events with a well earned pride for the rest of your lives. Your grandchildren will have reason to brag about what you’ve done in the last 17 days.

Keep it up. The hard part is about to begin, and Egypt doesn’t have a democracy quite yet. The police and SSI are still employed.


This post is in response to this perfectly valid concern, voiced by Phil in Denver at The Daily Kos, and my reply:

If anyone can predict (2+ / 0-)
how this will really play out long term, my hat is off to them. Frankly I’d say all bets are off. This is not early 1990’s Czekoslovakia, there is no way of knowing yet whether this will be a “velvet” revoultion or merely a path for a new dictatorial power to step in and claim the mantle.

Regardless of how it turns out, it’s hard to see how this would in any way impact Al Qaeda. It certainly does not remove their “raison d’etre”. Their goal remains a Middle-East free of US influence. As long as Israel exists as a nation and as long as countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, etc. have oil and maintain friendly relaitons with the US. Al Qaeda’s charter, mission, and reasoning remain firmly intact.

Any thought that this would slow them down in anyway is a serious misreading of the situation.

“crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government” -Thomas Jefferson

by Phil In Denver on Fri Feb 11, 2011 at 06:06:09 PM EST

this is a subject for a longer post… (0+ / 0-)
suffice it to say, this revolution steals Al Qaeda’s narrative and offers a possible (not a viable, not unless it’s pulled off) alternative. Right in Sayyid Qutb’s homeland.

Al Qaeda loses its broad base of support (and dies), especially when this movement comes to the Arabian Peninsula.

22 December 2010: Democrats have one good day in two years, and what will it cost us?

by papicek on Fri Feb 11, 2011 at 07:33:34 PM EST

(From Vyan’s diary, Egypt just gave us al Qaeda’s worst Nightmare)

How does a people rise up and demand their political rights? Why does one population suddenly become politically aware and another group of people in similar straits remain quiescent? What political chemistry changes? Well, nobody knows, certainly not me, but I have a pretty good notion of some of the ingredients in this political brew.

I and Thou . . .

Sayyid Qutb’s book Milestones is still regarded as one of the seminal statements of Islamic nationalism. It’s real message is made in its case for the superiority of Islamic culture over western societies. Qutb was not an uneducated man, neither was he ignorant. It was only after he spent considerable time and travel throughout the US that he came to this conclusion.

This is typical. Marc Sageman, in his book,Understanding Terror Networks notes that, for whatever combination of reasons, the majority of Islamic jihadis are recruited in western nations. So it was with Qutb, though his major contact with a western society came through his experiences under British colonial rule, having been born in 1906, the last year of Evelyn Lord Cromer Baring’s tenure as British Controller-General of Egypt. (Basically, the west installed a banker to run Egypt after the Khedive ran the country into bankruptcy. In a typically insensitive move of the time, Egypt had its sovereignty taken away. Because of what are today called “bond vigilantes” wanted their money.)

Of course Milestones caught on.

I am convinced that a nation becomes politically aware when triggered by an awareness of what they are not. Arabic speaking Muslims are not Israelis, nor are they Westerners. Those on the right will read my following statement as just another lefty dumping on America, but what I say is true: the antagonism that the west endures from modern Islamic societies was earned by a century of colonial misrule, as well as the west’s support of Israel (sort of a western invasion of the region) and the ongoing rhetoric in the vein of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West and Samuel P. Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of the World Order (which you can read without your head exploding. Huntington states himself that his is a premise which works only if you take it salted).

It can be spun that the January 25 Revolution will eventually yield a series of hostile regimes in Cairo, but this concern is exactly as likely as one which turns out to be friendly. We cannot expect that Egypt, in the future, will be happy with all of our actions or will comply with our wishes. Neither can we allow Egyptians to continue to be tortured and murdered at the hands of their government just because it makes life easier for the west, including Israel. So we’ll do the best we can. Egypt, both ancient and modern, is celebrated in the west. There is a history of warm relations between us.

Thus Qutb, thus al Qaeda.

What worries diplomats, international relations professionals, pundits and supporters of Israel is that nobody knows to what extent either the Muslim Brotherhood has aligned itself with the secular arm of the Tahrir Square protesters temporarily, can co-opt the process going forward or can, through force, prevail against all political opposition (perhaps through resorting to violence). Phil in Denver is right. None of us here can predict this. However what we see here is a secular movement, bent on being inclusive: Muslims surrounded a Coptic Christian mass being celebrated in Tahrir Square—to protect it. What we hear is people proud of “being Egyptian” whatever individual meaning people place on this.

I feel we can depend on the obvious joy we’re witnessing today. I think we can depend on the impulse we see by the protesters to embrace all as Egyptians. Granted, this will not last, it cannot, but we can count on it for the near term. Surely we will see factions quickly develop to advocate their own agendas, but the lesson of Tahrir Square may just be that cooperation pays. People are astute enough to realize that it took a broad coalition to bring about Mubarak’s withdrawal from office, and this is new in my lifetime. History teaches us that revolutions are almost never successful, it is true, but this is barely a revolution, and certainly not a revolt. It is, however, the most potent protest I’ve ever seen, and it was only when counter-revolutionary violence was brought by the thugs (not that it ever stopped—civilian and military police never stopped picking off protesters outside of Tahrir Square, and are probably still doing so) that the protesters cross the line into violence. An important point to recall is that the protesters behaved in such a way which prevented a huge pool of resistance to them and their aims. Indeed, as time went on, the protest became more and more popular.

“We must trust people with their own history.”

Fouad Ajami on AC360

This may sound profoundly undemocratic, but not every nation in the world may be ready to take on the responsibilities of democratic participation. What they called in the 2010 Democracy Index, the “Culture of Democracy” is a set of assumptions that people in liberal democracies have come to take for granted: that everyone who wants to can vote without intimidation or reprisal, that once the electorate has chosen losers accept the results and that the greater the participation, the stronger the democracy. It’s more than a problem in countries like Egypt. The Democracy Index report shows democracy weakening in Italy, Greece, France, the United Kingdom and the United States. All thought of as emblems of what it means to be a democracy citing dropping levels of democratic participation, a growing disenchantment with established political parties and policies such as the Patriot Act’s provision of spying on its own citizens without judicial safeguards.

The one thing I don’t think any of us need to worry about today is the level of enthusiasm for some kind of a democratic structure in Egypt. They are so ready. I see a people who have been fighting for almost three weeks without break to end their authoritarian regime. I see the joy. I hear the exultation. Egyptians have come out and said that they are not Hosni Mubarak. I very much doubt that an unfettered Egyptian press, which has seen some very public defections as well as open complaints from editors and producers, will give Egyptians plenty to get excited about. just having the ability to speak up and to rally and march without reprisal should prove a heady tonic for the next year at least. Free elections confer legitimacy, whatever the tea party and the murderers at Faux News try to get across.

After which, who knows? For America, there are no guarantees in our relations in the region and there never were. The call now in Egypt is to return to a blank slate, and the challenges ahead are enormous, but for right now, the strength and momentum lies with the protesters.

We’ll have to see how it goes.

UPDATE: Regarding Saudi Arabian youth, I’m sitting here watching a business report on Saudi Arabia’s officially sponsored effort to stimulate employment among young entrants in the Saudi job force: they are starting their own domestic car company, targeting the Middle Eastern luxury car market.

Well there you go. Right now, the huge popularity of the narrative of a secular democracy, as well as the dignifying and empowerment of ordinary citizens is a powerful alternative to the Qutb/Muslim Brotherhood/al Qaeda narrative of Islamic fundamentalism.

At long last. I don’t know what Phil intends to do, but I’m going to continue to celebrate.

UPDATE: Looks like Algeria has declared martial law. Troops and armored vehicles are manning intersections in Algiers.

UPDATE: Here’s a good description of just how irrelevant the Muslim Brotherhood is to the January 25 Revolution, from The Arabist. (h/t to blakehounsell)

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One thought on “Notebook, 12-13 February 2011: Milestones . . .

  1. I’m optimistic. Everyone realizes that the protesters have acquitted themselves admirably and that right now, they hold the prestige of the entire nation in their hands.

    I intend to keep on celebrating.

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