[Marxism] What remains of the Arab Spring? - International Viewpoint - online socialist magazine

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Feb 14 07:21:34 MST 2014


What remains of the Arab Spring?

Friday 14 February 2014, by Gilbert Achcar

It is now in vogue – in our present increasingly short-term and 
short-sighted times – to ask this question to the tune of Charles 
Trenet’s song: “What remains of those beautiful days?”. The euphoria of 
2011 has given way to the melancholia of those disillusioned with the 
revolution, when it is not the dumb satisfaction of the supporters of 
the “ancien régime”, hostile to the uprising from the start on the 
pretext that nothing good would come out of it.

Let us start with this latter argument. The idea that the deeply 
iniquitous and despotic old order was a bulwark against “Islamic 
extremism” is as foolish as the belief that alcoholism is a prophylactic 
against liver disease! The manifestations of religious extremism that we 
see here or there are but symptoms of a trend that has been at work for 
decades, a trend produced both directly and indirectly by the same 
regional order that imploded in 2011.

Let us take Syria for example. It is obvious that the transformation of 
the armed forces by Hafez el-Assad into a Praetorian guard of the 
regime, based on minority religious sectarianism, was likely to feed 
sectarian rancours within the majority. Let us imagine that the Egyptian 
president were Coptic Christian, that his family dominated the economy 
of the country, that three-quarters of the officers of the Egyptian army 
were also Coptic and that the elite corps of the Egyptian army were 
close to one hundred per cent Coptic. Would one be astonished to see 
“Muslim extremism” thriving in Egypt? Yet the proportion of Alawites in 
Syria is comparable with that of Copts in Egypt, that is to say 
approximately one tenth of the population.

Besides, only poorly informed people are unaware of the fact that Bashar 
al-Assad’s regime deliberately fed Syrian Sunni jihadism, by 
facilitating its intervention in Iraq at the time of the U.S. occupation 
as well as by releasing its militants from Syrian prisons in 2011, at 
the very moment when the regime was brutally repressing and arresting 
thousands of democrats of the Syrian uprising.

The proliferation of ultrafundamentalists in the Middle East is actually 
the direct product of the disastrous heritage of the rival Baathist 
dictatorships of Syria and Iraq, combined with the no less disastrous 
effect of the American occupation of the latter and the fierce 
competition that has pitted against each other the two rival bastions of 
regional Islamic fundamentalism: the Wahhabi Saudi kingdom and the 
Khomeinist Iranian republic. As one might expect, this proliferation is 
in full flow given the deep destabilization that naturally and 
inevitably accompanies any political rising. When an abscess is 
punctured, the pus escapes from it. It is quite silly to believe that it 
would have been better to keep the abscess.

Let us now return to the question we started with: what remains of the 
Arab Spring? The answer is straightforward: the regional revolutionary 
process is still only at its beginning. It will take many years, nay 
several decades, before the shock wave that sprang out of the depths of 
the irremediably corrupt regional order leads to a new stabilization of 
Arab societies. And this is indeed why the expression “Arab Spring” was 
mistaken from the outset: it was inspired by sweet illusion that the 
regional uprising was driven only by a thirst for democracy that could 
be quenched by free elections.

To believe this, one must ignore the fact that the mainspring of the 
2011 explosion is socio-economic: this mainspring is decades of blockage 
of regional development, resulting in record rates of unemployment – in 
particular among young people and graduates. The corollary of this 
observation is that the revolutionary process that began in 2011 will 
end only when a solution is brought forward that makes it possible to 
come out of the socio-economic dead end – a solution which could be 
progressive as well as regressive, of course, because the best is never 
certain, alas, but no more than the worst is certain!

This is indeed why the “Islamist winter” in Tunisia and Egypt, in which 
the doomsayers hastened to see the final result of the process for these 
two countries, proved so brief. The failure of the Nahda and the Muslim 
Brotherhood governments was determined above all by their inability to 
find the slightest solution to the socio-economic problems in a context 
of worsening unemployment. This failure was foreseeable, and it was 
foreseen. Likewise, one can today predict that the restoration of the 
ancien régime implemented by General Sissi in Cairo will fail for the 
same reason, the same causes producing the same effects and similar 
economic policies leading to similar results.

For the Arab uprising to lead to a true modernization of Arab societies, 
new leaderships embodying the progressive aspirations of the millions of 
young people who rose up in 2011 will need to emerge and impose 
themselves. It is only on this condition that the revolutionary process 
will clear its own original path, equally distant from both the ancien 
régime and the reactionary oppositions that the ancien régime itself 

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