Sunday, August 7, 2011


Almost as long as there have been governments, there have been attempts to overthrow them. But what does history tell us about the uprisings in the Middle East?
(Britt Peterson, deputy managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine at
The Arab Spring (literally the Arabic Rebellions or the Arab Revolutions) is a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests that has been taking place in the Arab world since 18 December 2010. Prior to this period, Sudan was the only Arab country to have successfully overthrown dictatorial regimes, in 1964 and again in 1985. To date, there have been revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt; a civil war in Libya; civil uprisings in Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen; major protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, and Oman, as well as on the borders of Israel; and minor protests in Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Western Sahara. The protests have shared techniques of civil resistance in sustained campaigns involving strikes, demonstrations, marches and rallies, as well as the use of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to organize, communicate, and raise awareness in the face of state attempts at repression and internet censorship. Many demonstrations have also met violent responses from authorities, as well as from pro-government militias and counter-demonstrators. The slogan of the demonstrators in the Arab world has been Ash-sha`b yurid isqat an-nizam ("The people want to bring down the regime")
As of May 2011, demonstrations have resulted in the overthrow of two heads of state: Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on 14 January following the Tunisian revolution protests, and in Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak resigned on 11 February 2011, after 18 days of massive protests, ending his 30-year presidency. During this period of regional unrest, several leaders announced their intentions to step down at the end of their current terms. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced that he would not seek re-election in 2015, as did Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose term ends in 2014, although there have been increasingly violent demonstrations demanding his immediate resignation. Protests in Jordan have also caused the resignation of the government resulting in former Prime Minister and Ambassador to Israel Marouf al-Bakhit being appointed prime minister by King Abdullah and tasked with forming a new government. Another leader, President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, announced on 23 April that he would step down within 30 days in exchange for immunity, a deal the Yemeni opposition informally accepted on 26 April; Saleh then reneged on the deal, prolonging the Yemeni uprising. Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi has refused to step down, causing a civil war between his loyalists and rebels based in Benghazi.
Egypt has had revolutions before, notably in 1952, when the charismatic army officers Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew the king, abolished the monarchy, and declared a republic under the banner of a secular, socialist pan-Arabism. This, of course, became known as Nasserism, after the figurehead Naguib was thrown out of power. Nasser's movement inspired several nationalist coups throughout the Muslim world, including Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya and Ahmed Ben Bella in Algeria.
(Britt Peterson, deputy managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine at

The Free Officers in Cairo in 1952
AFP/Getty Images

Nearly 60 years ago, the Egyptian military faced a similar political dilemma to the one it confronts today.
"If I held elections today, al-Nahas would win, not us. Then our achievement would be nothing," Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser told a meeting of army officers and Muslim Brotherhood leaders on 29 December 1952.
Nasser was discussing the future of political transition in Egypt after the July coup, led by the Free Officers' Movement, that overthrew King Farouk and eventually saw Nasser installed as Egypt's president.
The rest of the story is well-known: parliament was dissolved, political parties were banned, basic freedoms were suspended, and the army dominated politics. 
The man who stood to win - had an election been held in 1952 - was Mustafa al-Nahas, the head of the secular-liberal Wafd Party, once the most popular political party in Egypt.
Worried by the prospect of a liberal electoral victory, the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood supported the decision of Nasser and his Revolutionary Command Council to ban all political parties.
(Egypt secularists and liberals afraid of democracy? By Omar Ashour Middle East analyst, BBC NEWS MIDDLE EAST at

The Free Officers

The nine men who had constituted themselves as the Committee of the Free Officers' Movement and led the 1952 Revolution were Lieutenant Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser, Major Abd al Hakim Amir, Lieutenant Colonel Anwar as Sadat, Major Salah Salim, Major Kamal ad Din Husayn, Wing Commander Gamal Salim, Squadron Leader Hasan Ibrahim, Major Khalid Muhi ad Din, and Wing Commander Abd al Latif al Baghdadi. Major Husayn ash Shafii and Lieutenant Colonel Zakariyya Muhi ad Din joined the committee later.
After the coup, the Free Officers asked Ali Mahir, a previous prime minister, to head the government. The Free Officers formed the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), which dictated policy to the civilian cabinet, abolished all civil titles such as pasha and bey, and ordered all political parties to purify their ranks and reconstitute their executive committees.
The RCC elected Muhammad Naguib president and commander in chief. He was chosen because he was a popular hero of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and an officer trusted by the army. In 1951 the Free Officers had elected him as president of the Egyptian Army Officers Club over the candidate chosen by Faruk. It was extremely important for the Free Officers to ensure the loyalty of the army if the coup were to succeed. Naguib was fifty-one years old; the average age of the other Free Officers was thirty- three.
Three-and-a-half months after the fall of the last of the modern-pharaohs, Egypt is still rife with uncertainty. Following the hedonism of revolution the mood is currently very sobering. Queries now focus on national identity; this is of vital importance to Egypt given its history as one of the great ancient civilizations, its role as a major regional political and military power and its current responsibility as a mirror to the broader Arab psyche.
Whilst Egypt asks itself these soulful questions, as well as coming up with an institutional frames upon which to establish them, the baltaguiya (loosely translated as vagabonds or thieves) of the Mubarak regime remain. All the while the Muslim Brotherhood has begun to emerge from the underground where it has hidden for nearly six decades.
Aspirations to make Egypt a prosperous democracy are fading due to the inefficiency of the military led interim administration. Despite its role in allowing the recent revolution to take place, the military is still tainted somewhat by association to the Mubarak era. The interim administration has to deal with, not only, traditional parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood but also more unpredictable elements such as comical old opposition groups, business interests that flourished under Mubarak and of course good old-fashioned tribal alliances.
The Greek philosopher Anaxagoras commented that "nothing is born or perishes, but things already existing combine and then separate again." Translated into political-speak: everything is cyclical, structures and paradigms are established, decline and collapse only to be replaced with new ones. In the here and now, this means that the Arab world is beginning to dismantle the political, and potentially territorial, scaffolding created after the First World War. If this is the case, the ramifications for the region and the World generally will be immense.
(Egypt Revolution Still Searching For Identity By Gabriel G. Tabarani at
It is not surprising that Mubarak’s administration “overlooked” the social explosion. Indeed, statistical data righteously claimed that the country was developing very successfully. Economic growth rates were high (even in the crisis years). Poverty and inequality levels were among the lowest in the Third World. Global food prices were rising, but the government was taking serious measures to mitigate their effect on the poorest layers of the population. Unemployment level (in per cent) was less than in many developed countries of the world and, moreover, was declining, and so were population growth rates. What would be the grounds to expect a full-scale social explosion? Of course, the administration had a sort of reliable information on the presence of certain groups of dissident “bloggers”, but how could one expect that they would be able to inspire to go to the Tahrir Square any great masses of people? It was even more difficult to figure out that Mubarak’s regime would be painfully struck by its own modernization successes of the 1980s, which led to the sharp decline of crude death rate and especially of infant and child mortality in 1975–1990.
Without these successes many young Egyptians vehemently demanding Mubarak’s resignation (or even death) would have been destined to die in early childhood and simply would not have survived to come out to the Tahrir Square. Highlighting the events of Egyptian Revolution 2011, various mass media tried to explain what had caused the riots. Most explanations followed the same pattern, blaming economic stagnation, poverty, inequality, corruption and unemployment. A typical explanation is that “Egyptians have the same complaints that drove Tunisians onto the streets: surging food prices, poverty, unemployment and authoritarian rule that smother public protests quickly and often brutally”.
(Egyptian Revolution: A Demographic Structural Analysis at
The Egyptian crisis has produced the usual blather about the role of America. The United States remains powerful and important, but it has already lost control of events - not that it ever really had it. Moreover, it hardly matters what Washington now says. The Islamists of the Brotherhood do not despise America for what it does but for what it is. Read Qutb's purplish alarm at the dress and appearance of American women. Read his racist remarks about blacks. The Islamic state Qutb envisioned would be racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian as well. It would treat women as the Taliban now does - if only because the Taliban, too, reveres Qutb. He rejected a clemency offer, saying his words would matter more if he was dead. He was right.
He was hanged in 1966, but not before he had managed to turn out a vast amount of writings. He showed almost superhuman courage and was, in many respects, a formidable man. But he was also a racist, a bigot, a misogynist, an anti-Semite and a fervent hater of most things American. As if to prove that familiarity breeds contempt, he had spent about two years in the United States.
Majority rule is a worthwhile idea. But so, too, is respect for minorities, freedom of religion, and the equality of women. It's possible that the contemporary Islamists of Egypt think differently about these matters than did Qutb. If that's the case, then there is no cause for concern. But Hamas in the Gaza Strip, although recently moderating its message, suggests otherwise.
Hosni Mubarak is history. He has stayed too long, been too recalcitrant - and, for good reason, let his fear of the future ossify the present. Egypt and the entire Middle East are on the verge of convulsing.
It's impossible to get a fix on what is happening in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood seemed to be lying low. Was that a reflection of weakness or canniness? The Brotherhood remains the only well-organized institution in Egypt other than the military. It has been underground for generations - jailed, tortured, infiltrated, but still, somehow, flourishing. Its moment may be approaching.
Under a different name (Hamas), the Muslim Brotherhood runs the Gaza Strip. Hamas's charter states unequivocally that it wants to eradicate Israel. It mentions the 1978 Camp David accords, and not with admiration. ("Egypt was, to a great extent, removed from the circle of the struggle through the treacherous Camp David Agreement.") No doubt that in an Egyptian election, the call to repudiate the treaty will prove popular - as popular as the peace with Israel has not been.
( at
The Free Officers established this republic to spearhead and finally deliver a long-held ambition: the creation of the "Arab Ummah" (Arab Nation), a single nation pan-Arab and united nation stretching "from the Gulf to the Ocean". This ideal of pan-Arabism, up to this point, had to endure marginalisation at the hands of the era’s Real Politik.
Following Nasser’s ideologically optimistic rule, the Sadat regime was defined by the establishment of a cadre of fat cats who gorged themselves on their nation’s wealth and the trappings of power. This system was replicated and refined further under the Mubarak regime, Mubarak having been Sadat’s vice-president and thus well versed on the abuse of authority for personal gain.
(Egypt Revolution Still Searching For Identity By Gabriel G. Tabarani at

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