February 18, 2012


Between hope and fear (Roula Khalaf, 2/10/12, Financial Times)
The same idea is picked up by Marwan Bishara, the senior political analyst for Al Jazeera English television, in The Invisible Arab: The Promise and Peril of the Arab Revolutions.

In his journey into the past abuses that explain the Arab spring, Bishara argues that the youth awakening was inspired by the sacrifices of political, community and labour leaders over many years. In Egypt, these people include George Ishaq from Egypt's Kefaya movement, an organisation that had played an instrumental role in raising awareness about the dangers of a hereditary transition years before the youth launched the revolution.
In Tunisia, Bishara rightly notes, the uprising started by young men and women in a remote town became a nationwide revolution when labour unions and banned opposition groups joined in. "While the revolution marked a break with the past, it was also a by-product of a long history of social and political struggle in the Arab world," he says.

The old political activists were given renewed hope by an internet-savvy generation who broke the wall of fear, taking to the streets to protest against a political order that had oppressed society, sought to fool it by creating fa├žades of democracy and pretended to liberalise the economy. During the rule of the autocrats, no segment of society was spared state pressure. Regimes' political opponents were harassed and jailed; the youth were subdued by state intervention in universities and even their sports were hijacked by the patronage of members of the regime. In Egypt, for example, both of Mubarak's sons, Gamal and Ala'a, styled themselves as youth leaders.

Worse yet, writes Bishara, the dictators focused "less on the utility of their leadership and more on the continuity of their legacy", promoting their heirs and producing what he calls "autocrats in waiting". The sons, in fact, became "power brokers, or power mediators, between the three pillars of influence: the regimes' old guard, the 'business whales' or the new oligarchs who devoured everything they had access to, and western governments and multinationals with interests in the region's emerging markets."

The author does not spare the west from blame for perpetuating the region's dictatorships. Governments that claimed to have supported the Arab revolutions had in reality "folded" the dictators into the US regional order, with little regard to the fact that the Arab world had become "ever more stagnant, leaderless, polarised and downtrodden".

The US and others are now treading carefully as they adapt to a new Middle East in which the main political actors - the Islamists - were largely shunned in the past for fear of upsetting the ruling autocrats. The pictures of Anne Patterson, the US ambassador to Egypt, visiting the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo last month would have been unthinkable a year ago.

The relationship between western governments and Islamists will be an important factor in future regional stability. For the first time the US and its allies must deal with representative governments and with popular sentiment opposed to many western policies in the Middle East. But the Islamist-led governments that are assuming power at a time of extraordinary economic difficulty will also have to recognise that they need western support, including financially.

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Posted by at February 18, 2012 7:26 AM

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