Tag Archives: Arab spring

When New Worlds are Born

“Hannibal Tactic” – it’s the new term my mom told me the Israeli left was using about the Israeli military.  That somehow they killed those three soldiers themselves and blamed it on Hamas so they could break the truce.

The current conflict in Gaza, with all its Fog of War, has no shortage of such conspiracy theories.  Some on the left have even proposed that there’s oil under Gaza and the war is a pretext to exploit it. I’m not going to debunk them here, I’ll just say I’ve seen enough of them at work in my many years of political activity to notice what’s really going on.

The real issue is that people tend to get their worldviews at a certain point in their lives, and it works for a while, but then they never stop to examine their views.  Meanwhile, the world changes in ways that boggle the imagination and needs to constantly be rethought and re-analyzed.  So they keep trying to jam current events into a worldview that’s been obsolete for years, even decades, and only come across as more and more ridiculous.

Indeed that’s why I got into political theory.  It recognizes at its heart that there’s nothing absolute about reality, that it’s a social construct that is actively fought over by various political powers in a life and death struggle.

And what we’ve been seeing in the past three years, beginning with the Arab Spring and culminating in this conflict over Gaza, is our entire understanding of world politics being rewritten.

You could say the current understanding of the Middle East comes from two events: the 1975 UN resolution equating Zionism with racism, and the Camp David accord declaring peace between Egypt and Israel in 1978.  This set a framework where Israel was isolated by Arab neighbors who were steadfast enemies, while Egypt maintained a shaky peace that everyone thought was only maintained by a dictator against the population’s will (Anwar Saddat, the Egyptian signatory, was assassinated).

And the world watched and interpreted those events in Israel and the Occupied Territories according to that framework.  This gave Israel very few options for dealing with Palestinians in those territories, since any military action met with swift calls for a cease fire by its neighbors.  And Arabs both in the occupied territories and neighboring countries like Lebanon felt much bolder to take potshots at Israel.

Enter the Arab Spring. Which I called a pro-Western, secular democratic revolution in earlier blog posts.  Others quickly lamented all the shortcomings of these revolutions, which is complaining that the newborn can’t speak, but I saw world-changing potential.

And now those potentials are coming forth.  The major change in this current conflict with Gaza is Egypt is no longer a friend of Hamas.  Egypt destroyed the smuggling tunnels leading into Gaza, their media rails against Hamas, and as I write this they are negotiating with Hamas without Israel’s presence, and it sounds like they’re just trying to bring Hamas back to reality.

Indeed it seems like Hamas is still operating with the demands and politics of the 80s, and their unpleasant surprise is now – there’s a new reality in the Middle East.

And, while the world continues to rail against Israel, Egypt quietly dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing .  A quick search of the comments section shows that Egyptians welcome this move.   But very few news channels are really exploring this.  CNN posted this, which is a start:

And even they aren’t noticing the elephant in the room.  Wait a minute – Egypt is ALLIED with Israel?? Wait another minute … SAUDI ARABIA and JORDAN are allied with Israel?  Even if it’s under the radar, even if overtly they insert an obligatory “death to Israel” at every speech (like this guy) we’ll take it with jubilation!

Because at the same time, they’re alerting Hamas and the rest of the world to a new political reality.  It’s a reality where Israel will look around at its neighbors and see, if not friends, at least people with similar interests and temporary alliances.  And that is HUGE for a country that’s been isolated since its inception.

Like I told my mom, just wait another month.  Everything you know about the Middle East is going to be thrown out the window, and a whole new world will be born.

Imperialism and Law

“I will make it legal” – Emperor Palpatine
That might not be the best quote, since I’m loath to compare the US Government with a Sith Lord from a children’s story, and there are far too many children’s stories to explain the situation in the Middle East. But the quote illustrates an important point: law stems from power. He who has the power makes the laws, and he who makes the laws has the power.
And that is the best way to understand the issue in Syria and how it’s developing. The basic issue is the Arab Spring, which is a pro-Western revolt in the Middle East, spreading into Syria, which falls under Russian Imperial influence.
This explains why the US has been very skittish about getting too involved in Syria – being too heavy handed could risk open confrontation with Russia. Contrast that with our $1.5 billion yearly aid to the Egyptian military.
But what Obama said, over and over again, is the US’s need to establish some kind of basic “red line” or international law by which it is compelled to act anywhere around the globe. And this is the heart of imperialism, and why it’s such a nuanced concept that it escapes most people. Too often we need something blatant behind it – oil, profit, dollars, greed – but the reality of it is as delicate as a word.
And that’s the thing. For the purposes of this article, we will assume Assad has used chemical weapons, this means Russia would also like to get on board and enforce that standard. That means Syria is becoming indefensible. And whereas Russia would feel violated if the US did an open military strike on one of its allied countries, allowing the US to maintain this international standard, or law, is more nuanced, and lets it maintain regional domain.
In this narrow sense, it’s actually a lot like Iraq. Other countries only opposed the US’s invasion of Iraq in speeches and rhetoric. When it came down to material support, they were all in there, divvying it up according to the anarchic law of imperial powers.
And the US, by upholding and struggling single-handedly for this limited international standard, no matter how basic and abridged, maintains its prestige as the world’s power.
It is with this lens that we can take Obama at his word when he says that to put that red line down, and then not to enforce it when someone crosses it, would be to gravely damage our national interests.

Numbers, dammit! I need numbers!!!

It’s an old political science lesson: when the camera pans out, it’s journalism. When it pans in, it’s propaganda.
The former is what we saw in Egypt two years ago. The latter is what we’re seeing today.
It means the demonstrations calling the overthrow of Mubarrak numbered in the millions. Meanwhile, it looks like the demonstrations calling for the restoration of Morsi are numbering only in the thousands. It seems like a lot in a country like ours where nobody demonstrates over much of anything, but it confirms my opinion in my last post that the Morsi faction is a small, well organized minority which “sees it as an all or nothing battle” (to quote a CNN correspondent).
With this in mind, struggle and death is as inevitable as it is in any revolution. At least if you want to move forward to a democratic society.
And the media continue to forget any real numbers while they fumble around blindly with their senile moralistic lens. We need numbers, goddammit! How big are these pro-Morsi demonstrations, really? What people in Egypt are saying about it? Where are the 33 million who came out in support of Morsi’s ouster?
Killing 500 people to crush a small minority aimed at strangling a fledgling democracy is really a small price to pay, especially when they say it’s an all-or-nothing battle. Consider how many are dead in Syria over that battle.
Or heck, look at how many are dead in Iraq, and how much money have we spent there? This is a doubly vexing point, considering John McCain just went on the rampage calling this a coup and saying we need to take out all our money from Egypt. Okay Mr. Finish-The-Job-10+years-In-Iraq guy. Though maybe it’s not so vexing considering the party out of power in DC always plays the anti-imperialist bullshitter card.
Please, the moralistic bullshit needs to stop. These people are journalists, not philosophers. They are not qualified to pontificate on political matters. Give us some real numbers. Tell us what’s happening on the ground. Don’t pan to shots of one person here, a few there, and scream how horrible it is. You know what’s horrible? These guys taking up airtime.

It’s the opposite of a coup

I was reading The Economist’s lament (Has the Arab Spring Failed?) about the military’s ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that this was a grave step backwards for Eqypt. Ironically, I was reading this on July 14, aka Bastille Day. Because it seems our venerated Western Democracies are so old that we’ve become a bit senile and have forgotten our own violent births.
Now I know there’s a lot of confusion about what exactly is going on, and I’m used to a population that just fumbles for gut reactions (military bad, voting good) because they’re so far away from actually being able to understand politics. But when established journalists start reporting with this lack of understanding, it’s cause for concern.
So let’s do a quick chronology of events, so we can see where we’re really at, shall we?
The ouster of Mubarrak was caused by a truly popular groundswell – a SECULAR groundswell. Of this there can be no denial. The secularists in Egypt sacrificed for that revolution and they made it. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood was sitting on the sidelines, waiting for their moment to take advantage of it.
The details of their rise to power since then are a bit fuzzy, but it sounds like they used every shady and intimidating trick in the book to ascend to power, and once they did so, to solidify their absolute control of society. That meant pushing the secularists out.
That’s when the military stepped in. On the side of the secular revolutionists.
Now I understand this is a novel concept. When we hear the word “coup”, it conjures up connotations of Pinochet and Franco, who rose to power AGAINST a popular groundswell of leftists. But let’s continue.
The military took over, and 33 MILLION people came out in support of the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Since then, I’ve seen report after report of the military shooting demonstrators. Who are these demonstrators? Not the secularists. They’re supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, sore at their loss of power. This is to be expected, and is a necessary part of Egypt’s transition to a modern democracy we can all be proud of.
Why are we wringing our hands about this? This is why I bring up our own senility.
Democracy isn’t absolute, and it doesn’t come about by a simple ballot. Society has all sorts of anti-democratic forces lurking about – monarchists, aristocrats, slaveholders, and yes, Islamists and clerics. These people are removed only by force, not by the vote.
Remember Cromwell? Of course you don’t, it was only a 40 year Reign of Terror that history books calmly gloss over in that staid progression of Kings. I can name the American Revolution, or better yet the French Revolution, but I imagine you get my point by now.
This is what’s happening in Egypt today. We would to well to tip our hats and nod in their direction, and rally for the secularists to come to power and push for Egyptian society to move in the democratic direction it needs to go. This is the only roadmap to democracy.
UPDATE: And another thing. If we were to adopt this lens, we would see just how much positive there is going on in Egypt right now. What’s really missing in all this is some numbers, and this is where journalists should be applying their resources. How numerous are the pro-Morsi supporters? How numerous are the secularists?
I’m only gleaning this information from random wide-shots of the demonstrations, and so my vision is a bit fuzzy. But what I’m seeing is the pro-Morsi demonstrators are pretty small compared to the secularists. They’re just far better organized, since they’ve been around for many decades already. This is why they need to be repressed. They’re old weeds that are choking off the new society Egypt wants to become.

Hamas’s Unpleasant Surprise

In writing this on my iPhone so this needs to be short. I’ll have time later.
But it seems like something is different this skirmish. My more skittish colleagues think this Arab Spring has strengthened Israel’s enemies but I think the opposite is true. And Hamas, still stuck in the old politics, may find its Arab neighbors unwilling to play that game anymore.
My point is that it’s important to understand the nature of the Arab revolutions in the past year. They were pro-democracy, pro-western revolutions that literally went by the same handbook as the east European revolutions of 20 years ago. And as tragic as Ambassador Stevens’s death was, it was actually a positive sign: 1) that the US is taking an active role in steering these movements 2) they welcome a US presence. Some maintain that Islamist parties have taken over, but I hold (and have corroboration) that they’re far more similar to the conservative religious parties of Europe than any radical Taliban style party.
So, to have Hamas jubilantly firing rockets at Israeli cities, this is something that goes radically against the interests of these fledgling political powers looking for new clout in the world economy. As one NPR interviewee said, yes they’ll send envoy’s to Gaza, but they doubt it will translate into any military aid.
Really, if sources are at all accurate, the only aid they’re getting is from Iran, which in he current game, is a stodgy member of the old guard.
Now this is not to say I would be surprised if it turns out differently, even drastically so. I’m just offering a ray of light in the situation. Indeed the US State Department has its work cut out for it.
But long story short, Hamas’s game of “Kill Jews, drive out American Satan” is no longer a program that makes sense I that region. They may find themselves looking around with nobody to back them anymore.