Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

The revolution continues

Why is the Arab intelligentsia still debating what gave birth to the Arab revolutions instead of looking forward to where these revolutions should lead, asks Galal Nassar

Al-Ahram Weekly

Imperialism needs a world war and the Arabs need a revolution in order to resist that war. Imperialism uses different names to justify its war. At one stage it cast itself as the champion of human rights and the right to self-determination in the fight against the Axis powers. At the next, the war was against Nazism, fascism and racism. In the third phase the “communist” was the enemy, and in the fourth it was “terrorism”. In this latter phase, the enemy has been reduced to us, the Arabs, along with some other neighbouring Muslim peoples.

Call it what you like, imperialism is a drive for international hegemony. Today, it is the drive of a people (or peoples) with the power and means to assert their control over peoples who have been dispossessed of power and the wherewithal. But there is a revolution against the way the world is run, and for freedom (two sides of the same coin).

The powers-that-be in the Security Council take the weighty decisions to attack a given people and dismantle their state. They assign one of their members the task of waging war (against terrorism, of course, which is taken to read extremist Islam, and for human rights). That war is against a people that had never known the modern state that was thrust upon them after the national liberation revolutions. The defeated people are then divided and fragmented. They are told that they are to blame. They never deserved independence to begin with. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Mali, Somalia… the train goes on. It makes no difference whether the afflicted people were struck by a terrorist madness or whether or not they sheltered terrorism. Other countries have sheltered and even sponsored terrorism, but they are safe, well out of danger’s reach, just as there are countries where the West supports insurgents and other countries in which the West supports tyrants against the people’s peaceful revolutionaries.

Imperialism has acquired a new guise: globalisation. The name on the package may be new, but the contents are the same. The volume of international trade comes to 14 per cent of global production. This is roughly the same level that existed before 1914. After their Berlin Conference in 1884-85, imperialist powers set off to put into effect their plans to divvy up the African continent between them. These days, the Security Council serves to front such schemes for international domination. Beneath its umbrella, the rulers of the world are granted mandates to launch land, sea and air “interventions” — and in the name of noble causes, of course. Naturally, too, pains are taken to obscure and obfuscate the intrinsically racist aspect of contemporary imperialism. Is it mere coincidence that the US ushered in a black president at a time when Arabs and Muslims are being branded as terrorists?

The chronic and mounting contradictions and double standards of imperialism are all the more glaring for the silence that surrounds them. India’s nuclear weapon enjoys the support of the US. Pakistan’s is not mentioned, but the Islamist terrorism there is given banner headlines. Tehran’s alleged drive to get the bomb rivets international attention while Israel’s nuclear arsenal, dating from France’s gifts to it in the days of a socialist government, is shrouded in secrecy and never talked about. Mali and the African countries around it are rich in uranium and other minerals, which are needed for nuclear bombs and other military industries. If there are Muslim “terrorists” in the vicinity who few had ever heard of before, there can be no question about blazoning the news far and wide.

The “globalised” world today is in the grips of severe economic and fiscal straits. Those responsible for the fiscal crisis are the 21st century’s robber barons in the form of the capitalist world’s major banks. The source of the economic crisis resides in the transfer of industrial production from the US and Western Europe to East Asia. As we are told in The East Rises Again, an important book to appear in the US recently, the accumulation of Asian savings from their work (mostly as cheap labour) has generated dynamics that have given these emergent economies some clout. For this, these countries are now required to pay by financing Western countries that are reeling under debts to Asia. In the unwritten laws of imperialism, the weak must always pay.

This certainly applies to Africa and elsewhere in the Third World, because making the weak pay is more cost-effective. So when Afghanistan, Mali, Somalia, Iraq, Libya and other countries are destroyed, why make such a fuss? It is all for a good cause: the war against terrorism is a war for human rights, a war for our sake, for the sake of humanity. The imperialist West has the interests of humanity at heart in all that it does, even when a people is something less than human. Is this not how the West views the Arabs? Not as an aggregation of human beings but as some inchoate mass that breeds “Islamic terrorism”? Even some of our own leaders and politicians have latched on to such notions. We’re an “environment that breeds terrorism,” as though Islam itself is sufficient to create the soil that nurtures the seed.

The Arabs are a people without a state because the states they have lack legitimacy that can only come from the people. Israel was planted in the heart of this region to drive them mad and warp their consciousness, and despotic governments were created to force them to love Israel. But the Arab people cannot be made to love their supposed masters — the West and Israel — and they rebelled when the punishment for their refusal to do so (despotic governments) proved too harsh and iniquitous. The Muslim Brothers stepped in to save the day in Egypt; they would convert the Muslims to another (more moderate?) Islam and the intelligence authorities that count every breath people take would be given a new name, in deference to and in honour of the faith. But...

The revolution continues. The Arabs have reached the point of no return. They can no longer accept having policies imposed on them against their will. Yet this crucial factor continues to be ignored. Nowadays, the Arabs are supposed to learn from Turkey the model of the happy harmony between Islam and secularism, and from Iran, to form a counterbalance. The Turks, who serve as a NATO base, act as though they are almost a superpower. So do the Iranians as they stand ever so firmly against the West. If this makes the Turks and Iranians happy, so be it. Meanwhile, the Arab people are at a crossroads and not sure what to do with their revolution, which is precisely the point where a counterrevolution can be most effective. Neoliberalism, by whatever guise or name it takes, is now the instrument of choice for defusing the revolution. Accordingly, Egypt must pawn its assets, including the Suez Canal, in keeping with the dictates of the World Bank and IMF, if it is to receive financial aid. This is what they call “moderate” Islam. All you have to do is sell your belongings and love Israel in order to gain favour in the current international imperialist order.

The Arab revolution that began in 2011 spread throughout the Arab world at once, as though the Arabs have a single united will. However, if such a single will exists, it must not be translated politically in institutionalised forms, such as unity in a federated system that would enable the Arabs to become strong and give them a sense of meaning and direction. The masters of the imperialist order cannot allow this to happen at all costs. Arab countries are sitting on too much oil. It follows that terrorism must loom in equal abundance, or that while international negotiations, agreements and arrangements are put into place around oil rich Arab countries, terrorism continues to lurk in nearby surroundings and rears its head on occasion. This is how Mali becomes a theatre of war.

Arab women came out in force in the revolution. The intensity of their participation, both in numbers and in energy, was unprecedented. They were an integral part of the larger youth generation that spearheaded the revolution. This was a generation that had been politically disenfranchised from birth — that was economically marginalised and grew up to realise that their academic qualifications were worthless. Labour, too, played a major part in the revolution. Its contribution had begun to germinate as early as 6 April 2006 in the industrial city of Mahalla Al-Kobra. The working and disintegrating middle classes that make up the majority of Arab populations turned out in huge numbers. As became amply clear to the television cameras of the world, these were real people, a wide assortment of individuals, not an inchoate mass. If they formed an “environment”, it was an environment that bred the will for freedom. Yet, it appears that this has been forgotten, for the war on “terrorism” continues. The Arabs are still being besieged by that war and the war for Israel.

The Arab intelligentsia is as confused as ever. They are still asking themselves whether the Arab Spring was a revolution, or an uprising, or something else. Our revolution doesn’t fit the known models or theories as bequeathed by scholastic lore (from the West, of course), it appears. Why is it that we are in the process of searching for how it all began, as though tracing the roots of Islamist Salafis, instead of looking forward to the aims, aspirations and where it all should lead to?

Theory is thought; revolution is feeling. Thought should follow feeling, for to feel is to exist whereas ideas fluctuate, change and can be deceptive. Ideas have a way of eluding their thinkers, and thinkers have a way of eluding ideas. Existence precedes all; it determines all else. Arab existence has undertaken a qualitative shift, it has moved to a higher level. It has gone from submission and deference to authority, to defiance and the determination to live in dignity. Dignity: this is ultimately the cry of the Arab revolution. Man does not live by bread alone. Is this not sufficient cause? Perhaps not, according to some who would brand this all as pure romanticism and an invitation to anarchy. But is this not what revolution is really about? Is it not a kind of defiance of accepted norms? Can there be a revolution without an element of anarchy?

New authorities come into power after a revolution. They rule in accordance with the law. The “law” becomes another type of restriction. We must submit to the law. Submission again? But not to submit is not to be civilised, and if the global order has a mission it is to civilise. Is this not the very essence of imperialism?

Yes, there is a new authority. But the people are liberating themselves. They have freed themselves from fear, and from knee-jerk obedience to censors and watchdogs. Liberation is the true path of humanity. The Arabs are still in the process of freeing themselves, and their revolution continues. It will bring good to the world, so support the right of revolutionaries to change the face of this region and the world.

add comment

  • follow us on