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Egypt Under Empire, Part 4: Dancing Between Dictatorship and Democracy

Egypt Under Empire, Part 4: Dancing Between Dictatorship and Democracy

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally published at The Hampton Institute

US President Barack Obama (L) shakes han

Part 1: Working Class Resistance and European Imperial Ambitions

Part 2: The “Threat” Of Arab Nationalism

Part 3: From Nasser to Mubarak

America’s Mambo with Mubarak

America’s ruling elites – and those of the Western world more generally – are comfortable dealing with ruthless tyrants and dictators all over the world, partly because they’ve just had more practice with it than dealing with ‘democratic’ governments in so-called ‘Third World’ nations. This is especially true when it comes to the Arab world, where the West has only ever dealt with dictatorships, and often by arming them and supporting them to repress their own populations, and in return, they support US and Western geopolitical, strategic and economic interests in the region. America’s relationship with Egypt – and most notably with Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt from 1981 to 2011 – has been especially revealing of this imperial-proxy relationship between so-called ‘democracies’ and dictatorships.

Maintaining cozy relationships with ruthless tyrants is something US presidents and their administrations have done for a very long time, but in recent decades and years, it has become more challenging. The United States champions its domestic propaganda outwardly, presenting itself as a beacon of democratic hope, a light of liberty in a dark world, espousing highfalutin rhetoric as the expression of an adamantine code of values – beliefs in ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ as untouchable and non-negotiable – all the while arming despots, tyrants, and ruthless repressors to protect themselves against their own populations and to stem the inevitable tide of human history.

Simply by virtue of the fact that people are more connected than ever before, that more information is available now than ever before, and with more people rising up and demanding change in disparate regions all over the world, it has become more challenging for the United States and its imperial partners to maintain their domination over the world, and to maintain their propagandized fantasies in the face of glaring hypocrisies. In short, it’s harder for the world to take America seriously about democracy when it so consistently arms and works with dictatorships. And so, for those who justify such injustice, they must dance between rhetoric and reality, attempting to find some thin line of reasoning between both to present some pretense of rationality; all the while, attempting to undermine any attempts to understand America as an empire. This dance is difficult, often very spastic and erratic, but America is a championship dancer with dictatorships. America’s ‘Mambo with Mubarak’, however, revealed the challenges of being the ultimate global hypocrite in a world of mass awakening and popular uprisings.

Shortly after becoming president, in June 2009, Barack Obama was asked by a BBC reporter, “Do you regard President Mubarak as an authoritarian ruler?” to which Obama replied, “No, I tend not to use labels for folks. I haven’t met him. I’ve spoken to him on the phone.” Obama continued, calling Mubarak a “stalwart ally” to the United States, who has “sustained peace with Israel” and “has been a force for stability.”[1] A few months earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave an interview with an Arab television network in Egypt in which she said, “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family,” and added, “I hope to see him often.”[2]

In May of 2009, U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey wrote in a diplomatic cable that Mubarak would more likely die than ever step down as president, noting, “The next presidential elections are scheduled for 2011 and if Mubarak is still alive it is likely he will run again and, inevitably, win.” The “most likely” successor to Mubarak, noted Scobey, was his son Gamal, adding, “some suggest that intelligence chief Omar Soliman [sic] might seek the office; or dark horse Arab League secretary general Amre Moussa.” Ultimately, Scobey noted, in terms of choosing a successor, Mubarak “seems to be trusting to God and the ubiquitous military and civilian security services to ensure an orderly transition.”[3]

Before Mubarak was to visit Washington in August of 2009, Scobey wrote to the State Department that Mubarak was “a tried and true realist” with “little time for idealistic goals.” Further, Scobey noted, Mubarak’s “world view” is most revealed by his reaction to U.S. pressure to “open Egypt” to political participation and relax the police state dictatorship, of which he had only “strengthened his determination not to accommodate our views.” Scobey further reported that Egypt’s defense minister Tantawi “keeps the armed forces appearing reasonably sharp,” while Omar Suleiman and the interior minister, al-Adly, “keep the domestic beasts at bay, and Mubarak is not one to lose sleep over their tactics,” which is to say, torture and human rights abuses. Further, Scobey warned, “Mubarak will likely resist further economic reform,” which is to say, to enhance and deepen neoliberal measures which facilitate impoverishment, plundering and exploitation by a small domestic and international oligarchy at the expense of the domestic population at large, noting that Mubarak might view further reforms “as potentially harmful to public order and stability.”[4]

Another cable from 2009 reported how, “Mubarak and [Egyptian] military leaders view our military assistance program as the cornerstone of our mil-mil [military to military] relationship and consider the $1.3b in annual [military aid] as ‘untouchable compensation’ for making and maintaining peace with Israel,” as well as ensuring that “the US military enjoys priority access to the Suez canal and Egyptian airspace.”[5]

A 2009 cable prepared for the Pentagon’s CENTOM (Central Command) chief, General David Patraeus, in the lead-up to a visit to Egypt, noted that the United States has avoided “the public confrontations that had become routine over the past several years,” with the Bush administration. Ambassador Scobey had pressured Egypt’s interior minister to release three bloggers, a Coptic priest, and grant three U.S.-based “pro-democracy” groups to operate in the country (the latter of which was denied). In anticipation of Hillary Clinton’s visit to Mubarak in 2009, Scobey recommended that Clinton not thank Mubarak for releasing a political opponent, Ayman Nour, whose imprisonment in 2005 was condemned around the world, including by the Bush administration.[6]

Scobey noted in another 2009 cable that Mubarak took the issue of Ayman Nour “personally, and it makes him seethe when we raise it, particularly in public.” Referring to Egypt as a “very stubborn and recalcitrant ally,” Scobey explained: “The Egyptians have long felt that, at best, we take them for granted; and at worst, we deliberately ignore their advice while trying to force our point of view on them.”[7]

When Mubarak visited the White House in August of 2009, in a joint press conference following their meeting, Obama referred to Mubarak as “a leader and a counselor and a friend to the United States,” and went on to thank Egypt for its support to Iraq in its “transition to a more stable democracy.” Mubarak explained that it was the third time in three months he had met with Obama, describing relations between the US and Egypt as “very good” and “strategic.”[8]

Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations explained that the Obama administration did not want to view its relationship with Egypt through the issue of ‘democracy,’ noting: “I think there is an effort to see the relationship in broader terms, because the experience of looking at it through the straw hole of democracy and democracy promotion and reform proved damaging to the relationship.” Cook added, “Let’s be realistic – Hosni Mubarak and the people in the regime don’t really have an interest in reform.” At the White House, Mubarak went on to meet with Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, after all, as Hillary previously noted, they were “family friends.”[9]

On his trip, Mubarak was also accompanied by his Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, and the intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman. The dictator also met with Vice President Joseph Biden. The purpose of the meeting, noted the New York Times, was to signal “an effort to re-establish Egypt as the United States’ chief strategic Arab ally.” Former Egyptian ambassador to the United States, Abdel Raouf al-Reedy, commented, “The United States has to have a regional power to coordinate its policies with and Egypt cannot be a regional power without the United States… So there is some kind of a complementary relationship.”[10]

To Tango with Tyranny

This “complementary relationship” between regional dictatorships and imperial powers is not confined to Egypt (or America), nor are its various rationales. The Arab Spring sparked in Tunisia in December of 2010 and led to the overthrow of its long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on 14 January 2011. Tunisia was, in the words of international law professor and former United Nations Special Rapporteur Richard A. Falk, a “model U.S. client.”[11] Between 1987 – when Ben Ali came to power – and 2009, the United States provided Tunisia with $349 million in military aid,[12] and in 2010 alone, the U.S. provided Ben Ali’s dictatorship with $13.7 million in military aid.[13]

Tunisia, which was a former French colony, also had strong relations with France. During the outbreak of the crisis in December of 2010, the French suggested they would help Ben Ali by sending security forces to Tunisia to “resolve the situation” in a show of “friendship” to the regime.[14] The French foreign minister suggested that France could provide better training to Tunisian police to restore order since the French were adept in “security situations of this type.” Jacques Lanxade, a retired French admiral, former military chief of staff and former French ambassador to Tunis noted that the French had “continued public support of this regime because of economic interests,” and added: “We didn’t take account of Tunisian public opinion and thought Ben Ali would re-establish his position.”[15] In other words: we support dictators, and don’t care about human populations as a whole. So surprised were the French at the thought of a popular uprising overthrowing their stalwart ally in Tunisia, that Sarkozy later – after the fall of Ben Ali – stated that the French had “underestimated” the “despair… suffering,” and “sense of suffocation” among Tunisians.[16] Perhaps a delicate way of suggesting that the French government does not care about the despair, suffering or suffocation of people until the people overthrow the French-subsidized dictators, forcing the imperial power to do a little dance with democratic rhetoric until it can find a replacement to support, and return to its habitual ‘underestimations’ of entire populations.

This imperial logic has been given terms and justifications from establishment intellectuals and academics in the United States and other Western powers. Academics with the Brookings Institution, an influential U.S. think tank, suggested in 2009 that this was the logic of “authoritarian bargains,” in which dictatorships in the region were able to maintain power through a type of “bargain,” where “citizens relinquish political influence in exchange for public spending,” suggesting that: “non-democratic rulers secure regime support through the allocation of two substitutable ‘goods’ to the public: economic transfers and the ability to influence policy making.”[17]

Of course, these ‘intellectuals’ failed to acknowledge the fact that in the previous three decades, the “bargain” part of the “authoritarian bargain” was dismantled under neoliberal reforms. But facts are trifling obstructions to justifications for injustice, and such ‘intellectuals’ – who serve power structures – will wind their way with words through any and all frustrating truths, so long as the end result is to continue in their support for power. Such a “bargain” could have been argued under the likes of Nasser, but Mubarak was another creature altogether, and the intellectual discourse built around support for dictatorships had not evolved over the course of several decades, save for the words used to describe it.

In 2011, those same academics wrote an article for the Brookings Institution in which they noted that as economic conditions deteriorated and unemployment rose, with neoliberal reforms failing to provide economic opportunities for the majority of the populations, the “Arab authoritarian bargain” – or “contract” – between dictators and the populations was “now collapsing,” adding that, “the strategies used by Arab leaders to maintain power may have run their course.” They added: “Partial political liberalization may not be enough at this point to make up for the current inability to deliver economic security and prosperity, spelling the final demise of Arab authoritarian bargain.”[18]

F. Gregory Gause III, writing in Foreign Affairs, the establishment journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, the most prominent foreign policy think tank in the United States, referred to this concept as “authoritarian stability” theory. Following the initial Arab Spring uprisings, he wrote about the “myth” of authoritarian stability, noting that many academics had focused on trying to understand “the persistence of undemocratic rulers” in the region, though implicitly without questioning the imperial relations between the local governments and the dominant Western powers. Gause himself acknowledged that he had written an article for Foreign Affairs in 2005 in which he argued that, “the United States should not encourage democracy in the Arab world because Washington’s authoritarian Arab allies represented stable bets for the future,” and that, “democratic Arab governments would prove much less likely to cooperate with U.S. foreign policy goals in the region.” Gause then reflected in 2011 that, “I was spectacularly wrong.”[19]

Marwan Muasher is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, a prominent American think tank, and was previously foreign minister and deputy prime minister in the Jordanian dictatorship. Following events in Tunisia, Muasher wrote an article for the Carnegie Endowment in which he explained why the events were not foreseen, noting that: “The traditional argument put forward in and out of the Arab world is that there is nothing wrong, everything is under control.” Thus, wrote Muasher, “entrenched forces argue that opponents and outsiders calling for reform are exaggerating the conditions on the ground,” an argument which he noted, “has been fundamentally undermined by the unfolding events in Tunisia.” Because Tunisia had comparably low economic problems, a small opposition, and a “strong security establishment,” it was thought that “the risk of revolt was considered low.” Muasher wrote: “It wasn’t supposed to happen in Tunisia and the fact that it did proves that fundamental political reforms – widening the decision-making process and combating corruption – are needed around the entire Arab world.”[20]

This concept of “there is nothing wrong, everything is under control,” has been referred to by Noam Chomsky as the “Muasher doctrine,” noting that this has been consistent U.S. policy in the region since at least 1958, when Eisenhower’s National Security Council acknowledged that the US supported dictators and opposed democracy, and that this was a rational policy to serve American interests in the region.[21]

There are, however, factions within the American elite that understand that the ‘Muasher Doctrine’ is unsustainable and that they must push for ‘reform’ within the Arab world over the short-term in order to ultimately maintain ‘order’ and ‘stability’ over the long term. This is where ‘democracy promotion’ comes into play.

U.S. Democracy Promotion in Egypt: A Hidden Plot or Hedging Bets?

Following the Arab Spring’s toppling of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt, some commentators in the West have critically noted the U.S. and Western support for pro-democracy groups within the Arab world – likening them to the Western-funded ‘colour revolutions’ that swept several former Soviet bloc countries – and concluded that the Arab Spring was a U.S.-supported attempt at ‘regime change.’

Indeed, the United States and its Western allies provided extensive funding and organizational support to civil society groups, media organizations, activists and political parties in several countries where – through contested elections – they helped to overthrow entrenched political leaders, replacing them with more favourable leaders (in the eyes of the West). In Serbia, U.S. non-governmental and even governmental organizations poured funding into the organization Otpor which helped engineer the ousting of Milosevic, providing hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars in support through organizations like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute (NDI), among other agencies.[22]

As several former Soviet republics slowly ‘opened’ their societies, Western-funded NGOs and civil society organizations flooded in, with powerful financial backers. Over the course of years, funding, training, organizational support, technical and material support was provided for a number of organizations and political groups that helped overthrow regimes in Georgia (2003), the Ukraine (2004), and Kyrgyzstan (2005). Not only were there government funded NGOs involved, but also private foundations, such as billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Institute.[23]

These Western-backed ‘color revolutions’ included major organizational support from the local American embassies in whichever country they were seeking a change of government. The activists who made up Serbia’s Otpor organization aided in the training of other groups in countries like Ukraine. In Serbia, the U.S. government officially spent $41 million “organizing and funding” the operation to remove Milosevic. A primary strategy in funding these ‘colour revolutions’ was to organize the opposition within a country “behind a single candidate.”[24] Such Western organizations also provided extensive funding for so-called “independent” media networks to promote their particular agenda in the country, following a pattern set by the CIA some decades earlier in terms of covertly funding opposition groups and media outlets.[25]

In Ukraine, the Bush administration spent some $65 million over two years to aid in the ‘colour revolution’ which took place in 2004, and several other Western countries contributed to the process and funding as well, including Great Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.[26] Such immense funding programs trained hundreds of thousands of activists, and when elections and protests took place, tents, cameras, television screens, food and other equipment were provided en masse, and the events were met with an immediately favourable reception in the Western media.[27]

When it comes to Egypt and the Arab Spring, the United States did attempt to provide some funding and organizational support to various pro-democracy groups. The April 6 movement in Egypt, which was pivotal in organizing the January 25 protest in Cairo that led to the overthrow of Mubarak on February 11, was one group that received some U.S. support. Other groups in Bahrain and Yemen also received U.S. support. Egyptian youth leaders attended a ‘technology meeting’ in New York sponsored by the State Department, Facebook, Google, MTV and Colombia Law School, where they received training “to use social networking and mobile technologies to promote democracy.”[28]

One Egyptian youth leader commented upon the meeting and U.S. support, stating, “We learned how to organize and build coalitions… This certainly helped during the revolution.” Another Egyptian activist noted the hypocrisy of the U.S., which, while funding some pro-democracy groups, was providing billions in financial support to the military dictatorship the activists had to struggle under, stating, “While we appreciated the training we received through the NGOs sponsored by the U.S. government, and it did help us in our struggles, we are also aware that the same government also trained the state security investigative service, which was responsible for the harassment and jailing of many of us.”[29]

As several Wikileaks cables showed, however, the Western-backed Arab dictatorships were extremely suspicious of U.S.-supported democracy groups and activists. This was especially true in Egypt, where one cable from 2007 reported that Mubarak was “deeply skeptical of the U.S. role in democracy promotion.” The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs complained to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo in 2006 about the “arrogant tactics in promoting reform in Egypt.” Mubarak’s son, Gamal, was described in one 2008 cable as being “irritable about direct U.S. democracy and governance funding of Egyptian NGOs.” Ultimately, the local dictatorships would increasingly clamp down on such organizations, attempting to prevent their functioning or interaction with Americans institutions.[30]

A December 2008 cable from the U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey in Cairo noted that one activist from the April 6 movement had met with U.S. government officials in the United States as well as with various think tanks. The activist (presumably Maher) reported to Scobey that the Egyptian government “will never undertake significant reform, and therefore, Egyptians need to replace the current regime with a parliamentary democracy,” noting that the activist further “alleged that several opposition parties and movements have accepted an unwritten plan for democratic transition by 2011.” However, Scobey added, “we are doubtful of this claim.” After noting that several April 6 activists had been arrested and harassed by the Egyptian dictatorship, Scobey continued: “April 6’s stated goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections is highly unrealistic, and is not supported by the mainstream opposition.”[31]

Scobey further reported that the April 6 activist told her that “Mubarak derives his legitimacy from U.S. support,” and thus, that the U.S. was “responsible” for Mubarak’s “crimes,” and the activist suggested that those NGOs which sought to promote “political and economic reform” were living in a “fantasy world.” Finally, Scobey noted, the activist “offered no roadmap of concrete steps toward April 6’s highly unrealistic goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections.” She then noted that most of the “opposition parties and independent NGOs work toward achieving tangible, incremental reform within the current political context,” and that the activists “wholesale rejection of such an approach places him outside this mainstream of opposition politicians and activists.”[32]

The U.S. government also provided assistance to many activists in the Arab world – including Egypt – in gaining access to technology which allows dissidents “to get online without being tracked or to visit news or social media sites that governments have blocked.” Many of the tech firms and non-profits that received funding saw huge increases in the use of their technology across the Arab world during the start of the Arab Spring, much to their surprise. As one tech firm executive stated, “We didn’t start this company to go against any government… and here we are impacting millions of people in the Middle East and helping revolutions in Tunisia and Libya. We didn’t set out to do this, but we really think it’s cool we’re doing this.”[33]

Such funding and organizational initiatives from the U.S. government and related institutions for pro-democracy groups in the Arab world, and notably Egypt, has led some commentators to suggest that the Arab Spring is simply the Middle Eastern version of the U.S.-sponsored ‘colour revolutions’ over the previous decade, even writing that such U.S.-supported activist groups “indelibly serve US interests” in terms of “controlling the political opposition,” to “ensure that the US funded civil society opposition will not direct their energies against the puppet masters behind the Mubarak regime, namely the US government.”[34]

There are some fundamental problems with this position. A 2011 article in EurasiaNet noted that while there were “some similarities” between the Arab Spring and the Color Revolutions the previous decade, “there are key differences as well,” primary among them being that the Arab dictatorships “were far more authoritarian and brutal than their counterparts in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine,” which meant that the Color Revolutions “occurred in more semi-democratic contexts, in which the regimes… allowed for more media and political freedom, and were generally less repressive.” Further, the Color Revolutions based their model for ‘regime change’ exclusively upon “an electoral breakthrough in which ballot fraud became the focal point around which the civic and political opposition could rally.” Such was not the case in Tunisia or Egypt, where the sparks for revolution were unforeseen and rapid, “suggesting that the electoral breakthrough model is only possible in countries where there is some degree of political pluralism,” noted Lincoln Mitchell, an Associate Research Scholar at Columbia University.[35]

Further, the Color Revolutions had a “geopolitical element” in which they were incorporated into the “freedom agenda” of the Bush administration, and “occurred in countries that had been the beneficiaries of ample US democracy assistance.” While the U.S. was credited – or accused (depending upon who was speaking) – of having “an almost magical role in organizing the opposition, spreading democracy, funding various organizations and the like,” in the context of the Arab Spring, “social networking technology has displaced the United States as the apparent catalyst for protest,” with Twitter and Facebook being “perceived as the magic explanatory variable.”[36]

Indeed, while the U.S. provided funding for several dissident groups in the Arab world, it was not comparable in to the previous ‘Color Revolutions’ in terms of dollars, training, equipment or technical assistance in any capacity. The dissidents were not organized around a single leader or singular oppositional group, and while the U.S. Embassies were establishing contacts with dissidents, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest they were heavily involved or ‘directing’ them. The fact that much of the assistance for dissidents was in the form of training and gaining access to technologies is also noteworthy. Technology – in and of itself – is neutral: it can be used for good or not. It is entirely dependent upon how the person(s) using it choose to wield it. The United States sought to help activists gain access to technologies to work around the authoritarian regimes (which the US was supporting with billions in military and economic aid), and to slowly push for ‘reforms.’ The U.S. can help activists with getting training and access to technologies, but it has no control over how those activists ultimately utilize these technologies.

Further, as was revealed by the 2008 diplomatic cable from the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, while the Embassy and U.S. government had established contact with the April 6 Movement, Scobey portrayed their objectives as “highly unrealistic,” and the unnamed activist in the cable even stressed that the U.S. was “responsible” for the “crimes” of Mubarak. The cable stressed that the U.S. was in contact with mainstream opposition forces in Egypt, none of which were determining factors in the revolution, whereas the April 6 Movement, as Scobey noted, was “outside this mainstream of opposition and activists,” proposing the “unrealistic goal of replacing the current regime.”[37]

The U.S. interest in doing this was not altruistic, of course, but was ultimately aimed at ‘hedging their bets.’ Certainly, the U.S. government would be seeking to use activists and dissident groups for its own purposes, but one must also acknowledge that activists and dissident groups use the U.S. government (and its funding) for their own purposes. The State Department and USAID (which provide the majority of funding for pro-democracy groups and activists from the U.S. government) know what they are told by those groups, what the groups write in reports and grant applications. In a country like Egypt, which was ruled by a repressive military dictator for three decades, sources of funding for democracy projects and activism is not easy to come by. As an activist, you would likely take whatever sources of funding and support you could get, so long as you can use the access and support for your own objectives, which is exactly what the April 6 Movement did.

Indeed, in the Arab world, the United States and its Western allies have not been interested in promoting revolution, but rather an incremental process of reform. Top US policy planners at the Council on Foreign Relations produced a report – and strategic blueprint – for the United States to follow in 2005, entitled, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How, co-chaired by former Clinton-era Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who sits on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Aspen Institute, and is chair of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, one of the major pro-democracy funding groups based out of the US.

The other co-chair of the Task Force report was Vin Weber, former Congressman and member of the board of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the primary ‘democracy promotion’ organization funded by the U.S. government. Other members of the Task Force which produced the report held previous or present affiliations with First National Bank of Chicago, Occidental Petroleum, the Carnegie Endowment, the World Bank, Brookings Institution, Hoover Institution, the U.S. State Department, National Security Council, National Intelligence Council, the American Enterprise Institute, the IMF, AOL-Time Warner, and Goldman Sachs.[38] In other words, the strategic blueprint for promoting ‘democracy’ in the Arab world was developed by major U.S. strategic and corporate elites, including those who literally run the major democracy promotion organizations (including those that funded such groups in Egypt and elsewhere).

So what did the report have to say about the American Empire’s strategy for promoting democracy in the Arab world? Firstly, the report noted that, while “democracy entails certain inherent risks, the denial of freedom carries much more significant long-term dangers. If Arab citizens are able to express grievances freely and peacefully, they will be less likely to turn to more extreme measures.” Thus, the report noted, “the United States should promote the development of democratic institutions and practices over the long term, mindful that democracy cannot be imposed from the outside and that sudden, traumatic change is neither necessary nor desirable.” Most importantly, however, the report noted: “America’s goal in the Middle East should be to encourage democratic evolution, not revolution.”[39]

So how can we interpret this? Democracy, as the United States defines it, is more “secure” precisely because it provides an institutional framework in which control may still be exercised, but where there are various degrees of freedom, enough to allow social pressures to be released, dissent to exist, and thus, contribute to the overall stability of a society through building consent to the power structures which rule it. Dictatorships are supported by coercion, not consent.

As America’s most influential political commentator of his time, Walter Lippmann, articulated in the 1920s, that modern democracies required the “manufacture of consent” of the public by the powerful, because “the public must be put in its place… so that each of us [elites] may live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd.” Manufacturing the consent of the public to the social order – and its prevailing power structures and hierarchies – would allow for “the least possible interference from ignorant and meddlesome outsiders.” A system in which the public’s consent was manufactured, noted Lippmann, “would provide the modern state with a foundation upon which a new stability might be realized.”[40]

That “stability” has been understood by U.S. elites for nearly a century, and it is known to be built upon the “manufacture of consent.” This is why the Task Force report on promoting Arab democracy noted that, “the denial of freedom carries much more significant long-term dangers.” The Arab Spring revolutions did not follow the criteria established by the U.S. strategy, which specifically said that, “sudden, traumatic change is neither necessary nor desirable,” though it is exactly what took place, and of course, that democracy should be promoted through “evolution, not revolution.” As the Task Force report further noted, there was a risk that, “if Washington pushes Arab leaders too hard on reform, contributing to the collapse of friendly Arab governments, this would likely have a deleterious effect on regional stability, peace, and counterterrorism operations.” While instability may arise “in the short term” from promoting democracy, the report suggested, “a policy geared toward maintaining the authoritarian status quo in the Middle East poses greater risks to U.S. interests and foreign policy goals.”[41]

For the United States and its Western allies, “democracy” is not the goal, but rather a means to a goal. The goal is, always has been, and always will be, “stability and prosperity;” control and profit. When the dictatorships fail to bring about stability and prosperity, “democracy” – so long as it is constructed along Western liberal state-capitalist lines – will be the preferred option. The European Union, when reporting on its own efforts to promote democracy in the Mediterranean region, noted that, “we believe that democracy, good governance, rule of law, and gender equality are essential for stability and prosperity.” In other words, democracy is not the goal: control and profit are the goals. The means are merely incidental, whether they be through dictatorships, or top-down democratic structures.[42]

The problem in the Arab world is deepened for the United States when one looks at public opinion polls from the region. Just prior to the outbreak of protests in Tunisia, a major Western poll on Arab public opinion was conducted by the University of Maryland and Zogby International, published in the summer of 2010. The results were very interesting, noting that only 5% and 6% of respondents in 2010 believed that “promoting democracy” and “spreading human rights” were the two factors (respectively) which were most important in America’s foreign policy in the region. At the top of the list of priorities, with 49% and 45% respectively, were “protecting Israel” and “controlling oil,” followed by 33% each for “weakening the Muslim world” and “preserving regional and global dominance.”[43]

Further, 92% of respondents felt that Iran has a right to its nuclear program if it is peaceful, and 70% feel that right remains even if Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Roughly 57% of respondents felt that if Iran acquired nuclear weapons, things would be “more positive” for the region, compared to 21% who thought it would be “more negative.” The poll asked which two countries posed the largest threat to the region, with Israel at 88% and the United States at 77%, while Iran was viewed as one of the two major threats to the region by only 10% of respondents, just above China and equal to Algeria.[44]

In other words, if truly representative – or genuine – democracies emerged in the region, they would be completely counter to U.S. strategic interests in the region, and thus, real democracy in the Arab world is not in the American interest. Top-down democracy, however, largely influenced by Western ideas and institutions, in which people are able to select between a couple parties which articulate social differences but implement largely identical economic and strategic policies, is an ideal circumstance for imperial powers.

Interestingly, Barack Obama’s 2010 budget sought to cut funding for democracy and governance aid to both Egypt and Jordan by roughly 40%, and for Egypt specifically, “funding has been cut by nearly 75 per cent for pro-democracy NGOs of which the Egyptian government does not approve.” These are hardly the actions of an American government seeking to implement ‘regime change’ through funding pro-democracy groups. Michele Dunne, a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment, a major U.S. based think tank, noted that the cuts to funding pro-democracy groups in Egypt (and elsewhere) show that, “the Obama administration has decided on a more conciliatory approach toward the autocratic regimes, such as Egypt’s, that dominate Middle Eastern politics.”[45]

While funding for democracy groups in Egypt was cut by 75% for 2010, U.S. aid to the Egyptian government would amount to $1.55 billion for 2010, of which $1.3 billion was in the form of military aid. Michele Dunne noted, “My conversations with members of the [Obama] administration have made it clear that they did not want economic assistance to irritate the Egyptian government,” whereas the Bush administration’s funding for civil society groups in Egypt had caused a great deal of frustration from Mubarak and his regime. Under Bush, such funding had “doubled and tripled.” Under Obama, much of this was undone. Safwat Girgis, who runs two Egyptian-based NGOs, said that Obama’s “decision is in the best interest of the Egyptian government, not the people nor the civil society organizations… In my opinion, this is just an exchange of interests between Egypt and the United States.”[46]

The ‘Liberal Opposition’ in Egypt

When powerful Western states seek to influence or manage ‘transitions to democracy,’ they generally support whatever elite most closely resembles themselves, usually a variation of liberal democratic state-capitalist groups. But whatever dominant institutions pre-exist in that society have to be integrated with the new ‘method’ of governance (political parties, elections, etc.), though the pre-existing oligarchy generally remains in charge. Transitions to ‘democracy’ are promoted by the American Empire as if the United States had some sort of ‘God complex,’ seeking to remake the world in its own image… or delusion, rather.

Political parties need to be organized. Those which are more ‘Western’ are deemed more acceptable to Western elites, usually the ‘liberal democrats,’ or some variation thereof. In Egypt, there was not such an organized opposition in time for the revolution. There were attempts within Egypt to develop a liberal opposition, but the dictatorship kept a firm fist over political life. One such liberal opposition figure was Mohamed ElBaradei, an international diplomat who had, for decades, lived in the West.

In 2009, the former head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, announced that he would consider running for president of Egypt in the planned 2011 elections, commenting, “I have been listening tentatively, and deeply appreciate the calls for my candidacy for president.” He explained that he would “only consider it if there is a free and fair election, and that is a question mark still in Egypt.” ElBaradei received support in running for president from the liberal Wafd party, as well as from groups within the Kefaya (“Enough”) movement.[47]

As ElBaradei arrived in Egypt in February of 2010, he was greeted by hundreds of Egyptians welcoming him, hopeful for his potential presidential bid. The first multiparty elections in Egypt were held in 2005, though the entire process was “marred by fraud,” unsurprisingly. While 2011 was set to have a follow-up election, most assumed that Hosni Mubarak would attempt to hand power over to his son, Gamal.[48] That same month, ElBaradei announced that he was going to form “a national association for change” in Egypt, opening the invite for “anyone who wanted a change to the ruling party” to join the association, following talks with several opposition figures and civil society leaders, including a representative of the Muslim brotherhood.[49] The National Association for Change would have as its “main target” to “be pushing for constitutional reforms and social justice,” explained ElBaradei.[50]

In June of 2010, the Muslim Brotherhood officially endorsed the ‘reform campaign’ of ElBaradei, following a meeting between ElBaradei and Said al Katani, the leader of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc. Both the Brotherhood and ElBaradei’s National Association for Change announced that they would plan to co-ordinate and work together in the future on promoting reform in Egypt.[51]

The National Association for Change (NAC) created a petition which called for constitutional amendments allowing independent political candidates to run in the upcoming election, as well as providing independent supervision of the elections. Only 70,000 signatures were attached to the petition within a few months, though ElBaradei had been anticipating millions. ElBaradei had been hoping for mass protests and a boycott against the upcoming legislative elections planned for the fall of 2010, commenting that, “anyone who will participate in this charade will be giving legitimacy or pseudo-legitimacy to a regime desperate to get legitimacy.” ElBaradei also extended his criticisms to the Egyptian population, suggesting that there was “a high level of apathy and despair that anything is going to change,” and that “people need to mature… I can be a leader if I have the people behind me. I can’t bring about change single-handed.”[52]

The following month of July 2010, Mohamed ElBaradei was appointed to the board of trustees of the International Crisis Group (ICG). The ICG describes its goals as being to work “through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict,” producing “regular analytical reports containing practical recommendations targeted at key international decision-takers.”

The board of trustees was made up of a number of prominent Western elites from the state, military, think tanks, corporations and international organizations, including: Thomas Pickering, former US Ambassador; George Soros, billionaire investor and chair of the Open Society Institute; Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General (now on the international advisory board of JPMorgan Chase); Samuel Berger, former U.S. National Security Adviser and chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group; Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander; Carla A. Hills, former U.S. trade representative and member of numerous corporate boards; Jessica Tuchman Matthews, the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Javier Solana, former NATO Secretary-General, among many others.[53]

Senior advisers to the International Crisis Group also include Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former Saudi Ambassador to the United States; former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico, among many other former top government officials and current corporate and think tank leaders.[54]

Further revealing how entrenched the ICG is within the Western imperial establishment, roughly 49% of its funding comes from governments, including the foreign affairs departments and aid agencies of the governments of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. Roughly 20% of the ICG’s funding comes from private foundations, such as the Carnegie Corporation, Elders Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Henry Luce Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Open Society Foundations (run by the Soros family), the Radcliffe Foundation, Stanley Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Private sector support for the ICG accounts for 31% of its funding, from individuals and institutions such as: Dow Chemical, McKinsey & Company, Anglo American PLC, BG Group, BP, Chevron, Shell, Statoil, the Clinton Family Foundation, ENI, and many others.[55]

Western elites were obviously taking note of potential changes in Egypt, and certain groups within elite circles seek to get ahead of change and try to steer ‘reforms’ into safe areas (for entrenched power structures). They were aiming to encourage ‘reform’ in Egypt, not revolution. The International Crisis Group (ICG) is a good example of this, an organization with a focus on monitoring and providing ‘advice’ to states and other powerful institutions on preventing and managing crises, bringing together corporate, financial, ‘philanthropic,’ strategic and intellectual power players into a single institution. Inviting Mohamed ElBaradei into the group was an opening to attempt to bring Egypt’s potential future leadership more closely aligned with the interests and ideas of the Western elite. When ElBaradei returned to Egypt once again – though days after the uprising began – he suspended his membership with the International Crisis Group.[56]

Mohamed ElBaradei, after forming the National Association for Change in Egypt, spent most of his summer in 2010 abroad, though he returned in September to meet with opposition groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, at the Brotherhood’s annual Ramadan iftar banquet, where one leader from the Kefaya movement lambasted the Brotherhood for not taking an official stance in announcing it would boycott the coming legislative elections. Since the Brotherhood was the only large organized opposition within Egypt, the more liberal-leaning opposition groups formed a tenuous alliance with the organization.[57]

As a leader in the National Association for Change – Cairo University political scientist Hassan Nafaa – said: “We are forced to come together.” A spokesperson for the Brotherhood commented, “There are now only two possibilities: the regime or the Muslim Brotherhood.” Still, the Brotherhood, which held the largest opposition seats in the Parliament (with 20% of the total), “has been careful not to criticize Mubarak directly and insists it would never nominate its own candidate for the presidency.” The official stance of the Brotherhood has, however, “alienated many of its most active young members,” many of whom resigned in protest. Mohamed Salmawy, the president of the Egyptian Writers’ Union, referred to the Brotherhood, saying, “They can never come up with a real platform… If they did, it would give them away. They would be found out as people who do not believe in democracy.”[58]

That same month, ElBaradei went on to call for a national boycott of the elections and told several activists that, “regime change was possible in the coming year.” The National Association for Change had compiled nearly one million signatures demanding constitutional change, and ElBaradei commented, “If the whole people boycott the elections it will be, in my view, the end of the regime.”[59]

Intelligent Imperialism: The Working Group on Egypt

The Working Group on Egypt was formed in April of 2010 as a co-operative effort by officials from multiple prominent U.S. think tanks to encourage a change in policy toward Egypt, and more specifically, to encourage ‘democratic reforms.’ The Working Group consisted of nine different individuals: Elliott Abrams, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, former State Department official who also served on the National Security Council in both the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations; Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, former senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, former member of the State Department in the Reagan administration, and he also currently sits on the Secretary of State’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board; Scott Carpenter of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, previously served as a Deputy Secretary of State in the Bush administration, and served as an adviser in managing the Iraqi occupation, previously having worked with the International Republican Institute (IRI); Ambassador Edward Walker of the Middle East Institute, a former Assistant Secretary of State and ambassador to Israel, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.

Other members of the Working Group included: Tom Malinowski, a director of Human Rights Watch, and former member of the National Security Council in the Clinton administration and former speechwriter for Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright; Ellen Bork of the Foreign Policy Initiative, former director at Freedom House, former deputy director of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), former State Department official and member of the Council on Foreign Relations; Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, recognized as a ‘foremost’ authority on democracy-assistance programs, he served in the State Department working with USAID on ‘democracy assistance’ to Latin America during the Reagan administration; Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment, a former member of the National Security Council staff and the State Department’s Policy Planning staff, she also served as a diplomat in Israel and Egypt, and currently is a vice president at the Atlantic Council and is on the board of directors of the National Endowment for Democracy; and Daniel Calingaert, vice president of Freedom House, formerly with the International Republican Institute (IRI), and was a researcher at RAND Corporation.

Of the nine officials that make up the Working Group on Egypt, Calingaert was the only one who did not previously serve on the National Security Council or State Department. Moreover, several of the most influential U.S.-based ‘democracy promotion’ organizations were heavily represented in the Group, such as the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House.

Thomas Carothers, a member of the Working Group, is considered by the major think tanks and establishment journals to be “one of the world’s foremost experts on democracy building.”[60] In 1997, he wrote an article explaining the general strategy of “democracy assistance” by the United States, primarily focused on supporting ‘institutions’ that the state views as “constituent elements of democracy.” This is broken down into three areas, providing support to “the electoral arena, governmental institutions, and civil society.” In the electoral arena, the focus is on providing for “free and fair elections.” They also “aid” in the development of political parties, “primarily through technical assistance and training on campaign methods and institutional development,” with the ultimate aim of creating a “party system” in which there are several different parties which differ only in “mild ideological shadings.”[61]

In terms of providing assistance to ‘governmental institutions,’ Carothers noted the U.S. democracy aid “seeks to help build democracy from the top down,” as opposed to allowing for democracy to generate from the bottom up (aka: genuine democracy). One of the primary facets of this program is for the U.S. to “aid” in the writing of a new constitution, “to help steer the country toward adopting a constitution that guarantees democratic government and a full range of political and civil rights,” of course including private property rights for corporations and specific privileges for elites.[62]

The U.S. also offers “assistance” in helping to form parliamentary bodies and undertake “judicial reform… to increase the efficiency and independence of judicial systems.” In terms of support to ‘civil society,’ U.S. assistance tends to pour into NGOs, the media, and unions. The key determinant of support for NGOs is if they “seek to influence governmental policy on some specific set of issues.” Support for media aims to make it an “independent, professionalized media,” which is to say, corporate controlled; and support for unions, Carothers explained, was an older ‘assistance’ program by the U.S. government aimed at building up unions “not affiliated with leftist political parties or movements.” Again, for the United States, “democracy” is all about “top down,” which is to say, democracy engineered by (and for) elites.[63]

In their first statement, issued to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in April of 2010, the Working Group urged Clinton “to promote democratic reform in Egypt in advance of the upcoming elections,” warning that, “rather than progressing gradually on a path of desirable reform, Egypt is instead sliding backwards into increased authoritarianism.” Noting that, “Egypt is at a critical turning point,” the Working Group recommended that the Egyptian government should respond “to demands for responsible political change… [and] face the future as a more democratic nation with greater domestic and international support,” which is to say, ‘order and stability.'[64]

If this is not done, they warned, “prospects for stability and prosperity in Egypt will be in doubt,” which would “have serious consequences for the United States, Egypt’s neighbors, the U.S.-Egyptian relationship, and regional stability.” The United States, they wrote, “has a stake in the path Egypt takes.” Noting that Egypt had a massive population of unemployed youth, the statement declared: “To fulfill expectations and to prevent the onset of frustration and radicalism, Egypt must expand citizens’ say in how they are governed,” explaining that there was “now an opportunity to support gradual, responsible democratic reform,” noting that the longer the U.S. waits, “the harder it will be to reverse a dangerous trend.”[65]

The Working Group sent a follow-up letter to Clinton the next month, upon Mubarak’s decision to extend the “state of emergency” (which he initially passed when he came to power in 1981) for another two years, noting that the situation “heightens our concern that the administration’s practice of quiet diplomacy is not bearing fruit,” and that, “we are more convinced than ever of the importance of U.S. engagement… the United States is uniquely positioned to engage the Egyptian government and civil society and encourage them along a path toward reform. The time to use that leverage is now.”[66]

Noting that when rebels ousted the corrupt Kyrgyzstan government in April of 2010, the population complained of the U.S.’s silence in the face of rigged elections and human rights abuses, “placing a clear priority on strategic cooperation with the government.” Watch out, Kagan and Dunne warned: “If the Obama administration does not figure out how to make clear that it supports the political and human rights of Egyptian citizens, while cooperating with the Egyptian government on diplomatic and security affairs, people will be saying that about the United States in Cairo one of these days – and maybe sooner than we expect.”[67]

In November of 2010, members of the Working Group on Egypt held a meeting with members of the Obama administration’s National Security Council staff, including Dennis Ross, Samantha Power, Pradeep Ramamurthy, Dan Shapiro, and Gayle Smith. The meeting was “to discuss Egypt’s upcoming elections, prospects for political reform, and the implications for U.S. policy.”[68]

The Working Group on Egypt was made up of a group of strategists from the dominant think tanks and ‘democracy’ promotion organizations embedded within the U.S. elite establishment, organized in an effort to promote a strategy which would secure long-term Western interests in the Arab world and Egypt in particular, pushing for ‘democratic’ reforms in order to placate the inevitable tide of history from tossing the United States out of Egypt in a revolutionary fervor. When the uprising began, and thereafter, those involved with the Working Group on Egypt became increasingly influential within U.S. policy circles, most notably at the National Security Council (NSC).

The Secret Report

In August of 2010, Obama issued a Presidential Study Directive to be undertaken by some of his advisers “to produce a secret report on unrest in the Arab world.” The 18-page report was produced by Dennis Ross, the senior adviser on the Middle East, and senior director of the National Security Council Samantha Power, along with another NSC staffer, Gayle Smith. Weekly meetings were held between these officials and representatives from the State Department, CIA, and other agencies. The conclusions of the report were – as the New York Times reported – “without sweeping political changes, countries from Bahrain to Yemen were ripe for popular revolt,” with particular ‘flashpoints’ being identified, including Egypt.[69]

The report suggested that proposals be put forward on how to pressure Arab regimes to implement reforms before such circumstances arose. A senior official who helped draft the report later commented, “There’s no question Egypt was very much on the mind of the president… You had all the unknowns created by Egypt’s succession picture – and Egypt is the anchor of the region.”[70]

Yemen, long ruled by Ali Abdullah Saleh, was another nation that figured prominently in the report. Another administration official acknowledged that with rising youth populations, increasingly educated, yet with few economic opportunities and access to social media and the Internet, there was a “real prescription for trouble… whether it was Yemen or other countries in the region, you saw a set of trends.” Obama also pressed his advisers to look at the popular uprisings in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia to draw parallels and assess successes and failures. The report laid out a basis upon which the U.S. attempted to navigate its initial strategy during the uprisings of the Arab Spring.[71]

Imperial Dilemma: Choosing Dictatorship or Democracy?

The stage was set, change was inevitable, strategy was lagging – though developing – and the empire was thrown into a crisis when Egypt’s 18-day revolt took the world by shock. When one of the most important strategic ‘allies’ (aka: proxies) of the United States was thrown into a crisis in the form of a popular domestic uprising against the U.S.-subsidized dictatorship, the American Empire attempted to dance its way between the rhetoric – and strategic interest – of ‘democracy’ and the known stability and comfort of dictatorship. This dance over the 18-day uprising will be the focus of the next part in this series.

This report described some of the key ideas and characters that would become intimately involved in attempting to manage the situation within Egypt during the 18-day revolt and in the years since the uprising overthrew Mubarak. From the dictatorship, to democracy-promotion, and Egypt’s ‘liberal opposition,’ the Obama administration – and most especially the Pentagon, State Department, and National Security Council (often working closely with the Working Group on Egypt) sought to manage the dance between dictatorship and democracy for the Arab world’s most populous country in the midst of a popular uprising.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

 

Notes

[1] Justin Webb, “Obama interview: the transcript,” BBC, 2 June 2009:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/news/2009/06/090602_obama_transcript.shtml

[2] Political Punch, “Secretary Clinton in 2009: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family”,” ABC News, 31 January 2011:

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/01/secretary-clinton-in-2009-i-really-consider-president-and-mrs-mubarak-to-be-friends-of-my-family/

[3] Simon Tisdall, “WikiLeaks cables cast Hosni Mubarak as Egypt’s ruler for life,” The Guardian, 9 December 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/09/wikileaks-cables-hosni-mubarak-succession

[4] Ibid.

[5] Luke Harding, “WikiLeaks cables show close US relationship with Egyptian president,” The Guardian, 28 January 2011:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/28/wikileaks-cairo-cables-egypt-president

[6] Mark Landler and Andrew W. Lehren, “Cables Show Delicate U.S. Dealings With Egypt’s Leaders,” The New York Times, 27 January 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/world/middleeast/28diplo.html?pagewanted=all

[7] Jeffrey Fleishman, “WikiLeaks: Diplomatic cables show Egyptian leader’s acrimony with Iran,” The Los Angeles Times, 29 November 2010:

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/nov/29/world/la-fg-wikileaks-arabs-20101130

[8] Press Release, “Remarks by President Obama and President Mubarak of Egypt During Press Availability,” The White House, 18 August 2009:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-President-Obama-and-President-Mubarak-of-Egypt-during-press-availability

[9] Anne E. Kornblut and Mary Beth Sheridan, “Obama Optimistic About Mideast Peace,” The Washington Post, 19 August 2009:

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2009-08-19/world/36857472_1_egyptian-president-hosni-mubarak-president-obama-egypt-and-jordan

[10] Michael Slackman, “Mubarak to Tell U.S. Israel Must Make Overture,” The New York Times, 16 August 2009:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/17/world/middleeast/17mubarak.html

[11] Richard Falk, “Ben Ali Tunisia was model US client,” Al-Jazeera, 25 January 2011:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/01/201112314530411972.html

[12] Daya Gamage, “Massive U.S. Military Aid to Tunisia despite human rights abuses,” Asian Tribune, 18 January 2011:

http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2011/01/18/massive-us-military-aid-tunisia-despite-human-rights-abuses

[13] NYT, “Challenges Facing Countries Across North Africa and the Middle East,” The New York Times, 17 February 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/17/world/middleeast/0217-mideast-region-graphic.html

[14] Samer al-Atrush, “Tunisia: Why the Jasmine Revolution won’t bloom,” The Telegraph, 16 January 2011:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/tunisia/8261961/Tunisia-Why-the-Jasmine-Revolution-wont-bloom.html

[15] Steven Erlanger, “France Seen Wary of Interfering in Tunisia Crisis,” The New York Times, 16 January 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/17/world/africa/17france.html

[16] Angelique Chrisafis, “Sarkozy admits France made mistakes over Tunisia,” The Guardian, 24 January 2011:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jan/24/nicolas-sarkozy-tunisia-protests

[17] Raj M. Desai, Anders Olofsgard, and Tarik M. Yousef, “The Logic of Authoritarian Bargains,” Economics & Politics (Vol. 21, No. 1, March 2009), pages 93-94.

[18] Raj M. Desai, Anders Olofsgard and Tarik Yousef, “Is the Arab Authoritarian Bargain Collapsing?,” The Brookings Institution, 9 February 2011:

http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2011/02/09-arab-economies-desai-yousef

[19] F. Gregory Gause III, “Why Middle East Studies Missed the Arab Spring: The Myth of Authoritarian Stability,” Foreign Affairs (Vol. 90, No. 4, July/August 2011), pages 81-82.

[20] Marwan Muasher, “Tunisia’s Crisis and the Arab World,” the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 24 January 2011:

http://carnegieendowment.org/2011/01/24/tunisia-s-crisis-and-arab-world/1n0e

[21] Noam Chomsky, “Is the world too big to fail?,” Al-Jazeera, 29 September 2011:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/09/201192514364490977.html

[22] Roger Cohen, “Who Really Brought Down Milosevic?” The New York Times, 26 November 2000:

http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/26/magazine/who-really-brought-down-milosevic.html

[23] Philip Shishkin, “In Putin’s Backyard, Democracy Stirs — With U.S. Help,” The Wall Street Journal, 25 February 2005:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB110929289650463886.html

[24] Ian Traynor, “US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev,” The Guardian, 26 November 2004:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.usa

[25] Mark Almond, “The price of People Power,” The Guardian, 7 December 2004:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/dec/07/ukraine.comment

[26] Matt Kelley, “U.S. money has helped opposition in Ukraine,” Associated Press, 11 December 2004:

http://www.utsandiego.com/uniontrib/20041211/news_1n11usaid.html

[27] Daniel Wolf, “A 21st century revolt,” The Guardian, 13 May 2005:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/may/13/ukraine.features11 ;

Craig S. Smith, “U.S. Helped to Prepare the Way for Kyrgyzstan’s Uprising,” The New York Times, 30 March 2005:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9806E4D9123FF933A05750C0A9639C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all ;

John Laughland, “The mythology of people power,” The Guardian, 1 April 2005:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/apr/01/usa.russia ;

Jonathan Steele, “Ukraine’s postmodern coup d’etat,” The Guardian, 26 November 2004:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.comment

[28] Ron Nixon, “U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings,” The New York Times, 14 April 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/world/15aid.html?pagewanted=all

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] “Egypt protests: secret US document discloses support for protesters,” The Telegraph, 28 January 2011:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/egypt/8289698/Egypt-protests-secret-US-document-discloses-support-for-protesters.html

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ian Shapira, “U.S. funding tech firms that help Mideast dissidents evade government censors,” The Washington Post, 10 March 2011:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/09/AR2011030905716.html

[34] Michel Chossudovsky, “The Protest Movement in Egypt: “Dictators” do not Dictate, They Obey Orders,” Global Research, 29 January 2011:

http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-protest-movement-in-egypt-dictators-do-not-dictate-they-obey-orders/22993

[35] Lincoln Mitchell, “North Africa through the Lens of the Color Revolutions,” EurasiaNet, 4 February 2011:

http://www.eurasianet.org/node/62832

[36] Ibid.

[37] “Egypt protests: secret US document discloses support for protesters,” The Telegraph, 28 January 2011:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/egypt/8289698/Egypt-protests-secret-US-document-discloses-support-for-protesters.html

[38] Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How (Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report, 2005), pages 49-54.

[39] Ibid, pages 3-4.

[40] Andrew Gavin Marshall, “‘A Lot of People Believe This Stuff’: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Politics of Public Relations,” Andrewgavinmarshall.com, 7 September 2012:

https://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2012/09/07/a-lot-of-people-believe-this-stuff-bill-clinton-barack-obama-and-the-politics-of-public-relations/

[41] Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How (Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report, 2005), pages 12-13.

[42] Michelle Pace, “Paradoxes and contradictions in EU democracy promotion in the Mediterranean: the limits of EU normative power,” Democratization (Vol. 16, No. 1, February 2009), page 42.

[43] Report, “2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll: Results of Arab Opinion Survey Conducted June 29-July 20, 2010,” The Brookings Institution, 5 August 2010:

http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2010/08/05-arab-opinion-poll-telhami

[44] Ibid.

[45] Matt Bradley, “Egypt’s democracy groups fear shift in US policy will harm their work,” The National, 29 January 2010:

http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/africa/egypts-democracy-groups-fear-shift-in-us-policy-will-harm-their-work

[46] Ibid.

[47] Opposition hopeful for an ElBaradei presidential run,” The National, 6 December 2009:

http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/opposition-hopeful-for-an-elbaradei-presidential-run

[48] Abigail Hauslohner, “Will ElBaradei Run for President of Egypt?” Time Magazine, 20 February 2010:

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1966922,00.html

[49] “ElBaradei to form ‘national association for change’,” BBC News, 24 February 2010:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8534365.stm

[50] Amro Hassan and Jeffrey Fleishman, “Egypt’s Mohamed ElBaradei creates National Front for Change,” The Los Angeles Times, 24 February 2010:

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/feb/24/world/la-fg-egypt-elbaradei25-2010feb25

[51] Matt Bradley, “Brotherhood sides with ElBaradei,” The National, 6 June 2010:

http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/brotherhood-sides-with-elbaradei

[52] Nadia Abou el Magd, “Mohammed ElBaradei, Egypt’s wake-up caller,” The National, 26 June 2010:

http://www.thenational.ae/news/mohammed-elbaradei-egypts-wake-up-caller#full

[53] Brussels, “Crisis Group Announces New Board Members,” International Crisis Group, 1 July 2010:

http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/publication-type/media-releases/2010/crisis-group-announces-new-board-members.aspx

[54] ICG, “Crisis Group Senior Advisers,” International Crisis Group:

http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/about/~/link.aspx?_id=AFAAD992BC154C93B71B1E76D6151F3F&_z=z

[55] ICG, “Who Supports Crisis Group?” The International Crisis Group, funding for the year ending 30 June 2012:

http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/support/who-supports-crisisgroup.aspx

[56] International Crisis Group, “Popular Protest in North Africa and the Middle East (I): Egypt Victorious?” Middle East/North Africa Report, (No. 101, 24 February 2011), page 4 (footnote #33).

[57] Thanassis Cambanis, “Thin Line for Group of Muslims in Egypt,” The New York Times, 5 September 2010:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/06/world/middleeast/06egypt.html?pagewanted=all

[58] Ibid.

[59] Jack Shenker, “Egyptian dissident Mohamed ElBaradei urges election boycott,” The Guardian, 7 September 2010:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/07/egypt-mohamed-elbaradei

[60] Thomas Carothers, “Think Again: Arab Democracy,” Foreign Policy, 10 March 2011:

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/03/10/think_again_arab_democracy

[61] Thomas Carothers, “Democracy Assistance: The Question of Strategy,” Democratization (Vol. 4, No. 3, Autumn 1997), pages 112-113.

[62] Ibid, page 113.

[63] Ibid, pages 113-114.

[64] Working Group on Egypt, “A Letter to Secretary Clinton From the Working Group on Egypt,” Carnegie Middle East Center, 7 April 2010:

http://carnegie-mec.org/2010/04/07/letter-to-secretary-clinton-from-working-group-on-egypt/b983

[65] Ibid.

[66] The Working Group on Egypt, “A Second Letter to Clinton from the Working Group on Egypt,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 12 May 2010:

http://carnegieendowment.org/2010/05/12/second-letter-to-clinton-from-working-group-on-egypt/9je

[67] Michele Dunne and Robert Kagan, “Obama needs to support Egyptians as well as Mubarak,” The Washington Post, 4 June 2010:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/03/AR2010060303935.html

[68] Press Release, “Working Group on Egypt meets with NSC staff,” The Carnegie Endowment for International peace, 2 November 2010:

http://carnegieendowment.org/2010/11/02/working-group-on-egypt-meets-with-nsc-staff/q0c

[69] Mark Landler, “Secret Report Ordered by Obama Identified Potential Uprisings,” The New York Times, 16 February 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/17/world/middleeast/17diplomacy.html

[70] Ibid.

[71] Ibid.

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Tunisia’s Unfinished Revolution: From Dictatorship to Democracy?

Tunisia’s Unfinished Revolution: From Dictatorship to Democracy?

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

From the Guardian, 10 February 2013

From the Guardian, 10 February 2013

On January 14, 2011, Tunisia’s 23-year long dictator Ben Ali fled the country he ruled over in the face of a popular uprising which began the previous month. Tunisia represented the spark of what became known as the ‘Arab Spring.’ Over two years later, Tunisians are back in the streets protesting against the new government, elected in October of 2011, now on the verge of collapse as ministers resign, protests increase, clashes erupt, violence flares, and the future remains unknown.

So the question lingers: what went wrong? What happened? Why are Tunisians back in the streets? Is this Tunisia’s “unfinished revolution”?

The Spark

Tunisia had been ruled by President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from 1987 until the revolution in 2011, a regime marred by corruption, despotism, and repression. While the revolution itself is generally traced to the self immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year old street vendor in the city of Sidi Bouzid, on December 17, 2010, leading to protests and clashes which spread across the country, there was a longer timeline – and other profound changes – which led to the actual revolutionary potential.

Tunisia’s revolution was largely driven by economic reasons, though political and social issues should not be underestimated. Tunisia has a recent history of labour unrest in the country, with the General Union of Tunisian Workers – UGTT – having led protests which were violently repressed in 1978, bread riots in 1984, and more labour unrest in the mining region of Gafsa in 2008. There were also a number of political clashes from the 1990s onward, between the state and the Islamic movement an-Nahda (Ennahda). After the UGTT was repressed in 1978, it was permitted to exist in co-operation with the state, following along the lines of labour and union history within the West itself. While the state felt it had a firm control of Tunisian society, there were growing divides with the youth, who for years would lead their own protests against the state through human rights organizations, the General Union of Tunisian Students (UGET), or other associations.[1]

Within Tunisia, a crisis had emerged among young graduates in higher education from the mid-1990s onward, with a serious lack of employment opportunities for an increasingly educated youth. From this period up until the revolution, most protests in Tunisia were organized by youth in university organizations and student unions, using tactics such as sit-ins, chaining themselves to buildings, or hunger strikes, which were often met with state violence. Suicide had become another tactic of protest, “a political manifesto to highlight a political demand and to underline the social fragility it implies,” in the words of Mehdi Mabrouk from the University of Tunis. This was understood as the “emergence of a culture of suicide,” identified in a study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as “a culture which disdained the value of life, finding death an easier alternative because of a lack of values and a sense of anomie,” which was “particularly true of unemployed and marginal youth, so that death was more attractive than life under such conditions.”[2] It was within this context that Mohamed Bouazizi’s suicide became the spark for the wider protests, first in Sidi Bouzid, and quickly spreading across the country, with youth leading the way.

With the help of social media, like Facebook and Twitter, the youth activists in Sidi Bouzid were able to share their revolt with the rest of the country and the world, encouraging the spread of the uprising across Tunisia and the Arab world at large. A relative of Bouazizi described the protesters as having “a rock in one hand, a cell phone in the other.” Thus, while Tunisian media ignored the protests in Sidi Bouzid, international media and social media became increasingly involved. Tunisia had 3.6 million internet users, roughly a third of the population, who had access to live news about what was taking place within their country, even though the official national news media did not mention the events until 29 December 2010, twelve days after the protests had begun. The government began to arrest bloggers and web activists in the hopes that the protests would fade or diminish in fear, yet it only motivated the protests further. From the first day, the Sidi Bouzid branch of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) was engaged in the protests, while the national leadership of the UGTT was considered to be too close to the regime and national ruling class to act independently. However, the regional branches of the UGTT had “a reputation for gutsy engagement,” wrote Yasmine Ryan in Al-Jazeera. The Sidi Bouzid branch of UGTT was one of the main organizing forces behind the protests, and when protesters were killed in neighbouring regions, it erupted nation-wide. Thus, students, teachers, lawyers, and the unemployed joined together in protest first in Sidi Bouzid, and then across the country.[3]

Dictatorship or Democracy?

Tunisia happened to be a “model US client” in the words of Richard Falk: “a blend of neoliberalism that is open to foreign investment, cooperation with American anti-terrorism by way of extreme rendition of suspects, and strict secularism that translates into the repression of political expression.”[4]

Just in line with the closest of American and Western allies – and ‘clients’ – in the region, the strategy for the West is one of unyielding support for the dictatorship, so long as “stability” and “prosperity” and ensured. The term “security” is a euphemism for control of the population, while “prosperity” is a euphemism for economic exploitation and profit for the rich few, domestically and globally.

American attitudes toward Tunisia were often reflected in diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, in which as early as 2006 the U.S. Embassy in Tunis reported that the issue of succession from Ben Ali was important, but concluded that, “none of the options suggest Tunisia will become more democratic,” however, despite US rhetoric for support of democracy, the cable noted, “the US-Tunisian bilateral relationship is likely to remain unaffected by the departure of Ben Ali,” that is, assuming the departure does not include a transition to democratic government. If problems arose for Ben Ali, and he became “temporarily incapacitated,” reported the U.S. Embassy, “he could turn over a measure of presidential authority to Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi,” who had close ties to the West and Americans, in particular.[5] Ghannounchi, incidentally, was implanted as the interim president following Ben Ali’s escape to Saudi Arabia in January 2011, though shortly thereafter had to resign due to popular opposition, since he was a high official in Ben Ali’s government.

In July of 2009, a diplomatic cable from the American Embassy in Tunis noted that Tunisia is “troubled,” and that, “many Tunisians are frustrated by the lack of political freedom and angered by First Family corruption, high unemployment and regional inequities.” The Ambassador noted that while America seeks to enhance ties with Tunisia commercially and militarily, there are also major setbacks, as “we have been blocked, in part, by a Foreign Ministry that seeks to control all our contacts in the government and many other organizations.” America had successfully accomplished a number of goals, such as “increasing substantially US assistance to the military,” and “strengthening commercial ties,” yet, “we have also had too many failures.” The same cable noted: “Tunisia is a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems.” Ben Ali’s regime relies “on the police for control and focus[es] on preserving power,” while “corruption in the inner circle is growing.” The Embassy noted, however, that with “high unemployment and regional inequalities” in the country, “the risks to the regime’s long-term stability are increasing.”[6]

So how did the United States seek to preserve “stability”? Imperial powers do what they do best: provide the means to continue repression and control. Between 1987, when Ben Ali came to power and 2009, the United States provided the government of Tunisia with a total of $349 million in military aid.[7] In 2010, the United States provided Tunisia with $13.7 million in military aid alone.[8]

Tunisia, which was a former French colony, also had strong relations with France. During the outbreak of the crisis in December of 2010, the French suggested they would help Ben Ali by sending security forces to Tunisia to “resolve the situation” in a show of “friendship” to the regime.[9] The French foreign minister suggested that France could provide better training to Tunisian police to restore order since the French were adept in “security situations of this type.” Jacques Lanxade, a retired French admiral, former military chief of staff and former French ambassador to Tunis noted that the French had “continued public support of this regime because of economic interests,” and added: “We didn’t take account of Tunisian public opinion and thought Ben Ali would re-establish his position.”[10]

This imperial logic has been given terms and justifications from establishment intellectuals and academics in the United States and other Western powers. Academics with the Brookings Institution, an influential U.S. think tank, suggested in 2009 that this was the logic of “authoritarian bargains,” in which dictatorships in the region were able to maintain power through a type of “bargain,” where “citizens relinquish political influence in exchange for public spending,” suggesting that: “non-democratic rulers secure regime support through the allocation of two substitutable ‘goods’ to the public: economic transfers and the ability to influence policy making.”[11]

In 2011, those same academics wrote an article for the Brookings Institution in which they asked if the “Arab authoritarian bargain” was collapsing, noting that as economic conditions deteriorated and unemployment rose, with neoliberal reforms failing to provide economic opportunities for the majority of the populations, the bargain – or “contract” – between dictators and the populations was “now collapsing,” adding that, “the strategies used by Arab leaders to maintain power may have run their course,” noting: “Partial political liberalization may not be enough at this point to make up for the current inability to deliver economic security and prosperity, spelling the final demise of Arab authoritarian bargain.”[12]

F. Gregory Gause III, writing in Foreign Affairs, the establishment journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, the most prominent foreign policy think tank in the United States, referred to this as “authoritarian stability” theory. Following the initial Arab Spring uprisings, he wrote about the “myth” of authoritarian stability, noting that many academics had focused on trying to understand “the persistence of undemocratic rulers” in the region, though implicitly without questioning the imperial relations between the local governments and the dominant Western powers. Gause himself acknowledged that he had written an article for Foreign Affairs in 2005 in which he argued that, “the United States should not encourage democracy in the Arab world because Washington’s authoritarian Arab allies represented stable bets for the future,” and that, “democratic Arab governments would prove much less likely to cooperate with U.S. foreign policy goals in the region.” Gause then reflected in 2011 that, “I was spectacularly wrong.”[13]

Marwan Muasher is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, a prominent American think tank, and was previously foreign minister and deputy prime minister in the Jordanian dictatorship. Following events in Tunisia, Muasher wrote an article for the Carnegie Endowment in which he explained why the events were not foreseen, noting that: “The traditional argument put forward in and out of the Arab world is that there is nothing wrong, everything is under control.” Thus, wrote Muasher, “entrenched forces argue that opponents and outsiders calling for reform are exaggerating the conditions on the ground,” an argument which he noted, “has been fundamentally undermined by the unfolding events in Tunisia.” Because Tunisia had comparably low economic problems, a small opposition, and a “strong security establishment,” it was thought that “the risk of revolt was considered low.” Muasher wrote: “It wasn’t supposed to happen in Tunisia and the fact that it did proves that fundamental political reforms – widening the decision-making process and combating corruption – are needed around the entire Arab world.”[14]

This concept of “there is nothing wrong, everything is under control,” has been referred to by Noam Chomsky as the “Muasher doctrine,” noting that this has been consistent U.S. policy in the region since at least 1958, when Eisenhower’s National Security Council acknowledged that the US supported dictators and opposed democracy, and that this was a rational policy to serve American interests in the region.[15]

The National Security Council document stated that the Middle East was “of great strategic, political, and economic importance to the Free World,” meaning the West, and United States in particular, and this was largely due to the fact that the region “contains the greatest petroleum resources in the world.” Thus, the National Security Council stated, “it is in the security interest of the United States to make every effort to insure that these resources will be available and will be used for strengthening the Free World.” The document further wrote that: “In the eyes of the majority of Arabs the United States appears to be opposed to the realization of the goals of Arab nationalism,” and that the people in that part of the world “believe the United States is seeking to protect its interest in Near East oil by supporting the status quo and opposing political or economic progress,” which included US support for “reactionary” regimes and America’s “colonial” allies in Europe, notably France and Great Britain. These beliefs, the report noted, were indeed accurate, that “our economic and cultural interests in the area have led… to close U.S. relations with elements in the Arab world whose primary interest lies in the maintenance of relations with the West and the status quo in their countries.”[16]

Acknowledging this, the NSC document stated that instead of “attempting merely to preserve the status quo,” the United States should “seek to guide the revolutionary and nationalistic pressures throughout the area into orderly channels which will not be antagonistic to the West and which will contribute to solving the internal social, political and economic problems of the area.” Though this would of course include providing “military aid to friendly countries to enhance their internal security and governmental stability,” which essentially amounted to maintaining the status quo. The same document also added that, “we cannot exclude the possibility of having to use force in an attempt to maintain our position in the area.”[17]

And so then we come up to present day, where the United States maintains the same policy, as Chomsky suggested, “the Muasher doctrine” of “there is nothing wrong, everything is under control.” But everything is clearly no longer under control, and there are many things that clearly are wrong. Just as the 1958 National Security Council document suggested guiding “revolutionary and nationalistic pressures” into “orderly channels which will not be antagonistic to the West,” so too were US planners in recent years seeking to do the same.

Top US policy planners at the Council on Foreign Relations produced a report – and strategic blueprint – for the United States to follow in 2005, entitled, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How, co-chaired by former Clinton-era Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who sits on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Aspen Institute, and chair of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. The other co-chair of the Task Force report was Vin Weber, former Congressman and member of the board of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a US-government-supported organization promoting state-capitalist “liberal” democracy around the world, so long as it aligns with U.S. strategic interests. Other members of the Task Force which produced the report held previous or present affiliations with First National Bank of Chicago, Occidental Petroleum, the Carnegie Endowment, the World Bank, Brookings Institution, Hoover Institution, the U.S. State Department, National Security Council, National Intelligence Council, the American Enterprise Institute, the IMF, AOL-Time Warner, and Goldman Sachs.[18] In short, the report was produced by no less than a select group of America’s strategic and intellectual elite.

Published in 2005, the report suggested that “democracy and freedom have become a priority” for the United States in the Middle East, though there are conditions to Washington’s ability and interest in promoting these concepts: “First, does a policy of promoting democracy serve U.S. interests and foreign policy goals? Second, if so, how should the United States implement such a policy, taking into account the full range of its interests?” To the first question, the report suggested that it was in the U.S. interest to promote democracy in the Arab world, noting: “Although democracy entails certain inherent risks, the denial of freedom carries much more significant long-term dangers. If Arab citizens are able to express grievances freely and peacefully, they will be less likely to turn to more extreme measures.”[19] However, as the report noted: “the United States should promote the development of democratic institutions and practices over the long term, mindful that democracy cannot be imposed from the outside and that sudden, traumatic change is neither necessary nor desirable.” Most importantly, the report suggested: “America’s goal in the Middle East should be to encourage democratic evolution, not revolution.”[20]

The United States was not interested in rapid change, since, the report argued, “if Washington pushes Arab leaders too hard on reform, contributing to the collapse of friendly Arab governments, this would likely have a deleterious effect on regional stability, peace, and counterterrorism operations.” The report itself concluded: “While transitions to democracy can lead to instability in the short term, the Task Force finds that a policy geared toward maintaining the authoritarian status quo in the Middle East poses greater risks to U.S. interests and foreign policy goals.”[21]

Thus, when it comes to the issue of choosing between supporting a “dictatorship” or “democracy,” the issue is one of interest: which regime supports U.S. and Western interests better? In the short-term, dictatorships provide “authoritarian stability” and maintain control, however, in the long-term, a transition to a Western-style democratic system allows for less pressure built up against the system, and against the West itself. Dictatorships provide short-term “stability” (i.e., control), while top-down democracies provide long-term “stability.” The question, then, is merely of managing a transition from one to the other, no small task for an imperial power: how to maintain support for a dictator while encouraging the slow evolution of democratic governance.

The issue of “democracy” is further complicated by how it is defined or pursued. For the United States and its Western allies, “democracy” is not the goal, but rather a means to a goal. The goal is, always has been, and always will be, “stability and prosperity,” control and profit. When the dictatorships fail to bring about stability and prosperity, “democracy” – so long as it is constructed along Western liberal state-capitalist lines – will be the preferred option. The European Union, when reporting on its own efforts to promote democracy in the Mediterranean region, noted that, “we believe that democracy, good governance, rule of law, and gender equality are essential for stability and prosperity.”[22] In other words, democracy is not the goal: control and profit is the goal. The means are merely incidental, whether they be through dictatorships, or top-down democratic structures.

The problem in the Arab world is deepened for the United States when one looks at public opinion polls from the region. Just prior to the outbreak of protests in Tunisia, a major Western poll on Arab public opinion was conducted by the University of Maryland and Zogby International, published in the summer of 2010. The results were very interesting, noting that only 5% and 6% of respondents in 2010 believed that “promoting democracy” and “spreading human rights” were the two factors (respectively) which were most important in America’s foreign policy in the region. At the top of the list of priorities, with 49% and 45% respectively, were “protecting Israel” and “controlling oil,” followed by 33% each for “weakening the Muslim world” and “preserving regional and global dominance.” Further, 92% of respondents felt that Iran has a right to its nuclear program if it is peaceful, and 70% feel that right remains even if Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Roughly 57% of respondents felt that if Iran acquired nuclear weapons, things would be “more positive” for the region, compared to 21% who thought it would be “more negative.” The poll asked which two countries posed the largest threat to the region, with Israel at 88% and the United States at 77%, while Iran was viewed as one of the two major threats to the region by only 10% of respondents, just above China and equal to Algeria.[23]

In other words, if truly representative – or genuine – democracies emerged in the region, they would be completely counter to U.S. strategic interests in the region, and thus, real democracy in the Arab world is not in the American interest. This makes the American strategic interests in the transitions of the ‘Arab Spring’ all the more important to attempt to manage and control. Genuine democracy would bring an end to American and Western hegemony, yet, the “Muasher doctrine” of “everything is under control” has failed in the case of both Tunisia and Egypt. What then, is left for Western interests?

Tunisia’s Transition to “Democracy”

Immediately following Ben Ali’s departure from Tunisia to Saudi Arabia, the land of exiled dictators, a “caretaker” government was quickly established in order to “lead the transition to democracy.” Mohamed Ghannouchi, Ben Ali’s prime minister (and the American favourite to replace him), helped to form a “unity” government, but after one day of existence, four opposition members quit the government, including three ministers from the UGTT trade union, saying they had “no confidence” in a government full of members from Ben Ali’s regime. Hundreds of people, led by trade unionists, took to the streets in protest against the transitional government.[24]

Six members from Ben Ali’s regime appeared in the “unity” government, presided over by the former Parliamentary Speaker Fouad Mebazaa. Ghannouchi stepped down in late February following popular opposition to his participation in the “unity” government, though he was replaced by Ben Ali’s former foreign minister.[25] In February of 2011, the United States offered “military training” to Tunisia in the follow-up to the planned elections for later in the year, to make Tunisia a “model” revolution for the Arab world.[26]

A public opinion poll conducted in Tunisia in May of 2011 revealed that there had been “a steep decline in confidence for the transition period,” noting that in March, a poll revealed that 79% of Tunisians believed the country was headed in the right direction, compared to only 46% who thought so in May. Roughly 73% of Tunisian’s felt that the economic situation was “somewhat bad or very bad,” and 93% of respondents said they were “very likely” to vote in coming elections.[27]

In October of 2011, Tunisians went to the polls for their first democratic election, “the first vote of the Arab spring.” The election was designed to elect an assembly which would be tasked with one mission: to draft a constitution before parliamentary elections. The An-Nadha (Ennahda) party, an Islamist party which was banned under Ben Ali, was expected to receive most of the votes, though most Tunisians felt guarded in terms of seeking to protect their “unfinished revolution.” Lawyers lodged complaints that in the nine months since Ben Ali fled Tunisia, torture and police brutality continued, while human rights activists noted that cronies from Ben Ali’s regime continued to dominate the corrupt judicial system. One human rights activist noted, “We are overwhelmed with cases of human rights abuses. You wouldn’t believe there had been a revolution… Torture is the way things are done, it’s systematic. They have not changed their practices at all,” referring to the police.[28]

On October 23, 2011, the Tunisian elections took place, with the Islamist party Ennahda winning 89 out of 217 seats, after which it joined with two secular parties to form a ruling coalition known as the ‘Troika.’ A year after the Troika had been in power, by October of 2012, Tunisians felt disheartened by the pace of the revolution. One young activist stated that, “They are failing on security, they are failing on the economy, and they are failing when it comes to liberties and rights… They have nothing to do with the revolution. They are completely disconnected.” Amnesty International even noted in October of 2012 that: “The authorities need to seize this historic opportunity and confront the painful legacy of abuse and violations of the pasty and enshrine in law and in practice universal human rights with the aim of making the rule of law a reality in the new Tunisia.”[29]

Rachid Ghannouchi, the party’s chairman (no relation to Mohammed Ghannouchi), said that Ennahda “pledges to continue working with our national partners towards building a national consensus that takes Tunisians forward towards the protection of their revolution and achievement of its aims.” Over the previous year, the opposition within Tunisia had time to develop better than it did prior to the October 2011 elections, with new parties and organizations emerging. One, a decidedly non-mainstream party, the Tunisian Pirate Party, advocates direct democracy and freedom of expression, with its leader stating, “The classic political parties are trying to buy and sell people. The youth of Tunisia, we refuse this masquerade, this system… All they want is power, they don’t listen to us. They have betrayed the people.” On the other hand, the government was facing increasing pressure not only from the left opposition, but from the more conservative Salafists, ultra-conservative Islamists, who reject democracy and want Ennahda to take a firm grip on power.[30]

At the time of Ben Ali’s overthrow, Tunisia had an unemployment rate of 13%, but by the end of 2011 it had risen to 18%, where it remains to this day, and was as high as 44% among young university graduates. Strikes, sit-ins, and protests had continued throughout 2012, and with 800,000 unemployed Tunisians, some were looking to new avenues for answers. The Salafists were providing poor young people with a different path. A former director at Tunisia’s UGTT trade union noted, “Salafism taps its social base into a pool of often deprived people inhabiting the so-called poverty belts surrounding inner cities… The rise of salafism is a socio-economic phenomenon before being a religious one.” Salafists call for a strict enforcement of religious law, and have taken part in protests which shout anti-Semitic and homophobic chants at times, leading many to fear the potential for women’s rights as well as those of various minority groups.[31]

Salafists have also been linked to attacks on individuals and groups, opposition meetings and organizations. When complaints are made to the Ennahda government’s police forces, little is done to address the issues to persecute crimes. Human Rights Watch noted: “There is an unwillingness or an inability to arrest individuals… People have been attacked by people they identify as Salafis; they file a complaint to the judicial police, and in many cases the guy is never arrested.”[32]

The Obama administration sought to contribute to the “stability” of the new regime in Tunisia by providing $32 million in military aid from January of 2011 to spring of 2012.[33] An American General and head of the U.S. Africom (Africa Command) noted that on top of the military aid, the United States was continuing to train Tunisian soldiers, having already trained 4,000 in the previous decade.[34] It would appear to be no less than the Muasher Doctrine with a difference face.

Clashes have increased between opposition parties and trade unionists with pro-government supporters as well as Salafists. In October of 2012, an opposition figure died after clashes between his supporters and pro-government forces calling themselves the League for the Protection of the Revolution.[35] On December 17, 2012, at an event commemorating the two-year anniversary of the protests that began the revolution, angry protesters hurled rocks at the Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki and the parliamentary speaker in Sidi Bouzid. As the president and speaker were hustled away by security forces, protesters chanted, “the people want the fall of the government.”[36]

By December of 2012, it was clear that the frustration of Tunisians unsatisfied with the failure of the subsequent governments to meet their demands was “starting to overflow again.” In late November, the government had even sent troops to Siliana following four days of protests spurred on by demands for jobs and government investment. President Moncef Marzouki stated that, “Tunisia today is at a crossroads,” though admitted that the government had not “met the expectations of the people.” With unemployment remaining at 18%, a third of the unemployed being college graduates, one publishing company owner noted that, “Ben Ali ignored the blinking red lights on the economy, and that is what got him thrown out… The unemployed are an army in a country the size of Tunisia.” Since the revolution, the United States had provided Tunisia with $300 million, with the European Union providing $400 million, and the World Bank approving a $500 million loan, all in an attempt to prop up the new government, though it remained incapable of meeting the demands of its population.[37]

A poll conducted by the International Republic Institute was published in October of 2012, revealing that for Tunisians, “employment, economic development, and living standards were chosen most often as top priorities for the current government,” though 67% of respondents felt the country was moving in the “wrong direction.”[38] In another survey from late 2012, nearly half of Tunisians reported that they were “worse off” since prior to the revolution, with only 14% who felt their personal situation had improved. For Tunisians, the success of the revolution was defined more in terms of economic issues, with 32% stating that democracy “means the distribution of basic necessities – food, clothing, and shelter – to all citizens,” while 27% define democracy as the right to criticize leaders, compared to only 25% who defined it “as alteration of leaders through elections.”[39]

The Second Spark?

On February 6, 2013, a secular party leader and opposition figure, Chokri Belaid, a major critic of the Ennahda government, was assassinated outside of his home, shot in the head and neck, marking the first political assassination in Tunisia since the colonial period. Belaid was a major critic of the government’s failure to prosecute the criminal activities of violent religious groups linked to Salafists and pro-government forces.[40] His death triggered widespread protests, many of which turned violent as government forces dispersed them using tear gas, while Tunisia’s biggest union, the UGTT, called for a general strike. Many felt that Ennahda was responsible for his murder, if not directly then by failing to reign in the radical Islamists.[41]

On February 8, a general strike brought tens of thousands of Tunisians into the streets in protest and in mourning of Chokri Belaid. Belaid was a respected opposition figure, but also a prominent trade unionist and lawyer, and was “one of the most outspoken critics of the post-revolution coalition government led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party.” The day before his assassination he had appeared on television criticizing the increased political violence in the country. One barrister noted during the protest, “not since colonial times in the early 1950s has Tunisia seen a clear political assassination in the street.” Many spoke out against the shadowy Leagues of the Protection of the Revolution, made up of small groups of men “who are accused of using thugs to stir clashes at opposition rallies and trade union gatherings.” Belaid was a prominent critic of these groups, which he had publicly condemned as being linked to the ruling Ennahda party, a claim the party denies.[42] The president of a Tunisian NGO, Jalila Hedhli-Peugnet, stated that Belaid “was not assassinated under the dictatorship of Ben Ali, now he is assassinated under the democracy of Ennahda.”[43]

Coincidentally, on the day of Belaid’s assassination, Human Rights Watch released a report raising concerns about Tunisia for “the slow pace in reforming security operations and the judiciary, the failure to investigate and prosecute physical assaults by people apparently affiliated with violent groups, and the prosecution of nonviolent speech offenses.” The worry for the region over two years since the Arab Spring began, reported HRW, was whether the new governments would respect human rights, which “will determine whether the Arab uprisings give birth to genuine democracy or simply spawn authoritarianism in new clothes.” Throughout 2012, the courts in Tunisia applied already-existing repressive laws of the Ben Ali dictatorship to persecute nonviolent speech which the government considered harmful to “values, morality, or the public order, or to defame the army.” Artists have been charged for sculpting artwork deemed “harmful to public order and morals,” while two bloggers received prison terms of seven-and-a-half years for writing posts considered “offensive to Islam.” Over 2012, “assaults were carried out against intellectuals, artists, human rights activists, and journalists by individuals or groups who appear to be motivated by a religious agenda.” After reports had been filed on multiple occasions, “the police proved unwilling or unable to find or arrest the alleged attackers.”[44]

In January of 2013, Amnesty International noted that after two years since Ben Ali fled Tunisia, the abuses of the police forces and judicial system had yet to be addressed, specifically in relation to the period of the uprising between 17 December 2010 and just after Ben Ali fled, when roughly 338 people were killed and over 2,000 injured in protests. While Ben Ali was tried in absentia for the killings, only a few members of the security forces had been convicted for killing protesters.[45]

Following the assassination of Belaid, Amnesty International immediately called for an “independent and impartial investigation” into his murder, noting that attacks against political opposition groups had been increasing, and that a meeting which Chokri Belaid had attended the Saturday before his murder was violently attacked and that Belaid had been receiving death threats. The Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International noted: “Two years after the ousting of former President Ben Ali, there is an increasing mistrust in the institutions that are supposed to protect human rights and Tunisians will not be satisfied with a sham investigation.”[46]

Following the assassination, Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali suggested that the coalition government should dissolve and form a non-partisan, technocratic government, though this was immediately rejected by members of his Ennahda party itself. All across Tunisia, a general strike was observed while tens of thousands took to the streets in multiple cities to mark the funeral of Belaid and to protest the government, often clashing with security forces.[47]

The Congress for the Republic (CPR), a secular party which was a member of the coalition government and whose leader, Moncef Marzouki, is president of Tunisia, said on Sunday February 10 that its party members would quit the government in protest against the handling of the political crisis, as tensions between the parties continued to accelerate. Meanwhile, pro-Ennadha government supporters also took to the streets, though in significantly less numbers than the opposition, to voice their support for the government.[48]

Thus, with the Tunisian government on the verge of collapse, with the people seemingly on the verge of another uprising, and with increasing tensions between secular and Islamist groups, Tunisia continues its unfinished revolution. It is tempting to draw the comparison to Egypt, where the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood party holds power, and where the population is again rising up against the government and in support of the revolutionary ideals which led them into the streets two years prior. As thousands again took to the streets in Egypt on February 8, they were met with riot police and tear gas.[49] It would appear that the Western-sponsored attempts to prop up Islamist governments to establish control over their populations is backfiring. Where the revolution goes, only posterity can say, but one thing is clear: the unfinished revolution in Tunisia – as elsewhere – is only finished, and democracy is only achieved, when the people themselves have made it and declared it to be so.

For those of us in the West, we must acknowledge that there is a stark contrast between the rhetoric and reality of our nations, as in, the difference between what our governments say and do. For all the blather and trumpeting about democracy we hear, the actions of our nations go to arming, training, and supporting repressive regimes, whether they take the form of secular authoritarian dictatorships, or Islamist “democratic” coalitions.

As we continue our own struggle for democracy at home, whether it is students in the streets of Quebec, Indignados in Spain, anarchists in Greece, Occupy Wall Street activists in New York, or the indigenous movement of Idle No More, we must realize that the same tax dollars which are used to have the police assault and repress protesters at home, are also used to assault, repress, and kill our brothers and sisters abroad in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and beyond. Their revolution is our revolution. Their democracy is our democracy. Their freedom is our freedom. And their future… is our future.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, with a focus on studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance across a wide spectrum of social, political, economic, and historical spheres. He has been published in AlterNet, CounterPunch, Occupy.com, Truth-Out, RoarMag, and a number of other alternative media groups, and regularly does radio, Internet, and television interviews with both alternative and mainstream news outlets. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project and has a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

 

Notes

[1]       Mehdi Mabrouk, “A Revolution for Dignity and Freedom: Preliminary Observations on the Social and Cultural Background to the Tunisian Revolution,” The Journal of North African Studies (Vol. 16, No. 4, December 2011), pages 626-627.

[2]       Ibid, pages 629-629.

[3]       Yasmine Ryan, “How Tunisia’s revolution began,” Al-Jazeera, 26 January 2011:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/01/2011126121815985483.html

[4]       Richard Falk, “Ben Ali Tunisia was model US client,” Al-Jazeera, 25 January 2011:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/01/201112314530411972.html

[5]       US Embassy Cables, “US embassy cables: Finding a successor to Ben Ali in Tunisia,” The Guardian, 17 January 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/49401

[6]       The US Embassy Cables, “US embassy cables: Tunisia – a US foreign policy conundrum,” The Guardian, 7 December 2010:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/217138

[7]       Daya Gamage, “Massive U.S. Military Aid to Tunisia despite human rights abuses,” Asian Tribune, 18 January 2011:

http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2011/01/18/massive-us-military-aid-tunisia-despite-human-rights-abuses

[8]       NYT, “Challenges Facing Countries Across North Africa and the Middle East,” The New York Times, 17 February 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/17/world/middleeast/0217-mideast-region-graphic.html

[9]       Samer al-Atrush, “Tunisia: Why the Jasmine Revolution won’t bloom,” The Telegraph, 16 January 2011:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/tunisia/8261961/Tunisia-Why-the-Jasmine-Revolution-wont-bloom.html

[10]     Steven Erlanger, “France Seen Wary of Interfering in Tunisia Crisis,” The New York Times, 16 January 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/17/world/africa/17france.html

[11]     Raj M. Desai, Anders Olofsgard, and Tarik M. Yousef, “The Logic of Authoritarian Bargains,” Economics & Politics (Vol. 21, No. 1, March 2009), pages 93-94.

[12]     Raj M. Desai, Anders Olofsgard and Tarik Yousef, “Is the Arab Authoritarian Bargain Collapsing?,” The Brookings Institution, 9 February 2011:

http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2011/02/09-arab-economies-desai-yousef

[13]     F. Gregory Gause III, “Why Middle East Studies Missed the Arab Spring: The Myth of Authoritarian Stability,” Foreign Affairs (Vol. 90, No. 4, July/August 2011), pages 81-82.

[14]     Marwan Muasher, “Tunisia’s Crisis and the Arab World,” the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 24 January 2011:

http://carnegieendowment.org/2011/01/24/tunisia-s-crisis-and-arab-world/1n0e

[15]     Noam Chomsky, “Is the world too big to fail?,” Al-Jazeera, 29 September 2011:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/09/201192514364490977.html

[16]     Document 5, “National Security Council Report,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Vol. 12, Near East Region; Iraq; Iran; Arabian Peninsula, 24 January 1958.

[17]     Ibid.

[18]     Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How (Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report, 2005), pages 49-54.

[19]     Ibid, pages 3-4.

[20]     Ibid, page 4.

[21]     Ibid, pages 12-13.

[22]     Michelle Pace, “Paradoxes and contradictions in EU democracy promotion in the Mediterranean: the limits of EU normative power,” Democratization (Vol. 16, No. 1, February 2009), page 42.

[23]     Report, “2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll: Results of Arab Opinion Survey Conducted June 29-July 20, 2010,” The Brookings Institution, 5 August 2010:

http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2010/08/05-arab-opinion-poll-telhami

[24]     Angelique Chrisafis, “Tunisia’s caretaker government in peril as four ministers quit,” The Guardian, 18 January 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/18/tunisia-caretaker-government-ministers-quit

[25]     “Tunisia: Key players,” BBC, 27 February 2011:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12214649

[26]     Tarek Amara, “US offers Tunisia security aid for ‘model’ revolution,” Reuters, 21 February 2011:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/21/tunisia-turkey-idAFLDE71K1P020110221

[27]     “IRI Releases Tunisia Poll,” International Republican Institute, 12 July 2011:

http://www.iri.org/news-events-press-center/news/iri-releases-tunisia-poll-0

[28]     Angelique Chrisafis, Katharine Viner, and Becky Gardiner, “Tunisians go to the polls still in the shadow of the old regime,” The Guardian, 22 October 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/22/tunisian-elections-ben-ali

[29]     Yasmine Ryan, “Tunisian politicians struggle to deliver,” Al-Jazeera, 23 October 2012:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/10/20121023195656868113.html

[30]     Ibid.

[31]     Anne Wolf and Raphael Lefevre, “Tunisia: a revolution at risk,” The Guardian, 18 April 2012:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/apr/18/tunisia-revolution-at-risk

[32]     Alice Fordham, “Tunisia’s revolution and the Salafi effect,” The National, 11 September 2012:

http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/africa/tunisias-revolution-and-the-salafi-effect#full

[33]     “Obama administration doubles military aid to Islamist-led Tunisia,” World Tribune, 27 April 2012:

http://www.worldtribune.com/2012/04/27/obama-administration-doubles-military-aid-to-islamist-led-tunisia/

[34]     AFP, “U.S. Gave Tunisia $32 million in Military Aid: General,” Defense News, 24 April 2012:

http://www.defensenews.com/article/20120424/DEFREG04/304240005/U-S-Gave-Tunisia-32-million-Military-Aid-General

[35]     “Tunisia clash leaves opposition official dead,” Al-Jazeera, 19 October 2012:

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/10/201210196219774432.html

[36]     Agencies, “Angry crowd hurls stones at Tunisian leaders,” Al-Jazeera, 17 December 2012:

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/12/20121217113425585914.html

[37]     Neil MacFarquhar, “Economic Frustration Simmers Again in Tunisia,” The New York Times, 1 December 2012:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/02/world/africa/economic-frustration-simmers-again-in-tunisia.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[38]     “IRI Poll: Employment, Economy Most Important Priorities for Tunisians,” International Republican Institute, 3 October 2012:

http://www.iri.org/news-events-press-center/news/iri-poll-employment-economy-most-important-priorities-tunisians

[39]     Lindsay J. Benstead, Ellen Lust, and Dhafer Malouche, “Tunisian Revolution Is Work in Progress,” The Epoch Times, 27 December 2012:

http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/opinion/tunisian-revolution-is-work-in-progress-328934.html

[40]     Editorial, “An Assassination in Tunisia,” The New York Times, 8 February 2013:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/09/opinion/the-assassination-of-chokri-belaid-in-tunisia.html?_r=0

[41]     Eric Reguly, “Chaos in Tunisia tarnishes a revolution’s success story,” The Globe and Mail, 7 February 2013:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/chaos-in-tunisia-tarnishes-a-revolutions-success-story/article8329058/

[42]     Angelique Chrisafis, “Tunisia gripped by general strike as assassinated Chokri Belaïd is buried,” The Guardian, 8 February 2013:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/08/tunisia-general-strike-belaid-buried

[43]     Rachel Shabi, “Tunisia is no longer a revolutionary poster-child,” The Guardian, 7 February 2013:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/07/tunisia-no-longer-revolutionary-poster-child

[44]     HRW, “Tunisia: Slow Reform Pace Undermines Rights,” Human Rights Watch, 6 February 2013:

http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/02/06/tunisia-slow-reform-pace-undermines-rights

[45]     “Document – Tunisia: Two years since the uprising, justice must be done and be seen to be done,” Amnesty International, 14 January 2013:

http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE30/002/2013/en/2788b8d3-9ef1-4f35-91ce-b07db7ac093c/mde300022013en.html

[46]     Press Releases, “Tunisia: Urgent need for investigation into Chokri Belaid’s killing,” Amnesty International, 6 February 2013:

http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/tunisia-urgent-need-investigation-chokri-belaid-s-killing-2013-02-06

[47]     “Tunisia mourns murdered politician Chokri Belaid,” BBC, 8 February 2013:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-21381617

[48]     Angelique Chrisafis, “Tunisian president’s party ‘to withdraw from coalition’,” The Guardian, 10 February 2013:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/10/tunisia-government-crisis

[49]     “Egypt protests turn violent,” Al-Jazeera, 8 February 2013:

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/02/201328173524471174.html

Are We Witnessing the Start of a Global Revolution?

Are We Witnessing the Start of a Global Revolution?
North Africa and the Global Political Awakening, Part 1
Global Research, January 27, 2011

For the first time in human history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive… The resulting global political activism is generating a surge in the quest for personal dignity, cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world painfully scarred by memories of centuries-long alien colonial or imperial domination… The worldwide yearning for human dignity is the central challenge inherent in the phenomenon of global political awakening… That awakening is socially massive and politically radicalizing… The nearly universal access to radio, television and increasingly the Internet is creating a community of shared perceptions and envy that can be galvanized and channeled by demagogic political or religious passions. These energies transcend sovereign borders and pose a challenge both to existing states as well as to the existing global hierarchy, on top of which America still perches

The youth of the Third World are particularly restless and resentful. The demographic revolution they embody is thus a political time-bomb, as wellTheir potential revolutionary spearhead is likely to emerge from among the scores of millions of students concentrated in the often intellectually dubious “tertiary level” educational institutions of developing countries. Depending on the definition of the tertiary educational level, there are currently worldwide between 80 and 130 million “college” students. Typically originating from the socially insecure lower middle class and inflamed by a sense of social outrage, these millions of students are revolutionaries-in-waiting, already semi-mobilized in large congregations, connected by the Internet and pre-positioned for a replay on a larger scale of what transpired years earlier in Mexico City or in Tiananmen Square. Their physical energy and emotional frustration is just waiting to be triggered by a cause, or a faith, or a hatred

[The] major world powers, new and old, also face a novel reality: while the lethality of their military might is greater than ever, their capacity to impose control over the politically awakened masses of the world is at a historic low. To put it bluntly: in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people.[1]

– Zbigniew Brzezinski

Former U.S. National Security Advisor

Co-Founder of the Trilateral Commission

Member, Board of Trustees, Center for Strategic and International Studies

An uprising in Tunisia led to the overthrow of the country’s 23-year long dictatorship of President Ben Ali. A new ‘transitional’ government was formed, but the protests continued demanding a totally new government without the relics of the previous tyranny. Protests in Algeria have continued for weeks, as rage mounts against rising food prices, corruption and state oppression. Protests in Jordan forced the King to call on the military to surround cities with tanks and set up checkpoints. Tens of thousands of protesters marched on Cairo demanding an end to the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Thousands of activists, opposition leaders and students rallied in the capitol of Yemen against the corrupt dictatorship of President Saleh, in power since 1978. Saleh has been, with U.S. military assistance, attempting to crush a rebel movement in the north and a massive secessionist movement growing in the south, called the “Southern Movement.” Protests in Bolivia against rising food prices forced the populist government of Evo Morales to backtrack on plans to cut subsidies. Chile erupted in protests as demonstrators railed against rising fuel prices. Anti-government demonstrations broke out in Albania, resulting in the deaths of several protesters.

It seems as if the world is entering the beginnings of a new revolutionary era: the era of the ‘Global Political Awakening.’ While this ‘awakening’ is materializing in different regions, different nations and under different circumstances, it is being largely influenced by global conditions. The global domination by the major Western powers, principally the United States, over the past 65 years, and more broadly, centuries, is reaching a turning point. The people of the world are restless, resentful, and enraged. Change, it seems, is in the air. As the above quotes from Brzezinski indicate, this development on the world scene is the most radical and potentially dangerous threat to global power structures and empire. It is not a threat simply to the nations in which the protests arise or seek change, but perhaps to a greater degree, it is a threat to the imperial Western powers, international institutions, multinational corporations and banks that prop up, arm, support and profit from these oppressive regimes around the world. Thus, America and the West are faced with a monumental strategic challenge: what can be done to stem the Global Political Awakening? Zbigniew Brzezinski is one of the chief architects of American foreign policy, and arguably one of the intellectual pioneers of the system of globalization. Thus, his warnings about the ‘Global Political Awakening’ are directly in reference to its nature as a threat to the prevailing global hierarchy. As such, we must view the ‘Awakening’ as the greatest hope for humanity. Certainly, there will be mainy failures, problems, and regressions; but the ‘Awakening’ has begun, it is underway, and it cannot be so easily co-opted or controlled as many might assume.

The reflex action of the imperial powers is to further arm and support the oppressive regimes, as well as the potential to organize a destabilization through covert operations or open warfare (as is being done in Yemen). The alterantive is to undertake a strategy of “democratization” in which Western NGOs, aid agencies and civil society organizations establish strong contacts and relationships with the domestic civil society in these regions and nations. The objective of this strategy is to organize, fund and help direct the domestic civil society to produce a democratic system made in the image of the West, and thus maintain continuity in the international hierarchy. Essentially, the project of “democratization” implies creating the outward visible constructs of a democratic state (multi-party elections, active civil society, “independent” media, etc) and yet maintain continuity in subservience to the World Bank, IMF, multinational corporations and Western powers.

It appears that both of these strategies are being simultaneously imposed in the Arab world: enforcing and supporting state oppression and building ties with civil society organizations. The problem for the West, however, is that they have not had the ability to yet establish strong and dependent ties with civil society groups in much of the region, as ironically, the oppressive regimes they propped up were and are unsurprisingly resistant to such measures. In this sense, we must not cast aside these protests and uprisings as being instigated by the West, but rather that they emerged organically, and the West is subsequently attempting to co-opt and control the emerging movements.

Part 1 of this essay focuses on the emergence of these protest movements and uprisings, placing it in the context of the Global Political Awakening. Part 2 will examine the West’s strategy of “democratic imperialism” as a method of co-opting the ‘Awakening’ and installing “friendly” governments.

The Tunisian Spark

A July 2009 diplomatic cable from America’s Embassy in Tunisia reported that, “many Tunisians are frustrated by the lack of political freedom and angered by First Family corruption, high unemployment and regional inequities. Extremism poses a continuing threat,” and that, “the risks to the regime’s long-term stability are increasing.”[2]

On Friday, 14 January 2011, the U.S.-supported 23-year long dictatorship of Tunisian president Ben Ali ended. For several weeks prior to this, the Tunisian people had risen in protest against rising food prices, stoked on by an immense and growing dissatisfaction with the political repression, and prodded by the WikiLeaks cables confirming the popular Tunisian perception of gross corruption on the part of the ruling family. The spark, it seems, was when a 26-year old unemployed youth set himself on fire in protest on December 17.

With the wave of protests sparked by the death of the 26-year old who set himself on fire on December 17, the government of Tunisia responded by cracking down on the protesters. Estimates vary, but roughly 100 people were killed in the clashes. Half of Tunisia’s 10 million people are under the age of 25, meaning that they have never known a life in Tunisia outside of living under this one dictator. Since Independence from the French empire in 1956, Tunisia has had only two leaders: Habib Bourguiba and Ben Ali.[3] The Tunisian people were rising up against a great many things: an oppressive dictatorship which has employed extensive information and internet censorship, rising food prices and inflation, a corrupt ruling family, lack of jobs for the educated youth, and a general sense and experience of exploitation, subjugation and disrespect for human dignity.

Following the ouster of Ben Ali, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi assumed presidential power and declared a “transitional government.” Yet, this just spurred more protests demanding his resignation and the resignation of the entire government. Significantly, the trade union movement had a large mobilizing role in the protests, with a lawyers union being particularly active during the initial protests.[4]

Social media and the Internet did play a large part in mobilizing people within Tunisia for the uprising, but it was ultimately the result of direct protests and action which led to the resignation of Ben Ali. Thus, referring to Tunisia as a “Twitter Revolution” is disingenuous.

Twitter, WikiLeaks, Facebook, Youtube, forums and blogs did have a part to play. They reflect the ability “to collectively transform the Arab information environment and shatter the ability of authoritarian regimes to control the flow of information, images, ideas and opinions.”[5]

We must also keep in mind that social media has not only become an important source of mobilization of activism and information at the grassroots level, but it has also become an effective means for governments and various power structures to seek to manipulate the flow of information. This was evident in the 2009 protests in Iran, where social media became an important avenue through which the Western nations were able to advance their strategy of supporting the so-called ‘Green Revolution’ in destabilizing the Iranian government. Thus, social media has presented a new form of power, neither black nor white, in which it can be used to either advance the process of the ‘Awakening’ or control its direction.

Whereas America was publicly denouncing Iran for blocking (or attempting to block) social media in the summer of 2009, during the first several weeks of Tunisian protests (which were largely being ignored by Western media), America and the West were silent about censorship.[6] Steven Cook, writing for the elite U.S. think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, commented on the lack of attention being paid to the Tunisian protests in the early weeks of resistance prior to the resignation of Ben Ali. He explained that while many assume that the Arab “strongmen” regimes will simply maintain power as they always have, this could be mistaken. He stated that, “it may not be the last days of Ben Ali or Mubarak or any other Middle Eastern strongman, but there is clearly something going on in the region.” However, it was the end of Ben Ali, and indeed, “there is clearly something going on in the region.”[7]

France’s President Sarkozy has even had to admit that, “he had underestimated the anger of the Tunisian people and the protest movement that ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.” During the first few weeks of protests in Tunisia, several French government officials were publicly supporting the dictatorship, with the French Foreign Minister saying that France would lend its police “knowhow” to help Ben Ali in maintaining order.[8]

Days before the ouster of Ben Ali, Hillary Clinton gave an interview in which she explained how America was worried “about the unrest and the instability,” and that, “we are not taking sides, but we are saying we hope that there can be a peaceful resolution. And I hope that the Tunisian Government can bring that about.” Clinton further lamented, “One of my biggest concerns in this entire region are the many young people without economic opportunities in their home countries.”[9] Her concern, of course, does not spur from any humanitarian considerations, but rather from inherent imperial considerations: it is simply harder to control a region of the world erupting in activism, uprisings and revolution.

The Spark Lights a Flame

Tunisia has raised the bar for the people across the Arab world to demand justice, democracy, accountability, economic stability, and freedom. Just as Tunisia’s protests were in full-swing, Algeria was experiencing mass protests, rising up largely as a result of the increasing international food prices, but also in reaction to many of the concerns of the Tunisian protesters, such as democratic accountability, corruption and freedom. A former Algerian diplomat told Al-Jazeera in early January that, “It is a revolt, and probably a revolution, of an oppressed people who have, for 50 years, been waiting for housing, employment, and a proper and decent life in a very rich country.”[10]

In mid-January, similar protests erupted in Jordan, as thousands took to the streets to protest against rising food prices and unemployment, chanting anti-government slogans. Jordan’s King Abdullah II had “set up a special task force in his palace that included military and intelligence officials to try to prevent the unrest from escalating further,” which had tanks surrounding major cities, with barriers and checkpoints established.[11]

In Yemen, the poorest nation in the Arab world, engulfed in a U.S. sponsored war against its own people, ruled by a dictator who has been in power since 1978, thousands of people protested against the government, demanding the dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. In the capitol city of Sanaa, thousands of students, activists and opposition groups chanted slogans such as, “Get out get out, Ali. Join your friend Ben Ali.”[12] Yemen has been experiencing much turmoil in recent years, with a rebel movement in the North fighting against the government, formed in 2004; as well as a massive secessionist movement in the south, called the “Southern Movement,” fighting for liberation since 2007. As the Financial Times explained:

Many Yemen observers consider the anger and secessionist sentiment now erupting in the south to be a greater threat to the country’s stability than its better publicised struggle with al-Qaeda, and the deteriorating economy is making the tension worse.

Unemployment, particularly among the young, is soaring. Even the government statistics office in Aden puts it at nearly 40 per cent among men aged 20 to 24.[13]

On January 21, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Albania, mobilized by the socialist opposition, ending with violent clashes between the police and protesters, leading to the deaths of three demonstrators. The protests have been sporadic in Albania since the widely contested 2009 elections, but took on new levels inspired by Tunisia.[14]

Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom stressed concern over the revolutionary sentiments within the Arab world, saying that, “I fear that we now stand before a new and very critical phase in the Arab world.” He fears Tunisia would “set a precedent that could be repeated in other countries, possibly affecting directly the stability of our system.”[15] Israel’s leadership fears democracy in the Arab world, as they have a security alliance with the major Arab nations, who, along with Israel itself, are American proxy states in the region. Israel maintains civil – if not quiet – relationships with the Arab monarchs and dictators. While the Arab states publicly criticize Israel, behind closed doors they are forced to quietly accept Israel’s militarism and war-mongering, lest they stand up against the superpower, America. Yet, public opinion in the Arab world is extremely anti-Israel, anti-American and pro-Iran.

In July of 2010, the results of a major international poll were released regarding public opinion in the Arab world, polling from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. Among some of the notable findings: while Obama was well received upon entering the Presidency, with 51% expressing optimism about U.S. policy in the region in the Spring of 2009, by Summer 2010, 16% were expressing optimism. In 2009, 29% of those polled said a nuclear-armed Iran would be positive for the region; in 2010, that spiked to 57%, reflecting a very different stance from that of their governments.[16]

While America, Israel and the leaders of the Arab nations claim that Iran is the greatest threat to peace and stability in the Middle East, the Arab people do not agree. In an open question asking which two countries pose the greatest threat to the region, 88% responded with Israel, 77% with America, and 10% with Iran.[17]

At the Arab economic summit shortly following the ousting of Ben Ali in Tunisia, who was for the first time absent from the meetings, the Tunisian uprising hung heavy in the air. Arab League leader Amr Moussa said in his opening remarks at the summit, “The Tunisian revolution is not far from us,” and that, “the Arab citizen entered an unprecedented state of anger and frustration,” noting that “the Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment and general recession.” The significance of this ‘threat’ to the Arab leaders cannot be understated. Out of roughly 352 million Arabs, 190 million are under the age of 24, with nearly three-quarters of them unemployed. Often, “the education these young people receive doesn’t do them any good because there are no jobs in the fields they trained for.”[18]

There was even an article in the Israeli intellectual newspaper, Ha’aretz, which posited that, “Israel may be on the eve of revolution.” Explaining, the author wrote that:

Israeli civil society organizations have amassed considerable power over the years; not only the so-called leftist organizations, but ones dealing with issues like poverty, workers’ rights and violence against women and children. All of them were created in order to fill the gaps left by the state, which for its part was all too happy to continue walking away from problems that someone else was there to take on. The neglect is so great that Israel’s third sector – NGOs, charities and volunteer organizations – is among the biggest in the world. As such, it has quite a bit of power.[19]

Now the Israeli Knesset and cabinet want that power back; yet, posits the author, they “have chosen to ignore the reasons these groups became powerful,” namely:

The source of their power is the vacuum, the criminal policies of Israel’s governments over the last 40 years. The source of their power is a government that is evading its duties to care for all of its citizens and to end the occupation, and a Knesset that supports the government instead of putting it in its place.[20]

The Israeli Knesset opened investigations into the funding of Israeli human rights organizations in a political maneuver against them. However, as one article in Ha’aretz by an Israeli professor explained, these groups actually – inadvertently – play a role in “entrenching the occupation.” As the author explained:

Even if the leftist groups’ intention is to ensure upholding Palestinian rights, though, the unintentional result of their activity is preserving the occupation. Moderating and restraining the army’s activity gives it a more human and legal facade. Reducing the pressure of international organizations, alongside moderating the Palestinian population’s resistance potential, enable the army to continue to maintain this control model over a prolonged period of time.[21]

Thus, if the Israeli Knesset succeeds in getting rid of these powerful NGOs, they sow the seeds for the pressure valve in the occupied territories to be removed. The potential for massive internal protests within Israel from the left, as well as the possibility of another Intifada – uprising – in the occupied territories themselves would seem dramatically increased. Israel and the West have expressed how much distaste they hold for democracy in the region. When Gaza held a democratic election in 2006 and elected Hamas, which was viewed as the ‘wrong’ choice by Israel and America, Israel imposed a ruthless blockade of Gaza. Richard Falk, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Inquiry Commission for the Palestinian territories, wrote an article for Al Jazeera in which he explained that the blockade:

unlawfully restricted to subsistence levels, or below, the flow of food, medicine, and fuel. This blockade continues to this day, leaving the entire Gazan population locked within the world’s largest open-air prison, and victimized by one of the cruelest forms of belligerent occupation in the history of warfare.[22]

The situation in the occupied territories is made increasingly tense with the recent leaking of the “Palestinian Papers,” which consist of two decades of secret Israeli-Palestinian accords, revealing the weak negotiating position of the Palestinian Authority. The documents consist largely of major concessions the Palestinian Authority was willing to make “on the issues of the right of return of Palestinian refugees, territorial concessions, and the recognition of Israel.” Among the leaks, Palestinian negotiators secretly agreed to concede nearly all of East Jerusalem to Israel. Further, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (favoured by Israel and America over Hamas), was personally informed by a senior Israeli official the night before Operation Cast Lead, the December 2008 and January 2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, resulting in the deaths of over 1,000 Palestinians: “Israeli and Palestinian officials reportedly discussed targeted assassinations of Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists in Gaza.”[23]

Hamas has subsequently called on Palestinian refugees to protest over the concessions regarding the ‘right of return’ for refugees, of which the negotiators conceded to allowing only 100,000 of 5 million to return to Israel.[24] A former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt lamented that, “The concern will be that this might cause further problems in moving forward.”[25] However, while being blamed for possibly preventing the “peace process” from moving forward, what the papers reveal is that the “peace process” itself is a joke. The Palestinian Authority’s power is derivative of the power Israel allows it to have, and was propped up as a method of dealing with an internal Palestinian elite, thus doing what all colonial powers have done. The papers, then, reveal how the so-called Palestinian ‘Authority’ does not truly speak or work for the interests of the Palestinian people. And while this certainly will divide the PA from Hamas, they were already deeply divided as it was. Certainly, this will pose problems for the “peace process,” but that’s assuming it is a ‘peaceful’ process in the first part.

Is Egypt on the Edge of Revolution?

Unrest is even spreading to Egypt, personal playground of U.S.-supported and armed dictator, Hosni Mubarak, in power since 1981. Egypt is the main U.S. ally in North Africa, and has for centuries been one of the most important imperial jewels first for the Ottomans, then the British, and later for the Americans. With a population of 80 million, 60% of which are under the age of 30, who make up 90% of Egypt’s unemployed, the conditions are ripe for a repeat in Egypt of what happened in Tunisia.[26]

On January 25, 2011, Egypt experienced its “day of wrath,” in which tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets to protest against rising food prices, corruption, and the oppression of living under a 30-year dictatorship. The demonstrations were organized through the use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook. When the protests emerged, the government closed access to these social media sites, just as the Tunisian government did in the early days of the protests that led to the collapse of the dictatorship. As one commentator wrote in the Guardian:

Egypt is not Tunisia. It’s much bigger. Eighty million people, compared with 10 million. Geographically, politically, strategically, it’s in a different league – the Arab world’s natural leader and its most populous nation. But many of the grievances on the street are the same. Tunis and Cairo differ only in size. If Egypt explodes, the explosion will be much bigger, too.[27]

In Egypt, “an ad hoc coalition of students, unemployed youths, industrial workers, intellectuals, football fans and women, connected by social media such as Twitter and Facebook, instigated a series of fast-moving, rapidly shifting demos across half a dozen or more Egyptian cities.” The police responded with violence, and three protesters were killed. With tens of thousands of protesters taking to the streets, Egypt saw the largest protests in decades, if not under the entire 30-year reign of President Mubarak. Is Egypt on the verge of revolution? It seems too soon to tell. Egypt, it must be remembered, is the second major recipient of U.S. military assistance in the world (following Israel), and thus, its police state and military apparatus are far more advanced and secure than Tunisia’s. Clearly, however, something is stirring. As Hilary Clinton said on the night of the protests, “Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”[28] In other words: “We continue to support tyranny and dictatorship over democracy and liberation.” So what else is new?

According to some estimates, as many as 50,000 protesters turned out in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other Egyptian cities.[29] The protests were met with the usual brutality: beating protesters, firing tear gas and using water cannons to attempt to disperse the protesters. As images and videos started emerging out of Egypt, “television footage showed demonstrators chasing police down side streets. One protester climbed into a fire engine and drove it away.”[30] Late on the night of the protests, rumours and unconfirmed reports were spreading that the first lady of Egypt, Suzanne Mubarak, may have fled Egypt to London, following on the heels of rumours that Mubarak’s son, and presumed successor, had also fled to London.[31]

Are We Headed for a Global Revolution?

During the first phase of the global economic crisis in December of 2008, the IMF warned governments of the prospect of “violent unrest on the streets.” The head of the IMF warned that, “violent protests could break out in countries worldwide if the financial system was not restructured to benefit everyone rather than a small elite.”[32]

In January of 2009, Obama’s then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the greatest threat to the National Security of the U.S. was not terrorism, but the global economic crisis:

I’d like to begin with the global economic crisis, because it already looms as the most serious one in decades, if not in centuries … Economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they are prolonged for a one- or two-year period… And instability can loosen the fragile hold that many developing countries have on law and order, which can spill out in dangerous ways into the international community.[33]

In 2007, a British Defence Ministry report was released assessing global trends in the world over the next 30 years. In assessing “Global Inequality”, the report stated that over the next 30 years:

[T]he gap between rich and poor will probably increase and absolute poverty will remain a global challenge… Disparities in wealth and advantage will therefore become more obvious, with their associated grievances and resentments, even among the growing numbers of people who are likely to be materially more prosperous than their parents and grandparents.  Absolute poverty and comparative disadvantage will fuel perceptions of injustice among those whose expectations are not met, increasing tension and instability, both within and between societies and resulting in expressions of violence such as disorder, criminality, terrorism and insurgency. They may also lead to the resurgence of not only anti-capitalist ideologies, possibly linked to religious, anarchist or nihilist movements, but also to populism and the revival of Marxism.[34]

Further, the report warned of the dangers to the established powers of a revolution emerging from the disgruntled middle classes:

The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx.  The globalization of labour markets and reducing levels of national welfare provision and employment could reduce peoples’ attachment to particular states.  The growing gap between themselves and a small number of highly visible super-rich individuals might fuel disillusion with meritocracy, while the growing urban under-classes are likely to pose an increasing threat to social order and stability, as the burden of acquired debt and the failure of pension provision begins to bite.  Faced by these twin challenges, the world’s middle-classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest.[35]

We have now reached the point where the global economic crisis has continued beyond the two-year mark. The social repercussions are starting to be felt – globally – as a result of the crisis and the coordinated responses to it. Since the global economic crisis hit the ‘Third World’ the hardest, the social and political ramifications will be felt there first. In the context of the current record-breaking hikes in the cost of food, food riots will spread around the world as they did in 2007 and 2008, just prior to the outbreak of the economic crisis. This time, however, things are much worse economically, much more desperate socially, and much more oppressive politically.

This rising discontent will spread from the developing world to the comfort of our own homes in the West. Once the harsh realization sets in that the economy is not in ‘recovery,’ but rather in a Depression, and once our governments in the West continue on their path of closing down the democratic façade and continue dismantling rights and freedoms, increasing surveillance and ‘control,’ while pushing increasingly militaristic and war-mongering foreign policies around the world (mostly in an effort to quell or crush the global awakening being experienced around the world), we in the West will come to realize that ‘We are all Tunisians.’

In 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr., said in his famous speech “Beyond Vietnam”:

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.[36]

This was Part 1 of “North Africa and the Global Political Awakening,” focusing on the emergence of the protest movements primarily in North Africa and the Arab world, but placing it in the context of a wider ‘Global Awakening.’

Part 2 will focus on the West’s reaction to the ‘Awakening’ in this region; namely, the two-pronged strategy of supporting oppressive regimes while promoting “democratization” in a grand new project of “democratic imperialism.”

Notes

[1]        Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Global Political Awakening. The New York Times: December 16, 2008: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/16/opinion/16iht-YEbrzezinski.1.18730411.html; “Major Foreign Policy Challenges for the Next US President,” International Affairs, 85: 1, (2009); The Dilemma of the Last Sovereign. The American Interest Magazine, Autumn 2005: http://www.the-american-interest.com/article.cfm?piece=56; The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership. Speech at the Carnegie Council: March 25, 2004: http://www.cceia.org/resources/transcripts/4424.html; America’s Geopolitical Dilemmas. Speech at the Canadian International Council and Montreal Council on Foreign Relations: April 23, 2010: http://www.onlinecic.org/resourcece/multimedia/americasgeopoliticaldilemmas

[2]        Embassy Tunis, TROUBLED TUNISIA:  WHAT SHOULD WE DO?, WikiLeaks Cables, 17 July 2009: http://www.wikileaks.ch/cable/2009/07/09TUNIS492.html

[3]        Mona Eltahawy, Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, The Washington Post, 15 January 2011: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/14/AR2011011405084.html

[4]        Eileen Byrne, Protesters make the case for peaceful change, The Financial Times, 15 January 2011: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/82293e38-20ae-11e0-a877-00144feab49a.html#axzz1C08RDtxu

[5]        Marc Lynch, Tunisia and the New Arab Media Space, Foreign Policy, 15 January 2011: http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/01/15/tunisia_and_the_new_arab_media_space

[6]        Jillian York, Activist crackdown: Tunisia vs Iran, Al-Jazeera, 9 January 2011: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/01/20111981222719974.html

[7]        Steven Cook, The Last Days of Ben Ali? The Council on Foreign Relations, 6 January 2011: http://blogs.cfr.org/cook/2011/01/06/the-last-days-of-ben-ali/

[8]        Angelique Chrisafis, Sarkozy admits France made mistakes over Tunisia, The Guardian, 24 January 2011: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/24/nicolas-sarkozy-tunisia-protests

[9]        Hillary Rodham Clinton, Interview With Taher Barake of Al Arabiya, U.S. Department of State, 11 January 2011: http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/01/154295.htm

[10]      Algeria set for crisis talks, Al-Jazeera, 8 January 2011: http://aljazeera.co.uk/news/africa/2011/01/2011187476735721.html

[11]      Alexandra Sandels, JORDAN: Thousands of demonstrators protest food prices, denounce government, Los Angeles Times Blog, 15 January 2011: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2011/01/jordan-protests-food-prices-muslim-brotherhood-tunisia-strike-thousands-government.html

[12]      AP, Thousands demand ouster of Yemen’s president, Associated Press, 22 January 2011: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5g3b2emEy39Bn52Z_haypKxNPGMSw?docId=d324160638a74e84b874baeada16bb4c

[13]      Abigail Fielding-Smith, North-south divide strains Yemen union, The Financial Times, 12 January 2011: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c7c59322-1e80-11e0-87d2-00144feab49a.html#axzz1C08RDtxu

[14]      EurActiv, ‘Jasmine’ revolt wave reaches Albania, 24 January 2011: http://www.euractiv.com/en/enlargement/jasmine-revolt-wave-reaches-albania-news-501529

[15]      Clemens Höges, Bernhard Zand and Helene Zuber, Arab Rulers Fear Spread of Democracy Fever, Der Spiegel, 25 January 2011: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,741545,00.html

[16]      Shibley Telhami, Results of Arab Opinion Survey Conducted June 29-July 20, 2010, 5 August 2010: http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2010/0805_arab_opinion_poll_telhami.aspx

[17]      Shibley Telhami, A shift in Arab views of Iran, Los Angeles Times, 14 August 2010: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/14/opinion/la-oe-telhami-arab-opinions-20100814

[18]      Clemens Höges, Bernhard Zand and Helene Zuber, Arab Rulers Fear Spread of Democracy Fever, Der Spiegel, 25 January 2011: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,741545,00.html

[19]      Merav Michaeli, Israel may be on the eve of revolution, Ha’aretz, 17 January 2011: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/israel-may-be-on-the-eve-of-revolution-1.337445

[20]      Ibid.

[21]      Yagil Levy, Israeli NGOs are entrenching the occupation, Ha’aretz, 11 January 2011: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/israeli-ngos-are-entrenching-the-occupation-1.336331?localLinksEnabled=false

[22]      Richard Falk, Ben Ali Tunisia was model US client, Al-Jazeera, 25 January 2011: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/01/201112314530411972.html

[23]      Jack Khoury and Haaretz Service, Two decades of secret Israeli-Palestinian accords leaked to media worldwide, Ha’arets, 23 January 2011: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/two-decades-of-secret-israeli-palestinian-accords-leaked-to-media-worldwide-1.338768

[24]      Haaretz Service and The Associated Press, Hamas urges Palestinian refugees to protest over concessions on right of return, Ha’aretz, 25 January 2011: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/hamas-urges-palestinian-refugees-to-protest-over-concessions-on-right-of-return-1.339120

[25]      Alan Greenblatt, Palestinian Papers May Be Blow To Peace Process, NPR, 24 January 2011: http://www.npr.org/2011/01/24/133181412/palestinian-papers-may-cause-blow-to-peace-process?ps=cprs

[26]      Johannes Stern, Egyptian regime fears mass protests, World Socialist Web Site, 15 January 2011: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/jan2011/egyp-j15.shtml

[27]      Simon Tisdall, Egypt protests are breaking new ground, The Guardian, 25 January 2011: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/25/egypt-protests

[28]      Ibid.

[29]      MATT BRADLEY, Rioters Jolt Egyptian Regime, The Wall Street Journal, 26 January 2011: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704698004576104112320465414.html

[30]      Catrina Stewart, Violence on the streets of Cairo as unrest grows, The Independent, 26 January 2011: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/violence-on-the-streets-of-cairo-as-unrest-grows-2194484.html

[31]      IBT, Suzanne Mubarak of Egypt has fled to Heathrow airport in London: unconfirmed reports, International Business Times, 25 January 2011: http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/104960/20110125/suzanne-mubarak-of-egypt-has-fled-to-heathrow-airport-in-london-unconfirmed-reports.htm

[32]      Angela Balakrishnan, IMF chief issues stark warning on economic crisis. The Guardian: December 18, 2008: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/dec/16/imf-financial-crisis

[33]      Stephen C. Webster, US intel chief: Economic crisis a greater threat than terrorism. Raw Story: February 13, 2009: http://rawstory.com/news/2008/US_intel_chief_Economic_crisis_greater_0213.html

[34]      DCDC, The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme, 2007-2036, 3rd ed. The Ministry of Defence, January 2007: page 3

[35]      Ibid, page 81.

[36]      Rev. Martin Luther King, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. Speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City: http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/058.html