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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

Welcome to the World Revolution in the Global Age of Rage

Welcome to the World Revolution in the Global Age of Rage

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Mass protest in Spain

 

I am currently writing a book on the global economic crisis and the global resistance, rebellious and revolutionary movements that have emerged in reaction to this crisis. Our world is in the midst of the greatest economic, social, and political crisis that humanity has ever collectively entered into. The scope is truly global in its context, and the effects are felt in every locality. The course of the global economic crisis is the direct and deliberate result of class warfare, waged by the political and economic elites against the people of the world. The objective is simple: all for them and none for you. At the moment, the crisis is particularly acute in Europe, as the European elites impose a coordinated strategy of class warfare against the people through “austerity” and “structural adjustment,” political euphemisms used to hide their true intention: poverty and exploitation.

The people of the world, however, are beginning to rise up, riot, resist, rebel and revolt. This brief article is an introduction to the protest movements and rebellions which have taken place around the world in the past few years against the entrenched systems and structures of power. This is but a small preview of the story that will be examined in my upcoming book. Please consider donating to The People’s Book Project in order to finance the completion of this volume.

Those who govern and rule over our world and its people have been aware of the structural and social changes which would result in bringing about social unrest and rebellion. In fact, they have been warning about the potential for such a circumstance of global revolutionary movements for a number of years. The elite are very worried, most especially at the prospect of revolutionary movements spreading beyond borders and the traditional confines of state structures. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s former National Security Adviser, co-founder with banker David Rockefeller of the Trilateral Commission, and an arch-elitist strategic thinker for the American empire, has been warning of what he terms the ‘Global Political Awakening’ as the central challenge for elites in a changing world.

In June of 2010, I published an article entitled, “The Global Political Awakening and the New World Order,” in which I examined this changing reality and in particular, the words of Zbigniew Brzezinski in identifying it. In December of 2008, Brzezinski published an article for the New York Times in which he wrote: “For the first time in history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive. Global activism is generating a surge in the quest for cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world scarred by memories of colonial or imperial domination.” This situation is made more precarious for elites as it takes place in a global transition in which the Atlantic powers – Western Europe and the United States – are experiencing a decline in their 500-year domination of the world. Brzezinski wrote that what is necessary to maintain control in this changing world is for the United States to spearhead “a collective effort for a more inclusive system of global management,” or in other words, more power for them. Brzezinski has suggested that, “the worldwide yearning for human dignity is the central challenge inherent in the phenomenon of global political awakening.” In 2005, Brzezinski wrote:

It is no overstatement to assert that now in the 21st century the population of much of the developing world is politically stirring and in many places seething with unrest. It is a population acutely conscious of social injustice to an unprecedented degree, and often resentful of its perceived lack of political dignity. 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 well. With the exception of Europe, Japan and America, the rapidly expanding demographic bulge in the 25-year-old-and-under age bracket is creating a huge mass of impatient young people. Their minds have been stirred by sounds and images that emanate from afar and which intensify their disaffection with what is at hand. Their 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… 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.

Important to note is that Brzezinski has not simply been writing abstractly about this concept, but has been for years traveling to and speaking at various conferences and think tanks of national and international elites, who together form policy for the powerful nations of the world. Speaking to the elite American think tank, the Carnegie Council, Brzezinski warned of “the unprecedented global challenge arising out of the unique phenomenon of a truly massive global political awakening of mankind,” as we now live “in an age in which mankind writ large is becoming politically conscious and politically activated to an unprecedented degree, and it is this condition which is producing a great deal of international turmoil.” Brzezinski noted that much of the ‘awakening’ was being spurred on by America’s role in the world, and the reality of globalization (which America projects across the globe as the single global hegemon), and that this awakening “is beginning to create something altogether new: namely, some new ideological or doctrinal challenge which might fill the void created by the disappearance of communism.” He wrote that he sees “the beginnings, in writings and stirrings, of the making of a doctrine which combines anti-Americanism with anti-globalization, and the two could become a powerful force in a world that is very unequal and turbulent.

 

 

In 2007, the British Ministry of Defence issued a report looking at global trends over the following three decades to better plan for the “future strategic context” of the British military. The report noted that: “The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx… The world’s middle classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest.” In my April 2010 article, “The Global Economic Crisis: Riots, Rebellion, and Revolution,” I quoted the official British Defence Ministry report, which read:

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.

In December of 2008, the managing director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn warned that the economic crisis could lead to “violent unrest on the streets.” He stated that if the elite were not able to instill an economic recovery by 2010, “then social unrest may happen in many countries – including advanced economies,” meaning the Western and industrialized world. In February of 2009, the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Pascal Lamy, warned that the economic crisis “could trigger political unrest equal to that seen during the 1930s.” In May of 2009, the president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, stated that if the economic crisis did not come to an end, “there is a risk of a serious human and social crisis with very serious political implications.”

In early 2009, the top intelligence official in the United States, Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence (who oversees all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies), stated that the global economic crisis had become the primary threat to America’s “security” (meaning domination). He told the Senate Intelligence Committee: “I’d like to begin with the global economic crisis, because it already looms as the most serious one in decades, if not 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.” He also noted that, “there could be a backlash against U.S. efforts to promote free markets because the crisis was triggered by the United States… We are generally held responsible for it.”

In December of 2008, police in Greece shot and killed a 15-year old student in Exarchia, a libertarian and anarchist stronghold in Athens. The murder resulted in thousands of protesters and riots erupting in the streets, in what the New York Times declared to be “the worst unrest in decades.” Triggered by the death of the young Greek student, the protests were the result of deeper, social and systemic issues, increasing poverty, economic stagnation and political corruption. Solidarity protests took place all over Europe, including Germany, France, and the U.K. But this was only a sample of what was to come over the following years.

In the early months of 2009, as the economic crisis was particularly blunt in the countries of Eastern Europe, with increased unemployment and inflation, the region was headed for a “spring of discontent,” as protests and riots took place in Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Latvia. In January of 2009, more than 10,000 people took to the streets in Latvia in one of the largest demonstrations since the end of Soviet rule. A demonstration of roughly 7,000 Lithuanians turned into a riot, and smaller clashes between police and protesters took place in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Hungary, while police in Iceland tear gassed a demonstration of roughly 2,000 people outside the parliament, leading to the resignation of the prime minister. The head of the IMF said that the economic crisis could cause more turmoil “almost everywhere,” adding: “The situation is really, really serious.” A mass strike took place in France, bringing hundreds of thousands of workers into the streets and pushing anti-capitalist activists and leaders to the front of a growing social movement.

May 1, 2009 – the labour activist day known as ‘May Day’ – saw protests and riots erupting across Europe, including Germany, Greece, Austria, Turkey and France. In Germany, banks were attacked by protesters, leading to many arrests; there were over 150,000 demonstrators in Ankara, Turkey; more than 10,000 people took to the streets in Madrid, Spain; thousands took to the streets in Italy and Russia and social unrest continued to spread through Eastern Europe. Results from a poll were released on early May 2009 reporting that in the United States, Italy, France, Spain, Britain and Germany, a majority of the populations felt that the economic crisis would lead to a rise in “political extremism.”

In April of 2009, the G20 met in London, and was met there with large protests, drawing tens of thousands of people into the streets. In London’s financial district, protesters smashed the windows of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which was the recipient of a massive government bailout during the early phases of the financial crisis. One man, Ian Tomlinson, dropped dead on the streets of London following an assault by a British police officer, who was later questioned under suspicion of manslaughter.

In November of 2011, a month of student protests and sit-ins erupted in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, triggered by budget cuts and tuition fees. The protests began in Austria, where students occupied the University of Vienna for over a month, quickly spreading to other cities and schools in Germany, where roughly 80,000 students took part in nationwide protests, with sit-ins taking place in 20 universities across the country, and the University of Basel in Switzerland was also occupied by students.

The small little island-country of Iceland has undergone what has been referred to as the “Kitchenware Revolution,” where the country had once been rated by the UN as the best country to live in as recently as 2007, and in late 2008, its banks collapsed and the government resigned amid the mass protests that took place. The banks were nationalized, Iceland got a new prime minister, a gay woman who brought into her cabinet a majority of women, fired bank CEOs; the constitution was re-written with significant citizen participation and the government took steps to write off debts and refused to bailout foreign investors. Now, the economy is doing much better, hence why no one is talking about Iceland in the media (woeful is power to the ‘tyranny’ of a good example). Iceland has even hired an ex-cop bounty hunter to track down and arrest the bankers that destroyed the country’s economy. As the debt burdens of a significant portion of the population of Iceland were eased, Iceland was projected in 2012 to have a faster growing economy than those in the euro area and the developed world. As reported by Bloomberg, the main difference between how Iceland has dealt with its massive economic crisis and how the rest of the ‘developed’ world has been dealing with it, is that Iceland “has put the needs of its population ahead of the markets at every turn.” Instead of rewarding bankers for causing the crisis, as we have done in Europe and North America, Icelanders have arrested them, and protected homeowners instead of evicting them.

As Greece came to dominate the news in early 2010, with talk of a bailout, protests began to erupt with more frequency in the small euro-zone country. In early May, a general strike was called in Greece against the austerity measures the government was imposing in order to get a bailout. Banks were set on fire, petrol bombs were thrown at riot police, who were pepper spraying, tear gassing, and beating protesters with batons, and three people died of suffocation in one of the bombed banks.

In May of 2010, British historian Simon Schama wrote an article for the Financial Times entitled, “The world teeters on the brink of a new age of rage,” in which he explained that historians “will tell you that there is often a time-lag between the onset of economic disaster and the accumulation of social fury.” In act one, he wrote, “the shock of a crisis initially triggers fearful disorientation” and a “rush for political saviours.” Act two witnesses “a dangerously alienated public” who “take stock of the brutal interruption of their rising expectations,” which leads to the grievance that someone “must have engineered the common misfortune,” which, I might add, is true (though Schama does not say so). To manage this situation, elites must engage in “damage-control” whereby perpetrators are brought to justice. Schama noted that, “the psychological impact of financial regulation is almost as critical as its institutional prophylactics,” or, in other words: the propaganda effect of so-called “financial regulation” on calming the angry plebs is as important (if not more so) as the financial regulations themselves. Thus, those who lobby against financial regulation, warned Scharma, “risk jeopardizing their own long-term interests.” If governments fail to “reassert the integrity of public stewardship,” then the public will come to perceive that “the perps and the new regime are cut from common cloth.” In the very least, wrote Scharma, elites attempting to implement austerity measures and other unpopular budget programs will need to “deliver a convincing story about the sharing of burdens,” for if they do not, it would “guarantee that a bad situation gets very ugly, very fast.”

As French President Nicolas Sarkozy began implementing austerity measures in France, particularly what is called “pension reform,” unions and supporters staged massive strikes in September of 2010, drawing up to three million people into the streets in over 230 demonstrations across the country. Soldiers armed with machine guns went on patrol at certain metro stations as government officials used the puffed up and conveniently-timed threat of a “terrorist attack” as being “high risk.” More strikes took place in October, with French students joining in the demonstrations, as students at roughly 400 high schools across the country built barricades of wheelie bins to prevent other students from attending classes, with reports of nearly 70% of French people supporting the strike. The reports of participants varied from the government figures of over 800,000 people to the union figures of 2-3 million people going out into the streets. The Wall Street Journal referred to the strikes as “an irrational answer” to Sarkozy’s “perfectly rational initiative” of reforms.

In November of 2010, Irish students in Dublin began protesting against university tuition increases, when peaceful sit-ins were met with violent riot police, and roughly 25,000 students took to the streets. This was the largest student protest in Ireland in a generation.

In Britain, where a new coalition government came to power – uniting the Conservatives (led by David Cameron, the Prime Minister) and the Liberal Democrats (led by Nick Clegg, Deputy PM) – tuition increases were announced, tripling the cost from 3 to 9,000 pounds. On November 10, as roughly 50,000 students took to the streets in London, the Conservative Party headquarters in central London had its windows smashed by students, who then entered the building and occupied it, even congregating up on the rooftop of the building. The police continued to ‘kettle’ protesters in the area, not allowing them to enter or leave a confined space, which of course results in violent reactions. Prime Minister David Cameron called the protest “unacceptable.” The Christian Science Monitor asked if British students were the “harbinger of future violence over austerity measures,” There were subsequent warnings that Britain was headed for a winter of unrest.

Tens of thousands again took to the streets in London in late November, including teenage students walking with university students, again erupting in riots, with the media putting in a great deal of focus on the role of young girls taking part in the protests and riots. The protests had taken place in several cities across the United Kingdom, largely peaceful save the ‘riot’ in London, and with students even occupying various schools, including Oxford. The student protests brought ‘class’ back into the political discourse. In November, several universities were occupied by students, including the School of Oriental and African Studies, UWE Bristol and Manchester Metropolitan. Several of the school occupations went for days or even weeks. Universities were then threatening to evict the students. The school occupations were the representation of a new potential grass-roots social movement building in the UK. Some commentators portrayed it as a “defining political moment for a generation.”

 

 

In early December of 2010, as the British Parliament voted in favour of the tripling of tuition, thousands of students protested outside, leading to violent confrontations with police, who stormed into crowds of students on horseback, firing tear gas, beating the youth with batons, as per usual. While the overtly aggressive tactics of police to ‘kettle’ protesters always creates violent reactions, David Cameron was able to thereafter portray the student reactions to police tactics as a “feral mob.” One student was twice pulled out from his wheelchair by police, and another student who was struck on the head with a baton was left with a brain injury. As the protests erupted into riots against the police into the night, one infamous incident included a moment where Prince Charles and his wife Camilla were attacked by rioters as their car drove through the crowd in what was called the “worst royal security breach in a generation,” as the royal couple were confronted directly by the angry plebs who attacked the Rolls-Royce and Camilla was even ‘prodded’ by a stick, as some protesters yelled, “off with their heads!” while others chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets!” As more student protests were set to take place in January of 2011, Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command contacted university officials requesting “intelligence” as students increased their protest activities, as more occupations were expected to take place.

In December of 2010, a Spanish air traffic controller strike took place, grounding flights for 330,000 people and resulting in the government declaring a state of emergency, threatening the strikers with imprisonment if they did not return to work.

Part way through December, an uprising began in the North African country of Tunisia, and by January of 2011, the 23-year long dictatorship of a French and American-supported puppet, Ben Ali, had come to an end. This marked the first major spark of what has come to be known as the Arab Spring. Protests were simultaneously erupting in Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, and elsewhere. In late January of 2011, I wrote an article entitled, “Are we witnessing the start of a global revolution?,” noting that the protests in North Africa were beginning to boil up in Egypt most especially. Egypt entered its modern revolutionary period, resulting in ending the rule of the long-time dictator, Hosni Mubarak, and though the military has been attempting to stem the struggle of the people, the revolutionary struggle continues to this day, and yet the Obama administration continues to give $1.3 billion in military aid to support the violent repression of the democratic uprising. The small Arab Gulf island of Bahrain (which is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet) also experienced a large democratic uprising, which has been consistently and brutally crushed by the local monarchy and Saudi Arabia, with U.S. support, including the selling of arms to the dictatorship.

 

 

In early 2011, the British student protests joined forces with a wider anti-austerity social protest against the government. As protests continued over the following months all across the country, banks became a common target, noting the government’s efforts to spend taxpayer money to bailout corrupt banks and cut health, social services, welfare, pensions, and increase tuition. Several bank branches were occupied and others had protests – often very creatively imagined – organized outside closed bank branches. On March 26, roughly 500,000 protesters took to the streets of London against austerity measures. As late as July 2011, a student occupation of a school continued at Leeds.

Throughout 2011, protests in Greece picked up in size and rage. In February, roughly 100,000 people took to the streets in Athens against the government’s austerity measures, leading to clashes with riot police that lasted for three hours, with police using tear gas and flash bombs and some protesters reacting with rocks and petrol bombs. In June of 2011, Greece experienced major clashes between protesters and police, or what are often called “riots.” During a general strike in late June, police went to war against protesters assembled in central Athens. Protests continued throughout the summer and into the fall, and in November, roughly 50,000 Greeks took to the streets in Athens.

 

 

In March of 2011, as Portugal plunged forward into its own major crisis and closer to a European Union bailout, roughly 300,000 Portuguese took to the streets of Lisbon and other cities protesting against the government’s austerity measures. Driven by the youth, calling themselves Portugal’s “desperate generation,” in part inspired by the youth uprisings in North Africa, the Financial Times referred to it as “an unexpected protest movement that has tapped into some of Portugal’s deepest social grievances.”

The Portuguese protests in turn inspired the Spanish “Indignados” or 15-M movement (named after the 15th of May, when the protests began), as youth – the indignant ones – or the “lost generation,” occupied Madrid’s famous Puerta del Sol on May 15, 2011, protesting against high unemployment, the political establishment, and the government’s handling of the economic crisis. The authorities responded in the usual way: they attempted to ban the protests and then sent in riot police. Thousands of Spaniards – primarily youth – occupied the central square, setting up tents and building a small community engaging in debate, discussion and activism. In a massive protest in June of 2011, over 250,000 Spaniards took the streets in one of the largest protests in recent Spanish history. Over the summer, as the encampment was torn down, the Indignados refined their tactics, and began to engage in direct action by assembling outside homes and preventing evictions from taking place, having stopped over 200 evictions since May of 2011, creating organic vegetable gardens in empty spaces, supporting immigrant workers in poor communities, and creating “a new social climate.”

The Indignados spurred solidarity and similar protests across Europe, including Greece, Belgium, France, Germany, the U.K., and beyond. In fact, the protests even spread to Israel, where in July of 2011, thousands of young Israelis established tent cities in protest against the rising cost of living and decreasing social spending, establishing itself on Rothschild Boulevard, a wealthy avenue in Tel Aviv named after the exceedingly wealthy banking dynasty. The protest, organized through social media, quickly spread through other cities across Israel. In late July, over 150,000 Israelis took to the streets in 12 cities across the country in the largest demonstration the country had seen in decades, demonstrating against the “rising house prices and rents, low salaries, [and] the high cost of raising children and other social issues.” In early August, another protest drew 320,000 people into the streets, leading some commentators to state that the movement marked “a revolution from a generation we thought was unable to make a revolution.” In early September, roughly 430,000 Israelis took to the streets in the largest demonstration in Israeli history.

In May and June of 2011, a student movement began to erupt in Chile, fighting against the increased privatization of their school system and the debt-load that comes with it. The state – the remnants of the Pinochet dictatorship – responded in the usual fashion: state violence, mass arrests, attempting to make protesting illegal. In clashes between students and riot police that took place in August, students managed to occupy a television station demanding a live broadcast to express their demands, with the city of Santiago being converted into “a state of siege” against the students. The “Chilean Winter” – as it came to be known – expanded into a wider social movement, including labour and environmental and indigenous groups, and continues to this very day.

 

 

The Indignados further inspired the emergence of the Occupy Movement, which began with occupy Wall Street in New York City on 17 September of 2011, bringing the dialectic of the “99% versus the 1%” into the popular and political culture. The Occupy movement, which reflected the initial tactics of the Indignados in setting up tents to occupy public spaces, quickly spread across the United States, Canada, Europe, and far beyond. There were Occupy protests that took place as far away as South Africa, in dozens of cities across Canada, in countries and cities all across Latin America, in Israel, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and in hundreds of cities across the United States.

On October 15, 2011, a day of global protests took place, inspired by the Arab Spring, the Indignados, and the Occupy movement, when over 950 cities in 82 countries around the world experienced a global day of action originally planned for by the Spanish Indignados as a European-wide day of protest. In Italy, over 400,000 took to the streets; in Spain there were over 350,000, roughly 50,000 in New York City, with over 100,000 in both Portugal and Chile.

 

 

The Occupy movement was subsequently met with violent police repression and evictions from the encampments. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was busy spying on various Occupy groups around the country, and reportedly was involved in coordinating the crack-downs and evictions against dozens of Occupy encampments, as was later confirmed by declassified documents showing White House involvement in the repression. The FBI has also undertaken a “war of entrapment” against Occupy groups, attempting to discredit the movement and frame its participants as potential terrorists. Following the example of tactical change in the Indignados, the Occupy groups began refurbishing foreclosed homes for the homeless, helping families reclaim their homes, disrupting home foreclosure auctions, and even take on local community issues, such as issues of racism through the group, Occupy the Hood.

In late November of 2011, a public sector workers’ strike took place in the U.K., with tens of thousands of people marching in the streets across the country, as roughly two-thirds of schools shut and thousands of hospital operations postponed, while unions estimated that up to two million people went on strike. The host of a popular British television show, Jeremy Clarkson, said in a live interview that the striking workers should be taken out and shot in front of their families.

In January of 2012, protests erupted in Romania against the government’s austerity measures, leading to violent clashes with police, exchanging tear gas and firebombs. As the month continued, the protests grew larger, demanding the ouster of the government. The Economist referred to it as Romania’s “Winter of Discontent.” In early February, the Romanian Prime Minister resigned in the face of the protests.

In February of 2012, a student strike began in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec against the provincial government’s plan to nearly double the cost of tuition, bringing hundreds of thousands of students into the streets, who were in turn met with consistent state repression and violence, in what became known as the ‘Maple Spring.’ Dealing with issues of debt, repression, and media propaganda, the Maple Spring presented an example for student organizing elsewhere in Canada and North America. The government of Quebec opposes organized students but works with organized crime – representing what can be called a ‘Mafiocracy’ – and even passed a law attempting to criminalize student demonstrations. The student movement received support and solidarity from around the world, including the Chilean student movement and even a group of nearly 150 Greek academics who proclaimed their support in the struggle against austerity for the “largest student strike in the history of North America.”

 

 

In the spring of 2012, Mexican students mobilized behind the Yo Soy 132 movement – or the “Mexican Spring” – struggling against media propaganda and the political establishment in the lead-up to national elections, and tens of thousands continued to march through the streets decrying the presidential elections as rigged and fraudulent. The Economist noted that Mexican students were beginning to “revolt.”

In May of 2012, both the Indignados and the Occupy Movement undertook a resurgence of their street activism, while the occupy protests in Seattle and Oakland resulting in violent clashes and police repression. The protests drew Occupy and labour groups closer together, and police also repressed a resurgent Occupy protest in London.

In one of the most interesting developments in recent months, we have witnessed the Spanish miners strike in the province of Asturias, having roughly 8,000 miners strike against planned austerity measures, resorting to constructing barricades and directly fighting riot police who arrived in their towns to crush the resistance of the workers. The miners have even been employing unique tactics, such as constructing make-shift missiles which they fire at the advancing forces of police repression. For all the tear gas, rubber bullets and batons being used by police to crush the strike, the miners remain resolved to continue their struggle against the state. Interestingly, it was in the very region of Asturias where miners rebelled against the right-wing Spanish government in 1934 in one of the major sparks of the Spanish Civil War which pitted socialists and anarchists against Franco and the fascists. After weeks of clashes with police in mining towns, the striking workers planned a march to Madrid to raise attention to the growing struggle. The miners arrived in Madrid in early July to cheering crowds, but were soon met with repressive police, resulting in clashes between the people and the servants of the state. As the Spanish government continued with deeper austerity measures, over one million people marched in the streets of over 80 cities across Spain, with violent clashes resulting between protesters and police in Madrid.

 

 

This brief look at the resistance, rebellious and revolutionary movements emerging and erupting around the world is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it meant to be. It is merely a brief glimpse at the movements with which I intend to delve into detail in researching and writing about in my upcoming book, and to raise the question once again: Are we witnessing the start of a global revolution?

I would argue that, yes, indeed, we are. How long it takes, how it manifests and evolves, its failures and successes, the setbacks and leaps forward, and all the other details will be for posterity to acknowledge and examine. What is clear at present, however, is that no matter how much the media, governments and other institutions of power attempt to ignore, repress, divide and even destroy revolutionary social movements, they are increasingly evolving and emerging, in often surprising ways and with different triggering events and issues. There is, however, a commonality: where there is austerity in the world, where there is repression, where there is state, financial and corporate power taking all for themselves and leaving nothing for the rest, the rest are now rising up.

Welcome to the World Revolution.

 

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.

Please donate to The People’s Book Project to help this book come to completion.

Will Tunisia Transition from Tyranny into Democratic Despotism?

Will Tunisia Transition from Tyranny into Democratic Despotism?
North Africa and the Global Political Awakening, Part 3
Global Research, February 14, 2011

This article is Part 3 in the series, “North Africa and the Global Political Awakening.”

Part 1: Are We Witnessing the Start of a Global Revolution?

Part 2: America’s Strategic Repression of the ‘Arab Awakening’


It has been a month since President and dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia, sparking the civil disobedience and protests that have since resulted in the fall of one of the Arab world’s strongest and most long-lasting dictators, Hosni Mubarak. Yet, where does Tunisia stand today, and where is it headed in the future?

In Part 1 of this series, I asked the question, “Are we witnessing the start of a global revolution?” I concluded that we are seeing the emergence of a powerful phase in what will be a long road to world revolution, spurred on largely by what is referred to as the ‘Global Political Awakening.’ The ‘Awakening’ is driven by the information and communications revolutions, in which people around the world, and in particular in the ‘Third World’ have become increasingly aware of their lack of freedom, economic exploitation, oppression and disrespect. Specifically, the educated youth are the driving force, and the quest for human dignity is the driving impetus.

In Part 2 of this series, I analyzed how American imperial strategy has changed in the past several years to support democratization in the Arab world, not out of any humanitarian qualms regarding supporting oppressive and ruthless tyrants, but out of strategic interest in securing long-term control and hegemony over the region. The strategy of “democratization” is a method of controlling and managing the process and problems inherent in the Global Political Awakening. However, American strategists and think tanks made it clear that they preferred a strategy of democratization supporting “evolution, not revolution.” Thus, when the uprisings and revolutions began, America’s imperial strategists were quick to react in order to attempt to control the situation.

The aim, then, is to mitigate and manage the process of change, promoting the idea of “unity” or “transition governments,” so that America may manage the transition into a democratic system that is safe for Western interests, and will produce a political elite subservient to America and Western financial institutions like the World Bank and IMF. This part of the series, “North Africa and the Global Political Awakening,” is a brief examination of the strategy undertaken in Tunisia to pre-empt and subsequently manage the uprising that took place, and where this could likely lead.

America Anticipated Trouble in Tunisia

According to the Wikileaks diplomatic cables on Tunisia, the issue of succession in Tunisia from the Ben Ali regime were being discussed by the American Embassy in 2006. However, at the time, the Ambassador noted that, “none of the options suggest Tunisia will become more democratic, but the US-Tunisian bilateral relationship is likely to remain unaffected by the departure of Ben Ali.” It was discussed that if the President became “temporarily incapacitated” (largely referring to his struggle with cancer), then “he could turn over a measure of presidential authority to Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi.” The Ambassador noted that average Tunisians generally view Ghannouchi “with respect and he is well-liked in comparison to other GOT [Government of Tunisia]” and party officials.[1] Ghannouchi was subsequently the person who stepped in as interim President once Ben Ali fled in 2011, but with very little support among the people, who demanded he resign as well.

In a 2008 cable regarding a meeting with President Ben Ali, it was ironically noted that Ben Ali felt that the situation in Egypt was “explosive” and that, “sooner or later the Muslim  Brotherhood would take over. He added that Yemen and Saudi Arabia are also facing real problems,” emphasizing that the whole region in general is “explosive.”[2]

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.” Tunisia had declined USAID to engage in regional programs “to assist young people,” as well as having “reduced the number of Fulbright scholarship students,” which was a specific strategic suggestion made by the Council on Foreign Relations report in 2005 in supporting ‘democratization’ of the Arab world. Further, the Ambassador noted, the Tunisian government “makes it difficult” for the Embassy to maintain contact “with a wide swath of Tunisian society,” adding that government-owned papers “often attack Tunisian civil society activists who participate in Embassy activities, portraying them as traitors.” The government also made it very apparent that it disapproves of Embassy contact with opposition figures “as well as civil society activists who criticize the regime.”[3]

In posing the question of – “what should we do?” – the Ambassador explained that America had “an interest in keeping the Tunisian military professional and neutral,” as well as “fostering greater political openness.” The Ambassador emphasized the need “to maintain contacts with the few opposition parties and civil society groups critical of the regime.” Further, the Ambassador stressed the need to mobilize the Europeans to help in pushing for ‘reform,’ as “key countries such as France and Italy have shied from putting pressure on the GOT.” The Ambassador noted that ultimately, “serious change here will have to await Ben Ali’s departure.”[4]

Many U.S. democracy promotion organizations had established ties to Tunisian civil society organizations and opposition leaders over the past few years, including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Freedom House, and the National Democratic Institute (NDI).[5]

‘Democratizing’ Tunisia

As we see from the course of events in Tunisia, America’s strategy of democracy promotion has not necessarily gone according to plan. As the CFR Task Force stressed in 2005, “America’s goal in the Middle East should be to encourage democratic evolution, not revolution.”[6] This was apparent in the uprising catching America somewhat off guard. Following the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi on 17 December 2010, Tunisia erupted in protests, inspired by food price hikes, dissatisfaction with corruption, lack of freedoms, and unemployment. The protests were met with police brutality, and were receiving little if any coverage in international media. A hallmark of a U.S.-sponsored democratic “regime change” is to have Western media play a powerful role from the moment the protests erupt, yet the Western media did not pay attention until President Ben Ali fled on 14 January 2011. Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi then took over as acting president, handing the position of acting president over to parliamentary speaker Fouad Mebazaa the following day. Fouad Mebazaa then asked the Prime Minister to form a “unity government,” saying that a “national unity government in the country’s best interests.”[7]

Immediately after Ben Ali fled, the Tunisian military was deployed into the streets to “maintain order” in the face of riots and looting that broke out. Many blamed the riots and looting on militias which “are part of the ministry of the interior, or police members, and they are co-ordinated by heads of police and intelligence in Tuisia.”[8]

Within days, the formation of a unity government was announced, vowing “to work towards democracy,” which resulted in several opposition leaders joining: “Ahmed Ibrahim, head of the Ettajdid party, Najib Chebbi, founder of the opposition PDP party, and Mustafa Ben Jaafar, head of the Union of Freedom and Labour, are all expected to get senior appointments.” Ibrahim was quoted as saying, “The main thing for us right now is to stop all this disorder. We are in agreement on several principles concerning the new government.”[9] Najib Chebbi, leader of the opposition PDP party and member of the “unity government,” is a lawyer who “has long been seen by Western diplomats as the most credible figure in the opposition.”[10] The “unity government” announced that it planned to hold elections within 6 months.

However, the public in the streets were not satisfied with the creation of a “unity government” containing many remnants of the Ben Ali regime, with some activists claiming, “The new government is a sham. It’s an insult to the revolution that claimed lives and blood.”[11] The military played a powerful role in the Tunisian uprising, most especially by refusing to fire on protesters, which led to Ben Ali fleeing the following day. Two days following Ben Ali’s departure, an Egyptian newspaper reported that Army Chief Rachid Ammar was in immediate contact with the American Embassy in Tunis, according to an officer in the Tunisian National Guard, and that the U.S. Embassy gave instructions to Ammar “to take charge of Tunisian affairs if the situation gets out of control.”[12]

In fact, army chief Rachid Ammar vowed to “defend the revolution.” Ammar was speaking to protesters on the 24 of January, as protesters were demanding the unity government resign. He warned protesters, “Our revolution, your revolution, the revolution of the young, risks being lost … There are forces that are calling for a void, a power vacuum. The void brings terror, which brings dictatorship.”[13] In other words, the military was aiming to support the “unity government,” and to use its reputation with the people to get them to support it as well. Coincidentally, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (the U.S. Middle east envoy) Jeffrey Feltman, traveled to Tunisia the same day that General Ammar spoke to the crowds, supposedly in order to “convey U.S. support to the Tunisian people,” and assess “how the United States can help” with the ‘transition.’ Feltman “said the Obama administration could be helpful in providing support and preparations for Tunisia’s upcoming elections through American nongovernmental organizations that have helped other countries that did not have prior histories of allowing a free and fair process.” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley stated that the unity government is “trying to be responsive,” and that, “this is a government that is trying hard to respond to the aspirations of its people.”[14]

In other words, American officials are deeply involved in attempting to legitimize the Tunisian “unity government,” in order to hold elections in six months, when the U.S. can ensure that they control the outcome. Thus, the U.S. is interested in holding back the revolution, likely pressuring General Ammar to try to reason with the protesters, as well as support the unity government itself. As US envoy Feltman stated, “What’s going to give any government real credibility… are elections,” and that, “To get to credible elections after having a system that so restricted the role of civil society and political parties… is going to take some time and effort.” In other words, America is attempting to stem the ‘revolution’ and maintain and manage the ‘evolution’ into a democratic government which they would ultimately control, just as suggested by the CFR Task Force Report. As one Tunisian protester proclaimed, “Somebody is stealing our revolution.”[15] Feltman’s acknowledging of the need to build a more effective civil society before the elections provides support for the revelations in the diplomatic cables that the Tunisian government of Ben Ali was severely hampering American efforts to foster Tunisian civil society groups. Thus, I don’t think it is appropriate to see the Tunisian uprising as “engineered in America,” since America was ultimately caught unprepared.

Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan and the UN under the George Bush administration, as well as a board member of the “democracy promotion” organization the National Endowment for Democracy (which funded and supported the ‘colour revolutions’ in Eastern Europe and Central Asia), wrote an article in the Financial Times, editorializing that the uprising in Tunisia shows the potential for new media to empower disaffected citizens, as well as demonstrating “the rise of a new political class: young people who stand for neither secular tyranny nor Islamist radicalism.” While heaping rhetorical praise upon a victory for ‘democracy,’ Khalilzad suggested articulating “a new freedom agenda for the region”:

The west should also openly pressure other authoritarian regimes to liberalise, acting as a midwife for democratic reform. In countries in which Islamist movements are better organised than liberal ones, the west should focus on developing moderate civil society groups, parties and institutions rather than calling for snap elections. Most importantly, our distribution of foreign aid should reflect and advance these priorities. Regimes and reformers throughout the region are taking note of events in Tunisia. The US and Europe must act quickly.[16]

So what ae these “democracy promotion” organizations? Three prominent ones are Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy.

One of the previous chairmen of Freedom House was R. James Woolsey, former Director of the CIA.[17] The current chairman is William H. Taft IV, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, and former chief legal adviser to the State Department. Member of the Board of Trustees of Freedom House include individuals past or presently associated with: the U.S. Department of State, the Council on Foreign Relations, Citigroup, Warburg Pincus, AFL-CIO, Morgan Stanley, the Brookings Institution, Visa, USAID, and the Associated Press.[18]

The Chairman of the board of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) is Madeleine Albright. Another notable member of the board is James Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank, and former member of the board of directors of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Population Council.[19]

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), was founded by Ronald Reagan in 1983 with the aim of “promoting democracy,” registered as a private organization, nearly all its funding comes from the U.S. Congress. One of the founders of the NED, Allen Weinstein, once stated that, “A lot of what we [the NED] do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”[20] Notable members of the board include Kenneth Duberstein, CEO of the Duberstein Group, and member of the boards of Boeing, Fannie Mae, and the Council on Foreign Relations; Francis Fukuyama, author of “The End of History”; William Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; Zalmay Khalilzad, Counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan, the United Nations, and former Defense Department official; Larry A. Liebenow, former Chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and has served on the board of the Council of the Americas (founded by David Rockefeller, who remains as Honorary Chairman); Ambassador Princeton Lyman, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, former Ambassador to Nigeria, former Ambassador to South Africa, former director of USAID; Moisés Naím, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, former director of the Central Bank of Venezuela, former executive director of the World Bank, and is a member of the boards of Population Action International and the International Crisis Group; and Vin Weber, on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, and co-chair with Madeleine Albright on the CFR Task Force Report on reform in the Arab world.[21]

One month after Ben Ali’s departure, Tunisians are left with more political freedoms, yet there is still grave concern over the path of change taking place, “with Tunisia’s old guard still strong and interim authorities often overwhelmed — many said they fear promised changes may be swept aside.” One opposition group leader in Tunisia has stated that, “There is no clear political will to break from the past. The government’s decisions have come with delays that have damaged its legitimacy and provoked a crisis of confidence.” Thus, “some fear the revolution will be confiscated, its potential wasted behind a smokescreen of reforms.”[22] Yet one thing has clearly changed in Tunisia, the development of a feeling and taste for freedom. Once that wondrous inherently human taste for freedom is felt, it is incredibly difficult to suppress, and becomes far less tolerant of any methods aimed at control.

This is both a very hopeful and deeply precarious situation. Change always is. The real question is whether or not this ‘transition’ will bring about true freedom and true democracy, or if it will retain “neoliberal freedom and democracy”, which amounts to a kind of democratic despotism, in which democracy becomes simply about voting between rival factions of elites who all serve the same foreign imperial interests.

Could Tunisia potentially witness a populist democracy, like those that have spread across Latin America? Or will it succumb to the American brand of democracy? Time, it seems, will only be able to answer that question.  As always, the odds are against the people, but again, as events over the past 30 days have shown the world, the people can always defy the odds.

Notes

[1]        Embassy Tunis, SUCCESSION IN TUNISIA: FINDING A SUCCESSOR OR FEET FIRST?, Wikileaks Cables, 9 January 2006: http://213.251.145.96/cable/2006/01/06TUNIS55.html

[2]        Embassy Tunis, PRESIDENT BEN ALI MEETS WITH A/S WELCH: PROGRESS

ON COUNTER-TERRORISM COOPERATION, REGIONAL CHALLENGES, Wikileaks Cables, 3 March 2008: http://213.251.145.96/cable/2008/03/08TUNIS193.html

[3]        Embassy Tunis, TROUBLED TUNISIA:  WHAT SHOULD WE DO?, WikiLeaks Cables, 17 July 2009: http://213.251.145.96/cable/2009/07/09TUNIS492.html

[4]        Embassy Tunis, TROUBLED TUNISIA:  WHAT SHOULD WE DO?, WikiLeaks Cables, 17 July 2009: http://213.251.145.96/cable/2009/07/09TUNIS492.html

[5]        NED, Tunisia, National Endowment for Democracy: http://www.ned.org/where-we-work/middle-east-and-northern-africa/tunisia;

FH, New Generation of Advocates: Empowering Civil Society in Middle East and North Africa, Freedom House: http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=66&program=83;

NDI, Tunisia, National Democratic Institute: http://www.ndi.org/tunisia

[6]        Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How. (Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report, 2005), page 4

[7]        ELAINE GANLEY and BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA, Tunisia’s interim president backs a unity govt, AP, 16 January 2011: http://apnews.myway.com//article/20110115/D9KOQT000.html

[8]        Al-Jazeera and agencies, Army on streets amid Tunisia unrest, Al-Jazeera, 15 January 2011: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/01/2011115135844457245.html

[9]        Kim Sengupta, Political vacuum filled by chaotic in-fighting, The Independent, 17 January 2011: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/political-vacuum-filled-by-chaotic-infighting-2186293.html

[10]      Agencies, Ben Ali’s possible successors, Al-Jazeera, 15 January 2011: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/spotlight/tunisia/2011/01/20111151464566226.html

[11]      AJ, Tunisia’s new government in trouble, Al-Jazeera, 18 January 2011: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/01/2011118194731826312.html

[12]      ALM, Tunisian officer: Washington tells dismissed chief of staff to ‘take charge’, Al-Masry Al-Youm, 16 January 2011: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/tunisian-officer-washington-tells-dismissed-chief-staff-take-charge

[13]      AJ, Tunisia cabinet to be reshuffled, Al-Jazeera, 24 January 2011: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/01/2011124163051778391.html

[14]      Stephen Kaufman, U.S. Supports Tunisia’s Political Transition, America.gov, 24 January 2011: http://www.america.gov/st/democracyhr-english/2011/January/20110124162333nehpets0.8809168.html?CP.rss=true

[15]      Borzou Daragahi, Key diplomat says U.S. approves of Tunisia revolt, Los Angeles Times, 25 January 2011: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jan/25/world/la-fg-tunisia-envoy-20110126

[16]      Zalmay Khalilzad, Democracy in Tunisia is just the start, The Financial Times, 19 January 2011: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/552d3632-2405-11e0-bef0-00144feab49a.html#axzz1C08RDtxu

[17]      Press Release, Freedom House Announces New Chairman, James Woolsey, Freedom House, 13 January 2003: http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=70&release=124

[18]      FH, Board of Trustees, Freedom House: http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=10

[19]      NDI, Board of Directors, National Dmeocratic Institute: http://www.ndi.org/board_of_directors

[20]      William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, 2000, p. 180

[21]      NED, Board of Directors, the National Endowment for Democracy: http://www.ned.org/about/board

[22]      Deborah Pasmantier and Sonia Bakaric, Freedom and worry a month after Tunisia uprising, Montreal Gazette, 13 February 2011: http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/TUNISIA+MONTH+LATER/4274347/story.html 

America’s Strategic Repression of the ‘Arab Awakening’

America’s Strategic Repression of the ‘Arab Awakening’
North Africa and the Global Political Awakening, Part 2
Global Research, February 9, 2011

Overview

In Part 1 of this series, I analyzed the changing nature of the Arab world, in experiencing an uprising as a result of the ‘Global Political Awakening.’ Ultimately, I assessed that these could potentially be the birth pangs of a global revolution; however, the situation is more complicated than it appears on the surface.

While the uprisings spreading across the Arab world have surprised many observers, the same could not be said for the American foreign policy and strategic establishment. A popular backlash against American-supported dictatorships and repressive regimes has been anticipated for a number of years, with arch-hawk geopolitical strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski articulating a broad conception of a ‘Global Political Awakening’ taking place, in which the masses of the world (predominantly the educated, exploited and impoverished youth of the ‘Third World’) have become acutely aware of their subjugation, inequality, exploitation and oppression. This ‘Awakening’ is largely driven by the revolution in information, technology and communication, including radio, television, but most especially the Internet and social media. Brzezinski had accurately identified this ‘Awakening’ as the greatest threat to elite interests regionally, but also internationally, with America sitting on top of the global hierarchy.

This spurred on the development of an American strategy in the Arab world, modeled on similar strategies pursued in recent decades in other parts of the world, in promoting “democratization,” by developing close contacts with ‘civil society’ organizations, opposition leaders, media sources, and student organizations. The aim is not to promote an organic Arab democracy ‘of the people, and for the people,’ but rather to promote an evolutionary “democratization” in which the old despots of American strategic support are removed in favour of a neoliberal democratic system, in which the outward visible institutions of democracy are present (multi-party elections, private media, parliaments, constitutions, active civil society, etc); yet, the power-holders within that domestic political system remain subservient to U.S. economic and strategic interests, continuing to follow the dictates of the IMF and World Bank, supporting America’s military hegemony in the region, and “opening up” the Arab economies to be “integrated” into the world economy. Thus, “democratization” becomes an incredibly valuable strategy for maintaining hegemony; a modern re-hash of “Let them eat cake!” Give the people the ‘image’ of democracy and establish and maintain a co-dependent relationship with the new elite. Thus, democracy for the people becomes an exercise in futility, where people’s ‘participation’ becomes about voting between rival factions of elites, who all ultimately follow the orders of Washington.

This strategy also has its benefit for the maintenance of American power in the region. While dictators have their uses in geopolitical strategy, they can often become too independent of the imperial power and seek to determine the course of their country separate from U.S. interests, and are subsequently much more challenging to remove from power (i.e., Saddam Hussein). With a “democratized” system, changing ruling parties and leaders becomes much easier, by simply calling elections and supporting opposition parties. Bringing down a dictator is always a more precarious situation than “changing the guard” in a liberal democratic system.

However, again, the situation in the Arab world is still more complicated than this brief overview, and American strategic concerns must take other potentialities into consideration. While American strategists were well aware of the growing threat to stability in the region, and the rising discontent among the majority of the population, the strategists tended to identify the aim as “democratization” through evolution, not revolution. In this sense, the uprisings across the Arab world pose a major strategic challenge for America. While ties have been made with civil society and other organizations, they haven’t all necessarily had the ability to be firmly entrenched, organized and mobilized. In short, it would appear that America was perhaps unprepared for uprisings to take place this soon. The sheer scale and rapid growth of the protests and uprisings makes the situation all the more complicated, since they are not dealing with one nation alone, but rather an entire region (arguably one of, if not the most strategically important region in the world), and yet they must assess and engage the situation on a country-by-country basis.

One danger arises in a repeat in the Arab world of the trends advanced in Latin America over the past decade: namely, the growth of populist democracy. The protests have brought together a wide array of society – civil society, students, the poor, Islamists, opposition leaders, etc. – and so America, with ties to many of these sectors (overtly and covertly), must now make many choices in regards of who to support.

Another incredibly important factor to take into consideration is military intervention. America has firmly established ties with the militaries in this region, and it appears evident that America is influencing military actions in Tunisia. Often, the reflex position of imperial power is to support the military, facilitate a coup, or employ repression. Again, this strategy would be determined on a country-by-country basis. With a popular uprising, military oppression will have the likely effect of exacerbating popular discontent and resistance, so strategic use of military influence is required.

This also leaves us with the potential for the ‘Yemen option’: war and destabilization. While presenting its own potential for negative repercussions (namely, in instigating a much larger and more radical uprising), engaging in overt or covert warfare, destabilizing countries or regions, is not taboo in American strategic circles. In fact, this is the strategy that has been deployed in Yemen since the emergence of the Southern Movement in 2007, a liberation movement seeking secession from the U.S.-supported dictatorship. Shortly after the emergence of the Southern Movement, al-Qaeda appeared in Yemen, prompting U.S. military intervention. The Yemeni military, armed, trained and funded by the United States, has been using its military might to attempt to crush the Southern Movement as well as a rebel movement in the North.

In short, the ‘Arab Awakening’ presents possibly the greatest strategic challenge to American hegemony in decades. The likely result will be a congruence of multiple simultaneously employed strategies including: “democratization,” oppression, military intervention and destabilization. Again, it could be a mistake to assume one strategy for the whole region, but rather to assess it on a country-by-country basis, based upon continuing developments and progress in the ‘Awakening’.

The Council on Foreign Relations Strategy to “Democratize” the Arab World

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is the premier U.S. foreign policy think tank in the United States, and is one of the central institutions for socializing American elites from all major sectors of society (media, banking, academia, military, intelligence, diplomacy, corporations, NGOs, civil society, etc.), where they work together to construct a consensus on major issues related to American imperial interests around the world. As such, the CFR often sets the strategy for American policy, and wields enormous influence within policy circles, where key players often and almost always come from the rank and file of the CFR itself.

In 2005, the CFR published a Task Force Report on a new American strategy for the Arab world entitled, “In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How.” The Task Force was co-chaired by Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber. Albright was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for the first term of President Bill Clinton’s administration, and was U.S. Secretary of State for his second term. As such, she played crucial roles in the lead up and responses to the dismantling of Yugoslavia and the Rwandan genocide and subsequent civil war and genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and she also oversaw the UN imposed sanctions on Iraq. In a 1996 interview with 60 Minutes, when asked about the sanctions resulting in the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five, Albright replied, “we think the price is worth it.”[1]

Albright got her start at Columbia University, where she studied under Zbigniew Brzezinski, her professor who supervised her dissertation. Brzezinski, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. co-founded the Trilateral Commission with banker David Rockefeller in 1973. When Jimmy Carter became President in 1977, he brought with him over two dozen members of the Trilateral Commission into his administration, including himself, but also Brzezinski as his National Security Adviser. Brzezinski then offered Madeline Albright a job on his National Security Council staff.[2] Brzezinski also had several other key officials on his Council staff, including Samuel Huntington and Robert Gates, who later became Deputy National Security Adviser, CIA Director, and today is the Secretary of Defense in the Obama administration. As David Rothkopf, former National Security Council staff member wrote in his book on the history of the NSC, “Brzezinski’s NSC staffers are, to this day, very loyal to their former boss.”[3] Today, Albright serves on the board of directors of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Board of Trustees for the Aspen Institute, as well as chairing the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, an organization dedicated to promoting and funding US-supported “democracy” around the world. Recently, she chaired a NATO committee which developed NATO’s new “strategic concept” over the next decade.

The other co-chair of the CFR Task Force report on Arab democracy is Vin Weber, former U.S. Congressman, who has served on the board of the CFR, and is also a member of the board of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the premier U.S. organization dedicated to “democratic regime change” around the world in advancing U.S. strategic interests. Other members of the Task Force Report include individuals with past or present affiliations to Human Rights Watch, First National Bank of Chicago, Occidental Petroleum, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the World Bank, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the Brookings Institution, the Hoover Institution, the National Endowment for Democracy, the U.S. State Department, National Security Council, National Intelligence Council, Goldman Sachs Group, the American Enterprise Institute, AOL Time Warner, and the IMF.[4]

It is very clear that this is a highly influential and active group of individuals and interests which is proposing a new strategy for America in the Arab world, which makes their recommendations not simply ‘advisory’ to policy, but integral to policy formulation and implementation. So what did the CFR report have to say about democracy in the Arab world?

The report stated that, “Washington has a chance to help shape a more democratic Middle East. Whereas emphasis on stability was once the hallmark of U.S. Middle East policy, democracy and freedom have become a priority.” The report posed two central questions which it explored:

First, does a policy of promoting democracy in the Middle East 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?[5]

The answer to the first question was inevitably, “yes,” promoting democracy serves U.S. interests and foreign policy goals in the Middle East. The report elaborated, “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.”[6] However, the CFR report was very cautious about the process of democratic change, and recognized the potential instability and problems it could pose for American interests:

[T]he 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. America’s goal in the Middle East should be to encourage democratic evolution, not revolution.[7] [Emphasis added]

Further, they acknowledged that democracy promotion in the Middle East “requires a country-by-country strategy,”[8] meaning that it cannot be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy, ultimately making the process all the more complicated and potentially unstable. The process is a delicate balancing act, where the report identified that if America’s democracy promotion is too “superficial,” it could “further damage relations between the United States and Arab populations,” or, if the United States pushes reform too hard and too fast, “this could create instability and undermine U.S. interests.” Thus, explained the report, they favour “a view toward evolutionary, not revolutionary, change. The dangers that accompany rapid change will still be present, but so will the opportunity to create a new and more balanced foundation for Arab stability, and a deeper and stronger basis for friendship between Americans and Arabs.”[9] In American diplomatic language, “friendship” should be read as “dependence,” thus we understand this strategy as aiming at promoting a more reliable dependency between Americans and Arabs.

The report, however, acknowledged the deep divisions within U.S. policy circles on the promotion of democracy in the Middle East, with several viewing it as potentially too risky, fearing it “may place U.S. interests in jeopardy,” or that it “could lead to ethnic conflict or the emergence of Islamist governments opposed to the United States and the West in general.” Further, “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.” There is also the risk that with America actively promoting democratic change among Arab civil society and opposition groups, this could potentially damage “the credibility of indigenous groups promoting democratic reform,” or, alternatively, “Arab leaders could dig in their heels and actively oppose U.S. policies in the region across the board.”[10] The latter scenario could be referred to as ‘the Saddam option’, referring, of course, to America’s once-close ally and suddenly-new enemy, Saddam Hussein, who was armed and supported by America. But once he started to become too autonomous of American power, America turned on him and cast him as a “new Hitler.” The case of Saddam Hussein also shows that when a dictator “digs in his heels,” it can often take a very long time to be rid of him.

So while clearly there are a number of potentially disastrous consequences for U.S. interests in promoting democracy in the Arab world, the CFR made their position clear:

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… If Arabs are allowed to participate freely and peacefully in the political process, they are less likely to turn to radical measures. If they understand that the United States supports their exercise of liberty, they are less likely to sustain hostile attitudes toward the United States… The overwhelming empirical evidence clearly indicates that the best kind of stability is democratic stability.[11]

One pivotal area through which the CFR report advocated implementing the “democratization” of the Arab world was through the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), established in 2002 by the Bush administration “with the express purpose of coordinating and managing the U.S. government’s reform agenda in the area of economics, politics, education, and women’s issues.” Much of this work had previously been done through the United State Agency for International Development (USAID); however, “while USAID’s work has focused to some extent on creating constituencies within Arab governments for change, the rationale for MEPI was to work with independent and indigenous NGOs and civil-society groups, as well as with governments.”[12]

Another avenue was the Broader Middle East Initiative (also known as the Partnership for Progress), which emerged from a 2004 G8 summit, of which a main priority was the “Forum for the Future,” which is “designed to foster communication on reform-related issues.” It held sessions that brought together civil society activists, business leaders, emphasizing economic development and job growth. The Partnership for Progress also established the “Democracy Assistance Dialogue,” which brings together development institutions in the Middle East, foundations, international financial institutions (the World Bank and IMF), “to coordinate the use of resources to support political and economic change.”[13] In other words, it is a process through which America is seeking to ensure that democratic “transition” in the Arab world maintains American and Western political and economic hegemony. In effect, a change of ‘structure’ without a change of ‘substance,’ where the image of the state alters, but the power and purpose remains the same.

However, further problems for the democratization strategy were presented in the unwillingness of European nations to support it or take it seriously. As the Task Force report explained, “European reluctance undermines the potential efficacy of pursuing reform.” The report further explained the importance of having Europe as a partner in the project:

Despite a history of European colonial domination, the perception of Europe in the Arab world is better than that of the United States. Consequently, it may be helpful for the European Union to take the lead in promoting human rights in the Arab world.[14]

The Task Force recommended that it would be best if funding for Arab civil society organizations did not come directly from U.S. government institutions, but rather funneled through U.S. democracy-promotion groups like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), as “many Middle eastern NGOs are reluctant to accept direct transfers from an arm of the U.S. government, fearing that this would taint these organizations in the eyes of their constituencies.”[15] In the conclusion, the report stated that:

Although a policy predicated on political, economic, and social change in the Arab world may present some short-term risks to Washington’s interests, these risks are worth taking. The long-run benefits of a more democratic and economically developed Middle East outweigh the potential challenges Washington might confront in the foreseeable future.[16]

We must acknowledge, however, that this strategy is not aimed at promoting democracy for the sake of democracy and freedom, but rather that it is acknowledging the reality that is the ‘Global Political Awakening,’ and taking efforts to address and manipulate this ‘Awakening’ in such a way that serves U.S. interests. Thus, it amounts to a scenario akin to saying, “Let them eat cake!” If the Arab world screams out for democracy and freedom, give them the American-sponsored brand of democracy and freedom, and therefore America is able to undermine and co-opt the ever-increasing desires and forces for change in the region. As a result – if successful – it would have the effect of pacifying resistance to America’s hegemony in the region, legitimizing the new puppet governments as “democratic” and “representative” of the people, thus creating a more stable and secure environment for American interests. In short, this is a coordinated strategy to confront, manipulate and pacify the emergence of the Global Political Awakening in the Arab world; an assault against the ‘Arab Awakening.’

In my last essay on the subject, I identified these protests as an organic growth, a rallying cry for freedom from the Arab world which must not be simply discarded as a covert U.S. plot to install new regimes. However, the situation requires a much more nuanced and detailed examination, not to frame it in either a black or white context, but rather seek to explain the realities, challenges and opportunities of the ‘Awakening’ and the ‘uprisings’.

Conceptualizing the ‘Arab Awakening’

For years, arch-hawk American imperial geostrategist Zbigniew Brzezinski, an intellectual architect of ‘globalization’, has been warning elites across the Western world, and in particular in America, of the emergence and pressing reality of the ‘Global Political Awakening.’ He explains the ‘Awakening’ as essentially the greatest historical challenge to not only American, but global power structures and interests. He explained that, “For the first time in human history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive.” Further, “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.” As Brzezinski emphasizes, “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.” Brzezinski and others (as evidenced by the Council on Foreign Relations report) are intent upon developing strategies for ‘managing’ and ‘pacifying’ this ‘Awakening’ in such a way that maintains and secures American imperial interests and global power structures. Thus, the need to ‘control’ the Awakening is the most prescient problem in American foreign policy. However, as Brzezinski elaborated, it is not a challenge that can be dealt with easily:

[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.[17]

In a 2008 article in the New York Times, Brzezinski emphasized a multi-faceted strategy for dealing with this ‘threat’ to elite structures and interests, explaining that, “the monumental task facing the new president is to regain U.S. global legitimacy by spearheading a collective effort for a more inclusive system of global management.” Thus, Brzezinski’s strategy rests on better securing and institutionally expanding the process of ‘globalization’ into the evolution of ‘global governance,’ or as he termed it, “global management.” Brzezinski unveiled a four-point strategy of response: “unify, enlarge, engage and pacify.”[18]

The response to ‘unify’ refers “to the effort to re-establish a shared sense of purpose between America and Europe,” a point that the CFR report acknowledged. To ‘enlarge’ refers to “a deliberate effort to nurture a wider coalition committed to the principle of interdependence and prepared to play a significant role in promoting more effective global management.”[19] He identified the G8 as having “outlived its function,” and proposed a widening of it, which ultimately manifested itself in 2009 in the form of the G20. The G20 has subsequently become “the prime group for global economic governance at the level of ministers, governors and heads of state or government.”[20] Herman von Rompuy, the President of the European Union, referred to 2009 as “the first year of global governance.”[21] So, these elites are intent upon advancing “global management,” which is the exact strategy Brzezinski also identifies as being the “solution” to managing the ‘Global Political Awakening.’

The next point in Brzezinski’s strategy – ‘engage’ – refers to “the cultivation of top officials through informal talks among key powers, specifically the U.S., the European Triad, China, Japan, Russia and possibly India,” in particular between the United States and China, as “without China, many of the problems we face collectively cannot be laid to rest.” In the final point – ‘pacify’ – Brzezinski referred to the requirements of “a deliberate U.S. effort to avoid becoming bogged down in the vast area ranging from Suez to India.” In particular, he advised moving forward on the Israel-Palestine issue, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Brzezinski explained that, “in this dynamically changing world, the crisis of American leadership could become the crisis of global stability.” Thus, from Brzezinski’s point of view, “The only alternative to a constructive American role is global chaos.”[22]

So, “control” is key to this strategy, with “global management” being the ultimate solution. However, as Brzezinski himself identified, which is important to keep in mind when assessing the nature, spread and mobilization of the ‘Awakening’: “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.”[23] Thus, while attempting to engineer, co-opt and ‘control’ the ‘Awakening,’ it is important to acknowledge that the United States is playing with fire, and while attempting to light a controlled fire to manipulate as it so chooses, the fire can spread and get out of hand. In such a situation, the “lethality” of America’s “military might” could potentially be employed. He said it himself, “the only alternative to a constructive American role is global chaos.”[24] The age-old imperial tactic of divide and conquer is never off the table of options. If it cannot be “managed transition” then it often becomes “managed chaos.” Where ‘diplomacy’ fails to overcome barriers, war destroys them (and everything else in the process).

Now turning our attention to the ‘Arab Awakening’ and uprisings, we must examine the range of strategies that are and could be employed. The preferred route for American power is “democratization,” but the scope, velocity and rapidity of recent developments in the Arab world present an incredibly unstable situation for American strategy. While ties with civil society and opposition groups have been or are in the process of being well established (varying on a country-by-country basis), the rapidity and confluence of these uprisings taking place has American power stretched thin.

Engineering, co-opting and controlling revolutionary movements or “democratic regime change” is not a new tactic in the American strategic circles; however, it has in the past been largely relegated to specific pockets and nations, often with significant time in between in order to allow for a more delicate, coordinated and controlled undertaking. This was the case with the U.S.-sponsored ‘colour revolutions’ throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, starting with Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, Ukraine in 2004, and Kyrgyzstan in 2005, where America’s premier democracy promotion organizations (the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, USAID, Freedom House, the Albert Einstein Institute, as well as major American philanthropic foundations) were able to more securely establish themselves and their strategies for “democratic regime change.” Further, all the incidents of democratic “regime change” listed above took place in the context of a contested election within the country, giving the organizations and foundations involved a precise timeline for managing the process of organization and mobilization. This required a focused and nuanced approach which remains absent from the current context in the Middle East and North Africa.

[See: Andrew Gavin Marshall, Colour-Coded Revolutions and the Origins of World War III, Global Research, 3 November 2009: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=15767]

Further, a similar strategy was undertaken in Iran for the summer of 2009, in which the ‘Green Movement’ arose in response to the contested Presidential elections. This was, in fact, an attempt at a highly coordinated and organized effort on the part of a covert American strategy of “democratization” to install a U.S.-friendly (i.e., ‘client’) regime in Iran. The strategy was developed in 2006, largely organized covertly by the CIA, at a cost of approximately $400 million, and involved the State Department coordinating efforts with social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. However, as posterity shows, the strategy did not ultimately succeed in imposing “regime change.” At the time, Zbigniew Brzezinski explained that the strategy would require “patience, intelligent manipulation, moral support, but no political interference.”

[See: Andrew Gavin Marshall, A New World War for a New World Order, Global Research, 17 December 2009: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=16535]

So we can see that even with $400 million and a highly coordinated attempt at “intelligent manipulation,” the strategy did not succeed. However, it must be acknowledged that the U.S. could not overtly fund opposition and civil society organizations in Iran as it could in Eastern Europe. In the Arab world, while America has and continues to engage with opposition groups and civil society organizations, these efforts have been consistently thwarted and hampered by the domestic Arab regimes, which are well aware of the threat to their own power this could pose. Managing such a strategy in countries run by authoritarian regimes that are very suspicious of civil society and opposition groups presents an incredibly challenging scenario for American strategy. Further, authoritarian regimes generally do not hold elections, unless it is simply a sham election in which the leader wins by a margin of 97%, presenting a difficult scenario in which to mobilize opposition forces. Moreover, the ‘colour revolutions’ throughout Eastern Europe were largely organized through a strategy of bringing together all the opposition groups to stand behind one leader, to make the effort much more coordinated and cohesive. No such strategy seems to have emerged in the Arab world, and has appeared as a patched-up effort of attempting to promote particular opposition figures, but nothing that is evidently well-organized and pre-planned. While many opposition groups are working closely together to oppose the regimes, they are not necessarily being mobilized around any clear and absolute leaders, thus presenting the potential for a power vacuum to open up, making the situation all the more dangerous for American interests.

Another major problem inherent in this strategy in the Arab world is the role being played by the domestic militaries. The militaries within the authoritarian Arab regimes are largely supported, funded, trained and armed by America, and have become powerful political, social and economic actors in their own right (more so in Egypt than Tunisia). Thus, America must balance the process of supporting civil society and opposition groups with that of continuing to support and secure the military structures. If the militaries feel that their position is insecure or threatened, they may simply overtake the entire process and engineer a coup, which is ultimately counter-productive to the American strategy in the region, especially since it is widely known that America is the principle sponsor of these military structures. This implies that America must undertake a delicate balancing act between the military, civil society and opposition groups in coordinating the removal of the entrenched despots. This strategy seems to be materializing itself in the form of constructing “transitional governments,” which the militaries in both Tunisia and Egypt are supporting.

The situation is intensely complicated and conflicting, presenting America with one of its greatest challenges in recent history. While the obvious intent and even the means of organizing “democratic regime change” in the Arab world are present, I believe the rapidity in which the protest movements and uprisings have emerged could have taken America somewhat off-guard. No doubt, from the beginnings of the Tunisian protests in December of 2010, America was paying detailed attention to the situation, attempting to influence the outcome. However, Western media coverage of the first four weeks of protests was minimal, if not altogether absent. This is an important point to address.

For all the other organized efforts at “democratic regime change” and “colour revolutions,” Western media played a critical role. From the moments protests began in these countries, Western media outlets were covering the events extensively, espousing the righteousness of the aims of “democratization” and “freedom,” in full and active support of the demonstrators. This was absent in Tunisia, until of course, the President fled to Saudi Arabia, when suddenly Western media cynically proclaimed a monumental achievement for democracy, and started warning the rest of the Arab world of the potential for this to spread to their countries (thus, applying public pressure to promote “reforms” in line with their strategy of “evolution, not revolution.”). This could imply that America was trying to quietly manage the protests in Tunisia, which did not arise in a pre-coordinated and previously established timeline, but rather sprung up as a rapid response to a suicide of a young man in a personal protest against the government. The spark was lit, and America advanced on Tunisia in an attempt to control its growth and direction. Meanwhile, however, sparks ignited across many nations in the Arab world, including Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Yemen. 

Subsequently, America took advantage of these sparks to ignite the process in a direction it would seek to control. For the first few days and even weeks of protests in many of the other nations, appearing by and large to be organic reactions to events in Tunisia and within their own countries, a more coordinated response was undertaken, with the massive organized protests emerging suddenly. Yet, America is potentially stretching itself very thin, possibly risking as much or more than it has to gain. Like a cornered animal, America is simultaneously incredibly vulnerable and incredibly dangerous. Remembering Brzezinski’s words regarding the problem of ‘control’ is an important factor to take into consideration: “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.”[25] This could potentially be referred to as the ‘Yemen Option,’ in which the strategy entails an effort to promote destabilization, military intervention, covert and overt warfare. In such a scenario, it is essential for America to maintain and, in fact, strengthen its contacts and relationships with domestic military structures.

So, clearly the situation is not and should not be addressed in a black-and-white analysis. It is intensely complicated, multi-faceted and potentially disastrous. No outcome is preordained or absolute: thus, while acknowledging and examining the evidence for America’s deep involvement in the evolution and direction of the protests and opposition, we must keep this analysis within the context of the ‘Global Political Awakening.’ I argued in Part 1 of this essay that it does, in fact, seem as if we are seeing the emergence of a global revolution; yet, this is likely a process that will stretch out certainly over the next one, if not several, decades. We cannot simply dismiss these protests as American machinations and covert operations, but rather as an effort for America to control the ‘Awakening’. As the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report emphasized, “America’s goal in the Middle East should be to encourage democratic evolution, not revolution.”[26] It seems as if this strategy either changed in the intermittent years, or America has been thrown out of its incremental strategy of “evolution” and into the strategy of being forced to respond to and seek to direct “revolution.” This makes the situation all the more dangerous for American interests. Thus, we cannot dismiss the uprisings as entirely “orchestrated,” but instead understand them in the context of the ‘Global Awakening.’

Taking the position that everything is organized from on high in the corridors of power is a flawed analysis. Alternatively, taking the position that America was caught entirely unaware of this situation is naïve and the evidence does not support this assessment. However, we must not see this as an either-or development, but rather a congruence of over-lapping and inter-twining developments. Society, after all, while being directed from above, must react to the responses and developments from below; and thus, society itself and the direction it takes is a highly complex interaction of different, opposing, and conflicting social processes. The claim that the uprisings are the lone result of American strategy neglects the reasons behind the development of this strategy in the first place. The “democratization” strategy did not emerge due to any humanitarian qualms on the part of the U.S. elite for the people living under authoritarian regimes, but rather that the strategy was developed in response to the emergence and growth of the ‘Arab Awakening’ itself. Indeed, in this context, this does mark the beginnings of a global revolution (which has been a long time coming); however, it also marks the active American strategy to control the process and development of the ‘revolution.’

Historically, revolutions are never the product of a one-sided development. That is, revolutions predominantly do not come about through the actions of one segment of society, often polarized as either an elite-driven or people-driven revolution, but rather they come about through a complex interaction and balancing of various social groups. The context and conditions for a revolution often do not emerge without the awareness of the upper classes, therefore, the upper social strata always or often seek to mitigate, control, repress, influence or co-opt and control the process of revolution. In this context, we cannot dismiss revolutions simply as a top-down or bottom-up process, but rather a mitigation and interaction between the two approaches.

American strategic objectives are aimed at ultimately repressing and co-opting the organic revolutionary uprisings in the Arab world. For the past six years or so, America has been developing and starting to implement a strategy to manage to ‘Arab Awakening’ by promoting “democratization” in a process of “evolution, not revolution.” However, the evolution was evidently not fast enough for the people living under the Arab regimes, and revolution is in the air. America, naturally, is desperately attempting to manage the situation and repress a true revolution from spreading across the region, instead promoting an “orderly transition” as Hillary Clinton and President Obama have stressed. Thus, America has been extensively involved in the processes of organizing and establishing “transitional governments” or “unity governments.” If the revolution took its own course, and sought true change, populist democracy and ultimate freedom, it would ultimately be forced to challenge the role and influence of America and the West in the region. As such, military “aid” would need to end (a prospect the domestic militaries are not willing to accept), American influence over and contact with civil society and opposition groups would need to be openly challenged and discussed, the IMF and World Bank would need to be kicked out, international debts would need to be declared “odious” and cancelled, and the people would have to control their own country and become active, engaged and informed citizens. The true revolution will have to be not simply political, but economic, social, cultural, psychological, intellectual and ultimately, global.

The protesters must challenge not simply their despotic governments, but must ultimately remove American and Western control over their nations. They must also be very cautious of opposition groups and proposed leaders who are thrust to the front lines and into the government, as they are likely co-opted. The true new leaders should come from the people, and should earn their leadership, not simply be crowned as ‘leaders.’ The best possible short-to-medium-term scenario would be to see the emergence of Arab populist democracies, reflecting the trend seen across Latin America (although, not necessarily imposing the same ideologies). The trouble with this scenario is that it is also the most unlikely. If there is one thing that American power despises, it is populist democracy. Since the beginnings of the Cold War until present day, America has actively overthrown, orchestrated coups, imposed dictatorships, crushed, invaded and occupied, bombed and destabilized or implemented “democratic regime change” in populist democracies. Democratic governments that are accountable to the people and seek to help the poor and oppressed make themselves quick enemies of American power. Over the past 60 years, America has repressed or supported the repression of democracies, liberation struggles and attempts at autonomy all over the world: Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Haiti in 1959, the Congo in 1960, Ecuador in 1961, Algeria, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Chile, Argentina, Afghanistan, Indonesia, South Africa, Palestine, Iraq, Venezuela, Lebanon, Yemen and on and on and on.

The situation is a dangerous and difficult one for the protesters, just as the struggle for freedom and democracy is and has always been. There is a large constituency which have an interest in preventing the emergence of a populist democracy, including many of the pro-democracy organizations and opposition leaders themselves, the great nations of the world – East and West, the World Bank and IMF, international corporations and banks, neighbouring Arab regimes, Israel, and of course, America. It is a monumental challenge, but it would be a great disservice to cast aside the protests as controlled and totally co-opted. If that were the case, they would have ceased with the formation of transition and unity governments, which of course they have not. While the outcome is ultimately unknown, what is clear is that a spark has been lit in the Arab world as the ‘Global Political Awakening’ marches on, and this will be a very difficult flame to control. 

In the next part of this series, I will examine in more detail the specific revolutions and uprisings taking place in Tunisia and Egypt within the strategic context explained in this part.

Notes

[1]        Rahul Mahakan, “We Think the Price is Worth It,” Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, November/December 2001: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1084

[2]        David Rothkopf, Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power (PublicAffairs, 2006), page 17

[3]        Ibid, pages 174-175

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

[5]        Ibid, page 3.

[6]        Ibid, pages 3-4.

[7]        Ibid, page 4.

[8]        Ibid.

[9]        Ibid, pages 11-12.

[10]      Ibid, page 12.

[11]      Ibid, page 13.

[12]      Ibid, pages 36-37.

[13]      Ibid, pages 38-39.

[14]      Ibid, page 39.

[15]      Ibid, page 40.

[16]      Ibid, page 43.

[17]      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

[18]      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

[19]      Ibid.

[20]      Jean-Claude Trichet, Global Governance Today, Keynote address by Mr Jean-Claude Trichet, President of the European Central Bank, at the Council on Foreign Relations, New York, 26 April 2010: http://www.bis.org/review/r100428b.pdf

[21]      Herman Von Rompuy, Speech Upon Accepting the EU Presidency, BBC News, 22 November 2009:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzm_R3YBgPg

[22]      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

[23]      Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Major Foreign Policy Challenges for the Next US President,” International Affairs, 85: 1, (2009), page 54

[24]      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

[25]      Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Major Foreign Policy Challenges for the Next US President,” International Affairs, 85: 1, (2009), page 54

[26]      Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How. (Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report, 2005), page 4

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