Today, January 16th, marks the referendum in Egypt on the new constitution and, unsurprisingly, that new constitution received roughly 97% approval vote of the 38% of Egyptians who voted. Let’s pretend for a moment that these results aren’t totally fraudulent (which they totally are). What does this mean? It means that Egypt will now go forward with presedential and parliamentary elections for a new government in the coming weeks and months, with the army back at the helm.
One step forward, two steps back, right? Or is it two steps forward, one step back?
If you’ve been watching the news lately, you’ve probably also noticed some interesting things happening in Libya. Particularly, what I was calling “intentional destabilization” on the part of those who really benefited from the Arab Spring. Who exactly? Why don’t you ask this 32 year old who is currently “sitting on billions of dollars of oil” and who has “declared independence” for his area? And Syria? Was this the plan all along? But those protests in Iraq, didn’t they lead to something better?
I guess if you consider Fallujah under siege from al-Qaeda to be something better!
In fact, the only place that seems to be any better is the place where it all started: Tunisia. And even there, the successes of the Arab Spring are notably minimal and tenuous.
I know that this is an unpopular position.
Plenty have suggested to me that I’m too cynical. Some of my dearest friends have pleaded with me to be patient. “The French Revolution and Russian Revolution took years! Give the Arabs some time!” I don’t find this a compelling argument at all, but especially because I don’t think the Arab Spring could aptly be described as a “revolution.” Indeed, I think Asef Bayat was right to characterize them as “refolutions“. They’re rather non-ideological, deformed mimicries of revolutions.
The Arab Spring is what happens when passive political ignorance becomes active political ignorance.
When the initial teemings of demonstrations were forming in Tunisia and Egypt, I too was excited and enthralled by the images, hoping for a new chapter in the Arab world. I imagined Arabs claiming what was rightfully theirs in huge masses. Popular justice and self-determination would replace the rampant imperialism of the American Empire. The Egyptians would throw out Hosni Mubarak and ally themselves with the Palestinians rather than continuing the support of Israeli Apartheid.
But it became increasingly evident that the U.S., England, and France wasn’t going to let this pass by so easily. As quickly as it came, it was recuperated by the Western powers and immediately started to serve their interests.
The Arab Spring wasn’t going to help the Arabs, it was just going to restructure the mechanisms of oppression.
This was something I could see happening in front of my eyes and yet I had no power to change it. It is impossible to take delight in predicting these disasters. The countless deaths and tragedies that resulted have been nothing less of catastrophic. Was the pre-Arab Spring world desirable? Not at all. However, the scale is tipped between the two awful choices of bad and worse.
Almost exactly one year ago, Army General David Rodriguez claimed that the U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) needed to step up its engagements in Africa in order to fight al-Qaeda. I wrote a response that I think is still applicable:
“Ultimately, the United States did a wonderful job of destabilizing Libya and is now using this instability as grounds for “greater engagements” throughout Africa. Predictable? Of course. The conflict in Mali is a direct result of the collapse of the Libyan state and provides the West with wonderful positions to reassert control over North Africa, which will inevitably lead to a reified hegemony over the Middle East. Why is this important?
This is important for putting the Arab Spring into context. Some people hailed the Arab Spring unconditionally without pausing to to see how U.S. involvement was going to shape the upheavals throughout the Middle East. In Tunisia and Egypt, rather than challenging Western imperialism, the new governments have embraced free trade agreements and bought into neo-colonialist “development”. Libya has become a vacuum for Western oil and military interests to finally be fully realized after years of wrestling with Gaddafi.
This also has affects events slightly East of North Africa. Bahrain receives little-to-no media attention, most of all because the government there is directly under U.S. control and the population is considered to be sympathetic with Iranian politics. Meanwhile, rising Sunni protests against the dominant government go unreported in Iraq – and God forbid we in the West actually pretend to care about Iraq now that we’ve secured our oil interests. Israel responded to any Palestinian uprising with swift and merciless bombing campaigns. Syria has spiraled into perpetual civil war with almost 80,000 reported deaths – let’s not forget that the U.S. previously insisted that Bashar al-Assad was a “reformer” before shifting the party line to require his death in order for any peace deals to be achieved.
This is why it’s important: because no one cares. Why does no one care? I have no clue. Apparently, as long as things aren’t widely reported, no one bothers to look into them on their own time. Maybe you could tell me. The United States government continues to act in its own interest, regardless of the rest of the world and American citizens seem to think that it’s just dandy. “Arab Spring” and “Revolution” both became little buzz-words in the media and everyone hailed shifts in politics without question.
There’s one hard fact here, though: people are dying…needlessly. That means that while you’re sitting here reading this, innocent people are dying in the Middle East for nothing other than failed states and botched revolutions. There’s one more hard fact: Americans don’t seem to care. If Americans do care, they obviously don’t care enough to force our government to do anything productive. And don’t think for a second that pressuring our government is enough – because they’re still going to act in the interests of “the American people”, which loosely translated means: “rich, white assholes who control this economy.”
At the end of this, I have support for no one. I don’t support these governments (Gaddafi, Assad, Maliki) and I don’t support these rebels (FSA, LNC, Muslim Brotherhood). I don’t support the United States and I don’t support NATO. None of these groups represent the interest of real people, they instead represent the interests of people in power. As long as this is the situation, those who care will be forced to continue to shout at the deaf and wave at the blind.”
A friend asked me if I had any hope for the region and I responded with fierce cynicism. I still hold that cynicism.
Unfortunately, the game has only just begun.
The Arab world has no chance of recovering as long as it remains in this paradigm of post-colonial nation-states that serve the Imperial Powers of the United States, England, France, and Germany. The Arab Spring has only proven itself to be nothing short of a catastrophe.
In 1978, Michel Foucault wrote a piece for Le Nouvel Observateur called “What are the Iranians Dreaming About?” It began with the paragraph:
“They will never let go of us of their own will. No more than they did in Vietnam.” I wanted to respond that they are even less ready to let go of you than Vietnam because of oil, because of the Middle East. Today they seem ready, after Camp David, to concede Lebanon to Syrian domination and therefore to Soviet influence, but would the United States be ready to deprive itself of a position that, according to circumstance, would allow them to intervene from the East or to monitor the peace?”
This is still the world in which we are living. The Soviet influence is gone, but the oil remains. As long as the oil remains, so shall the United States. That is, at least, until the Arabs stand up against imperialism, not just dictatorships.
The Syrian people, the Iraqi people, the Palestinian people, the Lebanese People, the Bahraini people, the Saudi people, the Egyptian people, the Libyan people, the Tunisian people, the Algerian people, and the Moroccan people will never get anywhere as long as they remain divided and subservient to their historical conquerors. This is not my call for ardent nationalism, but strident internationalism against external domination.
Until that day, the Arabs will continue to drown in their own blood while the Americans continue to swim in their oil.