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Jun 03 2011

Implications of the recent Middle East protests

Surely all freedom and justice loving people have to welcome the rise of ordinary people in revolt against autocratic rulers that we have seen in the Middle East. The events of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen have shown that ordinary people are able to overcome fear and dare their governments to crack down on them, while being unarmed to a large degree. Libya is the one country where the line between an unnamed popular uprising and an armed civil war became blurred and with NATO now fighting on behalf of one faction it is no longer clear where popular sentiment lies.

Veteran political analyst Tom Englehardt argues that it is hard to find precedents in history for this level of mass uprising. (Note that this was written back in February before the US and NATO got involved in Libya.)

Never in memory have so many unjust or simply despicable rulers felt quite so nervous — or possibly quite so helpless (despite being armed to the teeth) — in the presence of unarmed humanity. And there has to be joy and hope in that alone.

Even now, without understanding what it is we face, watching staggering numbers of people, many young and dissatisfied, take to the streets in Morocco, Mauritania, Djibouti, Oman, Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, and Libya, not to mention Bahrain, Tunisia, and Egypt, would be inspirational. Watching them face security forces using batons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and in all too many cases, real bullets (in Libya, even helicopters and planes) and somehow grow stronger is little short of unbelievable. Seeing Arabs demanding something we were convinced was the birthright and property of the West, of the United States in particular, has to send a shiver down anyone’s spine.

The nature of this potentially world-shaking phenomenon remains unknown and probably, at this point, unknowable… That the future remains — always — the land of the unknown should offer us hope, not least because that’s the bane of ruling elites who want to, but never can, take possession of it.

Nonetheless, you would expect that a ruling elite, observing such earth-shaking developments, might rethink its situation, as should the rest of us. After all, if humanity can suddenly rouse itself this way in the face of the armed power of state after state, then what’s really possible on this planet of ours?

Another veteran journalist John Pilger writing on the same day has this to add:

The revolt in the Arab world is not merely against a resident dictator but a worldwide economic tyranny designed by the US Treasury and imposed by the US Agency for International Development, the IMF and World Bank, which have ensured that rich countries like Egypt are reduced to vast sweatshops, with half the population earning less than $2 a day. The people’s triumph in Cairo was the first blow against what Benito Mussolini called corporatism, a word that appears in his definition of fascism.

How did such extremism take hold in the liberal West? “It is necessary to destroy hope, idealism, solidarity, and concern for the poor and oppressed,” observed Noam Chomsky a generation ago, “[and] to replace these dangerous feelings with self-centred egoism, a pervasive cynicism that holds that [an order of] inequities and oppression is the best that can be achieved. In fact, a great international propaganda campaign is under way to convince people – particularly young people – that this not only is what they should feel but that it’s what they do feel.”

Like the European revolutions of 1848 and the uprising against Stalinism in 1989, the Arab revolt has rejected fear. An insurrection of suppressed ideas, hope and solidarity has begun.

In the US fear has been successfully used to keep people docile and accepting of the most atrocious violations of their constitutional rights. The oligarchy will be viewing the fearless uprisings in the Arab world with some concern and you can be sure that there will strenuous efforts to make sure that those feelings of hope and courage do not spread to the US.

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