Category Archives: arab spring

an email about syria

this is a copy of an email that my housemate received from a jordanian friend.

” I am extremely pissed off at whats going on in the middle east… and I am more pissed off at all of this propaganda that is coming with it.

Yes this might come as a shock to you, I am pro- Assad. Not because I endorse a violent single party regime, but because I think it is important that we understand the conflict for what it really is as opposed to what western media wants us to think it is.

A second Lebanon anyone? This is not about a bunch of protesters who want a better way of life (as the case was in Tunisia) This is a bit bigger than that… this is a war between Saudi arabia and iran. Syria is just the battle field… and what a better time to destroy the regime than now…when the destruction can hide behind a mask of “The Arab Spring”

Do you know what would happen the moment he falls? Muslim fucking brotherhood supported by the wahabis, yet another minority…. if the fall would change this into a true democracy then fine so be it… but it wont, the forces are not from within, and what will be produced next in yet another single party regime, a wahabi regime that would too put women like “Razan the blogger” and the likes behind bars for driving! Wake up people…

yes i know, hizib allah…. i know iran.. but you know what, sometimes we have to make do with the lessor of both evils.


Simple, this  blogger discusses sectarianism and arab identity and clearly knows nothing about it. Arab identity does not exist, and we will not wake up one day and all feel it because we thought about it… it will take years, an economic revolution, and the fall of the wahabis and erosion of the muslim brotherhood for anyone to even start growing in that direction…

So for what this rant is worth, I hope they do let her out of prison, just because I dont endorse torture… but she is just another stupid woman who takes middle eastern politics at face value… as though it was ever just that…

shame on us for being so forgetful… hasnt the war in lebanon taught us anything? And Iraq??’


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egypt: mistaking the storm for the spring?

When protestors marched on Tahrir Square in February this year many rejoiced that the Arab Spring had reached Egypt. On November 28, after another round of protests at Tahrir, Egyptians took the first step in charting a new future as the first round of voting commenced. However, it is beginning to look less and less like spring in Egypt.

Since February, the miltary has tried approximately 7000 people, including journalists, bloggers and protestors in closed military trials.  In May military leaders announced that they should be protected from parliamentary scrutiny under Egypt’s new constitution; in July, it argued that the military should be permitted to intervene in Egyptian domestic politics; and, in September, the generals renewed Egypt’s emergency law. Arguably, the military’s expressed commitment to elections was not based on a commitment to democracy but a means to preserve its own power and standing. Under Mubarak, the military was a pivotal actor in the ruling regime and was consulted on key issues; the military’s holdings within the national economy also provide as an important source of patronage and influence. The military also has the authority to appoint 80 members of the  new constitutional assembly, leaving only 20 seats for democratically elected parliamentarians. Events since February have in fact left the Old Guard in the best position to assert itself; some even argue there has been a military coup in Egypt.

Skepticism is evident in Egypt as some civil society activists boycotted the elections before they even began. A recent article in The New York Times notes public sentiment: “Where is Egypt heading? Were we mocked?” “The revolution is stolen; the revolution is dead; the revolution is lost. We were deceived. History is repeating itself.” Viewed as such, one can’t help but wonder – did civil society, the media, western governments, and the new generation of social media activists read the Egyptian situation all wrong? Was it really an Arab Spring in Egypt?

Egypt has been a long term ally of the US in the Middle East. It has been seen as a force for stability in the region and Mubarak, a special friend. Obama’s first response to the events in February was to call for a return to peace and stability under Mubarak;  the concern was Egyptian stability. A week later Obama changed his position, arguing that the ‘universal right of the Egyptian people must be respected, and their aspirations met.’ The post-Mubarak transition, Obama argued, ‘must immediately demonstrate irreversible political change’. Some argued that this marked a turn in American policy to an idealist foreign policy, motivated by beliefs rather than strategic interests.

However, as is becoming increasingly apparent, a transition led by the military allowed the Obama administration to kill two birds with one stone. The US could appear to be siding with the protestors while still securing its strategic interests in the region through a stable Egypt led by generals who, appearances aside, were no different from the Mubarak regime.   American support for the protests were driven by American strategic interests and the rhetoric of human rights and duty to assist civilians provided an essential justificatory tool.

Obama spoke like an idealist but acted like a realist; the idealist rhetoric provided a moral justification for a realist foreign. What was seen as a new era in Middle Eastern politics driven by the people themselves was arguably a continuation of an older era in Middle Eastern politics, with the US as the regional hegemon, this time however legitimated in terms of the grieving voices of the people. The Tahrir square protests allowed the US to frame and justify its concern with a stable and loyal Egypt in terms of human rights rather than strategic interests. It provided the moral cover and justification to continue playing the game of Middle Eastern Politics while diverting criticism that  it supports autocratic and repressive regimes in the Middle East.

EH Carr noted that for rulers to maintain authority they have to legitimate their power to the ruled; un-legitimated power is short-lived and attracts social backlash. The framing of a continued realist geopolitik game in the rhetoric of human rights allows just such an opportunity: a chance for the US and its western allies to legitimate their continued dominance over the Middle East to the people, while still backing the Old Guard, albeit wearing different clothing.

The American concern is a stable and loyal Egypt. This could become problematic if the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power, even if it does so without the support of the Salafi conservatives. The Muslim Brotherhood is currently leading the elections, followed by the Nour Party that seeks to impose Islamic law. It thus seems likely that this time around, the US, Britain and other western nations will not forcefully pressure the military, and wait for the Spring to loose steam on its own accord. As Simon Tisdall noted in a recent piece in The Guardian, ‘ Their bottom line priority is an Egypt that works for them, not a democracy that works for Egypt.’

A final point. Enabling the construction of the Arab Spring narrative were the the arm chair social media revolutionaries, the Facebookers and Tweeters. While not challenging the merits of the democratization of information and news, the mass hysteria that swamped youth social media websites during the Arab Spring prevented commentators from asking critical questions about the future of Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood or the military, whether the protestors are representative of the broader population, and the role and interests of external powers. To even hint that Egypt might be better off under Mubarak amounted to becoming a social pariah – a liberal, ‘you’re either with us or against us’.

It is worth noting that subsequent sit-ins at Tahrir Square, as in July,  saw dwindling public participation, and most protesters were full time activists rather than the general public. Also, alongside last month’s protests at Tahrir, there was another set of protestors in Abbassiyah, just a few kilometers from Tahrir square, supporting the military. A recent survey posted on Foreign Policy noted that Egyptian support for the protests is dwindling and were it not for last months violent crackdowns, the common Egyptian is more concerned with economic stability, even if under military rule. American strategic interests and social media enthusiasts have formed unlikely bed-fellows that have enabled the construction of a one-side Arab Spring narrative, obscuring the much more complicated and fragmented situation on the ground.

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December 7, 2011 · 4:29 pm

what does egypt want…

Fascinating survey…..see my earlier post on the Arab Storm. Most Egyptians want economic recovery, not more protests, according to national Gallup surveys conducted over the past eight months.

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November 29, 2011 · 10:41 pm

where is the future?

Bhadrakumar is right to note that ‘Egypt is the “brain” of Arabism and what happens in Cairo in the coming days — with the revolutionary fervour resurging, reclaiming lost territory and restoring primacy in the political discourse — is going to impact profoundly on the politics of the entire region.’

But, it seems like Syria is the forbearer of the future of the Middle East. Plus, it is where all pretences about what the spring is/can be/ must be shaken. More on Syria coming up.

He also notes that if the military establishment is swept away, the US would have to re-think its strategy in the whole region. Again, I’d say Syria is going to be the real test of US strategy as well as a possible game changer.

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November 28, 2011 · 4:36 pm

intellectual identity crisis?

I used to think i was firmly in the culturalist camp, that materialist power/interest explanations fell short in explaining international politics without an emphasis on the identity of actors, the impact of normative structures, questions of legitimacy and all that other constructivist ‘fluff’.

then i started following the Syrian crisis closely.

the US, France, and Britain have asked for Assad to  end the violence and step down. same goes for turkey and saudi arabia and the arab league. the discussion of possible consequences for failing to do so range from sanctions to intervention. ( the arab league approved sanctions as of yesterday).  this concern and these sanctions are framed in terms of the rights of people, democracy and liberty.  turkey and france argue that to oppose assad is necessary for them as democratic countries, i.e it necessarily follows from their identities.

a culturalists dream? the strengthening of a solidarist international society? Even the Arab League is coming around to support liberal norms, warming up to even R2P.

but, only the really naive would buy this narrative. the Syria game is being driven by strategic interests, an an ongoing competition for influence in the middle east.  the US would like to curb Iranian influence, especially in light of its withdrawal in Iraq. Iran would like to increase its influence, and with the US withdrawal from Iraq,  Iran could now have a sphere of influence extending from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. Israel is apprehensive either way –  it would like to see the end of the Syria-Iranian friendship, but is worried about an Islamist government coming to power – Assad is the enemy they know. The Great Game is on, and is accelerating to dangerous levels in Syria.

And its not about human rights, democracy or other solidarist  norms. Its about strategic interests, competition, and  the balance of power played out against the shadow of the future.This would fit a realist analysis well; ideas are epiphenomenal and mostly just serve as justifications for achieving strategic interests. States might use the language of human rights and democracy, but these are justifications masking other interests. Andrew Hurrel points out how pluralist concerns are advanced and strengthened through solidarist arguments.

So, goodbye arm-chair culturalism? Hello realism?

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