Shortly after it suceeded in ousting Mubarak, the Egyptian revolution has been delivered a groteque defeat, its first defeat, but a foreshadow of things to come. With permission by the military leadership with whom the revolution had entrusted the fate of the country and in some ways, for the sake of stability, even the fate of revolution itself, Yusuf Qaradawi preached to his followers, on Tahrir Square. The elderly exile, a marked Islamist leader, presided over what appeared to be a half prayer service, half fascist rally where tens, maybe hundreds of thousands chanted: „To al Quds we march, martyrs in the millions“.
This spooky sevice lit the way, for all to see: this is what your future will be if you make a revolution, yet fail to take your real enemy down. They got rid of the president, but not of his henchmen, who were quick to re-empower the Islamists: who had been part of the regime since its inception, anyways, and whose chants about martyrdom and war are meant to silence the cry for freedom that filled Tahrir square only weeks earlier.
Theirs were, in fact, the first moves of Arab counter-revolution, and their cries translate as: We stand for the old Arab order, we will fight and die for it, and we will not go away.
1. The Great French Revolution had its Vendee insurrection, where fanatical monks and priests succeeded in stirring up the peasant masses against the very revolution that had made them free men. Mens thirst for slavery is astounding. The Russian Revolution of 1905 found its nemesis in the Black Hundred suqadrons, the pogromists who slaughtered Jews, and later on became the core of the White Armies in 1917. The 1918 revolution in Germany was smashed by Freikorps, peasants sons under the Swastika; and the Iranian workers and women movements of 1978 fell prey to the rightful heirs of the Vendee insurrection, the Party of God and its Master Khomeini.
The mortal enemy of a new Arab world, the Vendee and the Black Hundred, have come out into the open, and their deeds and motives can be seen quite clearly.
When, on Womens Day, Egyptian women protesting for their rights are harrassed and assaulted in Tahrir Square; when the so-called Salafi mob is permitted to attack Christian and even Sufi places of worship; when all this is possible after those nights on Tahrir Square; then this clearly indicates „a moment of supreme danger“.
2. The Arab revolt started as a wave of outrage against a forced exclusion from history at the hands of a fossilized state that increasingly failed even to deliver basic services, even economic perspectives in exchange for the freedom it denied. If our days have been said to have imposed the dire choice: security or freedom, our Arab comtemporaries have enjoyed neither. Security, that has been only the security of the state apparatus, whose very existence guaranteed nothing except that everything would get worse by the day. That state of affairs was doomed to end in disaster.
The astounding courage we have whitnessed is, from this angle, not born out of free choice but of insight into historical necessity. There simply was no option to wait any longer, as if it was not bad enough already, so why let the cadaver of Arabism rot on for any longer? It simply was not, even for the middle classes, a matter of choice any longer; if things had gone further, collapse of order was imminent anyway. The Arab societies have tried for decades to just sit and wait their tyrants out; someday, the calmer voices said, they will die; then the first died, and his son inherited his rule, and the second was about to repeat that trick.
The failure on the states part to organize something resembling a normal national economy by a far shot led to a drastic increase in youth unemployment; this is something we can see in Greece, Italy, Spain and France; the shock waves that the convulsions of social unrest there send out to the world can be measured worldwide today. Youth unemployment of 40% means that society has nothing to give anyone anymore. It means either revolution or civil war.
And the real crisis is only about to happen.
3. The rapid advance of the Arab revolution came with a price: the change it imposed was either temporary, or superficial, or it was stalled by means of extremely brutal repression. In Libya, what started as a movement of serene if conservative jubilation and reminded some observers of the Spanish uprising of 1936 soon degraded into a civil war that was compared, by none other than Qadhafi himself, to Spains of the same year. In Yemen, power fell to tribal chiefs, and it is of now uncertain if this will serve the fatal blow to Yemeni statehood. In Syria, tha princely ruler wages a relentless battle against the streets, calling into memory what his father had done in Hamah.
His Christian, Shia and Druze subordinates largely stay away from the protests; we hear that they even get recruited en masse to quell the revolt; to them, the spectre of Islamism, merged with the spectre of civil war along ethnic and sectarian lines, is so dreadful that it dwarfes stagnation and authoritarian rule, not to mention a prolonged artificial state of war against Israel in comparison. We shall not forget that this is, still, the Middle East, and Syrias regime is build around the fear of the religious minorities for persecution and massacre. Memory of past massacres is fresh, and who does not know that the Lebanese war started with the tumultuos year 1968?
4. Christians, and Jews alike, and religious minorities in general in the Middle East largely view the revolt with suspicion and fear. Instability has brought them never ever anything but persecution. It is up to the Arab revolution, if it wants to really earn that title, to prove their fears wrong.
One of the greater dangers here is the meddling of the Sa’udi kingdom. Threatened more than anyone else by even the chance of change to the better, this bastion of superstition, this black heart of counter-revolution is not going to shy away from anything. The same well- trained forces that smashed what could have been the blossom of Iraqi freedom – unions, democratic grass roots organisations, womens organisations – under a bloody steam roll of truck bombs are still out there. And it is not only Iran. Some of the more troubling aspects of the Syrian uprising bear the distinct mark of Sa’udi sponsored Islamism; which, on the other hand, serves the Syrian regime very well, by keeping fear alive.
Thus, the Arab regimes show themselves to be hostile brothers, and their respective covert aggressions against each others their practical solidarity. That is what the Arab world has been all about all the time.
5. Both the Sa’udi regime and the Iranian Islamic republic are desperately trying to contain the revolt, but each according to its situation and with different means; the Sa’udis with all sort of violence, the Iranian regime by trying to hijack it, silence it and superimpose the old and tired narrative of anti-Israeli struggle over it. What historical irony: the Persian superpower, as the sole champion of the Arab cause! How deep Arabism has sunk.
The Arab revolt has not been about the „Arab cause“, still less about Islam. It has been about lack of freedom, lack of future, and the ubiquituous abuse that is the favorite way of the police to deal with the ones who are denied both freedom and future. It is not about national dignity but individual dignity. Its icons have not been Asad and Nasrallah but Muhammad Bouaziz and Khaled Said. There is only one way to serve Asad, Nasrallah and their ilk from well-deserved ridicule: flying the hollow flag of Arabism, the flag of war.
The zionist enemy, a small entity which is far from being the root cause of all the Arab worlds troubles, has had from the start the dubious honor of serving both as a scarecrow and a lightning rod, a magical spell against any trouble the Arab leaders were facing. As long as they got through with that they never failed to use it; as it now seems to transpire, that is the same as to say: as long as their people were content with trying to wait forementioned leaders out. Will the convenient lie serve them still, now their people seem to have, overall, lost their patience?
6. On both so called Nakba Day and Naqsa Day, where the Palestinians commemorate the defeat of the Arab armies in two Arab wars of choice against Israel, we have seen how the Arab counter-revolution is tip-toeing its way further: Syria, for the first time, sent Palestinian demonstrators into its holy of holies, its border with Israel. And in they went, in all naivity, as it seems. They seemed to be genuinely shocked that they were greeted, in what is still de iure and de facto, a war zone, with bullets. A classical example of the Syrian regimes brotherly love for the Palestinian people! It is free cannon fodder that can be used at will to divert from domestic problems.
The human idiotism is infinite. Not only did the Palestinian youth, at the behest of the Syrian regime, scab on the Arab revolution; the Palestinian youths in Ghazah did so voluntarily, freely, for the best of the Hamas governemt, at whose polices hands they had suffered for months; they, who had went so far as to demonstrate against the regime in Ghazah, but not under the new general Arab rallying cry „the people demand the fall of the regime“, but under the slightly ridiculous „the people demand the end of the division“, namely the division of Palestinian power between Fatah and Hamas.
It may be owed to the Palestinians historical shortcoming that they do not even have a unified regime to negate in the first place; and that they may well have to force the hostile brothers who fell apart in their land long ago to unify, if only in order to negate that unified regime; but that they weren’t able to see that what they would end up with was exactly the same with what the Egyptians started, a Nationalist-Islamist coalition, that is their historical guilt. Far away from following the path the Egyptians had shown, they ended up forcing a coalition into power that would have their duty to do away with.
The Palestinian youth have put themselves firmly onto the wrong side of history. Long gone are the times when the left wing nearly unanimously revered the Palestinian struggle as if it were somehow akin to how Marx viewed the Polish revolutionaries of the 19th century, as the cosmopolitan soldiers of revolution. Today we see them acting as mercenaries of counter-revolution, serving as an Arabist fig leaf in a struggle that has long surpassed the empty promises of Arab Nationalism. Ironically, they helped to do away with the least thuggish government they ever had, and decided to empower the combined forces of their own suppression.
The Palestinian example, by the way, turned out to be too much out of step with and even contrary to the general tendency of the revolts, much too evidently just trying to simply imitate its methods than that it could inspire emulation, and meet echo widely in the Arab world. The Syrian calculation to play the Palestinian victims that were already factored in, as inevitable, against those of her own domestic repression can never work out these days.
7. The Arab revolt seems to be, judging from what is going on in Syria, far from over; what is ahead, still, is not clear. All the cards are on the table. The enemy lacks coherence; but he is used to get around with that. Islamism, deeply struck with its inherent contradictions, is none the less still a formidable force. Never mind that the Islamists in Egypt seem to be deeply fractured, and that it is not coincidence but necessity that they lack a unifying figure as Khomeini has been in Iran. They are, if need be, swift and ruthless, and they are part of an old regime that has survived the storm surprisingly intact. The ones who are dear to us, the militant workers and women and youth, are few and not yet strong enough; they have made the mistake, and had to make, to let the military bear responsibility. But that means that they will either be governed by the Vendee, or forced to govern with the Vendee.
Never mind, finally, that the enemy is fractured, and has no clear path to go, and nothing to offer to anyone; and that he is unable to lead because he has no idea where to and no means to achieve it. The revolution is in exactly the same situation. Part of them need to want rule of law and a thriving capitalist economy, while the other part needs to want workers control over means of production. Whose preconditions are worse is not an easy guess. To make things worse, both parts can occupy the same heads; and still worse, the ones who are to be owners of that economy will want nothing less than the rule of law, and they know why. So, what we have seen so far is the giant nightmarish repetition of the French february 1848, with worse conditions, a ruthless enemy within, and all that in tormenting slow motion. We fear that june 1848 may come and be lost, again, and that it might not be followed by a ridiculous clown but by that which came to follow abortive revolutions in the 20th century.
Those revolutions can only be saved from dissappearing into what will follow them be far more clearer cuts with the past, far more daring steps, far more decisive breaks with what the Middle East and the world used to be like. That they will need outside help is not the question, but who will be there to deliver. It is our cause that is at stake here.