Asking the Wrong Questions

by RAMZY BAROUD

Challenging the falsehoods and simplifications that surrounded the so-called Arab Spring from the very start doesn’t necessarily mean that one is in doubt of the very notion that genuine revolutions have indeed gripped various Arab countries for nearly three years.

In fact, the revolutionary influx is still underway, and it will take many years before the achievements of these popular mobilizations be truly felt. One can understand the frustration and deep sense of disappointment resulting from the state of chaos in Libya, the political wrangling in Yemen and Tunisia, the brutal civil war in Syria, and of course, the collective heartbreak felt throughout the Arab world following the bloody events in Egypt.

But to assign the term ‘failure’ to Arab revolutions is also a mistake equal to the many miscalculations that accompanied the nascent revolutions and uprisings from the start. Many lapses of judgment were made early on, starting with the lumping together of all Arab countries into one category – discussed as singular news or academic topics. It was most convenient for a newspaper to ask such a question as “who’s next?” when Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddafi was so pitilessly murdered by NATO-supported rebels. It is equally convenient for academicians to keep contending with why the Egyptian army initially took the side of the January 25 revolution, the Syrian army sided with the ruling party, and while the Yemeni army descended into deep divisions.

In the rush to emphasize one’s intellectual authority, if not ownership over the narrative and for political reasons as well, the Arabs were dissected in every possible way, stretched in every possible direction, and reduced in ways so useful, yet so flawed, so that quick answers could be obtained.

While answers were readily available of why the Arabs revolted, time has proven much of the early discourses inane and misleading. The direction of these revolutions has headed in sharply different ways. This a testament to the uniqueness of circumstances, historical and otherwise, which surround each country – as opposed to the wholesale representation offered by the media. It is an argument I made soon after Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country. My argument was a response to the euphoria of expectations made by media ‘experts’ and journalists who clearly had little understanding, or dare I say, respect of history or knowledge about the complex realities in which each Arab country is situated. Many went on to write books, while others inspired audiences around the world with fiery speeches about collective Arab Islamic awakenings even before we conjured up basic ideas of what was truly manifesting before our own eyes. These manifestations were at times very violent and involved many players, from Qatar to China, and groups so varied in roots, ideology and sources of funds.

But as the plot thickened, much of the distorted accounts of ‘twitter revolutions’ and such, grew less relevant and eventually faded away. Take the case of Libya as an example. Those with simple answers, reflecting truly modest understanding of Arab societies, could hardly understand the complex nature of Libya’s tribal society, the socioeconomics governing relations between East and West, urban areas with desert towns, and Libya’s African context and relationships.

When NATO used the Libyan uprising, mostly in the eastern parts of the country, to achieve its own political objectives, it converted a regional uprising into an all-out war that left the country in a status comparable to that of a failed state. Almost immediately after NATO declared the Libyan revolution victorious, the excitement over the Libyan component of the ‘Arab Spring’ became less visible, and eventually completely dissipated. Since then Libya has hardly followed a path of democracy and reforms. In fact, the harms that resulted from the Libyan crisis, such as the massive influx of weapons and refugees to other African countries, destabilized the entire country of Mali.

As a result, Mali too went through its own upheaval, military coup, civil war and finally a French-led war in the course of two years. Unfortunately, these issues are hardly discussed within the Libyan context since Mali is not Arab, thus such inconvenient stories do no service to the simplified ‘Arab Spring’ discourse.

The consequences of the Libyan fiasco will continue to reverberate for many years to come. But since simple arguments cannot cope with intricate narratives, media ‘experts’ and other intellectual peddlers have moved elsewhere, selling the same tired arguments about other Arab countries by insisting on the same failed, expedient logic.

While some parties continue to ascribe the same language they used in the early months of 2011 to these revolutions, the shortcomings of these revolutions eventually gave credence to those who insist that the ‘Arab Spring’ was entirely farce – incepted, controlled and manipulated by US hands, and funds of rich Arab countries. These critics either have no faith in Arab masses as a possible factor of change in their own countries, or have been so accustomed to judging the world and all of its happenings as a colossal conspiracy where the US and its friends are the only wheelers and dealers.

As vigilant as one must remain to the many drivels promoted as news in mass media, one must not fall into the trap of seeing the world through the prism of an American plot in which we are co-conspirators, hapless fools or unwilling participants.

Arab revolutions have not failed, at least not yet. It will take us years, or maybe even an entire generation to assess their failures or successes. They have ‘failed’ according to our hyped expectations and erroneous understanding of history. What popular revolutions do is that they introduce new factors that challenge the way countries are ruled. In post-colonial Middle East, Arab countries were ruled through dictators – and their local associates – and foreign powers. The harmony and clashes between the dictator and the foreigner determined the course of events in most Arab countries – in fact in most post-colonial experiences around the world.

This is where the real significance of the mass mobilizations in Arab countries becomes very important, for the ‘people’ – a factor that is still far from being fully defined – challenged the rules of the game and mixed up the cards. True, they sent the entire region into disarray, but it is the price one would expect when powerful regimes and foreign powers are challenged by long-disempowered, disorganized, and oppressed people.

Arab revolutions have not failed, but they have not succeeded either. They have simply challenged the status quo like never before. The outcome of the new conflicts will define the politics of the region, its future, and the relationships between governments and the upcoming generations of Arabs.

Ramzy Baroud is editor of PalestineChronicle.com. He is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle  and  “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 03, 2015
Lynn Holland
For the Love of Water: El Salvador’s Mining Ban
Geoff Dutton
Time for Some Anger Management
Jack Rasmus
The New Colonialism: Greece and Ukraine
Norman Pollack
American Jews and the Iran Accord: The Politics of Fear
John Grant
Sorting Through the Bullshit in America
David Macaray
The Unbearable Lightness of Treaties
Chad Nelson
Lessig Uses a Scalpel Where a Machete is Needed
September 02, 2015
Paul Street
Strange Words From St. Bernard and the Sandernistas
Jose Martinez
Houston, We Have a Problem: False Equivalencies on Police Violence
Henry Giroux
Global Capitalism and the Culture of Mad Violence
Ajamu Baraka
Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia
William Edstrom
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry
David Altheide
The Media Syndrome Between a Glock and a GoPro
Yves Engler
Canada vs. Africa
Ron Jacobs
The League of Empire
Andrew Smolski
Democracy and Privatization in Neoliberal Mexico
Stephen Lendman
Gaza: a Socioeconomic Dead Zone
Norman Pollack
Obama, Flim-Flam Artist: Alaska Offshore Drilling
Binoy Kampmark
Australian Border Force Gore
Ruth Fowler
Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer
Kim Nicolini
Remembering Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System