An Arab 1848: Despots Totter and Fall

He can’t stay any longer because the military has declared that they will not shoot their own people. This excludes a Tiananmen Square option. Were the Generals (who have so far sustained this regime) to go back on their word it would divide the army, opening up a vista of civil war. Nobody wants that at the moment, not even the Israelis who would like their American friends to keep their point man in Cairo for as long as possible. But this, too, is impossible.

So, will Mubarak go this weekend or the next? Washington wants an ‘orderly transition’, but the hands of Suleiman the Spook (or Sheikh Al-Torture as some of his victims refer to him), the Vice-President they have forced Mubarak to accept, are also stained with blood. To replace one corrupt torturer with another is no longer acceptable. The Egyptian masses want a total regime change, not a Pakistan-style operation where a civilian crook replaces a uniformed dictator and nothing changes.

The Tunis infection has spread much more rapidly than anyone imagined. After a long sleep induced by defeats—military, political moral—the Arab nation is reawakening. Tunis impacted immediately on neighboring Algeria and the mood then crossed over to Jordan and reached Cairo a week later. What we are witnessing are a wave of national-democratic uprisings, reminiscent more of the 1848 upheavals —  against Tsar and Emperor and those who collaborated with them — fthat swept Europe and were the harbingers of subsequent turbulence. This is the Arab 1848. The Tsar-Emperor today is the President in the White House. That is what differentiates these proto-revolutions from the 1989 business: That and the fact that with few exceptions, the masses did not mobilize themselves to the same degree. The Eastern Europeans lay down before the West, seeing in it a happy future and singing ‘Take Us, Take Us. We’re Yours Now.’

The Arab masses want to break from the ugly embrace. The US-EU has supported the dictators they’re getting rid off. These are revolts against the universe of permanent misery: an elite blinded by its own wealth, corruption, mass unemployment, torture and subjugation by the West. The rediscovery of Arab solidarity against the repellent dictatorships and those who sustain them is a new turning point in the Middle East. It is renewing the historical memory of the Arab nation that was brutally destroyed soon after the 1967 war. Here the contrast in leadership could not be more glaring. Gamal Abdel Nasser, despite his many weaknesses and mistakes, saw the defeat of 1967 as something for which he had to accept responsibility. He resigned. Over a million Egyptians poured into the heart of Cairo to plead with him to stay in power. And changed his mind. He died in office a few years later, broken-hearted and with no money. His successors surrendered the country to Washington and Tel Aviv for a mess of pottage.

The events of the last month mark the first real revival of the Arab world since the defeat of 1967. All the weathercocks ever-alert so as never to be on the wrong side of history, thus always avoiding any experience of defeat, were caught unawares by these uprisings. They forget that revolts and revolutions, shaped by existing circumstances, happen when the masses, the crowd, the citizenry—call it what you will— decide that life is so unbearable and they will be stifled no longer. For them a poor childhood and injustice are as natural as a kick in the head on the street or a brutal interrogation in prison. They have experienced this, but when the same conditions are still present and they are now adults, then the fear of death recedes. When this stage is reached a single spark can light a prairie fire. In this case literally as the tragedy of the stallholder in Tunis who set himself on fire demonstrates.

We are at the beginning of the change. The Arab masses have not been overwhelmed by force this time and they will not succumb. What will those who replace the despots in Tunis and Cairo offer their people? Democracy alone cannot feed or employ them…

TARIQ ALI’s latest book “The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad’ is published by Verso.


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Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).

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