FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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).

More articles by:

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

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
Stansfield Smith
North Koreans in South Korea Face Imprisonment for Wanting to Return Home
Hamid Yazdan Panah
Remembering Native American Civil Rights Pioneer, Lehman Brightman
James Porteous
Seventeen-Year-Old Nabra Hassanen Was Murdered
Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail