Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Collapse of Arab Spring?

Egyptian Coptic Christians hold up a blood streaked cloth after a clash with soldiers and anti-riot police (AFP)

It might be too early to declare the death of the Arab Spring. From the perspective of history, ten months is a relatively short time frame. Zhou Enlai, the late Prime Minister of China, was famous for his quip, "it is too soon to say," when he was asked about the impact of the French Revolution. (Incidentally, this caused another debate, whether he meant the 1789 revolution or the 1968 student revolution).

One thing that's for sure, however, is that in the short-term, the revolutions are not going according to what many liberal reformers expected back in the euphoric days following the fall of Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak.

Both Brad and I have devoted several posts already to the Arab Spring, some of which warned about the possibilities of the Egyptian Revolution spiraling out of control. Brad warned about the the need to immediately deal with political and security troubles before they spiral out of control, though overall he was optimistic on the future of Egyptian democracy. As a prophet of doom (which, I think, is my job description in this institution), I noted the possibility of an alliance of expedience between religious extremists, who seek legislative power, and the military, which wants to maintain its role as the main power broker and its access to a wealth of economic perks.

The recent religious clashes seem to confirm my worst prediction. We should blame the military government for appearing unconcerned about the growing assertiveness of the Islamic fundamentalists who've threatened the security of both the moderate Moslems and the Coptics. (EDIT: it has been established that the military was entirely at fault in provoking the violence)

So what has went wrong (so far)?

1. The military really isn't operating with the country's best interests in mind. Instead of trying to impose order so as to secure the survival of the Egyptian state, the military prefers to stay outside of the fray, believing that's the optimal way to not to antagonize most Egyptians, including the extremists. This is the military's tactic to maintain its political and economic interests. This explains the attacks on the Israeli embassy in Egypt and the military's unwillingness to tackle the anti-Christian provocations.

2. At this point, there is no alternative to the Moslem Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations and parties. While many have touted the "Facebook Revolution" of the Arab Spring as a "new" concept of effective policy-making, the case of Egypt shows the limitation of such social media-led revolutions. When confronted by determined, in some cases violent, opponents, who have the backing of strong and better organized state organizations and institutions, the "revolution" fizzled. The revolutionaries have been unable to mobilize an alternative political vehicle, and the only way that changes is if they are co-opted by the established political elites or organizations.

In fact, the "Facebook Revolution" only happened because everyone in Tahrir Square was united by a single goal, which was the fall of the House of Mubarak. This established a common goal, a catch-all platform that appealed to anyone from the far to the left. Once Mubarak was ousted, and time revealed everyone's true divergent interests, then the platform, the facade of unity, was shattered.

In essence, the revolutionaries biggest problem is in developing their own strong organizational power structure that has coherent and detailed sets of propositions that might be used as a foundation for new laws, a constitution, and eventually electoral support. Students of history would be wise to look at the days before and after the resignation of President Suharto back in 1998.

3. The moderates' voices were silenced. This is partly influenced by the second factor I just mentioned above. Another reason is that some of them have been silenced by choice. That is to say, many prefer to work behind the scenes, beyond the glare of media attention. Additionally, some moderates have been coercively silenced, through threats from local groups and people looking to forestall if not outright prevent significant political change. All of this suggests that the country's atmosphere has turned ugly and chilling for the voices of moderates.

Going forward, if the Egyptian government/political elites are truly interested in creating a strong pluralistic society, which is the basis of a modern nation-state, it needs to act decisively in quelling the current troubles. They should no longer tolerate any discrimination and ought to guarantee equal rights and protection under the law for everyone. "Protection under Sharia" is not an answer, as by default, the Coptic community will be rendered second-class citizens.

Egypt must also bring those responsible for stoking the violence to justice, regardless of whether the person is a Coptic or a soldier or an Islamist. The next few months will be critical moments that will determine whether Egypt will survive as a modern nation or end up as another dysfunctional nation with a dim future.

No comments:

Post a Comment