The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “THE NEW ARABS: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East” by Juan Cole from the “Conclusion” on page 280 and I quote: “Transitional Elected Government – In Libya, the elected General National Council, established in July 2012, proved weak and open to pressure by the militias. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan failed to demobilize these armed youth gangs, which at key points were able to impose their will on the elected officials. Their most significant victory was banning Gaddafi-era officials such as Mahmoud Jibril from political office, forcing the resignation of council speaker Mohamed al-Magariaf, who had once pledged to disband the militias. Zeidan made little progress in rebuilding the national army and security forces, the sine qua non for restoring security, though the economy improved in 2013. Beyond the problem of militias that represented urban groups and neighborhoods, the transitional government was bedeviled by terrorist cells such as Ansar al-Sharia, some of which, especially in Benghazi, adopted from the Iraqi insurgents of the “Islamic State of Iraq” the strategy of destabilizing the government by a campaign of bombings and assassinations. While youth and student organizations protested the insecurity of their campuses and other spaces and went to city squares to protest the assassination of Abdel Salam al-Mismari in the summer of 2013, the civil youth movements were relatively powerless, and small NGOs did not have a major impact on politics. To the extent that the youth played a role in revolutionary Libya’s troubled transition, it was mainly not youth movements in the sense of organizations organized for and by the youth as an interest group, but militias, which represented neighborhoods, cities, or narrow ideologies, that shaped it most strongly. Like the Tunisian youth movements, but deploying much more sinister methods, these youth militias succeeded in banning members of the old regime from holding political office during the attempted transition and perhaps even after.
The youth who made the revolutions were guilty of a certain amount of magical thinking. When I interviewed Nobel Peace Prize-winning Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman late in 2011, she replied to all my questions about Yemen’s social and economic problems by insisting they would be solved if only President Ali Abdullah Saleh could be removed, and she was typical in this regard. Many activists appear to have believed that the corrupt dictators were the major obstacle to economic and social progress and that sweeping them away would abruptly improve the economy. Instead, the economies of Egypt and Tunisia contracted during the two years after the revolution, and workers ad students felt betrayed. Moreover, the center-right governments of the Egyptian Brotherhood and the Tunisian Renaissance Party continued to pursue neoliberal, market-oriented economic policies, even though the youth and workers had rebelled against them. In Libya, petroleum exports accounted for much of the economy, and those were largely restored to prerevolution levels by late 2012, through 2013 undisciplined militiamen, eastern autonomists, and numerous strikes by workers on the rigs sometimes drastically reduced exports. Despite their economic problems, Tunisia and Egypt had the advantage of having had nonviolent protest movements that united youth across the political spectrum, an approach associated with successful democratic transitions.
In Tunisia, the Remnants, with their state corruption, domestic surveillance and police repression, were deeply weakened by the youth movements, though some of them regrouped in the center-right Call Party in 2013. The young people could not completely deter the Renaissance Party from taking up some of the old state methods of intimidation. In Egypt, the youth mounted powerful challenges, first to Field Marshal Tantawi’s de facto military dictatorship, and then to President Morsi’s creeping theocratic coup. They proved flexible and pragmatic inasmuch as they were at first willing to ally with the Muslim Brotherhood against the officer corps, but then, when the Brotherhood seemed a bigger danger to the ideals of their revolution, many of them welcomed Brigadier General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s coup. To be fair, the long-standing youth organizations were more troubled by the coup than were the inchoate and networked youth of the spontaneous Rebellion Movement. Given the history of the youth movements, the officers should not be sanguine that the young people will stay with them if they overreach. Egypt’s first attempt at transition failed and then entered a potentially polarized political environment to conducive to successful democracy. Unfortunately, those who hoped that the Brotherhood would take advantage of the democratic opening to rule in a parliamentary and consensual way were deeply disappointed by its rapid descent into renewed forms of authoritarianism that also would not have boded well for a democratic transition. Libyan elites also failed to make a new set of bargains that would smooth the way to a stable democratic government. In part, the youth militias prevented the challengers from striking a deal with the Gaddafi Remnants. In part, small but powerful armed extremists rejected the whole idea of a democratic transition and possessed the firepower to act as spoilers.
The conservative pacted transition or gentleman’s agreement was effectively achieved only in Yemen. Their youth movements camped out at Change Square in Sanaa throughout 2011 and allied with other social and political groups opposed to President Saleh. He, however, retained powerful support from influential tribes and his ruling political party, the General People’s Congress. In early 2012 he finally agreed to step down as resident, though he remained the head of the ruling party and so retained a great deal of power. Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, his vice president from the same party, was elected in a one-person referendum to be his successor in February 2012. Some 80 percent of Yemenis expressed satisfaction with this outcome. Cabinet posts were shared with some of the challengers. It is unclear, however, whether much changed in Yemen, with the same party in power and Saleh still the head of it. (Hadi was considered weak and still influenced by Saleh.) The country was riven by a southern secessionist movement and by both Sunni and Shiite forms of extremism. Desperately poor, it faced severe economic and environmental problems, including widespread hunger as high-handedly as before, and Hadi tried to break the power of the Saleh family by removing them from high security positions. Elections were scheduled for early 2014. One would like to say that the transition by pact of Yemen saved the country some of the divisiveness and security problems produced by the more revolutionary outcomes across the Red Sea, but Yemen’s security situation was already so bad and its polarization so great that the bargain struck on the cabinet in Sanaa seemed somewhat distant and irrelevant. Yemen, in any case, is hardly an argument for the virtues of a relatively conservative pacted transition among elites.
In contrast, Syria stands at the other end of the spectrum, a country that went from youth in the streets in the spring of 2011 to fierce military repression and then to civil war and radicalization. It provides a horrific glimpse into what likely would have happened in Libya had the international community not intervened. The opposition of Russia and China to any intervention in Syria led the revolutionaries on their own. Under those circumstances, it was unwise of the youth to militarize their struggle, even if the decision was understandable given the brutal repression exercised by the regime. Syria’s elites are deeply divided, with the army and the business classes in the larger cities standing with the regime, while the workers and the lower middle class in the small cities of the center rebelled. The civil war is not about religion, but the two sides are polarized in part on sectarian grounds. The regime counts on the support of the Alawite Shiite minority (10 to 14 percent of the population), the Christians (also 10 to 14 percent), small Shiite communities and the Druze, along with secular middle-class Sunnis of the large cities. The opposition is largely small-town and rural Sunnis, and over the course of the struggle the more radical, al-Qaeda-linked Sunnis came to the fore as the best fighters. The radicalization provoked by a vicious civil war that killed over 140,000 and displaced millions in a country of only 22 million made any bargain among the country’s elites increasingly remote. It also marginalized the civil youth movements that sprang up in 2011, with lean and hungry militiamen for the most part taking their place.
The transitions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya have been troubled, even though they avoided the two extremes of long-term civil war ad conservative gentleman’s agreement. Just as the promotion of ethnic hatred by post-Soviet politicians such as Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia led to civil war after the breakdown of the old Yugoslavia, so the conflict between nationalists and the religious right posed an obstacle to consolidation of democratic practices in the Middle East. Just as a conflict among postrevolutionary elites over whether to retain authoritarian techniques of governance or to democratize roiled politics in post-Soviet Russia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, so the neo-authoritarian tendencies of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt angered the liberals and the left. Where a challenger group came to power and began violating the values of the youth revolutionaries by deploying authoritarian tactics redolent of the old regime, as Renaissance sometimes did in Tunisia, the youth had some success in pushing back. Where a challenger seemed to be replicating the old one-party state in a new guise, as Morsi appeared to be doing in Egypt, the progressive youth allied with other social forces to unseat him. Where the government became hostage to forces such as the militias or fundamentalist groups, as in Libya, the youth demonstrated against and shamed the politicians, asserting that the government must serve the whole people. The youth activists powerfully shaped the transitions.
The Worldwide Impact – The iconic images of Mohamed Bouazizi and the crowds in Tahrir Square had an impact not only in the Middle East but throughout the world. Combining pamphleteering, street politics, marches, strikes, and occupations of public space with Facebook and Twitter campaigns became common strategies throughout the world after January and February 2011. Most of these movements were evanescent and focused on economic or lifestyle discontent, and none of them succeeded in overturning a government. The magic formula, of cross-class alliances and a focus on the removal of a single top leader, eluded these other youth tsunamis.
The revolutions had an impact throughout the Middle East, even where protesters were unable to create a critical mass for structural change. The Sunni Arabs of central and western Iraq launched numerous protests in 2011-13 against the Shiite-dominated government installed during American rule of that country. The king of Morocco made only slight changes in response to the street demonstrations of 2011, but he did agree to appoint the prime minister thenceforth from the largest party in Parliament. He thereby took a small step toward popular sovereignty and, indeed, went beyond the system in Egypt in that regard, where there was still no such provision in the transitional period. Iranian high politics is opaque, but it is possible that the Supreme Leader allowed the moderate Hassan Rouhani to become president in the June 2013 presidential election because he feared another round of popular unrest if he resorted to ballot-stuffing, as he was accused of doing in 2009 in favor of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In contrast, some of the small oil monarchies of the Gulf took steps to back away from what little democracy and freedom of the press they had allowed before the 2011 upheavals. Kuwait, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia became more repressive, fearing that their own youth might turn revolutionary. Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy in particular saw the largely Shiite demonstrators as cat’s paws of Iran. They feared both the left and the organized religious right. The United Arab Emirates prosecuted alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood as subversives.
In Spain, Tahrir Square was evoked by the Indignados (Indignants), protesting against unemployment, government cuts in education, and high rents. Youth activists from Cairo visited their counterparts in Madrid and gave them pointers. Tahrir likewise inspired the student movement in Chile, which demanded free higher education and mobilized hundreds of thousands of students to go to the streets, in a struggle that lasted for years.
The Estonian Canadian activist Kalle Lasn and his anticonsumerist colleagues at the Vancouver-based Adbusters Media Foundation were inspired by the success of the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square in deposing the dictator Hosni Mubarak. Their organization specializes in combating advertising culture through spoofs and pranks. It was Adbusters magazine that sent out the call on Twitter in the summer of 2011 for a rally on Wall Street on September 17, with the now-famous hashtag #OccupyWallStreet though it was not the only such organizer. A thousand protesters gathered on the designated date, commemorating the 2008 economic meltdown that had thrown millions of Americans out of their jobs and homes. Some camped out in nearby Zuccoti Park, in another unexpected global spark of protest. April 6 leaders and Egyptian bloggers went to New York to share ideas with the demonstrators. After Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the police to disperse the protesters that November, Lasn and a coauthor wrote:
“The Occupy Wall Street meme was launched by a poster in the 97th issue of our international ad-free magazine, Adbusters and by a “tactical briefing” that we sent to our 90,000-strong “culture jammer” global network of activists, artists and rabble-rousers in mid-July. The movement’s true origins, however, go back to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. That was when the world witnessed how intrasigent regimes can be toppled by leaderless democratic crowds, brought together by social media, that stand firm and courageously refuse to go home until their demands for change are met. Our shared epiphany was that America, too, needs its Tahrir Square moment and its own kind of regime change. Perhaps not the hard regime change of Tunisia and Egypt, but certainly a soft one.”
In 2013 the Gezi Park movement in Turkey protested police brutality, neoliberal economic policies, and the restrictions on lifestyle by the center-right government of the Justice and Development Party. The AKP, having analyzed the events in the Arab world, refused to allow a long-term occupation of the park near Taksim Square, deploying water cannon and heavy doses of tear gas to clear it. Also in 2013 Brazil was shaken by urban protests mirroring cyberspace campaigns, complaining about high transportation costs and government and police corruption.
The youth movements in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya pioneered not so much new tactics as new combinations of tactics in social movements. They allied with both blue- and white-collar workers to protest high unemployment, low pay, police brutality, and a closed, corrupt elite. Above all, they were adamant that they were not going to be inherited like so many sticks of household furniture by the heir of their president for life. The Arab millennials challenged their police states with a whole repertoire of public dissent, including pamphleteering, marches, demonstrations, hunger strikes, labor strikes, appropriation of long-standing public rituals, and long-term massive sit-ins. They mirrored their activism in urban spaces with internet campaigns that were not merely informational but also interactive and formational. The youth in all three countries deployed the multiplier effect of the internet to organize nationwide protests on designated days and to delegitimize the regime with videos of police torture, with charges of high-level corruption, and with ridicule and caricature. In Egypt, after years of cooperation and cross-class networking by the new left, they were able to enlist allies among workers and labor unions and even public sector office workers. Among their targets were neoliberal policies imposed by the West via the International Monetary Fund and other bodies, which stressed privatization of the economy and the use of market mechanisms even with regard to public goods like education. Given Egypt’s very large public sector, these policies affected millions of people, often negatively. Similar discontent with the tyranny of the market was felt by youth throughout the world in the twenty-first century.
The millennial leaders also created a sympathetic image for themselves as crusaders for an end to torture, corruption, and police repression, an image with which other, initially less engaged youth could identify. They saw the advantages of young people for social protest and mobilized them, making use of the spare time of many young men and women, some of them unemployed, who were still unmarried and so lacked the family responsibilities that might deter them from risking the violence inherent in street protest. The youth revolutionaries of the Middle East inspired their peers throughout the globe by their ideals of liberty and social justice and their collective action techniques. Fundamentalist movements seeking to take advantage of the political opening to impose new forms of theocratic authoritarianism suffered severe setbacks at the hands of the same youth activists.
There will be no more republican monarchies. This generation of New Arabs has shaken a complacent, stagnant, and corrupt status quo and forever changed the world.”
(THE FOLLOWING IS ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND I QUOTE:
“JUAN COLE is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Engaging the Muslim World and Napleon’s Egypt. He has been a regular guest on PBS NewsHour and has also appeared on ABC World News, Nightline, the Today show, Charlie Rose, Anderson Cooper 360, The Rachel Maddow Show, the Colbert Report, Democracy Now!, Al Jazeera America, and many other programs. He has also commented extensively on al-Quaeda and the Taliban, Iraq, the politics of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Syria, and Iranian domestic struggles and foreign affairs. He has a regular column on TruthDig.com. Visit JuanCole.com.”
I JUST COMPLETED READING THIS EXCELLENT BOOK WRITTEN BY JUAN COLE. I COME TO THE CONCLUSION, WHILE ARAB NATIONS CONSIST OF MANY PEOPLE, CHOSE TO SELECT DIFFERENT RELIGIONS. MOSTLY MUSLIMS AND EVEN SOME CHOOSING CHRISTIANS AND A FEW CHOOSING THE JEWISH RELIGION. PROBABLY THE BIGGEST REASONS FOR THE CONFUSION WITH THE ARABS IS THE FACT THAT THEIR POLITICAL SYSTEM CONSISTS OF NOT ENOUGH DEMOCRACY, LEADING TO THE FACT THAT JUST A FEW WEALTHY INDIVIDUALS GET TO BE THEIR LEADER AND THEN EXPLOIT THE MAJORITY, EVEN LEADING TO STARVATION, WHICH IS PRESENTLY TAKING PLACE IN SYRIA, WHERE THE UNITED NATIONS HAS TO TRY TO SUPPLY THEM WITH SOME FOOD. IT WOULD BE WELL WORTH YOUR TIME TO READ THE WHOLE BOOK. HERE IS JUST ONE EXCERPT AND THE AUTHOR’S BACKGROUND. ALSO, CONCERNING MUSLIMS, MALALA WROTE A GREAT BOOK TITLED “I AM MALALA.”
LaVern Isely, Progressive, Overtaxed, Independent Middle Class Taxpayer and Public Citizen Member and USAF Veteran