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Monday, January 23

MENA's New Left (Updated)

Update 3:30 PM ET
Added a link to my discussion about a report on the Washington Consensus
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I offer this op-ed by Austin G. Mackell as a companion piece to the article I linked to in the previous post (Europe's New Right -- published in Foreign Policy at the height of the August 2011 riots in England). The op-ed, published at an ABC TV (Australia) blog on September 14, 2011, is titled, Believe the hype: Cairo is bigger than Berlin. By "Berlin," Mackell a self-described political 'progressive,' means the fall of the Berlin Wall and the events that led up to the historic occasion. To cut to the chase:
[...] In 2011, the spirit of Tahrir has been echoed not just around the Middle East (including in Israel) but in Greece, Spain, Portugal, the UK, the US, Chile, Burkina Faso and more. And as the workers in Wisconsin receive letters of solidarity from their comrades in Mahalla, and the internet kicks into gear as both a tool for organising and challenge to the dominance of the media giants, these local uprisings are beginning to add up to a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

The Global Justice Movement, which was -- before the racist and divisive War on Terror era -- the fastest-growing political movement in history, is ready for its second wave. Believe the hype, and then some. Something big is happening here.
So is this bigger than Berlin? He's correct about the global social justice movement taking a severe blow in the wake of 9/11, although I don't know whether it could be characterized as the fastest-growing movement in history. But I sat on the Berlin essay for so many months because I was still waiting for someone else to play the fool and explain in graphic detail that the Tahrir Square uprising was a textbook example of media manipulation. I'm still waiting but I'm getting tired of seeing the essay gather dust.

I doubt Mackell is aware that the Tahrir Square revolution was a stage show but he does try to preempt criticism of the protest movement by acknowledging that it was deeply flawed. So this is a variation on the Whistle Down the Wind thesis. I think that was the title of the movie in which some children mistook a criminal on the lam for Jesus, and yet good things came of their misplaced trust because of their great faith. Anyhow, that's basically the author's argument: that the spirit fueling the Tahrir Square protests has reinvigorated the global social justice movement and that no number of flaws in the Tahrir Square revolt would overturn this development.

The flaw in this line of reasoning was evident within days of the Tahrir Square protests launch, when a group of Egyptians rode into the square on horses and camels and attacked the protesters. CNN portrayed the attackers as government-hired goons and even after a spokesman for the government demanded that he be allowed to explain what happened, the CNN anchor who interviewed him made faces and in other ways conveyed to the audience that he was sure the spokesman was lying.

He wasn't lying. The attackers were tour guides at the pyramids. The protests had destroyed their business and so their families were facing starvation.

By this year countless other Egyptian working stiffs had turned against the ongoing Tahrir Square protests and the protest organizers -- and to such extent that many refuse to believe even video evidence that the military has continued to torture protesters. And many now believe the military's claim that the organizers are working for foreign interests -- a claim that has a little truth to it, if you recall the Associated Press report I quoted at length in the Headless Horseman essay.

My Still Waiting for Pasha essay, published at Pundita in 2005, infuriated Iranian democracy activists who read it because it poked fun at them. But they weren't willing to do their homework to bring about a real revolution. They weren't getting out in the villages and into the poorest sections of the major cities and working to win the understanding of the people outside the universities and intellectual circles. They were outwitted by Ahmadinejad, who went into the villages and the slums and played the Man of the People role to perfection.

So while it's true that good things can come from a flawed premise -- good things can come even from believing big lies -- it's also true that there is no shortcut to freedom.

The author observes that the Egyptian "revolution did not come out of nowhere in a flash of Facebook magic" and that it came from the groundwork done by labor activists. It's true that the most experienced organizers came out of the labor union movement and also true that labor strikes during the Tahrir Square protests helped cripple the country even more, leading to a general sense of chaos that was portrayed as revolutionary. However, much of Egypt's work force does not belong to a labor union! This to include Egyptians who collect a paycheck from the military.

None of the above is any reason not to read the Berlin essay. I think it's an important writing because it aptly summarizes what many people around the world believe today. (By the way some of the author's digs at the Washington Consensus are justified. See my January 24, 2012 post.)

The catch is that if the beliefs are based in a yearning for the sense of order reflected in the rule of kings they wouldn't be open to rational argument. What to do, in such case? Gosh, that question was asked in ancient Athens. If I recall the answer was, 'When Zeus is uncrowned the whirlwind rules.'

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