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Unrest Is not Revolution

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Maybe it's just plain ignorance. Maybe it's deliberately calculated to hoodwink the uninformed and gullible. When the oppressed people of Tunisia and Egypt staged a series of mass uprisings calling for change and more democracy the Western Media said that these were revolutions. And the constant use of a word that hitherto sparked derision and scorn, especially from the Right Wing of the political spectrum, has been sanitized, dusted off and cleaned up, to give it a new-look, 21st century packaging.

Unchallenged and unchecked even people who should know better -- progressives and members of the liberal intelligencia -- have all embraced this description of the Egyptian uprising tripping over themselves in arguing that what happened in Cairo and to a lesser extent other cities in Egypt was in fact a Revolution.

Suddenly, every demonstration, mass protest or public unrest is deemed a revolution and the new buzz word is "the Arab Revolution." But such broad and infantile characterizations are simplistic, designed to confuse people and have no bearing in the science behind a revolution. True, the Arab Middle East is in a simmering and boiling political crisis driven by a people fed up over years of oppression by the ruling elites and an Arab bourgeoisie taking their orders from power centers in Washington, London and Europe.

However, what is taking place in these countries is mass unrest on the ground and in the case of Libya a fledgling armed insurrection. What is happening in the Arab Middle East is no revolution. Let me deal with Egypt for starters.

First, the unrest was sparked by people simply fed up with the dictatorial rule of Hosni Mubarak and his cronies. From day one the demand was the removal of a hated political leader and not a radical, deep-going change of Egyptian society as required by a genuine revolution. Today, the Egyptian people have simply changed their oppressor. The Egyptian army is as much a creation of Mubarak as is the dreaded secret police apparatus. The army understood that by ringing the square and containing and controlling the movement of the people it could direct the course of events.

In this context the army, foolishly believed to be the ally of the masses, did not have to fire on the crowds or choose sides. By taking power the army is going to make sure that it governs Egypt with the Mubarak playbook with some adjustments, a tinker here and there, a compromise now and then, and whenever expedient serve up a sacrificial lamb to placate and appease the people. The army has the guns, tanks and warplanes. The Egyptian masses have their loud voices, angry rhetoric and no understanding of what revolution and democracy are. The army's political tactics are designed to retard a genuine working class uprising BEFORE it turns into a genuine people's revolution. Egypt is a revolution deferred.

There is also another critical dimension in the political requirement for revolution to succeed that is missing in ALL of the crisis centers in the Arab world -- the absence of a truly mass vanguard political party that is able to articulate the demands of the people and is trusted by the mass of people. The sporadic unplanned nature of all of the unrest is events that are simply the reaction and gut feelings of people on the street. Ideologically, this mix of poor, unemployed people, out of work white collar workers, youths and students bring varying and dissimilar class positions to the struggle and are motivated by very different political and social stimuli.

So that forging a popular consensus and platform is near impossible. Without a vanguard party to articulate the people's demands and push for a dismantling of the old regime and replace it with a new democratic one there can be no talk of a revolution in Egypt or elsewhere. Further, there is a focus on only short-term goals to address immediate grievances and concerns that will only serve to placate the restless masses. Until and unless there is a radical change of the old regime from top to bottom the Egyptian and Arab masses are simply deferring a future day of reckoning.

The situation in Libya is radically and completely different from that of Egypt. There is now a full-blown armed insurrection and a threat of civil war. Once the demonstrators rose up and challenged the Gadaffi regime in the streets the situation was fine. The moment the protesters rejected peaceful means as a tool to bring about political change in favor of and replacing that with arms the situation on the ground was radically changed.

While I am no fan of the Libyan thug I believe that the government, as dictatorial and oppressive as it is, has a legitimate right to defend itself from what is an illegal armed gang of rebels that threatens the regime's hegemony as a government. The heavy use of force by the regime is an entirely different matter as are the employment of warplanes and other disproportionate use of force. So this is no revolution. It is an internal insurrection against a hated leader by the use of armed force.

The western powers are finding it very difficult to handle the Arab Middle East crisis and in the case of Libya there are some very foolish conclusions and militaristic talk that will be ultimately counter-productive. In Libya's case time is on Gadaffi's side and barring a serious inflow of heavy artillery and weapons to the rebels, winning a military victory against the regime fades with each passing day. The West's toying with installing a no-fly zone is also stupid.

Consider the following:   in order to do that western powers will have to destroy the Libyan air-defenses by military means. All that Gadaffi has to do is place these means near civilian, residential areas and the potential for a civilian carnage looms very large. Plus there must be accurate and up to date intelligence information to make this work.

From the United States and European point of view the invasion of another Muslim nation is fraught with serious consequences that could have very far-reaching repercussions. True, the US and its allies, including NATO, can invade and destroy the Libyan armed forces but even those Libyans bitterly opposed to the regime and its strong man do not want foreign troops on its soil and that could play right into Gadaffi's hands. So while the US says all options on the table it would be the height of stupidity to open a new war on a Muslim nation with an internal problem. And like Iraq did not threaten or pose a threat to these nations.

But perhaps the most significant thing is that a no-fly zone will not change the political or military realities on the ground. It is not going to lessen the bombardment by the regime's tanks or force some softening of its stance in respect to the insurgency. The west and in particular the United States must remember that there was a no-fly zone in place over Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein for 12 years that did nothing to change the political or social dynamics on the ground. I see no benefit of a no-fly zone over Libya. It only makes hawkish politicians sound good and tough. As a practical tool it is nearly useless in the context of this internal and violent skirmish.

Finally, for the Arab masses to succeed politically they must move to a higher level of sophisticated political organization than what presently is the case. These old, entrenched kings, sultans, monarchs and dictators have had many, many years to create a system of patronage, dependency and loyalty that will not go away or give up power easily. While a genuine revolution need not be bloody and violent there must be a clear break with the past. Unless and until the political leadership of these mass protests, demonstrations or insurrections gets this right then what we will continue to have are just large groups of people angrily venting their feelings in the road. That is not revolution.


MICHAEL D. ROBERTS is a top Political Strategist and Business, Management and Communications Specialist in New York City's Black community. He is an experienced writer whose specialty is socio-political and economic analysis and local (more...)

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