North Africa, West Asia

For history’s sake, the Arab peoples have revolted

Not only did the Arab peoples revolt, but the power of their revolts was so significant and threatening to the regional geopolitical order that the regional powers had to diffuse the collective consciousness at any cost.

Ibrahim Halawi
24 November 2014

The United States and its allies are pushing for stability in the Middle East. A nuclear deal with Iran is a cornerstone in that grand ambition. This rush for stability is a timely pre-requisite for the neo-liberal development projects imposed by the World Bank and the IMF. A weary Arab middle class, in despair, is predominantly asking for stability as well. The demand is genuine on the part of some and more conspiratorial in other cases.

Some are demanding it because the alternatives are bleak. Others are demanding it because it will secure the status quo, which they are part of. Demanding stability is not a simple matter.

However, it is fair to question how this fetish for stability is being used by counter-revolutionary movements to push the Arab revolts out of history. In other words, how are the post-Arab Spring regimes attempting to rewrite history in a manner that undermines the importance and justice of the Arab revolts? Looking at ISIS and the rise of counter-revolutionary extremism, the old guards and the elites are saying to Arab youth something like: all this happened because of your rebellion.

In the name  of stability, the United States and its regional Arab allies are systematically obscuring what happened a couple of months ago. On their side – sometimes without knowing it, a class of journalists, experts, and academics build on the rise of counter-revolutionary movements in the Arab World to undermine the legitimacy and genuineness of the Arab Spring.

History says otherwise

Civil wars and the rise of fascism are not peculiar to the Arab Spring. Such phenomena cannot be used to refute the claims of a revolutionary wave that preceded them.

In Europe, the frustration that followed the failure of Communist-led union strikes and working class mobilisation triggered the rise of fascism in the second decade of the twentieth century.

Mussolini emerged from the Italian Socialist Party that contributed to the organisation of Communist revolutions and insurrections that swept through Europe by 1917. The mobilisation at that time was different in intensity, ideology, motives, and prospects. But, in concept, the rise of Mussolini and fascism in general was not mutually exclusive with the uprising of the Italian workers.

The revolutionary set-backs of Europe and the power contests of the corporate industrialists of the time all served the lightning paced establishment of fascism. In a conceptually similar case, the emergence of the Islamic State and the fascist-like practices and dogmas that govern it are counter-revolutionary. The existence of such extremism does not cancel out the legitimacy of what preceded it; the mass uprisings that swept the region.

Neither do the civil wars that have destroyed Libya and Syria cancel out the fact that both countries witnessed significant uprisings. Even the most glorified revolution of contemporary history, that of the Soviets, led to an immediate and brutal civil war.

Arab exceptionalism, even when they revolt

One cannot deny the peculiar political environment that characterises the Middle East. The geostrategic and economic importance of the region adds to the woes of its revolutionaries. But even this specificity as such is not peculiar to the Arab Spring. The collective upheaval of a people is always an engagement and a conflict with the status quo with all its peculiar domestic, regional, and international interests. So why is the Middle East’s “peculiar” politics being used to single out the outcomes of the region’s revolutions and perceive them as ahistorical?

This question is worth pondering. Maybe revolutions are generally and historically romanticised. We tend to have this unconscious impression that revolutions are aesthetic and romantic. In fact, revolutions are ugly. They push the worst traits and taboos of a society or a culture to the public and contest it, sometimes primitively and violently. With such an ugly process, the malice of power is eclipsed and the power contest between elites becomes even more vicious.

Not only did the Arab peoples revolt, but the power of their revolts was so significant and threatening to the regional geopolitical order that the regional powers had to diffuse the collective consciousness of all this at any cost; including the invasion of Bahrain by the Saudis, the Russian-Iranian intervention in Syria, the elite-bargain in Yemen, and the military coup in Egypt. And this is how history should document the Arab Spring.

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