January 2013, Week 3


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The Arab Democratic Uprisings Two Years Later

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Black Commentator Editorial Board
January 17, 2012


A friend recently told me how a relative of theirs was
most concerned about developments in Egypt, given
the dominance of the right-wing Islamist Muslim
Brotherhood. I have heard similar such concerns
raised, as conservative Islamists have come to play
major roles in post-uprising governments, e.g.,
Tunisia, Egypt. In some cases, there is an
implication in such concerns that it might have
been better to have left things as they were with
authoritarian regimes in place to block the

The Arab democratic uprisings were world-historic,
yet their outcome remains uncertain. It is premature
to conclude that the rise of the Islamists is
necessarily a permanent feature of the politics of
these countries. There are, however, certain points
to note as we reflect on the results of these uprisings
and the road forward.

First, it is fair to say that the so-called Arab Spring
represented an accumulation of anti-
authoritarian/anti-neo-liberal uprisings. They were
not revolutions in the sense of fundamental socio-
economic change, but they were popular uprisings
that brought down or challenged tyrannical regimes,
regimes that had either been client states of the
West or, in the case of Syria and Libya, held a more
ambiguous international role. In that sense, these
uprisings set the stage for the possibilities of
something deeper and more long-lasting.

Second, while Tunisia and Egypt carried out largely
non-violent uprisings that were successful in
bringing down tyrannies, the movement in Bahrain,
though quite massive, was successfully divided by
the regime using Sunni/Shiite contradictions along
with vicious repression. This repression, by the way,
was actively supported by Saudi Arabia and the
complicity of the USA. In Yemen, the movement
stalled and, with the activism of the Al Qaeda
affiliate, was not only divided, but disorganized and
ignored by the West (except, of course, for the
continuous US drone assaults against alleged Al
Qaeda targets). In Libya and Syria, as we know, the
largely peaceful movements evolved into violent
uprisings in the face of active repression by the
governments. In the case of Libya, the peaceful
uprising was hijacked by NATO, though there were
many progressive forces in North Africa who
critically supported the NATO intervention due to
their hatred of Qaddafi. In Syria, the peaceful
uprising now has the feature of a combination of a
popular democratic revolt layered with a proxy war
(of Iran vs. Saudi Arabia and their Arab/Persian
Gulf allies).

Third, organization beats lack of organization. One
of the reasons the right-wing Islamists have been
able to succeed as well as they have is that they
possess organization. It is important, however, to
note that a very strange game existed between the
right-wing Islamists and the authoritarian regimes.
To the extent to which they helped to weaken or
crush the political Left (the Sudan being an example
of the latter), the Islamists were seen as acceptable
allies by these authoritarian governments and their
protectors in the USA. When the right-wing
Islamists became too audacious, they were then
perceived as a threat. In either case, they frequently
had a public existence. Forces on the political Left,
however, were subject to relentless persecution,
weakening their ability to organize.

There is another side to this question of
organization, however. In the midst of the massive
demonstrations that shook many of these countries,
e.g., Tahir Square in Cairo, it was easy for many
protestors to believe that organization was not
necessarily critical and that the sheer force of the
masses would push through a more complete
revolutionary process. Nothing could have been
further from the truth.

The Arab democratic uprisings helped to set in
motion popular upsurges in other parts of Africa, in
Europe and the United States. However, they have
yet to complete their mission. Whether they will do
so or whether they will recede like a huge wave
returning to the sea, only time will tell. In either
case, the people of the Arab World demonstrated
that a sensational challenge to the old order and its
sponsors in the West could be undertaken. To go
further will probably necessitate new social
movements and levels of organization that recognize
that the process of social transformation goes far
beyond cultural and/or religious reaffirmation but
must be one that engages the totality of the
dispossessed in bringing into being a genuine

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and
Columnist, Bill Fletcher, Jr.,is a Senior Scholar with
the Institute for Policy Studies,the immediate past
president of Trans Africa Forum,and the author of
"They're Bankrupting Us" - And Twenty Other Myths
about Unions.He is also the co-author of
Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and
a New Path toward Social Justice, which examines
the crisis of organized labor in the USA


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