The Arab Spring: A "Real" Revolution?
By: Translated from Al-Khaleej (U.A.E.).
The events and developments that took place across the Arab world in 2011, in what have become known as the Arab revolutions and uprisings, are nothing ordinary. These events changed many aspects of the political scene, authority and balance of power throughout the Arab sphere. The fall of [certain] regimes and the rise of [a new class] of elites to power is clearly a reflection of these changes. [However], these changes were not the only result of the Arab revolutionary and protest movements. [These changes] were accompanied by other forms of chaos, as well as by internal wars in certain Arab countries. Some of these wars are still ongoing. [These violent struggles are] a result of the failure to achieve change through peaceful means. Moreover, there have been several external interferences in the “revolutionary movements.” [These interferences] took the [revolutions] in unexpected directions, and in the process, dragged the concerned countries into the unknown.
About This Article
Abdallah Balqaziz explores what it really means for a country to undergo a revolution. In his view, a true revolution entails a transformation of the social and economic system which surpasses a mere change in leadership. It is an organic process that cannot be imported from outside. The author considers several of the uprisings of the Arab Spring using these criteria, and concludes that it is still too early to classify most as true "revolutions."Publisher: Al-Khaleej (U.A.E.)
Three Facts [To Consider] When Analyzing the Scene of Revolutions
First Published: January 9, 2012
Posted on: January 12 2012
Translated by: Naria Tanoukhi
It is too early to judge the transformations taking place in the Arab world [because] the implications of change in one country affect what happens [elsewhere]; and these implications are as far-reaching as they are malleable. What’s more, the social forces at the core of [these revolutions] are free-flowing - they are supported by a variety of sources not necessarily within their [respective countries]. Furthermore, [certain aspects] of the nascent [Arab regimes’] natures remain obscure. The ambiguous relationship between the external "sponsors" and the [current developments] has cast a shadow across the entire scene. The festive [atmosphere] that hung over the revolution was perfectly justified for the first two months [of the revolutionary period], during which the regimes of Ben-Ali and Mubarak fell in record time, and without heavy costs in terms of loss of blood. But the time has come to question [this state of affairs]. The cost [borne by the revolutionaries] has become excessive, and foreign countries seem to have taken on a role equal to that of the protesters. Also, everybody is starting to feel that the revolutions are slipping through the hands of those who initiated them, as the ballot boxes have been bringing about political realities [that differ from the original aims of the protestors].
It is too early to draw conclusions on what the events that have taken place so far and that continue today. The [events] have yet to take shape and the process of [government] formation should not be rushed. However, we can now highlight a number of historical and objective facts. It is impossible to interpret the new realities emanating from the so-called "Arab Spring" without making reference to these facts. [They must serve as] theoretical introductions, and must guide [discussions on the Arab Spring].
The first thing to note is that a revolution, in theory, means drastic change within a social and economic system - not only within a political system. Bringing down a ruling political elite through uprisings and public pressure is not enough to be called a revolution - even if a new political elite replaces it through legitimate political and electoral means. Besides, a revolution is not the demolition of an existing political system. It is rather the demolition of a social [structure] and the establishment of a new one. In this sense, a revolution is a developing and cumulative movement. It can not be considered a revolution unless it carries society towards a more advanced political and socio-economic system. [The opposite] would be a counter-revolution, and would have the reverse [effect].
So far we do not know if the political changes that took place in a number of Arab countries throughout the [past] year will lead to the introduction of a new socio-economic system. [We do not yet know] whether they will simply signal the replacement of one ruling class by another, in turn reproducing the same social system. It is also not yet known if the "revolution" will result in a cumulative process that is progressive rather than regressive. [It remains to be seen] whether [the revolution] will reverse the socio-economic, political and cultural achievements of its past, or if it will suffer from the absence of a common and consensual social contract. [Whether or not it will] empower the authority of the majority and the ballot box [remains unclear].
The second fact to take into account is that democracy is not only about the ballot box, which people use to decide between candidates. [Democracy is also] an agreement and contract regarding a communal project and civilian political system. Moreover, democracy is not merely about elections, the majority and the minority, and the balance of power [between them]. It is, above all, a consensual agreement on [values] common to all those in the national society. [This must especially hold true] in the preliminary stages of building a democracy once [society] gains independence from an authoritarian regime - sometimes through a popular revolution. [It is crucial to focus on the notion of common values] when there is no prior relationship to democratic life and when a society has endless political and cultural divisions - like the Arab societies which lack coherence and integration. [The understanding that differences in opinion are possible], as well as the resolution of disputes through the polls do not predicate the creation of a democratic system.
In a society ungoverned by a social contract, the game between minorities and majorities would not survive. This kind of Darwinian political [system] would only lead to oppression, exclusion and the monopolization of power under the guise of "democratic legitimacy” and the ballot box. This “democratic” Darwinism can easily come about [if parties decide] to make use of populism. So far it is unclear to us whether [true] democracy in the Arab world is still on the horizon, “ever since this political Darwinism has taken effect in those countries that have experienced revolutions and entered the stage of "democracy-building."
Third, the revolution - that is a society changing the existing political conditions - is not legitimate unless it is initiated by the will of the people and the social forces active within it. [A society must bring about change] via its own tools. The authenticity of any revolution emanates from the independence of its will and decisions, as well as the patriotism of its leaders. [Its leaders] must also not be suspected of having any relations whatsoever with foreign [sides], even these are in the name of democracy and human rights. A revolution that does not emerge from its people and national decision, and whose followers call on foreign [sides] to intervene military or politically to support them and change the situation on their behalf, is not a revolution and lacks every aspect of a revolution.
Certain facts cannot be altered or falsified. The first is that when an opposition places itself at the disposal of a foreign will and political “agenda” to gain support, it then fights a battle against the homeland, its independence and sovereignty. [It fights against these things] rather than against the existing regime and its tyranny - even if it claims otherwise. [For the opposition], [their] power is far more important than the nation and sovereignty. Democracy is used as a facade to achieve their goals, even "after the destruction of Basra!" We believe that democracy cannot be real if [its root is not] in the nation. This is what [the concept of a real] and profound democracy looks like to those civilized peoples who have achieved it through effort and struggle, rather than through foreign invaders and collaborators! We do not yet know if this [type of] malicious scenario - which was introduced by the invasion of Iraq, and which has helped shape certain oppositions - will disappear from our Arab reality, or if it will continue to be revived in the name of revolution and democracy.
The time has come to abandon the generalist terms common to the current political rhetoric. [It is time to] replace the [vague] implicit meanings of the vocabulary currently in use with clear meanings. [These political terms] must be put back within their original intellectual and theoretical contexts, and should be evaluated accordingly. Such [contentious] terms include “democratic revolution,” “the people,” “legitimacy,” “the state,” “power.” [These are but a few misleading terms] among [many] others frequently employed by the media, and heard in the speeches of Arab non-governmental activists in 2011. This [article] simply hopes to draw attention to this fact, but cannot solve the problem.
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