Arab Revolutions

Carlos Varea, 30 June, 2011

Translated from Spanish by Ainara Makalilo
Edited by Supriyo Chatterjee

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (the nasty main character of the film The Social Network) pointed out in a meeting in Paris in May 2011 that “the recent Arab revolutions did not exist thanks to Facebook. They happened because people there took the reins of their own destiny, though it is obvious that the internet helped”. He, who could capitalize on the success of uprisings, gets it right: “To think so would be extremely arrogant and unreal”.

Social networking has enabled what repression in Arab regimes hampered, articulating endurable collective demands out of the empty charmless traditional political structures. It has also been stated that Arab revolutions were encouraged by Al-Jazeera, leaving both its spontaneity and goals in doubt. Certainly Qatar, whose Royal family owns the TV channel, has capitalized politically on its media capacity, also regarding the Arab people’s protests (holding for instance the first international conference on the Libya conflict in April 2011). But this does not question the uprising’s original radicalism and genuine character.

    Yassin Alkhalil, Syria

And so it happened. Since then, the symbolic gesture of an indignant Bouazizi has led to uprisings in most Arab countries, within both Maghreb and Egypt, and also in some petro-monarchies of the Gulf. Arab uprisings have got rid of two dictators already, Ben Ali first and Mubarak a little later, and perhaps soon a third one, Ali Abdalah Saleh, president of Yemen, who is now in Saudi Arabia. After the first victories in Tunisia and Egypt, these uprisings, always peaceful, have degenerated in other countries into armed conflicts or are being repressed with different degrees of violence which range from the moderation of Morocco to the Syrian butchery. In Libya and Bahrain, foreign intervention, for ulterior motives, show the complexity and unpredictable tinge that events can acquire. There have also been demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank which have been violently repressed by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authorities. Reconciliation between both factions in Cairo is due to the internal change that Tahrir protests produced in Egypt but also to the outraged Palestinian people held captive by both sides.

If the spread of Arab countries uprisings can catch somebody unaware (the unthinkable modernity in a world we imagined to be at standstill and archaic), its outbreak is even more significant and apparently opposed to the common understanding: self-immolation of Tariq Tayyib Mohammed Bouazizi, a young Tunisian street vendor from Sidi Bou Zid, humiliated and beaten by the police who had confiscated his wares. What is behind such an extreme action? Certainly not the reactionary dogmas of some Islamist suicide-bombers, but the defenseless expression of the world’s impotence and despair. This is the fuel of Arab uprisings and, like tinder, easily inflammable. Undoubtedly, Bouazizi, like Zuckerberg, would affirm that his example had the simple ability to light the fuse of the Arab uprising, which is the most unexpected and encouraging event in the first decade of the 21st century.

A Tunisian student’s work at the School for Arts and Trade in in the city of Gabes, april 2011.
Photo Fausto Giudice, Tlaxcala

The Arabist Luz Gómez García correctly reminds us: these events surprise us because Arab reality is unknown to us. We just have a slightly squalid image of its leaders. Arab people stood up massively against the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and we can only understand the speed, the dynamics, the depth and endurance of Arab uprisings because they have happened in societies much more integrated and politicized than what we ever expected. This is especially true concerning the first two ones, the Tunisian and the Egyptian, where trade union boards and civil associations were the ones to anchor the calls made through virtual social networking in the streets. It is these trade and social unions which are trying to articulate the movement politically in both countries for the elections promised by the transitional governments.

There is no need to make any speculations whether Arab uprisings have been encouraged from abroad, as all threatened autocracies try to imply. The uprisings are genuine. But there is always interference of local and external actors trying to manipulate and distort uprisings. Again, as in most critical moments of history in the region, the key lies in what will happen from now on in Egypt. As the geographical, political and human gateway of the Arab world, it will decide whether or not the revolution will prevail. The driving force of Arab uprisings is that the people have had enough of regimes which, without any political nuance, have transformed their countries into feudal territory and their citizens into vassals with no rights. If demands of all Arab revolutions are simple, direct and similar, the nature of the autocracies they are trying to knock down is one: the filthy ground of decades of impunity and corruption. Most Arab regimes are either formal monarchies or they became inherited monarchies. Corruption, cynicism and repression are the tripod that holds them up. The fourth leg is then the tolerance of western governments but also of China and Russia who are trying to make profit out of uprisings through the fall and the permanence of dictators. It is totally reprehensible that NATO intervenes in Libya in order to keep under control the territory and the resources Gaddafi had already put at their service long time ago (Libya is the country which has fostered the most CIA secret flights). But this does not deligitimise the uprising started by a group of lawyers in front of a prison in Tripoli, neither does it legitimise Gaddafi’s acts, as some have tried to make us believe (unfortunately Fidel Castro amongst them). Like Gaddafi, Al-Assad tries to regain complicity with Western governments: “we are the bastion against Al-Qaeda” and “chaos will come after our fall”. The truth is that Syrian regime shamelessly kills its own people in the face of the disturbing passivity of Europe and the USA who have always understood, alongside with Israel, the regional purpose of Al-Assad’s dynasty since 1970: to control the Palestinian and the national Arab movement in their own interest and through manu militari (let’s remember the military occupation of Lebanon in 1976 under the protection of the Arab League and the Western countries). But the most striking fact is that intervention in Libya has motivated big protest demonstrations in Spain. But the death of more than a thousand Syrian citizens killed by snipers, tanks and helicopters has not activated our solidarity at all. There are no progressive Arab regimes.

Photo Fausto Giudice, Tlaxcala

The hypocrisy of the Syrian regime (and also of some local daydreaming apologists) is offensive. It opposes its so-called secularism to sectarian fragmentation in order to justify the oligarchic dictatorship against the demands of real democracy that its people claim. It is not a coincidence that the occupation of Iraq has entailed a sectarian implosion; that in Egypt violence amongst Copts and Muslims burst out; that Yemen falls into a tribal civil war; that we are being warned about confessional rupture in Syria and that Al Qaeda answers to the movement in Morocco by bombing in Marrakech. The alternative is neither neocolonial subjection nor a native dictatorship. Beyond the fall of Arab regimes, it is the Arab identity itself which is at risk, emerging inclusively and at the same time diverse, articulating modernity and essence, democracy and sovereignty. Despite the failure or the success, people’s protests in 2011 from Morocco to Iraq have shown a genuine, real and possible picture of these societies and their dynamic.

Arab revolutions are breaking out after two decades in which Arab resistance has always been identified with Al-Qaeda or with political confessionalism. But contrary to this, our protagonists are a well-educated youth, women, unemployed professionals and industrial workers, who have the same aspirations as us, not followers of Bin Laden or some ayatollah. “Real democracy”, “participatory democracy”, “Stop corruption”, “Stop speculative enrichment”, “social rights”: do these slogans sound familiar to us? Of course! They are echoed in all Tahrir squares in every Arab city, and they also became the mottos of the 15-M (15th May) protests in Spain. Is it not “OUTRAGE” what we are all feeling? “Our struggles will meet up and they will end by reaching a common goal: a better world, more fair and peaceful”, is the conclusion of the message sent by the young Tunisian revolutionaries to the 15-M movement. Let’s hope so.

This article has been written for the Solidarity Agenda 2012 of CEDSALA (Centro de Documentación y Solidaridad con America Latina y Africa)
By courtesy of Tlaxcala (


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