Days of Anger

أيام الغضب Jan 25th. Jan 28th.

It isn’t a domino effect.1 What happened in Tunisia, isn’t what is happening in Egypt and what is happening in Yemen and what is happening in Lebanon and what will happen in Oman. The internet or twitter or facebook is not behind this.2 Neither is al-Jazeera.3 Each of these states have their very particular histories, very particular teleologies which are more decisive – whether politically or symbolically – than anything in the social media netscape bullcrap. Yes, there are striking similarities: the dis-enfrachised populations, the dictators or prime-ministers propped up by Europe or America (those chaste defenders of freedom everywhere), the young and the connected. Yes, no one wants this to happen – America and Europe would rather eat crow than actually admit to a democratic program in Middle East or Africa (teh Mooslims!) and there are powerful and entrenched forces within these states who will not tolerate any challenge to their hegemony.

What we see is life itself. These are the millions who have been denied participation in their own lives. Millions who have suffered the oppressive, fanatic violence of a state propped up by vested interests. They were always visible, they were always trying to tell their story, trying to eek out an existence of dignity and honor. How long can that quiet struggle last? How many have to give up before one stands and says, I will not go silently.

These are the days of anger – and they will be noted. Some, who are far away, can do more than bear witness. We can raise our voices in support.

update: A nuanced take on Egypt underlining my point about local context is Paul Amar, Why Mubarak is out.

  1. The “narrative” likes to see everything connected in the Middle East or Africa, with helpless masses, force fed some conspiracy theory or some mishmash of presumed victimhood are always pawns waiting to tumble. Hence, you cannot have true democracy in the M.E. because the pawns might elect terrorists! To assert a homogeny in these protest is to continue to give credence to such ahistorical, apolitical and biased twaddle. I refuse to play. []
  2. If credit must be given to technology than give to the lowly mobile phone with the capacity to record video, and send SMS and MMS. []
  3. I love how everything is a “narrative” to the NYT now []

23 Replies to “Days of Anger”

  1. Bahrain is sheer Sunni vs. Shiia. Let’s face it. And now more Sunnis come pouring in from Saudi Arabia and UAE to keep the 20% Al Kahlifa despots kingdom alive.

    Iran will have to warm up its looming Shiia nuclear bomb, and Saudi Arabia will have to buy one big Sunni bomb from Pakistan to settle the score.

    All because of a tiny island kingdom of 821,000. Al Khalifa over-ran Persians in Bahrain in 1731 and here we go again. May Allah bless them all.

  2. In every country where modern education and economics has made forays, the population wants some say in what goes on and economics demands some rationality in governance. The elite always has more influence than the poor, but even within the elite, there are notions of rule of law, political space, personal space, opportunity to move forward and so on. And the poor must have the means for bare survival and at least a vague notion that they can move forward on merit if they are really really good. Historical contingencies and other local factors make every case different and culture DOES matter, but its still possible to make some generalizations. One is that bull#### like the Mubarak dynasty is not going to last. Another is that extreme forms of Islamism are not going to make most people happy even if war with outsiders is not an issue. Another is that if you hook the elite on selling their role as “bulwark against Islamism”, you will face accelerating demands for more money, you will foster terrible corruption and you will strengthen support for those very Islamists. In fact, it is an indication of the Islamists profoundly outdated and unproductive philosophical framework that they cannot take more advantage of this wonderful opportunity presented to them courtesy of the US taxpayer.
    US policymakers who act as if the US has to determine what happens everywhere and simultaneously believe that there is very little the US can do to change things for the better, are wrong on both counts. In the Middle East, they are laboring under the very real burden that they really do want something (Israeli occupation) that almost everyone in that part of the world does not support, so their “democratic” options are limited. But even where the US does not necessarily have such a burden to carry (Pakistan, for example), hamhanded interference, reliance on outdated or irrelevant models (like the “modernizing army”, “the whisky-drinking-moderate-Muslim”, the Latin American model of using the army against undesirables at the cost of democracy, and so on) are not exactly working.
    but, no matter, change is coming. With, without or in spite of US participation. And Israel should really make a fair peace from a position of strength while they have that chance. Its going to become so costly to support that occupation, even Uncle Sam may one day be unable to afford to carry that millstone around his neck…

  3. There are also more solid and immediate provocations for the current uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. There has again been an increase in food prices (and more generally, a worsening economic situation, see the links by no above for example). Food price fluctuations have the potential to topple governments and there were food riots in Egypt two years ago as well. Like the author of the blog, I am also skeptical of the role that the internet has played in these uprisings. Personally, I think they are subsidiary in the local context, but certainly have a role in emphasizing what is happening in these countries in the international media. They also make for convenient and cute narratives for what are essentially complicated causes.

    Also, I wonder what the real extent of internet coverage is in these countries? I doubt that it is so extensive that most people have access to information through it.

  4. Pingback: Political Crumbs
  5. If only the same thing were happening in Pakistan. But America wouldn’t permit it, so Zardari and his mess are here to stay.

  6. What is common between Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen is fairly obvious to most people. The results might differ based on local conditions and actors.
    More interesting question is the kind of politico economic model will find favor in new setup. It has to be some variation of democratic welfare state. Perhaps something like Turkish model.

  7. Agree with SM and Missanlu. Sepoy, the grievances may be local but the individual and collective decision to act on those grievances is, in all likelihood, a product of regional effects. If what you’re saying is true, then we would *never* see contagion or demonstration effects at work, because there’s *always* local grievances at play.

    The timing of the Egypt uprising would have to be awfully big coincidence to take place now, if we are to assume the blank-slate regional effects you’re forwarding here. From nationalist/freedom movements in the colonial world to democratization movements in 1980s Latin America and Southern Europe, big changes in one place after often (not always) accompanied by big changes in other places. That’s not a coincidence.

  8. But this is such a deep impulse for those of us trained in area studies traditions, to insist on the primacy of locality for understanding all events. I think that’s partly because this is generally “true”: all events have local, particular dimensions of causality and feeling that are easily obscured by large-scale generalizations, monocausal readings, and so on, and are not appreciated by people who don’t know places the way we know places.

    At the same time, it’s a reading we’re always ready to give because it favors our own expertise and disfavors many other forms of expertise or authority. The tricky thing in this case is what are we to do about actors within local contexts who themselves insist that what they’re doing is connected to or inspired by action elsewhere? Because they surely exist in this case, much as they have in some other episodes of events in disparate nations or locations that mass media have seen as connected. There’s some fairly dizzying chicken-and-egg stuff embedded in this problem.

  9. Mohamed sent me this regarding my post on Ajami:
    “Yesterday, protesters in Suez were chanting:
    إلحاقوها إلحاقوها … إلتوانسة ولاعوها
    Follow it, Follow it … The Tunisians put it on fire (it = the revolution)”

    (Angry Arab)

  10. nk that stating it is not a domino effect can only be applied to the culture or political realities of the “cause” of the upheaval. It is a domino effect in the manner of activism and a collective momentum garnered and

  11. I can’t take issue, if your main point is that you would like these events to be written with greater local nuance then it is at the moment.

    I just think that stating it is not a domino effect can only be applied to the culture or political realities of the “cause” of the upheaval. It is a domino effect in the manner of activism and a collective momentum garnered and borne from the Tunisian upheaval.

    Stating that it is not a domino effect, across the board, unfairly disconnects the momentum created by the Tunisians.

  12. Sean, What you describe – the electrified atmosphere, the pan-Arab media – as commonalities, I tend to see as after-effects and amplifiers (regional momentum might be too strong for me). The cause, the anger, the pain is local, deeply local, and historically distinctive. That is merely my point. So, I am not denying those connections, I am asserting against the NYT/Internets “narrative”

  13. Sorry man, but I’m going to have to disagree here. While Lebanon has little in common with Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, that’s mostly because its system of governance is radically different.

    On the other hand, it’s hard to overstate the electrified atmosphere (shared throughout the Arab world) that started with Tunisia and is now continuing in Egypt. The telephone effect you mention is definitely important, but just as important is the amplifying effect of Jazeera, youtube and facebook. So while it’s clear that all of these countries have very different histories and local situations, to say that there isn’t a regional momentum seems wrong to me.

    While pan-Arabism may be at a low-point, never to return to the heady days of Nasser, pan-Arab media is at an all-time high, and that is what helps connect Tunis, Cairo, Sana’a and Amman.

  14. SM: Yes, Tunisian upheaval acted as a trigger in some sense, but so did the “election” which took place in Egypt merely a month ago. Or maybe the attacks on the Copts. The point, as I noted above in the footnote, is that these actualities get subsumed when one asserts the transmission hypothesis.

  15. The myth that this is a phenomenon triggered by wikileaks, facebook and twitter has already been debunked since the beginning of the upheaval in Tunisia. You’re correct in saying that these countries have their individual histories and this an organic consequence of decades of disenfranchisement.

    Are you rejecting the notion that this is part of a “wave of upheaval”, so to speak? Is it not entirely plausible that the Tunisian upheaval helped to legitimize and demystify revolution/upheaval/civil disobedience for the “Arab World”?

    There have been quiet struggles throughout the histories of these nations, and some not-so-quiet ones as well. But do you think it’s just a coincidence that one Arab nation initiates upheaval, and then mass protests start taking place in other Arab nations?

    Just want to clarify if you are denying that the Tunisian upheaval didn’t act as a trigger. The ammunition was already present (as you have stated) but it seems hard to deny that Tunisia wasn’t a trigger.

    Do share your thoughts and elaborate. Thanks.

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