Monday, November 21, 2011

"2011: An Arab Springtime?" An article by Samir Amin

I've recently read an article by Samir Amin, the director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal mostly about the current anti-dictatorship movement in Egypt called 2011: An Arab Springtime?

Samir Amin does a service in presenting Egypt's current anti-dictatorship movement as part of a particularly long tradition in Egypt of working to free itself from colonial subjugation. It is very thought-provoking to look at Tahrir Square in 2011 as the continuation of a process that began even before 1820 of efforts to render Egypt independent of foreign control.

Amin strikes me though as unjustifiably hostile against Islamism. I don't see the degree of cooperation between the Muslim Brotherhood and Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak that Amin sees, much less his cooperation between Islamists and the West.

Lastly, there are groups in Egypt that Amin supports as a socialist. Workers groups and non-bourgeois religious groups. These are the groups that I understand Amin to want to see gain power. I don't have any particular Egyptian group that I'm rooting for, as long as Egyptians are able to debate policy among themselves and through some mechanism the views and values of the median Egyptian are reflected in policy.

I would agree with Amin that democracy is not everything and that oppression and imbalanced relationships and injustice can and will continue after Egyptians have put into place a process to choose their own leaders. But that is a better problem to have than the problem of being ruled by a foreign-controlled colonial government as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, UAE and others are. I also have a substantial degree of faith that if Egyptians are able to hold their leadership accountable, they will make the best progress I can hope for towards addressing other problems.

In fact, if Egypt has a representative government and I believe it is not solving problems adequately, my opinion by that point is irrelevant. All I want is for Egypt to be ruled by the winners of peaceful and graceful Egyptian political processes. If Egypt's voters make mistakes by my standards or especially by theirs, Egypt's voters have the right to make mistakes and to learn from them as they will.

So that was my impression of the article from memory. I'm going to look over it for quotations that struck me as memorable.
Egypt was the first country in the periphery of globalized capitalism that tried to “emerge.” Even at the start of the 19th century, well before Japan and China, the Viceroy Mohammed Ali had conceived and undertaken a program of renovation for Egypt and its near neighbors in the Arab Mashreq [Mashreq means “East,” i.e., eastern North Africa and the Levant, ed.]. That vigorous experiment took up two-thirds of the 19th century and only belatedly ran out of breath in the 1870′s, during the second half of the reign of the Khedive Ismail. The analysis of its failure cannot ignore the violence of the foreign aggression by Great Britain, the foremost power of industrial capitalism during that period. Twice, in [the naval campaign of] 1840 and then by taking control of the Khedive’s finances during the 1870′s, and then finally by military occupation in 1882, England fiercely pursued its objective: to make sure that a modern Egypt would fail to emerge. Certainly the Egyptian project was subject to the limitations of its time since it manifestly envisaged emergence within and through capitalism, unlike Egypt’s second attempt at emergence—which we will discuss further on. That project’s own social contradictions, like its underlying political, cultural, and ideological presuppositions, undoubtedly had their share of responsibility for its failure. The fact remains that without imperialist aggression those contradictions would probably have been overcome, as they were in Japan.
I consider this very important history to keep in mind when looking at today's anti-dictatorship protest movement. The movement did not start in 2011 but is the continuation of a now centuries-old drive to deal with similar external forces that have been working to control Egypt to advance external agendas.
A first coup d’├ętat in 1952 by the “Free Officers,” and above all a second coup in 1954 by which Nasser took control, was taken by some to “crown” the continual flow of struggles and by others to put it to an end. Rejecting the view of the Egyptian awakening advanced above, Nasserism put forth an ideological discourse that wiped out the whole history of the years from 1919 to 1952 in order to push the start of the “Egyptian Revolution” to July 1952. At that time many among the communists had denounced this discourse and analyzed the coups d’├ętat of 1952 and 1954 as aimed at putting an end to the radicalization of the democratic movement. They were not wrong, since Nasserism only took the shape of an anti-imperialist project after the Bandung Conference of April 1955. Nasserism then contributed all it had to give: a resolutely anti-imperialist international posture (in association with the pan-Arab and pan-African movements) and some progressive (but not “socialist”) social reforms. The whole thing done from above, not only “without democracy” (the popular masses being denied any right to organize by and for themselves) but even by “abolishing” any form of political life. This was an invitation to political Islam to fill the vacuum thus created. In only ten short years (1955-1965) the Nasserist project used up its progressive potential. Its exhaustion offered imperialism, henceforward led by the United States, the chance to break the movement by mobilizing to that end its regional military instrument: Israel. The 1967 defeat marked the end of the tide that had flowed for a half-century. Its reflux was initiated by Nasser himself who chose the path of concessions to the Right (the infitah or “opening,” an opening to capitalist globalization of course) rather than the radicalization called for by, among others, the student movement (which held the stage briefly in 1970, shortly before and then after the death of Nasser). His successor, Sadat, intensified and extended the rightward turn and integrated the Muslim Brotherhood into his new autocratic system. Mubarak continued along the same path.
For all of my admiration of Nasser, he was not an advocate for democracy which I have to see as a weakness or valid criticism of him. Noam Chomsky also says that Israel did the US a service by confronting Egyptian nationalism. Other than Israel, I don't think Egyptian nationalism by 1960 posed a particular threat to the West. If not for Israel, the United States would have had a much bigger advantage in the Middle East in its Cold War contest against the militantly atheist USSR. I don't think of Israel as the West's regional military instrument but rather as a burden the West carries for various reasons that I discuss elsewhere.

But about the idea that Sadat integrated the Muslim Brotherhood into Egyptian society and Mubarak continued that, I'm very skeptical. Many Islamists were tortured after the assassination of Sadat and the Egyptian state could fairly by that point have been said to be at war with political Islam.
The collusion between the imperialist powers and political Islam is, of course, neither new nor particular to Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, from its foundation in 1927 up to the present, has always been a useful ally for imperialism and for the local reactionary bloc. It has always been a fierce enemy of the Egyptian democratic movements. And the multibillionaires currently leading the Brotherhood are not destined to go over to the democratic cause! Political Islam throughout the Muslim world is quite assuredly a strategic ally of the United States and its NATO minority partners. Washington armed and financed the Taliban, who they called “Freedom Fighters,” in their war against the national/popular regime (termed “communist”) in Afghanistan before, during, and after the Soviet intervention. When the Taliban shut the girls’ schools created by the “communists” there were “democrats” and even “feminists” at hand to claim that it was necessary to “respect traditions!”
If the Muslim Brotherhood does take steps to deny voting rights to Egyptians or demonstrates a refusal to accept the results of elections, then those steps or that demonstration will be a valid criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood. So far, I have not seen the Muslim Brotherhood act against democracy and am optimistic that I will not. A government that the Muslim Brotherhood, at the very least, can work with is nearly certain to be the result of any reasonably democratic Egyptian political process. I just cannot go along with Amin's portrayal of the group, in today's context, as an opponent of democracy or ally of the imperialists.
Mao was not wrong when he affirmed that really existing (which is to say, naturally imperialist) capitalism had nothing to offer to the peoples of the three continents (the periphery made up of Asia, Africa, and Latin America—a “minority” counting 85% of world population!) and that the South was a “storm zone,” a zone of repeated revolts potentially (but only potentially) pregnant with revolutionary advances toward socialist transcendence of capitalism.

The “Arab spring” is enlisted in that reality. The case is one of social revolts potentially pregnant with concrete alternatives that in the long run can register within a socialist perspective. Which is why the capitalist system, monopoly capital dominant at the world level, cannot tolerate the development of these movements. It will mobilize all possible means of destabilization, from economic and financial pressures up to military threats. It will support, according to circumstances, either fascist and fascistic false alternatives or the imposition of military dictatorships. Not a word from Obama’s mouth is to be believed. Obama is Bush with a different style of speech. Duplicity is built into the speech of all the leaders of the imperialist triad (United States, Western Europe, Japan).
If you look at South America, or the rest of Africa or the rest of Asia, you will not see that the US is a particularly benevolent influence in any of them. But you will not see the intensity of intervention, the desperate hostility against democracy that you see from the US in the Middle East anywhere else either. Once a post-Zionist Middle East becomes a region not much different from the rest of the world, there still will be a lot of work to do, but the Middle East is a special case where the West has an additional agenda that Amin does not seem to me to be fully taking into account.

Amin is mostly right, but Egypt is not like, say South Korea. Israel would not be viable of Egypt achieved South Korea's levels of industrialization and technology so the Egyptian people are in a more profound conflict with the US as Israel's patron than even the people of South Korea - which is not to deny or belittle the degree that the people of South Korea have been in conflict with the US.

All in all, I found it a good and interesting article. I'm most appreciative that it connects the current movement to a longer struggle. I am not as anti-Islamist as Amin is though.


Trarrss said...

Good article...
Also another recommended reading on middle east affairs:

Lbp said...

I didn't really like the article. Amin comes across as a man from another era -- a bygone era which defined the conflict between cold hearted capitalists vs. humanist Marxists. Someone forgot to remind Amin that conflict ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that the new conflict revolves around ethnic/religious identity. To label the Muslim Brotherhood as American stooges is laughable. 

Lidia said...

Yes, sure, with the fall of Berlin wall there is NOT capitalism anymore. Or at least the capitalism is not a problem :)

Sure, USA, EU, ME and other development is NOT at all about capitalism/imperialism/colonialism.

Sure, OWS or Egyptian revolution is all about ethnic/religious identity :)

And to see USA actively supporting MB (both in Egypt and Syria) is very NOT funny.

lysander1 said...

The MB in Egypt is and always has been a cat's paw of the Saudi's/West for decades. At least as far as the leadership is concerned. Want an example? Today they are the only party agreeing to negotiate with SCAF. All others are demanding an end to the crackdown first They are asking their members NOT to attend the million man march called for today.

Note that while both of those actions are harmful to any democratic progress, the latter is even harmful to the MB's own interests. Presumably they would want to enter negotiations in the strongest position, meaning the largest possible turnout at the demos.

And the MBs seem to be meating with US officials on a regular basis? What are they talking about? How best to resist Zionism? Or how the US does not mind them in charge so long as they toe the line in the 'important' matters?

Hopefully, the MB rank and file will ignore the leadership and go to the demos anyway.

Arnold Evans said...

That's very disappointing about the MB.

I still don't think the idea that the SCAF should stall the transfer of power for years or attempt to hold the military separate and superior to the civilian government either started with or was agreed with by the MB.

The US, on the other hand, at least agreed with both and may well have been the party that initially advocated both.

Lbp said...

The cold war ended in 1989. The capitalist beat the Marxists. Get over it!

A new war has been raging ever since, and that war is between the Muslim reactionaries of the middle east vs the politically active American Jewish community (both on the left and right). I don't think you are grasping the ethno/religious dimensions of this conflict.

Lidia said...

Capitalism beat (i.e. murdered) millions since the end of the Cold war and still is doing it. I am not sure that the not-capitalists, i.e. the great majority of the world population are going to "get over it". But they could get over the system that murder them, and some of them even say so. The authority of Marx over capitalist apologists are not in decline, on the contrary.

Now, Zionists are sure would be happy with such "explanation" of the anti-colonial class struggle in the ME (not mentioning beyond). Such trifle facts as support of Zionists for Muslim reactionary fundamentalists from Libya to Syria, from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and the  mass opposition of non-Muslims and progressive Muslims to Zionist colonialism should not stay on the way of such splendid explanations :) 

Arnold Evans said...

I'm sure you have a very interesting definition of the word "reactionary".  What is it?

Pirouz_2 said...

One of the most amusing sides of listening to extreme right wing is the uncontrolable fear that they have from Marxism. It is almost like a phobia. I say "almost" because contrary to phobia which is an irrational fear, the fear of right-wingers from Marxism is a very rational one, as rational as the fear of a mouse when it picks up the smell of a cat.
Another very amusing feature of listening to most of the extreme right-wingers is their lack of the tiniest idea of what actually Marxism is.
So Lbp;
Pray tell us what Marxism is about?

Lbp said...

I am referring to the various resistance movement groups found throughout the middle east that are trying to undo the current political order in the region. Western analysts often label these groups as Islamic fundamentalists, Islamists, Arab Nationalists, etc, but I think the correct term is reactionary. The unifying theme among all of these groups is their resistance to Anglo/Judaic interpretation of liberalism, which elevates the position of Jewish people as a whole to infallible victims worthy of special treatment.

Liberal/multicultural philosophy, as it currently reigns in the US, is very inflexible on debates over Judaism or Jewish identity politics. This is not surprising since multiculturalism was spearheaded by the Jewish community with the central goal of preventing another holocaust. The tragic irony is that this very movement is now making it possible to preemptively create another holocaust on basis of preventing one. 

I see these middle eastern groups as a resistance force to this "liberal" political philosophy, hence, the term reactionary.

Lbp said...

Japan, Germany, China, Brazil are all capitalistic countries and haven't been killing anyone since the end of the cold war. The only country that is doing the killing is the US and its only being done in the middle east. What accounts for this? What is behind the political force that is driving this?

Lbp said...

I am not sure how you came to the conclusion that I am scared of Marxism. Did you not read my comment when i said Marxism died in 1989?

What we are seeing now has nothing to do with capitalism vs marxism. What we have instead is a tribal war between American Jews and Middle Eastern Muslims. Americans and Western Europeans are being dragged into this feud without having any dogs in the fight. 

Pirouz_2 said...

Well the incredible amount of energy that you guys put in trying to convince yourselves that Marxism was finished in 1989 (as if Marxism were equivalent to USSR or Eastern block) is very much reminiscent of a terminal cancer patient who in his despair tries to deny his sickness and convince himself that the chemotherapy that sent his cancer to remission has actually worked and he is cured (or at least that he is facing some other sickness and not his old cancer).
By the way Lbp, you still havent told us what Marxism is about? It is dead and beaten isn't it? So probably you will be able to tell us which one of Marx's theories has turned out wrong?
I am sure that you do know what Marxism is about, otherwise you wouldnt be so confident that it is dead. right?

Arnold Evans said...

Barack Obama thinks he has a dog in the fight. If you're able to tell Barack Obama and George Bush that, unknown to them, they don't have a dog in a fight, you could tell an American Jew the same thing just as well.

Arnold Evans said...

The way you use "liberal" and "reactionary", it seems by your own understanding, almost exactly reverses the meanings of the terms.

That is a confusing more than informative use of language.  You can redefine terms if you want, but say you're doing it.  I won't use those terms the way you are, but at least I'll know what you're talking about.

Pirouz_2 said...

In case of Japan and Germany, they are both partner in crime with USA (just as Turkey as a part of NATO which is present in Afghanistan is partner in crime with USA). In case of China and Brazil one should not ignore the amount of killings and human rights violations INSIDE those countries.

Lidia said...

I see that I almost missed the fun :). But, as I have said, this place has good commentors. I would only add, that I know that antic slavery system is dead, and could not be recreated because the basis of it is dead as well. So, I am not going to waste my time reminding people about its death. But Pirouz is right here - the dead body is NOT so scary for one who truly believes it dead.

But the more important (from my POV) is that lbp's Zionism is tied so tight with anti-Marxism. I suppose it is because lbp knows too well that Marxism, not having anything to do with Islam, is, nevertheless, the principal foe of any colonialism, and thus - of Zionism. Try as lbp might, it is impossible to overthrow Marxists arguments about the colonial nature of Zionism (and the Western role on the ME), so lbp simply calls Marxism dead, as if it could nullify Marxist anti-colonial analysis.

The only thing that lbp got right, though, that Zionist Jews could be of all stripes. Some of them even call themselves "leftists". But to be  a pro-colonialism leftist is impossible. Me, an anti-Zionist Marxist who happened to be born Jewish, am well aware of such "leftists". They are really not better than open Kahanists, only less frank 

George Carty said...

More accurately, the capitalists beat the Leninists.  (Not all Marxists are Leninists, although the non-Leninist Marxists were largely suppressed by the Leninists themselves.)

As I see it, the international Communist movement of the 20th century made two fatal errors:

1. They attempted to impose atheism, which turned believing Christians and Muslims into their mortal enemies.
2. The defined "proletarian internationalism" in such a way that it was practically synonymous with "serving the interests of the Soviet Union", which meant that outside the Soviet Union, Communism was easy to portray as a treasonous belief system.