Unrest in the Arab world

The genie is out of the bottle

The Arab world is one gigantic pressure cooker. For the most part the lid of repression is on, but it is boiling over with increasing frequency. Whether in Lebanon, Iraq or in Algeria, where people are rising up against political despotism and corruption. By Karim El-Gawhary

We have seen how the lid was lifted this year in Algeria following the toppling of the dictator Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a country now in the throes of weekly demonstrations demanding an end to the entire "Bouteflika system".

Or in Sudan, where long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir was ousted and the protest movement managed to negotiate a power-sharing agreement with the military – to date the sole rulers of the nation – which should in three years lead to a civilian government and democratic elections.

And even in Egypt, a country ruled by an omnipotent repressive apparatus, people dared just a few weeks ago to take to the streets for the first time against the former head of the military and President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

A long-term process of upheaval

All this shows one thing above all else: politics in the Arab world cannot be described with the seasons of the years along the lines of "the Arab Spring has become the Arab Winter". What we’re experiencing on our doorstep in the southern and eastern Mediterranean as well as in the Middle East, is a long-term process of upheaval.

Even the beginnings of this insurgency can be described as a process. The reality is much more complex than the story of the street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi who set himself alight in Tunisia and with this single act, this beat of a butterfly’s wing, triggered a hurricane that swept across the entire Arab world.

Take the example of Egypt: what sparked the rebellion against Mubarak? Was it 25 January 2011, when people began streaming onto Tahrir Square? Or the New Year’s Eve before that, when Muslim and Coptic youngsters took to the streets following an attack on a church in Alexandria to protest at the regime’s inability to provide adequate protection for the nation’s churches.

Protests against Hosni Mubarak on Tahrir Square in Cairo, 2011 (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
"Insurgency movements as a constantly recurring process of upheaval in the Arab world: if the genie is now out of the bottle, no autocrat, no military and no confessional party will be able to cram it back in. Then, the process of upheaval will run its course – regardless of the season," writes Karim El-Gawhary

Or did the uprising begin the previous year, when the young man Khaled Said was beaten to death by policemen in Alexandria and the Facebook campaign "We are all Khaled Said" spread like wildfire throughout Egypt. Or was the catalyst the protest movement "Kifaya" (Enough!), a small group of political activists demonstrating against Mubarak since 2004?

Social factors as a trigger for the rebellion

And precisely because this movement for political change in the country does not have a determinable starting point, it also has no end point. The old systems may continue to try and keep the lid on these protest movements by repressive means, but thus far they have not succeeded in completely eliminating the prevailing contradictions.

And these are currently being inflamed by the growing economic and social problems. After all, the traditional Arab autocratic or confessional political systems all have one thing in common: they open the door to corruption and the self-enrichment of whichever elite happens to be in power, while most of the country is left economically and socially with its back to the wall.

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Comments for this article: The genie is out of the bottle

The underlaying problem is the essential paradigm of Western thought is an idealist monism, in a more cyclical, binary reality.
Logically a spiritual absolute would be that raw essence of sentience, bubbling up through life, not an ideal of wisdom and judgement, from which it fell.
Yet there does have to be judgement and determination. Not every acorn gets to be an oak tree. We can't have our cake and eat it too. Both directions can't be taken at a fork in the road.
So we are stuck between the anarchy of desire and the tyranny of judgement. It really is more the yin and yang, of the heart and the head, than a God Almighty.
Democracy and republicanism evolved in pantheistic societies, that emerged with the ancient "multiculturalism" of the shift from tribes to city states. Monotheism was an effort to meld these complex cultural entities back into singular political systems. Thus it ushered the 'divine right of kings.' When the west went back to democratic forms, it required a separation of church and state, culture and civics. Islam is trying to sustain that top down culture, through Sharia laws, but judgement cannot fully dominate desire and it will only cause that much more wreckage, the longer it tries.
The future is as much a reaction to the past, as continuation of it. Thus is fluctuates. Without these ups and downs, it would just be a flatline otherwise.

John Merryman04.11.2019 | 00:20 Uhr