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Monday, May 23, 2011


Bin Laden Assassination Emboldens Empire

By Junaid Ahmad
May 23, 2011

Even though weeks have passed since the US raid which killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, details surrounding his death remain murky. The most curious question remains how was he able to “hide” in Abbottabad, a militarized garrison town, eluding Pakistani and US intelligence for so long.

Apparently, the raid entailed US forces entering bin Laden’s compound, half a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy, and shooting him in the head and chest. The fact that the US altered its initial claim that bin Laden was killed in a fierce firefight to admitting that the Al Qaeda leader was unarmed tends to challenge the jingoistic superman narrative used to describe the assassination.

The claim that the US military then buried him at sea (“eased into the sea,” as it was described) within 24 hours due to its deep respect for Muslim religious custom is also laughable considering the US’s systematic use of assassination, torture, indefinite detention, and extraordinary rendition against terror suspects over the past decade.

Nevertheless, it is almost certain that the body was bin Laden’s, not only because his supporters have confirmed his death, but also because President Obama would not place his political career on the line by taking such a risky bluff.

Many argue that the timing of bin Laden’s death is too precisely attuned to Obama's political needs for it to be a mere coincidence. Obama described the attack so theatrically that it seemed as if he himself had marched into the compound, donning a cape made from the American flag, and strangled bin Laden with his bare hands while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Why now?

While the CIA claims to have only known about “the target compound” since August 2010, Pakistani officials maintain that the ISI, Pakistan’s secret service, had been informing the CIA about it since 2009. However, the reality is that both the US and Pakistani military-intelligence networks have repeated falsehoods about bin Laden and Al Qaeda—about their own respective roles and the connections of bin Laden to their mutual ally, Saudi Arabia.

Even if one accepts the US claim that the CIA only learned about Osama’s hideout last August, it is still unclear why the US delayed the operation for nine months. Why was the appropriate time to hunt down the supposed mastermind behind 9/11 only now?

There have been no major terror threats either prior or subsequent to the killing of bin Laden. According to all serious analysts, Al Qaeda had become a much weakened force, inconsequential except to provide a justification for the US war machine.

The lack even of any claims of an impending security threat from bin Laden underlines the fact that the operation was undertaken by the Obama administration primarily because of domestic political calculations. The thinking seemed to be that a victorious military action to “take out” bin Laden could be exploited to bombard Americans with a deluge of militarist and jingoistic propaganda which would not only deflect attention away from the economic crisis but help bolster support for the billions being spent on a losing war in Afghanistan. It already has had the added effect of defusing any domestic criticism of the US’s drone attacks on Pakistan. It would also enable Obama to rebrand himself as a “wartime president,” detaching himself from the pledge of “change” emphasized in his 2008 campaign and bringing his administration ever closer to the military, the intelligence agencies, and with influential sections of the US ruling elite.

Bin Laden’s death clearly sparked off celebrations among Americans living across the globe. News channels were cluttered with coverage of the “heroic triumph,” and statements of government officials from all over the world demonstrated exuberance at the death of the sick old man–who was probably living under house arrest in the custody of Pakistan’s military intelligence. With this “landmark” victory in the “war on terror,” Obama certainly has both increased his chances for re-election next year and ensured that no one in the Republican camp can accuse him of pacifism.

US mendacity

Among Muslims, however, conspiracy theories and genuine skepticism are rife. Some claim that bin Laden was not killed, while others believe that he was killed long ago and this entire episode was nothing more than a political scam. Given the recent record of US mendacity (“there are WMDs in Iraq,” “the US does not torture,” etc.), it was not surprising that the Muslim world was reluctant to believe yet another fairytale of American heroism. Of course, the majority of Muslims’ denial of Washington’s version of the incident and their criticisms of the US are not due to some deep affinity with Al Qaeda or bin Laden, but rather out of disgust for America’s foreign and domestic policies since 9/11 (and before).

When announcing bin Laden’s death, President Obama proclaimed, “Justice has been done.” But it was clear that Osama’s execution had nothing to do with justice. Bin Laden perhaps could have been apprehended and tried for charges related to 9/11, but the trial would have brought under public scrutiny the embarrassing history of bin Laden’s relations with the US government. This was of course a relationship that began with the CIA funding and arming of the Mujahideen to fight Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Once the Soviets were defeated, the Mujahideen became a threat to the US presence in the Middle East and as often happens in US foreign policy, today’s ally becomes tomorrow’s enemy.

In his speech following the raid, Obama could have chosen to put an end to the “war on terror.” He could have repudiated vengeance and war, and embraced cooperation and real justice. He could have declared a new US foreign policy based on respect and equality of other nations that addressed the real grievances of the world’s people against America. Sadly, he chose not to and instead made it clear that US intervention will remain at full throttle.

Indeed, the decision to continue these military campaigns makes it obvious that Washington considered the “war on terror” as nothing more than a useful pretext—and Osama as a handy bogeyman—for legitimizing the US’s “permanent war” in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

Dangerous precedent

But is there any deeper political significance to the death of bin Laden beyond the clear boost that Obama will get for his re-election? Although bin Laden’s death has been proclaimed by Western mainstream media as a moment of “historic” significance, neither the Obama administration nor the media have demonstrated how this will stem the tide of militancy or lead to the end of the disastrous US wars and occupations. Indeed, the dangerous precedent of this brazen US violation of Pakistani sovereignty—and the frequency of deadly drone attacks since—is only intensifying anti-Americanism, and political instability in general, in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

In fact, reports that the operation undertaken to kill bin Laden involved backup plans for an armed confrontation with Pakistani forces highlight the decidedly dangerous nature of the raid. The operation threatened direct military hostilities between US and Pakistani troops well inside Pakistani territory and in close proximity to Pakistani military facilities. Thus, instead of ushering in an era of “peace and stability” to the region, the incident has aggravated the anxieties of Pakistan’s rulers about the reported US strategy to militarily intervene in Pakistan in order to destroy its nuclear weapons arsenal should Islamists appear to be taking power or the Pakistani state show signs of collapse.

Reflecting their utter indifference to the potentially grave consequences of the operation, Obama and other senior administration officials have not only defended the risky raid and celebrated the killing of Bin Laden. They have made it clear that the US is prepared to initiate more such actions inside Pakistan.

Ultimately, the killing of bin Laden is a substitute for both real justice and real victory—the   latter of which the US has failed to achieve in Afghanistan. It is also a PR spectacle intended to divert attention from the real confrontations the US Empire is facing. The unfolding Arab revolution, for example, is a glimpse of that resistance.

Junaid S. Ahmad teaches in the Faculty of Law and Policy, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lahore, Pakistan. This article will be published in the forthcoming issue of Left Turn Magazine.  Please support Left Turn by subscribing or making a donation:

Sunday, May 15, 2011



By Dina Samak

May 12, 2011

For decades the word "socialism" has aroused skepticism in Egypt. After more than 15 years of Gamal Abdel Nasser's rule, the once esteemed doctrine that was adopted by the one-party ruling establishment until the early 1970s is considered by many as the cause of Egypt's misfortune in the decades since. However, now that Nasser's Arab socialism no longer exists, its adherents, emboldened by the revolution, are trying to find their way back into the political scene.

A few days ago five socialist groups and newly established parties united to form a "socialist front". According to Yehia Fekry, one of the founders of the Popular Democratic Alliance Party, the front aims at organizing the efforts of different socialist groups already working on the ground before and after the January 25 Revolution in order to create a more dominant leftist force. The intention being that such an entity would be able to attract people who already sympathize with the politics and ideas of the left but don't identify themselves as leftists.

"Everyone is in the street", says Fekry, "the question now is who will win the hearts and minds of the masses. The left has a great chance to do so as one of the main demands of the revolution is social justice and one of its main forces are the workers. But will we be able to do this? It remains to be seen."
The new front includes:
  • The Popular Democratic Alliance Party, in which members of many leftist organizations united to form one leftist party. This mainly includes former members of the Tagammu Party (the only leftist legal party in Mubarak's Egypt) who left it and later joined the alliance after a split over the party's position on November's parliamentary elections.
  • The Socialist Party of Egypt, whose membership includes a number of the major figures from Egyptian politics since the seventies.
  • The Egyptian Communist Party that used to organize, mobilize and work through the Tagammu Party as it was considered an illegal party until Mubarak's fall.
  •  The Workers' Democratic Party, the first workers' party in Egypt founded by worker activists and social labour activists
  • The Revolutionary Socialists, a group of international socialists who worked for years under the umbrella of the Center for Socialist Studies.
The need for a left alternative according to many leftists had become a very important demand even before 25 January. "Wherever there is a capitalist system people need a leftist party", says Gamal Abdel Fattah, a socialist activist who welcomed the step of forming a united leftist front. "But now such a party is of great importance as those who made the revolution (the workers and the poor) are not yet in power and their interests are not well presented yet." But like many others, Fattah remembers that other attempts to create a united front for the left failed.

In 2006, different leftist groups tried to form what was known as the Socialist Alliance. This aimed at creating a leftist alternative to work on the ground, especially with the new wave of industrial action emerging at the time. Yet no sooner had the alliance been announced than the differences between its members paralyzed its coordination on the ground.

"We all have negative experience with trying to create a united leftist movement", says Aida Seif, a prominent human rights activist and one of the founders of the Workers' Party. "But the current moment is different than any other that we passed through before. We are in a revolution and every one of us wants to get the best out of it."

Seif believes that the demands are clearer than ever and that any mobilization based on them will succeed in attracting people to a leftist program. "All political trends are talking about social justice but what kind of justice is what really matters", she says. "Most of the new parties (now) and the state-controlled trade unions are committed to the defense of Egyptian capitalism. I can't understand why people take free market economy for granted after all that the workers suffered in the past decades."

For Seif, the main duty for the left right now is to help mobilize the working classes (to her this encompasses both blue- and white-collar workers) to defend their own rights. Other goals also mentioned in the socialist front's first statement include equal rights for all citizens and a democratic state.  

But considering that the parties taking part in the front share similar programs, many ask why doesn't the left have one party instead?

"The whole idea of the Popular Alliance is to create one party for the left", says Fekry. Despite much effort to achieve this, he explains, other parties did not welcome the idea of merging "so we agreed that we should try to build an entity through which we can coordinate and work together."

The Socialist Party was one of those that did not welcome the merge. Ahmed Bahaa Shaaban, one of the party's founders, thinks that it is too early for leftists to start an argument about a united program. "All the parties need to elaborate a concrete program and then we can start talking about unity, but until this happens we need a high level of coordination between us all because this is the only way we can create a leftist pole", says Shaaban. "The existence of four or five leftist parties in a country with a population exceeding 85 million does not mean that the left has a problem in uniting its power. Look at the liberals, how many parties do they have?"

The left in Egypt has been a force on the ground since the beginning of the 20th century, but for decades affiliated organizations have had to operate underground. This is blamed for leftist groups not being able to recruit on a large scale. With a workers' movement that has been gaining momentum since 2006 and an open political ground for all groups to organize, the challenge is bigger than ever.

"We know that talking about a united left can be seen by many as an over blow, especially that every one of these organizations has a membership that does not exceed a few hundred", says Hesham Fouad of the Revolutionary Socialists. "However, there is a huge political opportunity on the ground and we can, with real organization, be a true force with deep grassroots."

Fouad, like other socialists, believes that the global economic crisis that erupted in 2008 is deepening and that anger over unemployment, poverty and corruption is escalating due to the much reported ostentatious wealth of a narrow ruling elite backed by a political system impassive to the basic needs of the majority of the population. "People now believe that the whole system has to change, what we need, as the left, is explain to the people why this is true and where they can go from here. But after all, it is their battle and the left cannot win it for them even if it wins all the seats in parliament."

With an optimistic yet skeptical smile, Abel Fattah says: "People say that whenever two leftists sit together in the same room they end up disagreeing about something only they see as very important. But we can't afford to have this anymore."

Friday, May 6, 2011

CAPITALISM AND DEMOCRACY: notes on Goldman Sachs and Neoliberal Hegemony

Questioning the Feasibility of a Goldman Sachs Boycott
by Sam Knight

A free market and democracy are pretty much the same thing, we are told, because markets enfranchise consumers in ways the ballot box cannot. Milton Friedman – the Neoliberal Jesus – explained this theoretical phenomenon in his 1962 book Price Theory, describing it as “proportional representation that permits every group in the society to express its wishes to the extent of its dollar votes.”

But just how valid is this theory, and should a man who counted Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet amongst friends really be considered a credible spokesperson for democracy? While it might apply to a main-street model of free market economics, it certainly doesn’t apply to Wall Street’s version. In a highly liberalized economy, consumers can’t make informed decisions; some corporations thrive on deception, tricking consumers into thinking that they’re upstanding citizens when the opposite is true, and others profit from “dollar votes” even though their involvement in markets remains hidden from the public.

For example, consider the role that information and choice – two key tenets of democracy – play when deciding how Friedman’s “dollar vote” theory might apply to social justice warriors Goldman Sachs. Although the PR firm YouGov indicated that the public took a more negative view of Goldman than BP even after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, organizing a consumer-level boycott of Goldman, or any Wall Street investment firm would be impossible. Consumers simply have no way of knowing which pies they have their thumbs in.

The unsuspecting shopper could, theoretically, be supporting Goldman by buying Coca-Cola one week; the next he or she could be contributing to their billions in profit by purchasing Pepsi. Realistically, the firm could own a stake in both brands, the extraction of the raw materials used in the product’s making, the shipping company that brings it to the market, the retailer that sold the drink and the commercial real estate developer who leased the property to the retailer. Even if “dollar voters” would prefer that they weren’t “electing” enterprises that they find repulsive, they have little say in the matter. “Simply by your regular shopping, you are gong to be connected to Goldman (and other large investment banks) in one way or another,” Arthur MacEwan, Professor Emeritus of Economics at U-Mass Boston and co-founder of the blog Dollars and Sense said.

“Moreover, there is no way that the individual consumer in her or his normal operations can boycott Goldman,” he added. If consumers were to obtain a list of Goldman’s assets, it would be constantly changing. Even in the one market that Goldman has arguably had the most impact on Joe Schmoe – the mortgage market – its not as if Mr and Mrs Schmoe chose to put on their best clothing and head down to their local (non-existent) Goldman branch.

“In these indirect connections to Goldman Sachs,” MacEwan said, “the individuals who have taken on the mortgage have no say in establishing this connection.”

Thus consumers can do little to avoid “dollar voting” for banks like Goldman, even after discounting the billions that the firm received courtesy of the American taxpayer in the rigged economic election that was the AIG bailout .

To counter that message of resistance-as-futility, enough concerned citizens could conceivably appeal to the Goldman’s corporate and government customers to stop doing business with it; if they could ascertain who all those customers were.

On the other hand, one of Goldman’s slightly-less-evil competitors would most likely fill the void. Under the current set of rules governing finance, a shadowy Wall Street will continue to earn money off of mostly unwitting (sometimes unwilling) Americans. Not even those amongst us who keep their money in credit unions and shop at farmer’s markets can be sure that they aren’t contributing to Lloyd Blankfein’s bonus. Unless significant comprehensive financial reform includes transparency measures (McEwan described the most recent bill as “tame” but expressed hope that it represented a watershed moment) financial firms will continue to earn “dollar votes” through means that do not come close to resembling proportional representation.

If this is democracy, then perhaps the best argument against the system isn’t’ a five minute conversation with your average voter, as Winston Churchill once said, but rather a stop-and-chat with your average orthodox economist. Even unapologetic capitalists and libertarians who consider criticism of Goldman to be unjustified for whatever half-baked reason should feel uncomfortable that consumers lack the information required to boycott financial firms.

Aren’t free markets supposed to be based upon the idea that the consumer is the kingmaker? How can there be an “election” in which “voters” don’t even know for whom they are voting? Whatever you call our economic system, it isn’t democratic. Not even by Friedman’s low standards.


Thursday, May 5, 2011


Contested Meaning: King’s Legacy and the Struggle for Social Justice

By David Paul Tahrir Thurston

Martin Luther King Jr. is a towering figure in U.S. history and politics.  His powerful but complicated legacy is claimed by figures from across the political spectrum.  It is a testament to the power of the Civil Rights Movement, that even politicians who actively attack gains of the movement, feel compelled to invoke King’s legacy.  The contradictory meaning attached to King’s life was exemplified during the funeral for his widow, Correta Scott King.  There, every living U.S. president convened to deliver pious eulogies on the enduring value of the work of both Martin and Coretta.  This tragicomic episode of political theater included George W. Bush, whose administration was infamous for its callous treatment of poor, black victims of Hurrricane Katrina.  It also included Bill Clinton, whose popularity runs high among African-Americans.  This is true in spite of the painfully inescapable fact that Clinton’s years as president witnessed a doubling of the U.S. prison population, which is disproportionately black, poor, and Latino.

Dr. King’s legacy is invoked still more forcefully as a precursor to the current presidency of Barrack Obama.  Visual art picturing the two together became legion during Obama’s inauguration.  One famous poster featured the phrase, “Martin marched, so Obama could run.”  Barrack Obama’s deeply flawed presidency is positioned as the natural era of a generation of struggle against racism and for social justice.  Barrack Obama, the grossly premature recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize, poses as heir to Dr. King’s powerful legacy.

King’s legacy is also claimed by those of us fighting for social justice, whether in the movement to remold the criminal injustice system, the struggle for immigrant rights, or in the seemingly endless struggle to end the wars and occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Palestine, and Pakistan.  Obviously, it is impossible to know where King would have stood on the issues of our day.  Yet it is possible to look at the political trajectory of King’s own life, and attempt to draw lessons to serve us in the struggles of the moment.

The Martin Luther King who is memorialized in classrooms across the country during Black History Month is a pale reflection of the best of King’s life and work.  We are treated to endless repetition of his powerful “I Have a Dream” speech, as if the man’s life work ended on that historic day in 1963.  Yet King went on to draw very different conclusions about the character of U.S. society from those he espoused early in his political career.  King was a darling of the nation’s liberal establishment when he focused his attacks on racism exclusively on the southern edifice of Jim Crow.  But when King began to challenge poverty in the North, and to point to the persistence of institionalized racism outside of the South, he became a leper within those northern liberal circles.

Among King’s most courageous acts was his condemnation of the Vietnam War, famously delivered in a speech at Riverside Church in Harlem during 1967.  King called the U.S. government the world’s “greatest purveyor of violence.”  He argued that black soldiers were fighting for freedoms in Southeast Asia that they could not find in Southwest Georgia.  King was roundly condemned in the media and within the political establishment for these views.  While “I Have a Dream” features in many a school assembly, the Riverside Church speech enjoys no such prominence.

Activists for immigrant rights have argued that we build on the tradition of struggle developed during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.  While the movements of that era were focused on the legalized second-class citizenship allotted to African-Americans, the fight for immigrant justice challenges different though analogous patterns of inequality that limit the rights and opportunities of immigrants from across the globe.  The immigrant rights movement is also a workers rights movement, drawing strength from the economic centrality of immigrants to the U.S. economy.  Dr. King came to see the centrality of labor issues as his politics developed in response to the issues of his day.  King was killed in Memphis while supporting a strike of black sanitation workers.

Within interfaith organizing for social justice, King’s legacy is a powerful one.  As a leader within the faith community, King took courageous stances against injustice.  He argued that it was not enough to believe in a higher power, but that ordinary people had to act with determination to bring about the world of justice to which we aspire.  In his day, King built bridges between communities and attempted to develop a perspective for the struggle against racism that took stock of the profound economic inequality that continues to infect the political and social landscape of this country.

Cesar Chavez, a lion in the struggle for immigrant rights, had this to say about Dr. King:

“My friends, the time for action is upon us. The enemies of justice want you to think of Dr. King as only a civil rights leader, but he had a much broader agent. He was a tireless crusader for the rights of the poor, for an end to the war in Vietnam long before it was popular to take that stand, and for the rights of workers everywhere.”

In his final address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King’s words were prescient.  He argued that “we honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society.  There are forty million poor people here.  And one day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?  And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth… We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace.  But one day we must come to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.”

The movement for immigrant justice has much to learn from these words.  We are challenging the systematic legal inequality afflicting immigrant workers.  But we must also challenge the global economic inequality that produces unending streams of people desperate to find better lives in faraway lands.  We must educate our own society about the brutal political and economic realities that force millions to migrate, and fight for solutions that protect and defend the rights of all.  These are staggering tasks.  But our best contribution to extending the best of King’s legacy is to apply his insight, determination, and resilience to the struggles and challenges of our time.

We must also challenge the wanton abuse of Dr. King’s legacy to justify policies who almost certainly would have opposed.  Following Osama Bin Laden’s extra-judicial assassination, one activist for LGBT equality posted a deeply offensive and inflammatory post online, cheering Obama for carrying out this successful military operation.  It is not surprising that there are LGBT activists who have little appreciation for the struggle against U.S. imperialism.  What was shocking was the abuse of Dr. King’s name.  His famous quote that “the arc of history bends towards justice,” was invoked to lend the weight of history to a tawdry appeal to the basest revenge-oriented instincts in U.S. politics.

Martin Luther King was a tireless opponent of racism, war, povery, and violence.  We honor his legacy by continuing to struggle for justice on every front, and by engaging critically with his contested legacy.  One of Dr. King’s predecessors in the black freedom struggle, Frederick Douglass, argued famously that “without struggle, there is no progress.”  King’s was a life dedicated to struggle and tirelessly dedicated to the oppressed and exploited.  Defending his life’s work demands that we resist the appropriation of his legacy to defend the economic, military, and political status quo.


David Thurston was co-coordinator of outreach for the National Equality March in DC and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs.  He served as Anti-Racism Organizer and Educator at CASA de Maryland, and continues to serve on the board of the Washington Peace Center.  He is also a founding member of the Praxis Committee.  David can be reached at david.thurston78@gmail.com


End of an Era: The Arab Intifada of 2011 and the Decline of Empire

By Bilal El-Amine
Originally published on March 11, 2011

The sun is quickly setting on the rule of tyrants in the Arab world. Revolution is on the agenda from Morocco to Bahrain. After decades of passivity in the face of dictatorship, the Arabs are rising up like a waking giant to demand their freedom.

Tunisia was billed as a citadel of stability and an economic miracle. Just a few months ago, the most anyone hoped for was that its ailing president-for-life, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, would not bequeath the country to his wife or son-in-law. No one even dreamed that the Tunisians would become the vanguard of the Arab revolution.

Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old street vendor in rural Tunisia who was relentlessly harassed by the police, decided he had had enough and in a desperate act of protest burned himself in front of a local government building. Less than a month later, the Ben Ali regime was in ruins.

Then, something even more stunning happened. The fire that Bouazizi lit spread to what is arguably the most strategic country in the Arab world—Egypt. A revolution there would surely change the face of the region forever, but was it really possible?

The answer was not long in coming. Pax Americana’s strongest link in the region, Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-old regime, was toppled in less than three weeks.

Very suddenly, long-standing dictators were beginning to fall like dominoes. We went from a state of near depression about any possibility of change to boundless possibilities. In the new normal, we try to guess who's next and how long will it take. We even dare to wonder whether the contagion will ever be contained.

Facebook generation

But what is the nature of these revolutions? Who are the social forces that have ignited them? Are they spontaneous uprisings of a new generation of radicals? And if so, who are these youth and what motivates them? What kind of politics do they espouse?  

First, it is important to note that both revolutions were not as spontaneous as they appeared. In Tunis, there had been a series of local and regional intifadas in recent years, much like the one in Sidi Bouzid, which were contained and eventually snuffed out by the state.

In Egypt also, the past decade has seen a number of protest movements emerge involving many different sectors of society ranging from judges to industrial workers. These too remained isolated from the vast reservoir of discontent brewing in the country. Many of the activists at the core of the revolution had cut their teeth on these struggles and gained valuable experience.

Another misconception is that these were “bread revolutions.” Certainly, unemployment and poverty, rampant in places like Tunisia and Egypt, played a role in drawing millions into the movement. Nevertheless, the cutting edge of this wave of revolt is a desire for a dignified life, being able to work and provide for your family, freedom from the daily humiliation of police brutality, and the right to speak your mind without being subjected to imprisonment and torture.

In Egypt, it was young middle-class activists, often referred to as the “Facebook generation,” who led the way and constituted the bulk of the people who initially occupied and held
Tahrir Square
in the center of Cairo.

In most Arab countries, people under 30 constitute a large portion of the population. For these young people, the existing political system is suffocating and hopeless. Unlike their parent’s generation, who may have come to terms with the order of things, they view the Arab regimes as relics of a bygone age not befitting a modern society.

Similarly their style of politics differs markedly than that of previous generations. They tend to organize as networks of activists around a set of demands rather than as traditional political parties with a clear leadership and a full-fledged program.

Crucially, they seem to have transcended the secular-Islamist divide that has hobbled the Arab opposition for so long. Even though these activists are certainly closer to the secular end of the spectrum in their outlook, they are by no means hostile to Islamist activism. In fact, the largest protests in Egypt were organized around Friday prayers and many of the protestors would take time from battling the police to pray. 

It’s too early to guess what organizational form these networks of activists will take in the coming months. In the few short days of the revolution, they have shown themselves to be both principled and pragmatic and managed to maintain a high degree of unity uncharacteristic of previous generations of revolutionaries.  

Empire’s retreat

The weakening and possible collapse of most Arab regimes cannot be understood outside the context of empire’s slow retreat from the region. Along with its most trusted ally, Israel, the United States relies on this system of autocratic rule to keep a firm grip on the entire Middle East. Mubarak’s fall and the outbreak of democracy in the Arab world is a nightmare scenario for Washington.

That’s why the White House and State Department spokespeople, normally giving the world lectures on freedom and democracy, had such trouble with their words when it came to their loyal friend Mubarak. They know that what we are witnessing is the waning, if not the complete unraveling, of American dominance in this strategic and oil-rich part of the world.

It was almost 10 years ago when Bush unleashed his “war on terror” with the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, threatening those who stood in Washington’s way with either regime change or annihilation. The neo-cons emerged with grand and sweeping plans to remake the region into what they called the “New Middle East.”

Not long after the initial bold thrust, reality set in as resistance forces began to emerge. Sometime in the middle of the last decade, the tide began to turn. Iraq was becoming a quagmire and Israel was humiliated in the July 2006 War with Hizballah. Soon, the neo-cons were hurried back to the asylum and the Republicans were soundly defeated at the hands of war-weary voters.

The undoing of Washington’s gang of autocrats completes the circle. First, the US military is humbled in both Iraq and Afghanistan and eventually forced to beat a retreat. Then, when Israel tries to lend a hand in Lebanon and Gaza, it only confirms that it can no longer play the role of policeman in the region. Now the people of the region have risen in their millions to sweep away the last vestiges of American empire.

As I write these final words (just one week after Mubarak’s downfall), revolution fever has spread to all corners of the Arab world. There are mass protests in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Algeria, with many more “days of rage” being planned elsewhere. Ironically, “regime change” is their main slogan, and we are most certainly witnessing the birth of a “New Middle East.” Maybe the neo-cons weren’t so loony after all.

Bilal El-Amine is the founding editor of Left Turn magazine. He moved to Lebanon in 2004 and has been living and working in Beirut.