What is Winning? The Next Phase for the Revolutionary Uprisings

24 Feb


Early in the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings it seemed that winning was understood by the massed demonstrators to mean getting rid of the hated leader, of Ben Ali in the Tunisian case, and Mubarak in the Egyptian. But as the process deepened it make clear that more was being demanded and expected, and that this had to do with restoring the material and spiritual dignity of life in all its aspects.

Without any assurance as to what ‘winning’ means in the setting of the extraordinary revolutionary uprisings that are continuing to rock the established order throughout the Arab world, it is likely to mean different things in the various countries currently in turmoil. But at the very least winning has so far meant challenging by determined and incredibly brave nonviolence the oppressive established order. This victory over long reigns of fear-induced pacification is itself a great transformative moment in 21st century history no matter what happens in the months ahead.

As Chandra Muzaffar, the widely respected Malaysian scholar who  religion and justice, compelling argues, the replacement of the old order by electoral democracy, while impressive as an accomplishment given the dictatorial rule of the past in these countries, will not be nearly enough to vindicate the sacrifices of the protestors. It is significantly better than those worst case scenarios that insist that the future will bring dismal varieties of ‘Mubarakism without Mubarak,’ which would change the faces and names of the rulers but leave the oppressive and exploitative regimes essentially in tact. This would definitely be a pyrrhic victory, given the hopes and demands that motivated the courageous political challenges embodied in withstanding without weapons the clubs, rubber bullets, live ammunition, and overall brutality, as well as the uncertainty as to what the soldiers in the streets would do when the order to open fire at the demonstrators came from the beleaguered old guard.

What is needed beyond constitutional democracy is the substantive realization of good and equitable governance: this includes, above all, people-oriented economic policies, an end to corruption, and the protection of human rights, including especially economic and social rights.  Such an indispensable agenda recognizes that the primary motivation of many of the demonstrators was related to their totally alienating entrapment in a jobless future combined with the daily struggle to obtain the bare necessities of a tolerable life.

There is present here both questions of domestic political will and governmental capability to redirect the productive resources and distributive policies of the society. How much political space is available to alter the impositions of neoliberal globalization that was responsible for reinforcing, if not inducing, the grossly inequitable and corrupting impact of the world economy on the structuring of domestic privilege and deprivation? Not far in the background is an extended global recession that may be deepened in coming months due to alarming increases in commodity prices, especially food. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization the world Food Price Index reached a record high in December 2010, a level exceeded by another 3% rise in January of this year. Lester Brown, a leading expert on world food and environment, wrote a few days ago that “[t]he world is now one poor harvest away from chaos in world grain markets.” [International Herald Tribune, Feb 23, 2011]

With political turmoil threatening world energy supplies, oil prices are also surging, allegedly further endangering the uneven and fragile economic recovery in the United States and Europe. Global warming adds a further troubling feature to this deteriorating situation, with droughts, floods, fires, and storms making it difficult to maintain crop yields, much increase food production to meet increasing demands of the world’s growing population.

These impinging realities will greatly complicate the already formidable difficulties facing new leaders throughout the Arab world seeking with a sense of urgency to create job opportunities and affordable supplies of food for their citizenries. This challenge is intensified by the widely shared high expectations of improved living circumstances. If the autocratic prior regime was held responsible for mass impoverishment of the many and the scandalously excessive enrichment of the few, is it not reasonable to suppose that the more democratic successor governments should establish without much delay greatly improved living conditions? And further, how could it be claimed that the heroic uprising was worthwhile if the quality of life of ordinary citizens, previously struggling to avert the torments of impoverishment, does not start improving dramatically almost immediately? An understandably impatient public may not give their new leaders the time that need, given these conditions, to make adjustments that will begin to satisfy these long denied hopes and needs. Perhaps, the public will be patient if there are clear signs that the leaders are trying their hardest and even if actual progress is slow, there is some evidence that the material conditions of the populace are, at least, on an ascending slope.

Even if the public is patient beyond reason, and understands better than can be prudently expected, the difficulties of achieving economic justice during a period of transition to a new framework of governance, there may be still little or no capacity to fulfill public expectations due to the impact of these worsening global conditions.  It is quite possible that if the worst food/energy scenarios unfold, famines and food riots could occur, casting dark shadows of despair across memories of these historic victories that made the initial phases of each national uprising such a glowing testament to the human spirit, which seemed miraculously undaunted by decades of oppression and abuse.

It needs also to be kept in mind that often the slogans of the demonstrators highlighted a thirst for freedom and rights. Even though there is little experience of democratic practice throughout the region, there will likely be a serious attempt by new governing institutions to distinguish their practices from those of their hated forebears, and allow for the exercise of all forms of oppositional activity, including freedom of expression, assembly, and party formation. Unlike the problems associated with creating jobs and providing for material needs, the establishment of the atmosphere of a free society is within the physical capacities of a new leadership if the political will exists to assume the unfamiliar risks associated with democratic practices. We must wait and see how each new leadership handles these normative challenges of transition. It remains to be seen as to whether the difficulties of transition are intensified by counterrevolutionary efforts to maintain or restore the old deforming structures and privileges. These efforts are likely to be aided and abetted by a range of covert collaborative undertakings joining external actors with those internal forces threatened by impending political change.

And if this overview was not discouraging enough, there is one further consideration. As soon as the unifying force of getting rid of the old leadership is eroded, if not altogether lost, fissures within the oppositions are certain to emerge. There will be fundamental differences as between radical and liberal approaches to transition, and especially whether to respect the property rights and social hierarchies associated with the old regime, or to seek directly to correct the injustices and irregularities of the past. Some critics of the Mandela approach to reconciliation and transition in South Africa believe that his acceptance of the social and economic dimensions of the repudiated apartheid structure have resulted in a widely felt sense of revolutionary disappointment, if not betrayal, in South Africa.

There will also be tactical and strategic differences about how to deal with the world economy, especially with respect to creating stability and attractive conditions for foreign investment. It is here that tensions emerge as between safeguarding labor rights and making investors feel that their operations will remain profitable in the new political environment.

This recitation of difficulties is not meant to detract attention from or to in any way diminish the glorious achievements of the revolutionary uprisings, but to point to the unfinished business that must be addressed if revolutionary aspirations are going to be able to avoid disillusionment. So often revolutionary gains are blunted or even lost shortly after the old oppressors have been dragged from the stage of history. If ever there exists the need for vigilance it at these times when the old order is dying and the new order is struggling to be born. As Gramsci warned long ago this period of inbetweeness is vulnerable to a wide range of predatory tendencies. It is a time when unscrupulous elements can repress anew even while waving a revolutionary banner and shouting slogans about defending the revolution against its enemies. And a difficulty here is that the enemies may well be real as well as darkly imagined. How many revolutions in the past have been lost due to the machinations of their supposed guardians?

Let us fervently hope that the mysteries of the digital age will somehow summon the creative energy to manage the transition to sustainable and substantive democracy as brilliantly as it earlier staged the revolutionary uprisings.

 

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24 Responses to “What is Winning? The Next Phase for the Revolutionary Uprisings”

  1. Ray Joseph Cormier February 24, 2011 at 6:07 am #

    The desire of the common citizen for regime change has been a ting time coming.

    The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.
    And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. Matthew 11:5-6

    The Bible Fundamentalist Christian TV preachers never talk about this view from James, the brother of Jesus. If they did, they would be talking regime change that would bring them into conflict with the rich manipulating the politicians to maintain the status quo.

    Go to now, you rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
    Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth eaten.
    Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. You have heaped treasure together for the last days.
    Behold, the HIRE OF THE LABOURERS who have reaped down your fields, which is of you KEPT BACK BY FRAUD, cries: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.
    You have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; you have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.
    You have condemned and killed the just; and he does not resist you.
    Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waits for the precious fruit of the earth, and has long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.
    Be patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draws nigh.
    Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest you be condemned: behold, the judge stands before the door.
    Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.
    Behold, we count them happy which endure. You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.
    But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest you fall into condemnation. James 5

    This is a related theme to the wording in Revelation 3:14-17,

    These things say the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
    I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot: I would you were cold or hot.
    So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.
    Because you say, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

    A Christian TV Evangelist will never get the donations to support their mega churches expanding on these Biblical themes.

    AS to all the tyrants of the Middle East beginning to topple like 10 pins, it’s probably more interesting for me to see finally happening than anyone else because of my personal history.

    The Kansas City Times, on September 13, 1976 besides reporting specific time related events for the Middle East, before the Time Line of History confirmed the letter, also records,

    “and explained his own mission as “waging war against the beast” – the beast defined as government of man and tyrants.”

    The new Presidential limousine called “the beast”is an aptly named confirming Spiritual “symbol.”

    Obviously, as regards the mission, I was not talking of my own personal action other than being a messenger in the right place at the right time speaking for the Spirit of God, but since the report is from the Spirit of ’76, it is only now the Revolutionary Spirit of ’11 is beginning to overturn the tyrants and government of man in the Middle East. This we can see. It will soon spread world wide.

    The Kansas City Times reports can be seen here,

    http://ray032.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/from-the-revolutionary-spirit-of-76-to-the-revolutionary-spirit-of-11/

    • Ray Joseph Cormier February 24, 2011 at 6:08 am #

      The desire of the common citizen for regime change has been a long time coming.

  2. p wapner February 24, 2011 at 6:53 am #

    Beautifully captures the promise + dangers of the present,pregnant
    moment.

    • Richard Falk February 24, 2011 at 7:56 am #

      Thanks, Paul, for your congenitally generous responses. We are in wet, gray
      Istanbul for a week..Is your workshop still on for Montreal?

  3. Vi February 26, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    Quality information, nice web page template, stick to the great work

  4. Ray Joseph Cormier February 28, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

    Professor, I admire what you are doing in the way only you can do, and in my 1st message on your Blog, I told you many more people will rally around to support you. I’m happy to see it.

    Everyone should recognize it is in their own self-interest to engage in bringing like minded supporters of the struggle for Truth, Justice and real Freedom together if we hope to see a brighter Future in the world. The masses do not seem to be aware there is a worthwhile struggle taking place they could start with family, friends, neighbours and co-workers.

    We are all Egyptians now, seeking Regime Change from the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. This is a world wide thing.

    Doing what I can to help in dissemination of information, you may personally know the Middle East reporter whose most recent article of Today was just uploaded to my Blog. This is the reality in the world we must deal with.

    http://ray032.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/an-empire-of-lies/

  5. Sarah Williams March 2, 2011 at 5:13 am #

    What has so impressed me about these revolutions/movements is the sense that it is not just about individual suffering, but also about the collective good and the assertion of dignity. What is needed now is an approach to reform that is bottom-up and people-centric (of course, we also need this in our own countries too). For sure, big ideas are critical, but they need to be informed by the empowerment of the people. This needs to be on every level….social, economic, cultural and political. For God’s sake, let there be no parachuting in of constitutions and neo-liberal ‘toolkits’. Instead, let us be part of a constructive economic and diplomatic context for the process of reform. Certainly, it would do the Anglo-American behemoth a power of good if it could demonstrate that, contrary to expectations, it was actually capable of a benign relationship with the Middle East.

    • Richard Falk March 2, 2011 at 6:45 am #

      Thanks, Sarah, for such an intelligent and enlightened comment. I feel the obstacles to the implementation of ‘smart’ and ‘just’ power perspectives are two:
      oil; Israel, and an American reliance on hard power diplomacy (e.g. Iran); compare Turkey..

    • Ray Joseph Cormier March 2, 2011 at 7:39 am #

      Sarah, in 1896, the same debate we are having Today, 115 years later, is still raging.

      There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.
      -William Jennings Bryan on July 9, 1896

      Trickle down economics is not a new concept or simply Reganomics.

      http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5354/

  6. Ray Joseph Cormier March 5, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    I just uploaded a new a new article, TV & POPULAR CULTURE: IDOLS, ADVERTISING AND UNREAL REALITY/Frayed ends of sanity. It’s all related to our common cause.

    Putting in a link to the ‘prophetic’ 1976 movie ‘Network’ I was so pleasantly surprised to see the actual video became embedded in the page. Wonderful technology and convenience here on WordPress!

    I hope you like it, Professor Falk and others.

    http://ray032.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/tv-popular-culture-idols-advertising-and-unreal-reality/

  7. Tirza Goldstien March 6, 2011 at 11:03 pm #

    Hello
    I`m jewish and an Israely.
    I would like very much to interact with you.
    Is it ok by you?
    please let me know.
    have a great day
    Tirza

  8. Ray Joseph Cormier March 13, 2011 at 8:21 am #

    In the middle of the tumult spreading in the Middle East there is a new development now happening that in my view will bring the world much closer to Armageddon. Armageddon is derived from Har Mediggo now located in the Occupied West Bank. It was in the Roman Province of Palestine when the word first appeared in the Revelation 2000 years ago.

    Series of security failures led up to West Bank settlement attack, probe shows

    Although alarm sounded when terrorists entered Itamar, settlement’s security team apparently failed to inform soldiers on patrol; this allowed terrorists to remain in settlement for three hours during which they murdered five people.
    By Anshel Pfeffer Tags: Israel news West Bank

    http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/series-of-security-failures-led-up-to-west-bank-settlement-attack-probe-shows-1.348807

    Israel’s response?

    Israel approves 500 new homes in West Bank settlements in response to Itamar attack
    Ministerial committee on settlements with participation of Netanyahu and Barak approve further settlement building as response to the fatal stabbing in West Bank settlement in which family of five were slain.
    By Barak Ravid Tags: Israel news Israel settlements West Bank

    http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/israel-approves-500-new-homes-in-west-bank-settlements-in-response-to-itamar-attack-1.348864

    Hang on people. Hard times are coming.

    http://ray032.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/war-in-the-middle-east/

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. RICHARD FALK : What is Winning? The Next Phase for the Revolutionary Uprisings | oolaah - February 25, 2011

    [...] Richard Falk , Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University is also author of Explorations of the Edge of Time: Prospects for a New World Order – Crimes of War: Iraq and The Costs of War: International Law, the UN, and World Order After Iraq. He is the currentUN’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in theOccupied Palestinian Territories. This post first appeared on his Blog. [...]

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  5. RICHARD FALK : What is Winning? The Next Phase for the Revolutionary Uprisings | My Catbird Seat - March 13, 2011

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  7. UPDATED RICHARD FALK : Will We Ever Learn? Kicking the Intervention Habit | Veterans Today - May 14, 2011

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    […] Richard Falk , Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University is also author of Explorations of the Edge of Time: Prospects for a New World Order – Crimes of War: Iraq and The Costs of War: International Law, the UN, and World Order After Iraq. He is the current UN’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This post first appeared on his Blog. […]

  12. RICHARD FALK : Will We Ever Learn? Kicking the Intervention Habit | Uprootedpalestinians's Blog - July 8, 2013

    […] Mahmoud Mamdani has taught us to distinguish ‘good Muslims’ from ‘bad Muslims,’ now we are being instructed to distinguish ‘good autocrats’ from ‘bad autocrats.’ By this definition, only the pro-regime elements in Libya and Iran qualify as bad autocrats, and their structures of must at least be shaken if they cannot be broken. What distinguishes these regimes? It does not seem to be that their degree of oppressiveness is more pervasive and severe than is the case for the others. Other considerations give more insight: access and pricing of oil, arms sales, security of Israel, relationship to the neoliberal world economy.What I find most disturbing is that despite the failures of counterinsurgency thinking and practice, American foreign policy gurus continue to contemplate intervention in post-colonial societies without scruples or the slightest show of sensitivity to historical experience, not even the recognition that national resistance in the post-colonial world has consistently neutralized the advantages of superior hard power deployed by the intervening power. The most that has been heard is a whispered expression of concern by the relatively circumspect Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, that it may not be prudent at this time for the United States to intervene in yet another Islamic country. The absence of any learning from Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq is startling, underscored by the glorification of General David Petraeus who rose to military stardom soon after he was credited with refurbishing the army’s approach to counterinsurgency, which is the Pentagon jargon for pro-regime intervention. Major current illustrations are Afghanistan, Iraq, and several other places in the Middle East. Technically speaking, the proposed intervention in Libya is not an instance of counterinsurgency, but is rather a pro-insurgency intervention, as has also been the case with the covert destabilization efforts that continue in Iran. It is easier to understand the professional resistance to learning from past failure on the part of military commanders as it is their life work, but the civilian politicians deserve not a whit of sympathy. Among the most ardent advocates of intervention in Libya are the last Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, the supposedly independent Joe Lieberman, and the Obama Democrat John Kerry. It seems that many of the Republicans focused on the deficit although cutting public expenditures punishes the poor at a time of widespread unemployment and home foreclosures would not mind ponying up countless billions to finance acts of war in Libya. There exists a worrying readiness to throw money and weapons at an overseas conflict, seemingly as to show that imperial geopolitics is not yet dead despite the growing evidence of American decline. In the end, I suppose we have to hope that those more cautious imperial voices that base their opposition to intervention on feasibility concerns carry the day! What I am mainly decrying here in the Libyan debate are three kinds of policy failure: (1) the exclusion of international law and the United Nations from relevance to national debates about international uses of force; (2) the absence of respect for the dynamics of self-determination in societies of the South; (3) the refusal to heed the ethics and politics appropriate for a post-colonial world order that is being de-Westernized and is becoming increasingly multi-polar. Richard Falk , Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University is also author of Explorations of the Edge of Time: Prospects for a New World Order – Crimes of War: Iraq and The Costs of War: International Law, the UN, and World Order After Iraq. He is the current UN’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This post first appeared on his Blog. […]

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