Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Prescient Article, Written Exactly Ten Years Ago, Today!

The Crackup of Arab Tyrannies
"Depending on the Soviet bloc for aid, protection, and diplomatic guidance, the Arab regimes closed their societies to influences from the West, thus reversing a trend that had started in the 19th century. Many of the Arab regimes concluded treaties of friendship and cooperation with the USSR and sent tens of thousands of their young men and women to study in the Soviet empire. The result was a deepening of the culture of totalitarianism within the ruling elite. By the mid-1980s, the last representatives of Western-style liberal thought in the Arab world were either dead or dying.

That opened the way for the reemergence of Islamic extremism as the only alternative to military rule. In Egypt, the regime alternated between ruthless repression of the Islamists (under Nasser), unsuccessful co-optation (under Sadat), and a mixture of the two (under President Hosni Mubarak). In Libya, the state has been fighting an Islamist insurgency since 1986. In Syria, the regime managed to break the back of the Islamist movement by organizing the massacre of an estimated 20,000 people in the city of Hama in 1983. In Iraq, the regime used the iron fist against the Islamists, mostly Shiites, throughout the 1980s, then adopted an Islamist posture of its own in 1991 to rally support against the U.S.-led coalition. In 1991, Saddam ordered the slogan Allah Akbar (God is supreme) inscribed on the Iraqi flag. In Algeria, the government's war against the Islamists started in 1986 and intensified after 1992. In the Sudan, the military came to power in alliance with the Islamists but broke with them in 1999 and has cracked down on their leaders and organizations ever since.

By the start of 2003, the Arab Islamist movement was in deep crisis. It was split in Egypt between those who urged accommodation with governments and those who preached endless war. In the Sudan, the Islamists were going through a process of "self-criticism" and trying to recast themselves almost as Western-style democrats, though few people were convinced. In Iraq, the Islamist movement found itself faced with a choice between alliance with the United States to topple Saddam Hussein and alliance with him in the name of patriotic unity. In Algeria, despite persistent terrorist violence, the divided Islamist movement seemed to be petering out. In Libya, the Islamist guerrillas appeared to be reduced to an enclave in the Jabal al-Akhdar region, while in Syria, hopes for reform under President Bashar al-Assad led to a split within the Islamist movement.

The pan-Islamist movement seems to have suffered a strategic setback with the failure of the Islamic revolution in Iran, the tragic experience of Islamism in the Sudan, and the dramatic end of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The emergence of al Qaeda as the most potent symbol of Islamism also weakened the movement by alienating key elements within the Arab urban middle classes. Al Qaeda's extremism frightened large segments of Arab traditional opinion, forcing them to rally behind the regimes in support of the status quo."

"Defeated in war, despotism must also be defeated politically. The hardest battles remain to be fought on the field of ideas."
Just one more reason why I think the coup in Egypt might well be Stage II of a long simmering revolution.

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