The recent clash between the Egyptian police and angry protestors in Cairo marked the second anniversary of the Arab Spring in Egypt and the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak. The clash demonstrated that the revolution did not provide the Egyptians with a good alternative. The event of the second anniversary of the revolution seems to be the right occasion to understand the roots of its origin and the reasons behind why people rose in protest two years ago.
Against this backdrop, the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace & Conflict Resolution, in collaboration with the Department of Political Science, organized an extension lecture by Prof. Vijay Prashad on “Arab Spring, American Autumn?” on Thursday February 14, 2013. Prof. Vijay Prashad is the author of “Arab Spring, Libyan Winter” and is currently the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.A.
Before discussing in detail the actual causes and effects of the Arab Spring, which Vijay Prashad referred to as “a series of unfinished events”, he presented two ways of interpreting and understanding international affairs. The first way is the model of US primacy, often termed as the ‘Hub and Spokes’ system in which the US is at the centre and each of the spokes is client states such as Rwanda, Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Britain, etc. The tyre, comprising countries like North Korea, Congo and others, is the place where crisis break out. The second way, which has emerged in the last ten years, is multi-polar regionalism, of which Latin America is the best example.
Prashad rejected the mainstream media’s explanation of the causes of the Arab Spring. The mainstream media portrayed Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation as a significant reason behind the revolution. Prashad said that it is not uncommon to hear of self-immolations in Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt and even India. And such self-immolations do not create an uprising. He also rejected Facebook and Twitter as the catalyst fr the revolution since Internet connections in Egypt and Lebanon are in a sorry state of affairs. “The idea that people were simply serialized; they were organized by technology… is absurd. That was simply not the cause of the Arab Spring,” he said. The later part of his lecture focused on the revolution in Egypt.
“In Egypt there were two sources of political and economic power. Egypt has something of Pakistan in its military. The Pakistani military and the Egyptian military are not just military forces. They also own a lot of agricultural land,” he said. Just like the Pakistani military, the Egyptian military too is involved in production of ordinary consumer goods. “The second source of power was the political party i.e. the monopoly party at the time controlled by Mubarak. Their [economic] source was neo-liberal economic development,” he said. They were “involved in real estate, in speculation, and therefore in eroding national assets into joint ventures with foreign business concerns,” he commented. This aspect of bifurcation of power was also found in Tunisia, he said.
Prashad looked back into history to answer the question of why people actually rose in protest in Egypt. He mentioned the Egypt under Naseer and the ‘democracy of bread’ in which authoritarian regime was traded for economic prosperity. He moved on to talk about the later regimes which continued to be authoritative but also deprived people of economic prosperity. Prashad explained five actual sources of the Arab Spring in Egypt: the mosque, which had a space for gathering of people; solidarity movements in the form of unrecognized student organizations; textile workers of the town of Mahalla who developed unions against strong repression; middle-class organizations in the form of lawyers’ groups, Accountant groups and football associations, etc; and lastly, deterioration of economic conditions in Egypt. Prashad gave credit to the middle-class organizations, and not to social networking sites, for bringing in the masses. “That is how Tahrir Square happened. The cleavage between sources of social power open up; military say we’ve had it with this neo-liberal form of growth. Mubarak is gone. There is your Egypt,” he said. Prashad reasoned that the Arab Spring happened not only for the popularly accepted reason of demand for democracy, but also against neo-liberalism.
Later, Prashad talked about how the ‘Hub and Spokes’ or the West reacted to the Arab Spring. He discussed what he called the four axles of the ‘Hub and Spoke system’: Oil, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and stopping the emergence of any revisionist power in the region.
In conclusion, Prashad proclaimed that “nothing is settled in this Arab Spring. Revolutions don’t happen in a day. What happened was an enormous breakthrough but the breakthrough has to be built upon.” He also expressed that the winning Islamists in Egypt (with Mosque and Gulf-Arab money to their advantage) do not have a vision for economic development, and fail to see how neo-liberalism destroys the country. Also, they continue to have an inadequate understanding of a multi-polar regionalism, which according to Prashad is the future while US primacy will sooner or later fade away.
Listen to Prof. Vijay Prashad’s complete lecture here:[powerpress]