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The Arab Democratic Revolt

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  • shaji
    The Arab Democratic Revolt 21st Century Pan-Arabism and Potential Implications By Bill Fletcher, Jr. February 24, 2011
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 26, 2011
      The Arab Democratic Revolt

      21st Century Pan-Arabism and Potential Implications

      By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
      February 24, 2011

      The Arab democratic revolt has highlighted a potential
      reshaping of Pan-Arabism for the 21st century, and it
      is exciting to observe.

      In the period from Abdul Gamal Nasser's coup against
      the then King of Egypt in 1952 through the mid-1970s,
      there was a sense of Pan-Arabism that shook North
      Africa and the Middle East. This was a Pan Arabism
      that grew out of the anti-colonial and national
      liberation struggles of the period. These efforts,
      whether in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Algeria, or later Yemen,

      South Yemen, Palestine, the Sudan and Libya, were anti-
      imperialist and, on the global stage largely neutralist
      vis a vis the two superpowers of the time (the USA and
      the USSR). This Pan Arabism even took the form of
      efforts at structural unification, such as the failed
      merger of Egypt and Syria (to form the United Arab
      Republic) and efforts to include Iraq in that process.

      The disastrous June 1967 war with Israel, along with
      the failure of the Arab states to develop a coherent
      and implementable strategy to support Palestinian
      liberation, compounded by the debt crisis (and rise of
      neo-liberalism) undermined the progressive impulse that
      was Pan Arabism. All that was left was the rhetoric
      and a few political "outposts" attempting to keep the
      flag of Pan Arabism flying.

      The failure of Pan Arabism to fulfill a revolutionary
      mission, both in terms of truly liberating the people,

      eliminating corruption and authoritarianism, as well as
      keeping Western imperialism at bay, resulted in the
      creation of a void. This void began to be filled by
      various forms of what came to be known as political

      Islam (or Islamism). It is important to clarify that
      Pan Arabism always contained an Islamic `flavor', but
      it included within it non-Muslims. For that matter, it
      included within its tent peoples who would not
      necessarily see themselves as Arabs or be seen as
      Arabs. Political Islam emerged, in both its right-wing
      and left-wing variants, as a challenge to what was by
      the 1980s a decrepit Pan Arabism, and substituted a
      more global Islamic mission.

      The Arab democratic revolt of 2011 represents the
      potential for a renewal and transformation of Pan
      Arabism. First, it is a popular movement that is
      relying on the masses of people not as instruments of
      someone's agenda but as self-conscious political forces
      who are seeking freedom. As many people have noted,
      this is a movement without leaders, but, as I have said
      previously, it is not a movement without organizations.

      It represents an effort by social movements of the
      people to find their own voices. Hopefully clear
      leadership will emerge and the necessary organization
      in order to transform the revolts into revolutions, but
      that said, the movements have themselves proven to be
      transformative. If one compares this with even the
      most progressive coups that took place in the Arab
      World, e.g., 1952 Egypt; 1958 Iraq, those coups were
      not what one could call popular democratic revolutions.
      Though they were generally supported by masses of
      people, they were engineered by small groups. The
      Algerian Revolution (1954-1962), of course, stands in
      contrast given the mass nature of the war against the

      The 2011 Arab democratic revolt, in transforming Pan
      Arabism, could also have a major impact on the rest of
      Africa. It is important to remember that the earlier
      generation of Pan Arabism emerged in the context of the
      broader struggles, not just in the Arab World, but in
      what we call today the "global South." Egypt's Nasser,
      for instance, was not simply seen as an Arab leader,

      but as an African leader (including by African
      Americans in the USA). The Algerian Revolution was not
      viewed as an Arab/Berber uprising against the French,
      but part of a wave of national liberation struggles
      throughout Africa and the Arab World. In fact, after
      the victory of the Algerian Revolution, Algeria
      undertook efforts to support other struggles for
      liberation within Africa and saw itself as part of the
      progressive Pan Africanist movement.

      To the extent to which the renewed Pan Arabism retains
      its democratic impulse, it can address not only
      tyrannies, such as the northern Sudan under Al Bashir,
      but also represent an example of mass democratic
      movements against corrupt neo-colonial/post-colonial
      regimes that have plagued the continent. In this sense
      the Arab democratic revolt , though shaped by the Arab
      experience, need not be exclusive to the Arab World.

      In far too many countries on the Continent regimes have
      arisen that have become retrograde. In other cases,
      regimes have come into existence that have,
      irrespective of their rhetoric, aligned themselves with
      an anti-people, neo-liberal agenda that benefits a
      small minority. The current global economic crisis is
      exacerbating these divisions and can produce disastrous
      explosions, e.g., 1994 Rwanda, or mass democratic
      eruptions as witnessed in the Arab World.

      For these and many other reasons the Arab democratic
      revolt needs to be embraced as very much a North
      AFRICAN democratic revolt that holds lessons for the
      rest of the continent and with which progressive
      Africans and progressive Pan Africanists throughout the
      Continent and the African Diaspora should express

      It is no exaggeration to suggest that the Arab
      democratic revolt has the potential to shift global
      politics. Perhaps it can not only shift politics in
      the rest of Africa but also contribute to a 21st
      century renewal of Pan Africanism.

      BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Bill
      Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute
      for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of
      TransAfricaForum and co-author of Solidarity Divided:
      The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward
      Social Justice (University of California Press), which
      examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA.

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