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Further Revolution in the Middle East

Egypt. Libya. Yemen. Oman. Bahrain. Tunisia. Iran. Iraq.

As revolution and rebellion ripples through the Middle East, it’s important that we learn quickly and keep our minds open. In conflict with our idea as the center of global politics, the United States is decidedly outside these clashes.

Taking a look at Egypt, particularly Cairo, in this Paris-on-the-Nile, I can’t help seeing comparisons to the French Revolution – another unheeded lesson in history repeating itself. Obviously, one of the primary similarities is the building of barricades and the skirmishes in the city streets. Instead of saboteurs and spies, however, we have hackers trying to access the Internet and doctors setting up impromptu aid stations in the street.

The second – and more important – is that it’s the power of the people rising against the power of the state. Writer Nada Bakri terms it the “power of the Arab street”, long pushed down by a government that ignored its citizens, dismissing them as little more than a nuisance in the way of governance. It is an odd concept – a government ignoring its people – but it is being paraded through the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. Now the Arab street has spoken, and it is no longer afraid of taking back its rights. The successful protests in Tunisia are further evidence of this monumental shift. They are reclaiming their individual right to govern themselves. In the events at Tahrir Square, we can see directly the conflict between the power of the people, the Arab on the street, and the power of the state.

But back to those hackers. In another example of the government’s attempt at controlling the outbreak, the state essentially vaporized Internet and phone access to the citizens of Egypt at the beginning of the protests. This is politics in a digital age, trying to take the steam out of the protestors by crippling their organization. In this particular act, we also see the transition from people vs. state to nation vs. globe. Beyond the conflict on the ground are the international repercussions of Mubarak’s resistance to immediately resign from his position as President. While many claim that the United States and its Western allies should have had a role in this transition, there is very little we could do.
Even the nations physically and politically close to Egypt did little, save for holding sympathetic gatherings. The US was limited to harsh words and removal of its nationals from the country. The most forceful American action was removing significant monetary support from Egypt. In the face of the US’s instinct to set up “little sibling” states similar to the buffer states fought for in the Cold War, we have been sidelined in the conflict, issuing stern words but ultimately resigned to speculation on the eventual outcome.

In this fray, something becomes clear. In the digital age, in a global theater, we are forced to adapt our politics. While Egyptians were able to organize protests and marches, governments are still learning how to conduct politics in the Internet era. In an age where information is the most valuable resource, populations are so connected that they are able to disseminate information much more rapidly than larger government structures.
This is a conflict where Arabic stations Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya are some of the most prominent sources of information. This revolution will not be televised, at least not by us.

We are faced with a plan of non-participation and can offer no solution, which might actually be to our advantage politically, as the government (along with a fair share of middle-eastern politicos) is all too happy to paint the United States and its allies as foreign interlopers. We are scrambling to find ways to control an outcome in our favor, or to at least minimize violence, but this conflict is firmly outside a direct influence by the US.
On the other hand, Libya is a revolution that we understand. Protests have definitively moved beyond peaceful marches and are now taking the form of full-fledged city battles, where rebels hold much of Libya’s western coast towns. In the midst of protests and gatherings throughout North Africa and the Middle East, foreign politicians are forced to react individually to each country’s conflict. When each country’s status varies on a day-to-day basis, politics and power must be handled sensitively. While Americans have a very small and indirect role in these proceedings, we still have a responsibility to be involved in the global response. These reactions may span anything from the aforementioned monetary penalty and sanctions, to the potential involvement of the Navy fleet off the Libyan coast. Every situation should help inform us in the future on how we conduct ourselves. The United States has sat at the top of the global pyramid for quite some time, but now we have to adapt to both what in many ways is an equal playing field, and one that can change instantaneously.

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