Where is our Revolution in the Arab world?
Revolution is a term and an idea which has taken a quasi mystic meaning since the French Revolution all over the world and until nowadays. This event put an end to the “represent of God on earth” as was described the king Louis XIV, but moreover it allowed the people to believe that there had their words in history, in the destiny of their country, that another society and form of government was possible. The French Revolution and its principles, which were directly dragged from the “Pensée des Lumières” and philosophers such as Voltaire or Rousseau, were set as an example to follow by many revolutionaries across the globe, which had the same objectives: build a better future. The 1917’s Revolution in Russia was understood as a political necessity, a shortcut for progress and as an attractive means for the liberation of Third World countries from their Western occupiers. The French philosopher Frantz Fanon in the 20th century added more characteristic to the concept of Revolution, especially in relation to the Third World, and argued on the necessity to create an endogenous movement close to the people, and far from an elitism approach, for each country or region independent from the western model. The Iranian Revolution in 1979 is in this respect very close to the Fanonist conception, before being taken in hostage by the most extremist branch of it the islamist and Khomeyni, which gathered different political thinking from a religious Shia discourse to a Marxist rhetoric, passing through nationalist and liberals. The outcome of the Iranian Revolution was not predetermined but it resulted of a long political and class conflict which was finally won by the clerics.
Revolutions are also criticized for the violence it provokes notably the era called the “Terreur” after the French revolution, the Gulags institution in Russia and the process of elimination against political opponent, old allies during the fall of the Shah, conducted by the Islamic Republic of Iran. But even with this negative feature the phenomenon of Revolution keeps its mystic nature, its spirit of hope and message of liberation across the world. Revolution is still for certain societies and population, which can no longer continue living in the old way, often the only remedy there is
In relation to the Arab world, did any Revolution take place? We often hear and read about Revolution in the region, notably in 1952 in Egypt with Nasser, in 1958 with the fall of the Hashemites and Kassem arrival to power or in 1963 in Syria with the Baath hold on power. To speak about the phenomenon of Revolution, we should firstly define the concept before characterising events as such. Firstly Revolution, scientifically speaking, should not be featured as a “quantum leap” for the country. The following definition corresponds to the neutral concept of Revolution which attaches no moral standards to it outcomes which may turn regressive or progressive:
“A Revolution is a rapid, fundamental change in the social structures as well as in the state’s personal, institutions and foundation of its legitimacy, accomplished from outside the legal channels and accompanied in part by a movement from below” .
We should therefore distinguish Revolution from other concepts such as coup d’états, which corresponds to the forceful replacements of one faction of the elite by another; rebellion, which is a spontaneous mass uprising against specific government policy or event, as we have seen lately in Iran where a large number of people revolted against the result of the elections; and from “revolution from above”, a radical elite initiated change imposed on society , a phenomena very well described by Rayomond Hinnebush in his book “Syria a Revolution from above”, but as well as in a Egypt with Nasser in 1952 or in Iraq with Kassem in 1958.
In the case of Egypt, Syria and Iraq, these events were conducted by the militaries with the collaboration of some political parties but were not accompanied by mass mobilization.
On the opposite two major events occurred in the Arab world during the two world wars which had important repercussions in the region and which come very near to the concept of Revolution: the Great Syrian Revolt from 1925 to 1927 and the Great Palestinian Revolt from 1936 to 1939. Both events were characterised by mass mobilization through notably the support of different strata of the society which challenged the colonizers, the notables’ leadership of the national movement and threatened the bases of mercantile landlord dominance. In Palestine, the rebels represented a broad alliance of peasants, of workers and radical elements of the middle class who developed an effective military force and began to implement social and political programs. In Syria, the revolt drew its leaders from the ranks of rural sheikhs, demobilized military officers, villager and quarter leader. Urban notables and great landowners in Palestine and Syria who were leading the national movement at the time advocated for negotiated process with the colonizers rather than armed revolt. Definitively both revolts fulfilled the mass mobilization characteristics through notably the support of different strata of the society. They achieved during the Revolt years in their respective countries to change the social dominance of urban notables on the society and their fights was also characterized by social demands, but they were both not allowed to implement a new society, state or to push out the colonizers from the country. The Fanonist component of an endogenous movement gathering different political tendencies against a common enemy was also carried out successfully in both cases: In Palestine and in Syria, the peasant led movement represented a congealing of nationalism, religious revivalism and class consciousness, no element of which can be nearly disentangled from the others.
Therefore, both Revolts had all the components of a Revolution and had long lasting consequences on their respective countries, but were not one because they were unsuccessful to achieve it and establish a new order. They had to face the opposition both from the urban notables threaten to loose their power, which will happened few decades later in Syria and other countries in the region, and the colonizers.
This consequently brings us to the following question: Why the Arab world has not known a successful Revolution since then?
To answer this very complex question, we should analyse the process theory leading usually to a Revolution, even though this latter is of course not a mathematic addition and each country has its own particularities, and we’ll add essential component such as an endogenous movement, a Frantz Fanon characteristic prominent in his discourse, inside the country mixing different tendencies around a common project of society.
Firstly, the presence of revolutionaries to lead the project and the process of Revolution is a crucial necessity . Their objectives and the content of their program towards it depend of their educational, practical and personal background. Would the Russian revolution happen in 1917 without Lenine involvement? Would have Iran known the fall of the Shah without Khomeyni central personality and the gathering of the diverse political groups around him during the Revolution in 1979? No strict answer is available, but no doubt these personalities played an essential role to lead the Revolution to its end.
Secondly, the visibility of the Revolution process by a large number of people is needed . A great number of person and diverse political groups should be dedicated to change, despite the fact a large proportion of the population is not fully informed about the revolutionary project or that it appeals and is felt by each one of them differently. All Revolutions are actually supported by many who would not have supported them had they had a clear understanding of what the Revolution were in fact to bring about, even the one’s which did establish a better order and solved many problems their predecessors were not able to do . Generally people’s demand are far from revolutionaries plan, it consists of establishing a decent government which is non oppressive, not controlled by a foreign power and protects the worse off and the poor from the fear of starvation or maltreatments . The diffusion of an alternative project of society instead of the current one to the greater number is therefore the second component in the revolutionary project.
Thirdly, the failure of social control appears in many ways to be essential to lead the Revolution to its end . The inadequacy of social integration is an element which mobilized a large number of people and has been observed widely in the 20th century through different Revolution starting from Russia in 1917 to Iran in 1979. It is certainly not a surprise to consider that all successful revolutions from the last century have taken place in countries which where integrated into the international capitalist economy in a way which disrupted traditional economic adaptations, made future economic progress excessively difficult to achieve except for the Comprador Bourgeoisie linked to foreign powers and interests. The integration in world capitalism enjoyed only by few certainly contributed to the lost of social control by the regime.
These three characteristics are the necessary elements in the study of J. Dunn to expect a Revolution to happen; in our opinion a last component for a successful Revolution is needed: the gathering of different political forces around a common project of society which combines the country’s identity and modern political ideas. From the French to the Iranian Revolution, political movements from various tendencies allied themselves against a common enemy, dictatorship, to build a better order. In the same time, to avoid the errors from the pass, a political chart gathering all the political groups should be published assuring a just share of the power to all, in order to prevent the hostage taking of the revolution by only one group and finally the replacement of a dictatorship by another.
In relation to the Arab world these different elements are sometimes present at various times but are not brought together at one.
The Revolutionaries were not absent in the Arab world, far from it, after the second world war the Baath, the Syrian Popular Party, Communist, the Brotherhood of Islam and others all had a Revolutionary project of society. They all failed in their projects to gather a majority of the population around an inclusive political program. The leftists suffered from their elitist discourse, which did not able them to connect with the mass. They very often neglected the cultural element, which appealed to people, viewing essentially everything through materialistic eyes. They usually saw themselves as the “Avant Guarde” or the “Tali’a” who would educate the people, just as Communism and Lenine suggested it, an elitism approach which ostracized the population from government decisions.
On the opposite, the main asset of the Islamic groups was their religious discourse and the appeal of Islam, useful tools to achieve their political objectives. In the same time these latter had never had, until recently, an inclusive view of the society, relegating seculars, minorities and others who did not share their view of an Islamic society as citizens of second class, which explains their failure to seize power in the Arab world, from Syria to Egypt. Hezbollah and Hamas, which can count on the support of a large number of the population in their respective countries, actually changed their political discourse and were therefore able to appeal to people who would not have supported any Islamic group before.
Nationalist forces such as the Baath were the most effective in their hold on power combining different elements such as Nationalism, Islam and Socialism but they usually preferred to ally with the militaries than with the people or build a military society neglecting the mass involvement in the destiny of the country. They therefore were not able to conduct a true Revolution which would have leaded may be to democracy.
The second component of the Revolutionary process was therefore absent; the different revolutionaries were not able to diffuse and to convince a large number of people of the possibility of a better order. The third component, which is the lost of social order and the disruption of this latter from international world capitalism, was definitely a characteristic which was used by the military and their political collaborators to put an end to the bourgeois democracy, notably in Egypt, Iraq and Syria. The elites of these countries were indeed part of the Comprador Bourgeoisie linked to foreign countries while neglecting the social rights and the dignity of the people. These elements able the militaries with a nationalist tone to take over the power and to suppress liberal rights such as the right of free expression or of free association, while practicing a socialist policy of redistribution of land, free education or free health system allowing them to gain support from the mass. Today, these militaries, ex revolutionaries, or their sons or followers are still in power and have forgotten their socialist pass to enter a liberal age neglecting at their turn the people. Egypt and Algeria are the best examples of this transition from a socialist economy to an ultra liberal economy which extend more and more the gap between the rich and the poor leading to food revolts as we have seen recently in Egypt last year.
The last component in the revolutionary process, the endogenous movement close to the people and combining various political groups from different tendencies towards change and democracy, has not been successfully conducted. The political groups prefer until now to fight each other and struggle for their own interests instead of building a constructive opposition which represents the voice of the people. This is certainly the biggest reproach history will recall towards these political groups: their inability to get over their differences against dictatorship or against the sectarian system in Lebanon to build a project of society in common respecting each other rights, from social to liberal right.
In conclusion, the populations of the region are still awaiting an Arab Revolution which will allow them to free themselves from foreign control, dictatorship and to assure them their social rights. Finally, there is no doubt the Great Syrian and Palestinian Revolts are examples to follow and to remember, because it reminds us that Revolutions are finally made and organised by men and their will, and not an event which just happened.
1) Dunn J., Modern revolutions, 1972, 226
2) Study of Revolution : Science of Anarchy or Anarchy of Science ?
3) Study of Revolution : Science of Anarchy or Anarchy of Science ?
4) Dunn J., Modern revolutions, 1972, 234
5) Dunn J., Modern revolutions, 1972, 234
6) Dunn J., Modern revolutions, 1972, 234
7) Dunn J., Modern revolutions, 1972, 234
8)Dunn J., Modern revolutions, 1972, 234