Monday, April 11, 2016

From Otpor! and Tamarod to Today

I went to bed last night thinking about Egypt. I arrived there in my mind after reading a piece that appeared on the TomDispatch web site at the beginning of last month. "Three Times When the World Broke Open -- and Two When It Might Again: In Praise of Impractical Movements," by Mark Engler and Paul Engler, is a refutation of gradualism in politics, where change is engineered in piecemeal fashion by consensus of ruling elites, in favor of sudden paradigm shift powered by the ruled masses.

Nothing to argue with there. The problem I had with the essay was one of the three examples of nonviolent change offered as proof of the potency of spontaneous revolt. The Englers applaud the Serbian student group Otpor! for sparking the movement that removed Slobodan Milosevic from power in October 2000 (what is commonly classed as a color revolution though it is named after a bulldozer), something that the military might of NATO was unable to achieve the prior year. But it is well established that Otpor! received substantial assistance from the U.S. government, including training in nonviolent resistance.

This brought to mind Tamarod, the youth-led Egyptian protest movement that purportedly collected 22 million signatures calling for early presidential elections and sparked the June 2013 mass demonstrations that prefigured the July 3rd coup. It turns out Tamarod was part of the military takeover all along.

Two stories this morning provide insight into the rough shape of "astroturf" popular uprisings a few years on. The first, "Egypt Gives Saudi Arabia 2 Islands in a Show of Gratitude," by Declan Walsh, describes how the el-Sisi government has signed over two islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba in exchange for agreements with the Saudis worth billions. The second, "Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s Premier, Quits Amid Splits in Post-Revolution Alliance," by Andrew Kramer, explains how the U.S. has finally eaten its Maidan prodigy, "Yats," forcing him out in favor of the "chocolate king" Poroshenko.

Re-branding coups as popular revolts does not a revolution make. These ersatz rebellions are a ruse to maintain the old, exploitative privileges which motivate the popular uprisings to begin with. It is not a sustainable model for social transformation, to say the least.

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