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23 February 2011


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Ramtanu Maitra

What I find most interesting about these uprisings is that not a single carrier of photo of Osama bin Laden has appeared either in Cairo, or Tunis, or Algiers, or Tripoli, or Bahrain, or Amman or even in, Sanaa. What does that mean?
Does it mean that Osama bin Laden and his "vice-like grip" over the Islamic militants we were told to believe was all an orchestrated lie (the pitcher-batter duel in which you got to strike out someone, not an organization, some one and that some one was Osama?), or for reasons that I do not understand, why Osama has suddenly lost all credibility to the people he was allegedly mentoring.
It is true that Osama bin Laden had from the very outset called for removal of these Arab and Islamic "despots". That was pretty much the mantra of al-Qaeda in the old days before US bgean to monopolize AQ's attention. What happened in the interim? Despite his ostensible success associated with 911, and his ability to "influence" Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, and even after his success in setting up what is known as AQIM ( al-Qaeda Islamic Maghreb), which was "reportedly" gaining grounds rapidly, as al-Qaeda was also reportedly gaining grounds in Yemen, why I do not see a single poster carried by someone among the mutlitude in the streets of turmoil?

William R. Cumming

Great post! While some systems (perhaps the Chinese) have traded economic freedom for its population for denying political freedom it looks like your assessment is both were denied in the countries you discussed and a repressive and corrupt police state existed. Is my shorthand statement of your essay correct?

Charles I


Would Abdeen Palace be the same Presidential palace that EGYPTIAN tanks surrounded this time?


This is a good series, thank you for taking the time to write them.

Yusuf  Al-Misry

Mr Cummings..Yes. It is.

Yusuf  Al-Misry

Charles. Abdeen Palace is empty now. No tanks can surround millions of people in the streets. That is the difference.
Watch next Friday at Tahrir Square. Another round of the arms wrestling. Million persons will gather to guarantee that the country will move in the right direction

William R. Cumming

YUSUF! Question? What nation-state or regional grouping other than N.African states themselves benefits the most from current "unrest" in the that area of the WORLD? And its likely course?

Yusuf  Al-Misry

Mr Cummings. It is still a very fluid situation. It depends on the conclusion. I believe the last part of this analysis will partially address that

Yusuf  Al-Misry

Sorry Charles..Slow understanding! I just got your point now.(about Abdeen Palace). They can not impose their will. The balance on the ground is different. My remark about next Friday is still valid however!

Clifford Kiracofe

These are really fine and helpful pieces, please keep them coming.

Peter Principle

In all these countries silence was imposed and a decorative political life was staged for deception purposes. But the equations were all the same : We will give you food, stability, education, infrastructural projects, national pride, jobs in the public sectors, price controls, etc., and you will give us total silence and submission. That was the deal.

Basically the same "deal" imposed in the Asian Tiger countries during the '60s, '70s and into the '80s, and in mainland China now.

The difference, of course, is that the Tigers went for forced-draft, state-supported, export-driven capitalist development, which worked, instead of old-fashioned Stalinist central planning (a steel mill in every village), which didn't work.

Granted, most of the Tiger dictatorships have since collapsed. But it was generally a less violent, more evolutionary process than what we're now seeing (and may see more of in the future) in the Middle East -- thanks in large part to all that wealth that forced-draft capitalism created.

In other words, the difference between the two regions may simply be that Asian dictatorships bet on a winner, while Arab regimes by and large bet on the loser -- economically speaking.

Charles I

Thanks very much Yusuf, I'd certainly never heard of Feb 4 1942, this place is like the Library at Alexandria saved for me, so many interesting thoughts and little details to consider. I'm very grateful for both.

At least they're Egyptians NOT shooting at Egyptians, this is progress. There was a very nice piece on the April 6th movement on PBS last night detailing its genesis, growth, personnel and experiences. Wonderful group of savvy fearless youth, whatever else may or may not have been going on. There was not a hint of religiosity, no sign of the MB until they got on the bandwagon day three.

But April 6th certainly don't seem to be imposing their will on the army , really curious to see these constitutional amendment proposals.

Sad to me, although I know not whereof I speak, that Egypt has been so drained and constrained that it is currently unable to exert the regional influence that might avail next door.

William R. Cumming, re cui bono.

Surely a more democratic influence on foreign policy would perforce end complete subservience to the "Peace Process", include some freedom to rightfully abuse the U.S. over its complicity, e.g, the recent Settlement Resolution veto, all of which would redound to the wily and commodity hungry Chinese?

They are already busy buying up mining in Africa and expanding their influence there apace, big investors in our oil sands, spying and influencing their guts out up here in Canada, according to the odd indiscreet eruption of our top CSIS chappies, apparently miffed at the level of influence if not actual penetration, and political indifferenc to it.

This week it comes pout they hacked our Finance Ministry and Revenue Ministry computer systems, along with some Canadian defense Research Agency I'd never even heard of. Phishing emails right to the top execs, trick attachments, voluntarily compromised passwords, the whole nine yards. Bloody high school security.


In other words, the difference between the two regions may simply be that Asian dictatorships bet on a winner, while Arab regimes by and large bet on the loser -- economically speaking.

And perhaps because there is no Jerusalem nor Mecca in that region of Asia.

William R. Cumming

Charles I! Note the Chinese are attempting to evacuate their 15,000 workers in Libya. WOW!

And the PLA and state security apparatus in China has been put on high alert over rumors of a "Jasmine Revolution"! My my globalization. Not just bits and bytes of financial wizardy running aroung.

William R. Cumming

Juan Cole on his Informed Comment Blog reporting 90% of Libya under "rebel" control.


Thanks for the vital historcial background and insight to current unfoldings. I always think it's important to situate these tectonic shifts, as in the late Nasser period, in the larger global context. Yes, the inherent paradox between a genuine development impulse and the police state repression was one obvious internal factor, leading to disasters. And, of course, Nasser's setback in the 1967 Six Day War was a profound psychological shock for the Egyptian people.

But globally, things were going from bad to worse on a long trajectory downward. The breakup of the Bretton Woods system in 1971 was a fundamental change from development to speculation, globally. The IMF and World Bank really changed stripes during this same time frame, now imposing models of "appropriate development" which amounted to a new form of looting of the most advanced sectors of the developing world. The new model, the so-called "Washington Consensus," was a shift to strictly export economies, currency devaluations, privatization of state sector industries, foreign direct ownership, and a spiral of debt controls. I am reminded of the American Civil War generals who were in Egypt in the 1870s and 1880s, and witnessed and wrote of how the British and French bankrupted Egypt, through manipulation of the debt. Same thing happened again, with a vengeance, in the 1970s and 1980s, and this allied the repressive regimes with a new set of oligarchs (in Egypt, Gamal Mubarak, Ezz, etal.). This whole process has now really run its course. If the ongoing revolts are to have a happy ending, I think the lessons of this larger picture must be seriously studied. In Egypt, as late as 1982, the Mubarak government had ambitious development plans, including construction of four nuclear power plants, to be brought on line by 2010, massive irrigation projects, road, rail and other infrastructure plans, etc. These plans were crushed by external pressures to follow the prescribed IMF/WB model, and the internal corruption was too much to withstand. Only very few cases stand out of successful resistance to these global pressures and factors. Mahathir in Malaysia stands out to me.

Charles I

William R Cumming

15,000?!! I had no idea.

Yusuf  Al-Misry

Harper..This is very precise

Peter Principle

In other words, the difference between the two regions may simply be that Asian dictatorships bet on a winner, while Arab regimes by and large bet on the loser -- economically speaking.

And perhaps because there is no Jerusalem nor Mecca in that region of Asia.

Obviously I overstated the case. There are many, many differences between the Middle East and East Asia.

I guess what I meant to say is that to the extent the Arab Revolt 2.0 is the result of a breakdown of the economic "deal" that al Misry speaks of, then the violence of that breakdown (relative to the way the process unfolded in East Asia) could be that the Arab Socialism model adopted by the post-colonial military regimes in the Middle East couldn't deliver the prosperity required to hold up their end of the bargain. Not in the long run, anyway.

One question in my mind is whether the tardy shift to "neoliberal" economics in the late 1990s could have helped stave off political collapse if it had begun earlier -- or was it always inevitable that allegedly "free market" policies would quickly sink into the quicksands of corruption, cronyism and massive income inequality.

Don't know, but the experience of the past decade sure seems like vivid proof of de Tocqueville's comment: "The the most critical moment for bad governments is the one which witnesses their first steps toward reform."

Continental Op

Peter Principle asks One question in my mind is whether the tardy shift to "neoliberal" economics in the late 1990s could have helped stave off political collapse if it had begun earlier . . .

Neoliberal ideology is part of the problem. Neoliberal policies skew income distribution toward the wealthy and cause unemployment among all those inefficient people in inneficient local industries. Not to mention cutting subsidies on food and privatizing basic services that lower income people depend on.

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