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The Multidimensional Character of the Arab Revolutions, Part 5

This is Part 5 of a 5 part series.
Read Parts 1-4 by clicking the
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Mordu Serry-Kamal

Given the revelations made in this writing, some may wonder exactly why the genesis of the fragmentation of these regimes had not taken place much earlier. In other words, what was it that gave these regimes a semblance of stability amidst the chaos and confusion that obviously underlay that semblance? In his book, Hourani also provided some insights into this apparent paradox.

• One, the apparatus of control and repression which the governments had assembled, has been unprecedented in the history of their existence.

Therefore, in as much as the idea of the manifestation of a riot in order to demonstrate popular displeasure over the behavior of government concerning a particular policy was not actually new in the Arab experience, the fact that the governments were able to quell those disturbances with decisive brute force enabled them to survive longer, until the present galvanized and social media-coordinated revolutions determined otherwise. Additionally, the governments appeared to have had no built-in mechanisms, such as might have been the case in the Chinese and Iranian experiences, either to preempt, prevent, or demolish any attempt at a popular challenge against their authority with the use of modern social media. Further, it appears as if earlier successes of the use of brute force made these governments somewhat complacent, never thinking that a repetition of the use of the same or similar magnitude of force may one day be unsuccessful, as Syria and Libya have experienced. To make matters worse, at least some of the so-called reforms which some Arab governments had attempted to implement were actually piecemeal efforts that amounted to nothing significant in terms of real political change. The situation in Syria has been significant in this regard.

• Two, the Arab political systems incorporated the political styles of family and/or institutional rule, depending on the country under examination.

Institutional rule would reflect either military rule or political party rule. For example, the current military power structure in Egypt has been in existence since the overthrow of the monarchy, by Gamal Abdel Nasser and others, in 1952. However, the attempt by Hosni Mubarak, the former president, to establish a political dynasty in the country was torpedoed by the Egyptian revolution. In Syria, as already implied, the Alawite political faction had monopolized political power in the state for a considerable period of time; and Bashar Al Assad, the current embattled leader, had succeeded his father to become president of the country in dynastic fashion. In Libya, despite the fact that Moammar Gaddafi had regarded his overthrow of the monarchy in 1969 as a revolution or a change, he himself has mimicked an element of the monarchy by creating a system of family or dynastic rule in the country. This political behavior has had the tendency of an ongoing concentration of political power in the hands of “like-minded” individuals. From a political standpoint, therefore, such infrastructures have had the potential of providing short term stability in their respective societies, with little or no internal or external disturbances that could not be dealt with effectively.

• Three, the Arab governments also established their own version of an elite system within which power and prosperity were shared among supportive members.

As this writer indicated earlier, concerning the distribution of economic benefits in these countries, the elite group would constitute a combination of the political figures, the bureaucracies with the military at the pinnacle, and members of the commercial community. As a theoretical phenomenon, the strength or power of such a group always lie in the fact that, since there are tangible and intangible benefits to obtain, it follows that it would therefore be in the collective interest of the membership to support the group’s self-sustenance efforts. Additionally, the number of individuals in such groups is comparably smaller to the sum total of individuals in the rest of society. This phenomenon partly explains the reason Hosni Mubarak had earlier refused to relinquish the Egyptian presidency. The same principle also explains the reason underlying the refusal of the leaders of Syria, Libya, and Yemen to leave office; and, the refusal of practically all of the Arab governments to implement the changes demanded by the protesters. The practical rationale underlying this behavior is that relinquishing the leadership would have been tantamount to an abandonment of the entire political infrastructure which had, hithertofore, depended on that leadership for its existence. The leaders of Egypt and Tunisia, for example, eventually left office only partly due to the pressure exerted upon them by their powerful global benefactor, the United States.

Mordu Serry-Kamal is an associate
professor public administration and political science at Winston-Salem
State University in Winston-Salem, NC. Email: [email protected]

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