I saw historian, scholar, journalist, activist Tariq Ali speak the other night in Brooklyn on the Arab Spring — the mass mobilizations of the oppressed persons of Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, etc., against years of klepto-monarchic rule.
The global economic depression beginning with the crash of 2008 has led to ever-starker disparities between the rich and poor all over the world — but things finally reached a tipping point in both Tunisia and Egypt. Unemployment had surged — there was unprecedented elitist greed at the top levels of executive power and no social safety nets. Ali mentioned the explicit affinity between the protestors in Wisconsin and the uprisings in the Middle East — the same division in society between the rich and poor is obviously happening in the U. S., for essentially the same reasons: the rapacious greed of an unchecked ruling class acting like a dictatorial monarchy and looting social safety nets to consolidate wealth into the upper 1percent (in our case, in the name of free-market capitalism).
Mr. Ali argued that when Tunisian protestors achieved their objectives (as a result of the Tunisian revolution in March, there will be elections for a constitutional assembly held, hopefully, in July) it emboldened the Egyptians. Nobody expected the Tunisians — thought of as peaceful, complacent “lotus-eaters” — to have summoned the rage and volition necessary to mount an effective regime-toppling.
But, said Ali, when a populace feels sufficiently abused and such basic human rights as access to water, education and health care have been systematically ignored long enough by their governments, at a certain point, the demand for economic shifts and greater political freedoms becomes irreversible, and the world becomes a dangerous place for plutocrats.
When there are mass movements of people who “lose their fear of death,” said Ali, “they can achieve miracles. … When the mobilization reaches that stage, crowned heads fall.”
Ali made an interesting (if somewhat gossipy) case for a global cabal of elite world leaders working in concert to repress the citizenries they mutually exploit. Western leaders have reacted in predictably dreadful ways to the Arab Spring — Nicolas Sarkozy allegedly offered support to the Tunisian government during the uprising, to quell the rebellion. Our U.S. State Department Envoy to Egypt, said Ali, gave President Mubarak the advice to “hang in there.” (The envoy has since been relieved of his post.)
Ali said that he'd heard a story that during the protests in Egypt, Mubarak telephoned Israel and asked for a Gulf of Tonkin-style skirmish on the border, so that he might have an excuse to really quash his own opposition.
A crucial turning point came for Egypt when its top military advisers encouraged Mubarak to step down. Egypt's military could not be relied upon for loyalty; when it was deployed to suppress the demonstrators, the soldiers were unwilling to open fire. Former generals, said Ali, were marching with tribes protesting in Jordan.
The struggle isn't over yet. Saudi Arabia has intervened on behalf of the ruling elites in Bahrain and there is now an ongoing, bloody pogrom against protestors. Oil companies, said Ali, are now hovering over Libya “like vultures.”
The big lie eroded by the movements of the Arab Spring — the united front in these nations to get rid of their elite, dysfunctional regimes — is a ridiculous whopper: the notion that Muslims don't want democracy or freedom.
Much has been written in the mainstream media about Western intervention in these movements. Regime change in countries with no bureaucratic infrastructure can create vacuums — failed states with no interim government but anarchy, which, we have been repeatedly told, would be a massive advantage to al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula.
Ali mocked this idea — the threat of al-Qaida is greatly exaggerated. Yemen, he said, had fewer than 300 members. Al-Qaida, argued Ali, is essentially the bogeyman these governments use to shake money and arms out of the West. Of course, Pakistan didn't take out Osama bin Laden, even though they knew he was there — why would they kill the goose that laid their golden eggs?
The alarming point was when Mr. Ali brought up the recent discovery that Bush administration war profiteer Eric Prince of Xe (formerly Blackwater) has been contracted by the royal family in Abu Dhabi to create a private army.
I was reminded of Max Weber, who defines the state as the sole political authority inside a territory that controls the monopoly of force.
Non-state actors like mercenary soldiers and pirates erode the monopoly of force.
If economic disparity continues to erode the state system, what is the shape that centralized, elite powers will assume? Something like the feudal Japanese warlord system, with no government save the mini-military dictatorships created by individuals wealthy enough to control their borders by establishing their own private militaries?
In other countries, Ali pointed out, there is at least some opposition to abuse by the elite ruling class — but there is no opposition to neoliberalism in the two-party political system of the U.S. Wisconsin, however, is getting very interesting.
The war is not against Islamists, or radicals, or terrorists. The war is global — it is the same war that it has always been — the war of the rich against the poor, whom they wish to continue to exploit in ever more ruthless measures, to get and stay that way. This is what every struggle to gain liberty has always been, and what it will always be. Yes, Virginia, the rich want to rape and kill you.
Cintra Wilson's 'The C-Word': Tariq Ali on the Arab Spring
Max Weber believed mercenaries eroded the state. What will the U.S. look like if rich mercenaries keep eroding the economy?