January 26th 2012,
It has been a year since the revolution in Egypt. Russia Today’s treatment of the anniversary has been rather telling.
In a piece provided top billing yesterday, the Kremlin’s international mouthpiece noted that, among hundreds of thousands celebrating the anniversary of the beginning of the uprising in Cairo, many (perhaps the majority of) people are still demonstrating as part of an ongoing struggle to entrench the revolution by reducing the influence of the army on the Egyptian political system.
The tone of the report is markedly different from the way the channel greeted the first days of the revolt a year ago. Back then, it implausibly claimed that (then recently released) Wikileaks cables “revealed” that the US had been plotting to overthrow Mubarak for “at least three years” and that they, ”show Washington had been secretly backing leading figures behind the uprising.”
At the time, Democratist noted that the Wikileaks documents did not in fact reveal anything of the kind, and suggested that the RT’s wholly invented position was chiefly inspired by the nomenklatura’s concerns about the ramifications of the Arab Spring for its own domestic position;
“from the perspective of the nomenklatura, any major popular democratic uprising has to be presented to the Russian people (and by extension the world at large) as part of an “American plot”, because what has to be avoided at all costs is the idea that people might actually be able to think for themselves. As long as it’s all the CIA’s fault, that’s OK. But if people in other countries can overthrow oppressive regimes, then the Russians might slowly wake up to the idea that they might one day do the same thing – and that would never do.”
And so now we find ourselves a year on. RT’s talk of direct CIA involvement in the revolutions has waned. Indeed, if anything it has become mildly supportive of the Egyptian protests, seeing them as part of the inspiration for the Occupy Wall Street movement (which the channel has also been attempting to leverage to the Kremlin’s advantage through its coverage and support in the US – hoping that it might eventually have some influence on the broader political scene and foreign policy).
Additionally, while RT could just about defend the argument that the Americans were behind the revolution for a few months, the very fact that millions of Egyptians are still prepared to come out onto the streets a year after the initial uprising gives the lie to the suggestion that what has happened in Egypt and the wider middle East was directed from Washington/lacked popular support: Surely not even the most credulous of RT’s viewers are now prepared to accept that the US was able to organize, on its own, uprisings of millions of people in five or six countries simulaneously, and for a period which has (so far) lasted for more than a year?
Instead RT’s propaganda model is adapting to the new circumstances, and the original position is being replaced with a new and more convoluted conspiracy theory, which sees “the West” backing Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who are in turn using money and influence to hijack the popular grievances (now accepted as genuine, at least in terms of economics) which sparked the Arab Spring, and to bring Sunni Islamists to power in local elections.
This new perspective highlights the supposed potential dangers of democratization in the region, but also handily provides rhetorical ammunition to Russia’s allies in Syria and Iran: The Syrian regime can defend itself on the basis that it preventing the country falling into the hands of the Muslim brotherhood, and the Iranians can argue that there is a western-backed conspiracy against Shia Islam from which they need to protect the Iranian people.
From Democratist’s perspective, while it is would hardly come as a great surprise to discover that the Saudis may be funding Islamic parties in the region, the idea that the West would support them in such an endeavor is without the slightest foundation, and serves only the nomenklatura’s ideological/geopolitical objectives.
Additionally, in seeking to highlight the potential dangers of democratization in the middle East, RT deliberately ignores the extent to which political demands – democracy and rights – have been at the forefront of protests throughout the region. Instead RT seeks to rewrite the history of the Arab Spring in the Russian ruling class’s own image – playing up economic demands at the expense of democratic ones, whereas it has been clear, not least to the demonstrators themselves, that the two are in fact closely intertwined and mutually supporting. As the crowds shown by RT in Tahrir square demanding genuine reform yesterday attested, demands for democracy and rights have been, and remain central to the Arab Spring, and since this is the case it seems considerably less likely that the countries affected are likely to turn into anti-western theocracies than RT implies.
More fundamentally, what the Arab Spring highlights is that, while the last few years may have been witness to some democratic reversals in the CIS (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus), on the global scale, and from a longer term perspective, the last two centuries (and especially the last sixty-five years) demonstrate the growing international potency of the democratic ideal, and the erosion of autocracy as a legitimate form of governance, even in previously unexpected places (such as Egypt), and despite the United States’ perceived hypocrisy on this issue.
With the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, the pressure for democratic reform in states which have reached the prerequisite level of economic and social development appear to be strengthening, rather than receeding. Even in Russia the population, whose docility was taken for granted by the ruling class (and the west) for much of the last decade, has finally given some indication of its potential, with the large demonstrations which followed last December’s rigged parliamentary elections.
Autocrats throughout the middle East, and wider world are being weighed, and found wanting by their people. Although this process may be delayed for some years in Russia, through economic growth, propaganda, rigged elections and the efforts of the FSB, the writing on the wall is clear for all to see.
It’s simply a question of when, and how.