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Archive for the ‘Arab Spring’ Category

John Laughland and the “French Spring.”

Posted by democratist on April 27, 2013

27th April 2013,

Democratist has been out of the loop for a while, working on other projects, but we simply had to write a few lines of comment on an outstandingly crass piece of FSB disinfo masquerading as “journalism”, because it demonstrates so much about how isolated the Russian government finds itself with regard to human rights and democracy these days.

The offending article, “Why France’s gay Marriage debate has started to look like a revolution.” is written by John Laughland, “Director of Studies” at the most-ironic-name-we-could-think-of Institution of Democracy and Co-Operation in Paris. Apparently, the IDC was set up by Russian NGOs and private businesses to expose “double standards” by the West with regard to Human Rights and democracy.

The truth is, of course that genuinely independent Russian NGOs and private businesses have little interest in this kind of whataboutism.

But guess who does?

Anyway, the essence of this idiotic article is that France’s legalization of gay marriage is about to result in a revolution bringing down the government.

Say what?

Yes indeed. According to Mr. Laughland;

“Revolutions are often sparked by an unexpected shock to an already weakened regime. As commentators in France remark not only on the crisis engulfing François Hollande’s government but also on the apparent death-rattle of the country’s entire political system, it could be that his flagship policy of legalising gay marriage — or rather, the gigantic public reaction against it, unique in Europe — will be the last straw that breaks the Fifth -Republic’s back.”

So there you go folks: Some of you may have thought that there was no historical precedent for this kind of thing; that there has never been a case anywhere in the world where an established democracy was overthrown by revolution; that while many people in France may disagree with gay marriage. they will continue to respect their democratic political system and restrict themselves to peaceful protest.

But you’re wrong! Oh so wrong! In fact they’re massing in the streets in their millions, and anyone who says that perhaps the numbers were a little less (or even a lot less) has clearly been taken into by the lies of those queer-loving French coppers, because;

“Credible accusations surfaced in Le Figaro on Monday night that the film taken from police helicopters on 24 March and released by the prefecture has been manipulated to reduce the apparent numbers of demonstrators.”

Ah I see. It’s all a conspiracy… again.

Laughland blathers on;

“Had the mobilisation in Paris taken place in Tahrir Square, the world’s media would be unanimous that a ‘French spring’ was about to sweep away an outdated power structure… By the same token, had the Moscow security forces tear-gassed children and mothers…the worldwide moral policemen on CNN would be frantically firing their rhetorical revolvers. Such repression would be interpreted as a sign that the regime was desperate. Indeed, had the Ukrainian police removed the ‘tent village’ which formed in central Kiev at the time of the Orange Revolution in 2004 — as the Paris police bundled more than 60 anti-gay marriage campers into detention on the night of 14 April — then one suspects that Nato tanks would have rolled over the Dnieper to their rescue.”

Now we seem to be getting to the crux of the matter. “You would have sent in the tanks if it was us.” Says paranoid Moscow’s none-too-subtle mouth-piece. “How dare you criticise our rigged elections, our repressive anti-gay laws, our attempts to imprison any well-known critic of the regime on trumped-up charges through our shambolic non-independent court system. Shame on you!”

Point is, France doesn’t have “an out-dated power structure.” Its a democratic country, and you can demonstrate all you want, and vote for anyone you like, even a bonkers Trotskyite like Jean-Luc Melichon, or an idiot fascist like Marine Le Pen; and your vote will actually count, unlike (say) the Russian 2011 parliamentary elections.

And so it is very clear, of the two, whose system is outdated, and where “spring” is due next.

Posted in Arab Spring, Conspiracy Theory, Electoral Fraud, Russia Propaganda | 2 Comments »

Putin’s Third Term: Towards Instability?

Posted by democratist on April 24, 2012

April 24th 2012,

Democratist has sometimes been accused of being “theoretical.” We do not deny this charge. For us, using “theory” means the ability to generalize rational insight from experience.  Although not without limitation, any attempt to explain (and by extension change) the world without some kind of rational framework will amount to little, and incautious abandonment leaves one vulnerable to a variety of intellectual hucksters (post-modernists, nationalists, religious dogmatists, conspiracy theorists…).

In terms of International Relations, the most fruitful theoretical tools Democratist has encountered are those drawn from historical-sociology. Part of the reason for this blog is to apply insights drawn from that tradition to the contemporary world.

This explains the repeated importance we have placed on the revolutions of Arab Spring. For us, 2011 was a year of global historical significance - like 1789, 1848, 1917 or 1989/1991. As with those other historically conjunctural years, 2011 combined elements that are central to our view of the world; social conflicts, mass movements and (democratic) revolution. However, the events of 2011 also involved an additional aspect that we have not yet covered in any detail, but which is a cornerstone of our approach, and of particular relevance to the political trajectory of the countries of the CIS; the idea of international society as “homogeneity.”

What do we mean by “international society” and “homogeneity”?

Within the academic study of International relations over the last 40 years, there have been three main perspectives on what constitutes “international society”. These are;

i) It consists of relations between states (governments). Obvious examples include diplomacy and war.

ii) It consists of non-state links of economy, political association, culture and ideology (a favourite of “globalization” theorists).

iii) It consists of a set of ideological values shared by different societies and promoted by inter-state competition, producing international “homogeneity”.

While the first two perspectives are certainly essential to any understanding of international relations, and are regularly covered in the mainstream media, it is the third which comes from the historical-sociological tradition, and on which we focus here.

The basic idea of homogeneity is simple: As a result of international pressures, states are compelled through competition with one another over the long-term, to resemble each other more and more in their internal arrangements. Developments at the international level have an impact on the ideological legitimacy and stability of states domestically: Political and social change within countries have always been to some extent, and are now increasingly the result of external processes.

In Rethinking International Relations (1994), Fred Halliday uses this perspective to explain the end of the Cold War, or as he puts it, “…why a specific political and socio-economic system, one that was in broad terms equal to its rival in military terms, should have collapsed as it did, rapidly and unequivocally, and in the absence of significant international military conflict.”

Halliday argues that communism was successful, not only in the second world war, but in subsequent arms races and third world strategic competition. However, it was at the socio-economic level that the USSR came to be seen as a comparative failure, unable to match its Western competitors: By the 1980′s the domestic record of communism, as compared with its main capitalist alternatives, became a central dimension of Cold War rivalry, resulting in the Gorbachev’s attempts at reform, and the ultimate collapse of a unreformable system.

The key point is that it was an ideologically influenced change of direction by the leadership which brought about the USSR’s demise. Communism could easily have dragged on for another decade or two, but the leadership became convinced that the Soviet system was unable to catch up with the west, especially in terms of economic output and innovation. The subsequent opening of the USSR to foreign influences after 1988 as part of glasnost acted to alert the broader public to these problems, highlighting contrasts in living standards, which led to increased calls for change.

This brings us to the question of the extent that states have responded to international pressure to homogenize since 1991. For Democratist, it is clear that the idea of the democratic “good life” transmitted by popular culture, the media and, above all the internet, has become much more powerful over the last twenty years. Indeed, so powerful is this image, that leaders of many authoritarian countries have come to expend considerable resources in countering it with domestic and international propaganda (e.g. RT, Press TV etc).

International pressure for homogenization has therefore increased, with democracy taking on a far greater role as a factor for domestic legitimization and stability. The Arab Spring was witness to the growth of pressure for reform building due to a number of factors, but not least the example of comparatively politically and economically successful democratic countries. However, the regimes of the middle East proved resistant to reform, and therefore lost popular legitimacy and finally faced revolution.

Similar pressures have also manifested themselves in the former Soviet Union, with revolutions sparked off by rigged elections in a number of countries. However, in contemporary Russia, democratizing pressure remains weak as result the chaos and national humiliation of the 1990′s. This is commonly blamed on “dermokratiya,” while it was in fact actually more the result of the collapse of the command economy and massive corruption. And yet, as described in Masha Gessen’s The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (Granta Publications, 2012), the Russian government has shown no serious willingness to reform over the last decade, and the untreated corruption of the 1990′s has in fact worsened.

It therefore seems unlikely that the government will embark on meaningful reform over the coming years, whilst homogenizing pressure for change will grow: As the Russian middle class gains in political confidence it will begin to demand the representation it is afforded in other countries, spurred on by technological change.

And while the possibility of a gradual transition to a more representative political system remains, the probability of a political crisis over the longer term if this does not materialize is growing.

Posted in Arab Spring, Colour Revolution, Democratization, Historical Sociology of International Relations (HSIR), Russia 2012 Elections, Russia Propaganda | 6 Comments »

Americans, Liberasts and Russian Democracy.

Posted by democratist on April 4, 2012

4th April 2012,

In a previous article, I described the argument that Russia’s elections are “more or less” democratic as one of the “legitimating myths” of Putinism [designed to bolster the regime and keep the population in check]. Unsurprisingly, this claim upset some readers, and they made a number of counter-arguments.

Their main points were;

  • The current Russian government is, despite the fraud that took place in both parliamentary and presidential polls, broadly a reflection of the preferences and political goals of most Russians.
  • “Western” democracy is not a universal value; there are many different styles of democracy and the current system in Russia represents an “acceptable” variation on the democratic theme, in line with Russian history and cultural norms.
  • The “western” democratic model is not without its weaknesses and inefficiencies and does not solve problems such as corruption.
  • The “non-systemic” opposition is weak and divided, especially the “pro-western” liberals. Some of these parties may be dependent on American money (witness the $200 million dollars spent by the American government on supporting Russian NGOs since 2009, with $50 million more apparently on the way). Liberalization would only benefit hard-core leftists, nationalists and liberal “traitors”.

These are interesting arguments, but not without some elements which characterize the “mythologising” to which I was referring. I will deal with each in turn:

The first point is essentially true. Vladimir Putin is popular, and would presumably have won the presidential election without falsification (although the fact that falsification did occur makes it hard to be 100% sure; the assurances of opinion polls will never be good as the “real thing,” i.e. a fair vote). However, the position of the party of “crooks and thieves” is far less secure, and it would not have won the (reduced) representation it now has in the Duma without considerable fraud in December. The current government may also broadly reflect the preferences and goals of a majority of Russians but, as is the nature of politics, there is no guarantee that this state of affairs will continue indefinitely, and as Russian society evolves it seems likely that there will ultimately come a point when the majority of Russians find themselves actively opposed to government policy.

More fundamental is the question of whether “western” democracy is a universal value. From Democratist’s perspective, one of the main lessons to be learned from a (non-conspiratorial) analysis of the Arab Spring is that democracy, while “western” in origin, is increasingly coming to be seen as having universal applicability, and that “democracy” need not necessarily mean “Americanization” or “neo-liberalism.”  Recent events in the middle East have shown that the populations of countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria have risen up despite American hypocrisy on the issue of democratization. These people are demanding respect and representation for themselves in their own countries regardless of any “Freedom Agenda” or other rhetoric. Democratization is not simply an American plot (although the Americans, just like other major powers will doubtless seek to influence these processes), but is rather reflective of historical-social developments taking place in many countries, and so it is to be hoped that the polities which emerge from these revolutions will reflect the sovereignty, national character and priorities of their people.

Furthermore, the idea that the world is divided into incomparable moral blocs or civilizations has taken a huge blow over the last 18 months. While the cynics have sought to paint the Arab Spring as harbinger of anti-western Islamist autocracy, there have been significant historical-social trends in the region over the last 40 years which suggest that this will not be the case: The large majority of arab Islamists are not calling for the establishment of revolutionary islamic states, but rather the creation of a “civil state” [i.e one which, while not secular, has many democratic elements, including free and fair elections].

So, while the last fifteen years may have been witness to democratic stagnation or reversal in the CIS, on the global scale, the last two centuries (and especially the last seventy years) demonstrate the growing potency of democratic ideals, and the erosion of autocracy as a legitimate form of governance, even in “unexpected” places, and (more recently) regardless of American rhetoric: Democratist contends that a set of shared values is slowly emerging throughout the world, including democracy, human rights, the defence of national sovereignty and a belief in the benefits of economic development, even though this has taken place during a period in which some of these values have come under pressure in the United States: They may have originated in the West, but in responding to basic human aspirations and social change within the context of the spread of capitalism, their potential applicability is growing ever wider.

This brings us to the question of whether the current political system in Russia is just a variation on the democratic theme; one, moreover, which is in line with Russian history and cultural norms. This is, of course ultimately a question for the Russian people to answer, rather than any outsider, and (again) American lecturing on this issue has proved remarkably counter-productive over recent years. Nonetheless, it has to be said that there are strong arguments which suggest that the current system, while popular with a majority of Russians, does not meet the basic criteria of democracy. As an example, the OSCE ODIHR (an organization of which the Russian government is both a member and occasional participant) reports the following problems with recent parliamentary and presidential elections; technical restrictions on who was able to stand, a biased electoral administration dominated by the ruling party at all levels, the partiality of most media, and ballot stuffing on election day. It is up to Russians themselves to decide whether they feel that these problems match existing Russian “cultural norms,” and if they do, the extent to which such “norms” are worth preserving, or should be changed.

As for corruption, it is certainly true to say that no political system can eliminate it completely. However, it must also be admitted that institutionalized democracy, with a firmly established rule of law and independent legal system has proved a more effective guard against corruption than the current Russian system. By many accounts Russia is the most corrupt industrialized country in the world; Vladimir Putin’s friends from his Saint Petersburg youth and the Ozero dacha collective are worth billions. Indeed the current system is so entrenched that it may prove unreformable until a change in the political or economic situation provokes a collapse.

Finally, the question of the non-systemic opposition. Yes. The opposition is weak and divided, sometimes extreme, and possibly reliant on American money (although I still require some convincing on this point). Additionally, American calls for increased funding for NGOs are helping to stoke growing government paranoia. But on the other hand, the current system (deliberately) stifles debate and does little to encourage the development of Russian NGOs. It seems unlikely that President Medvedev’s recent changes to the law on registration of parties will make much difference to this situation. And while it might be possible, with institutional safeguards in place such as an independent legal system, “fair and balanced” requirements for the media etc, to create the basis for wider debate and eventual genuine elections, on the basis of recent history we are unlikely to see these wider structures in place anytime soon.

Posted in Arab Spring, Democratization, Domestic NGOs, Russia - US Relations, Russian Liberalization | 19 Comments »

International Relations and the Arab Spring: A Non-Conspiratorial View.

Posted by democratist on April 2, 2012

2nd April 2012,

In my last article I discussed the issue of the idea of “colour revolutions” as a “legitimizing myth” of Putinism, arguing that it is far easier for the current Russian government to blame the revolts which have taken place in the “near abroad” and middle East over the past few years on various invented (usually western-backed) “conspiracies” than to accept the increasing anachronism of their autocratic model of governance in the contemporary world.

To nobody’s surprise, this article naturally resulted in yet more conspiracy theory. Did I not know who was “really” behind these events? Who was my article “cooked up” for, and to what end? Surely I was working for [inserted prefered conspiracy here].

It therefore occurred to me that there exists a contemporary demand for an explanation of why (especially) the Arab Spring has taken place; one which might provide a more rational alternative to the fantasies of those whose stock-in-trade is obfuscation and paranoia. Fortunately, an existing theoretical framework with a long scholarly pedigree already exists; that of historical-sociology.

Historical sociology takes much of its inspiration from The Sociological Imagination, a book by the American Sociologist C. Wright Mills (1959), which (drawing on Marxism), underscores the centrality of historically specific social structures (patterns of social relationships over time) for sociology in particular, and the social sciences in general. Within the field of International Relations, the historical-sociological school has been developing since the mid-1980′s.

For the practitioners of the Historical Sociology, the key factors behind the Arab Spring are to be found, not in fanciful foreign plots, but rather in sociological developments which have taken place within societies in the region over recent decades: These include tremendous upheavals provoked by poverty, the evident injustice of “crony capitalism” (abject poverty side by side with decadent wealth), the rising expectations of the (literate and technically savvy) young; the delayed flowering of civil society, and finally the rupturing of corrupt political, economic and social systems dominated by authoritarian cliques (and supported by both Russia and the West in many cases for decades).

The place to look for serious analysis the origins of these events is therefore in the tensions which have occurred within these societies over recent years, rather than in the baseless propagandizing of “foreign interference”. While it may be true that the “great powers” have sought to extend or protect their interests as a result of the initial uprisings (for example, overthrowing Gaddafi in the western case, or seeking to protect Assad in the Russian and Iranian), outside forces were clearly not the initial cause of these uprisings. Indeed, they appear to have taken place despite repeated American hypocrisy on the issue of democratization: The populations in these countries have not been swayed by the fact that the US talks the language of democracy whilst employing the stratagems of realpolitik; rather they are demanding respect and representation at home regardless of (often empty) American rhetoric.

However, this focus on internal developments and rejection of conspiracy-as-explanation does not mean that “international” factors were absent in the Arab Spring. In fact, structural international factors, such as the place of these countries within the global economy, were critically important in the influence they had on promoting the drive for accelerated development witnessed over the last few decades: If these revolutions have been organized through social media; Facebook, Twitter and so on, then the reasons why many of these countries have experienced large expansions in literacy, education, foreign languages and computing skills lies in the positions that they came to assume within global economic and security structures in a globalizing world, and the desire of local elites to improve those positions.

From an even broader historical viewpoint, as Fred Halliday points out in Revolutions and World Politics: The Rise and Fall of the Sixth Great Power. (Palgrave, 1999), over the last three centuries, the focus of revolutionary upheavals has not been on the most developed states, but rather revolutions have tended to occur in less developed countries, and during periods in which the “conflicts of modernity” were at their sharpest, with these states only subsequently settling down into democratic reformism. It is at this stage of development that the countries of the Arab Spring now find themselves; driven towards revolution, not by conspiracy, but rather by the pressures placed on existing societies by international structural factors, and the subsequent drive for accelerated development at home.

In conclusion, the obvious question to ask is the extent to which this mixture of domestic and international pressures applies to Russia as well? Russia does not lack a corrupt, inefficient and un-innovative brand of crony capitalism, or the rising expectations of the technologically capable and politically-concious young (especially in the urban centers). Nor is the government indifferent to Russia’s position in the world. On the other hand, exploding oil wealth has meant poverty has decreased greatly over the past decade, and Russians are richer and freer than at almost any other point in their history. The demographic situation is different (fewer young people), and “democracy” is associated with the chaos of the 1990′s. As long as the oil price remains high, economic growth will continue, and the Putin systema remain stable. However, a sharp and sustained dip in hydrocarbon prices would certainly make Russian political life much more complex, and potentially lead to greater change as Russian society evolves.

Posted in Arab Spring, Fred Halliday, Historical Materialism, Historical Sociology of International Relations (HSIR) | 13 Comments »

Russian Autocracy and the Future of the Arab Spring.

Posted by democratist on March 12, 2012

12th March 2012,

It hardly comes as a great surprise that the Arab Spring should have proved unpopular with the current Russian government and its representatives in the media. The great fear is that before too long the same fate awaits the Putin regime as that suffered by the rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Closer to home, recent examples of so-called “colour-revolutions” include Georgia (2003) Ukraine (2004), Kyrgyzstan (2005) and Moldova (2009).

In the Russian case this fear seems somewhat exaggerated for the time being since the government remains popular, especially in the provinces, but nevertheless the obsession is rather telling. Since Russia Today is essentially a more or less unmediated reflection of the world-view of its Kremlin paymasters, it is again unsurprising that the channel should seek to highlight the post-revolutionary problems that have occurred in the middle East since December 2010.

Recent negative trends here have included an election of questionable usefulness and validity in Yemen, and growing regional divisions and repressive Islamist measures apparently to be taken against women in Libya. Time after time, the message drawn from this by the representatives of autocracy is clear; these people were far better off under the strong-men; safer and freer.

In one sense, this is, of course true. Hundreds of Egyptians have died since the revolution, about 10,000 people have died in Syria (so far), and several times that number died in Libya during the civil war there. Islamism is indeed in the rise, as the elections in Egypt and developments in Libya have demonstrated. So it is quite legitimate to ask whether it was all worth it?

There are several answers to this question. The first is ask whether another, more peaceful alternative was ever available? Would it not have been better for the people of the region to have been more patient? Wouldn’t the Mubarak, Gaddafi, Al-Assad and other regimes have been willing to reform of their own accord eventually? This seems unlikely; Gaddafi was in power for 42 years, Mubarak for more than thirty. The revolutions that have taken place in these countries provide clear evidence that the people’s patience had long been exhausted. Historically, we would do well to remember that the internal peace and democracy of contemporary western states act to obscure the bitter and violent struggles in the past which eventually brought the new order into being; the English Civil War; the American war of independence; the French revolution; the fascist and nazi periods in Italy and Germany. Indeed, Marxists have argued that there is no such thing as a peaceful path to modernity: Social movements are brought into inevitable conflict by the development of capitalism.

The second point to make here is that, although Islamism is certainly on the rise in the region, and represents a socially conservative agenda, its success does not necessarily represent a return to despotism, or anti-westernism in foreign policy. As professor Fawaz Gerges of the LSE noted in a public lecture given on 13th February, there are several historical-sociological trends we need to take into account in our analysis of the likely future developments stemming from the Arab Spring.

Firstly, in the Arab world most mainstream Islamists (in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and Syria) have renounced violence since the late 1960′s/early 1970′s, and have not only renounced it, but have laboured hard to join the political process in their societies, despite severe repression. For many Arab Islamists the Iranian revolutionary model is seen as having failed to offer a workable alternative to western secularism: The construction of theocracy in Iran since 1979 has motivated them to think in alternative terms to the Iranian goal of the construction of an “islamic state”, and rather to aim about the creation of a “civil state” [i.e a one which, while not secular, has many democratic elements, including free and fair elections, which might serve as a peaceful arbiter for at least some of the "conflicts of modernity" mentioned above].

Secondly, since the 1950′s, there has also been a generational shift within Islamism in almost every Arab country towards pragmatism. This new generation of pragmatists is less obsessed with identity politics that their predecessors. This is not to suggest that ultra-conservatives are not still powerful among Islamists. However, they have been in decline for many years.

Nonetheless, the possibility of a shift to the right remains: There is almost 100 years of bitterness to contend with. And so, if we are looking for an immediate shift to a Swiss-style democracy (as a number of autocratically minded commentators seem to have assumed should have already taken place), we are wasting our time: Whether these developments take place will only be evident over the longer term. This said, there are several important historical-social trends evident which suggest the Arab Spring will not descend into the despotic anti-western fiasco of the Putinist imagination.

Additionally, it seems unlikely that Arab Islamists are about to take reckless decisions on foreign policy: Islamists in Libya embraced NATO intervention, and many are calling on the US to take action in Syria: A change is taking place in the way Islamists view the west, and of western intervention.

Equally, Russia’s influence in the region has waned over the past 18 months through its support for Gaddafi and Assad.

And if the countries of the Arab Spring do indeed eventually settle down into a pattern or more or less democratic “civil” statehood over the coming decade, this will act as yet another indicator of the backwardness of the autocratic model, and as yet another signal that the writing is on the wall for the Putin regime.

For a theoretical overview see; http://democratist.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/great-arab-spring/

Posted in Arab Spring, Democratization, Egyptian Revolution, Revolutions, Russia Propaganda | 7 Comments »

You have been weighed, and found wanting: Russia Today and the 1st Anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution

Posted by democratist on January 25, 2012

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.

Posted in Arab Spring, Democratization, Egyptian Revolution, Russia Today | Leave a Comment »

 
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