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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 »

The Arab Spring and “Structural Power.”

Posted by democratist on March 31, 2011

March 31st 2011,

A few days ago we noted Michael Cox’s recent restatement of the argument that, despite the current debate about it’s supposed decline, the US has managed to retain a great deal of “structural power.” However we did not explain this concept in any detail.

The notion of structural power was first put forward by the British academic Susan Strange in the 1970′s. In her classic States and Markets (1988) she defined it is as;

“the power to shape and determine the structures of the global political economy within which other states, their political institutions, their economic enterprises and (not least) their scientists and other professional people have to operate…Structural power in short confers the power to decide how things shall be done, the power to shape frameworks within which states relate to each other, relate to people, or relate to corporate enterprises.”

Essentially in Strange’s view, “structural power” is the power of a state to shape various kinds of international frameworks: For her, the advantages for the US of the dollar as the key post-War currency for international trade was the central example of structural power at work, because it allowed the US to run large deficits at reduced cost (a feature of the International Monetary System which continues to this day).

However, it has occurred to Democratist that beyond the realm of economics, the “Arab Spring” we are now witnessing may well represent the strengthening and maturing of a new and potentially far more important form of structural power, one that may well confer considerable advantages for the US, and the wider West over the coming years.

As Halliday argues in Revolutions and World Politics (1999), in addition to expressing the tensions that occur within societies in transition, revolutions are also a result of the pressures placed on traditional societies by international factors.

And over the last 20 years the international trend towards democratization - which therefore increases pressure on others to democratize - has strengthened markedly; the end of Communism, the enlargement of the EU, the continued democratization of Turkey,  the revolutions in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon - and now Tunisia, Egypt and (possibly) Libya.  These will all add to the already considerable domestic problems faced by developing autocratic states as an additional, and now heightened structural pressure for domestic reform, if revolution is to be avoided.

This trend has in turn been encouraged by a developments in IT and globalization;  Al Jazeera, Twitter, Wikileaks, Wikipedia and Facebook are all a part of this process.

But while the US has consciously (and sometimes counterproductively) sought to export democracy for much of the last century, a great deal of the attraction of democracy - its equation with modernity for increasing numbers of people throughout the world - has been partly independent of the United States’ actions. Rather the desire for freedom and egalitarianism which informed the French and American revolutions has taken on something of a life of its own – regardless of (for example) the US invasion of Iraq, or support for Hosni Mubarak.

Nonetheless, since democratization represents the development of an international framework within which states relate to each other, and one which seems likely to disproportionately favour the democratic West (no two democratic states have ever gone to war with each other), whilst placing an additional pressure on authoritarian competitors, this democratization has to be seen as a burgeoning form of Western structural power.

Posted in Democratization, Egyptian Revolution, Historical Materialism, International Political Economy, Jasmine Revolution, Libyan Revolution, Orange Revolution, Revolutions, Russia 2012 Elections, wikileaks | 4 Comments »

The Great “Arab Spring” of 2011: Causes and Consequences.

Posted by democratist on March 28, 2011

28th March 2011,

As the “Arab Spring” rolls onwards through Libya, and towards Yemen and Syria, Democratist – like many others (not least a number of red-faced foreign policy professionals), has been looking to get some sort of an explanatory purchase on recent events in the middle East. Why there? And why now?

For Democratist,  the key factor lies in the interrelationship between globalization (Al Jazeera, Twitter, Facebook, Wikileaks and the rest), and a number of other historical-sociological factors that have been perhaps slightly less eagerly grasped upon by (especially the US) media.

These include the rupturing of corrupt political, economic and social systems dominated by authoritarian cliques (and supported by the West) for decades; tremendous social upheavals provoked by poverty, the evident injustice of crony capitalism (abject poverty cheek by jowl with decadent wealth), the rising expectations of the (literate and tech-savvy) young; and the delayed flowering of civil society.

Looking at the broader, global context, a superbly insightful, if so far largely ignored framework for understanding these events is to be found in Revolutions and World Politics: The Rise and Fall of the Sixth Great Power. (Palgrave, 1999) by the late Professor Fred Halliday of the LSE (1945-2010).

One of the main conclusions of this 300-page comparative study of revolutions and their international aspects is that over the last three centuries, the focus of revolutionary upheavals has been, not (as Marx had hoped) on the most developed states, but rather in the contrary direction; that revolutions have historically 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.

In other words, the historical pattern has been one in which revolutions take place in societies that have embarked on, but are at a comparatively early stage of economic and political development: One of Halliday’s key insights is the idea that, in the contemporary world, revolutions express the pressures placed on traditional societies by international structural factors, in addition to the tensions that occur within societies in transition, and the drive for accelerated development.

All three elements have been present in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. They are also present to a very considerable degree in a large number other less developed countries – including Yemen, Syria and Iran, and throughout much of the former Soviet Union.

What the revolutions in the middle East represent therefore, are the increasingly inevitable consequences for states which refuse to meet their citizens expectations, after a certain level of development has been attained, in an increasingly integrated world.

While not linear, or liable to easy prediction, this trend has become all the more evident since 1989; in the collapse of the USSR itself, in Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), Lebanon (2005), Kyrgyzstan (2005). Moldova (2009), and now with the great Arab Spring of 2011, whereby the democratic agenda has been firmly set for much of the rest of the developing world.

As Halliday notes;

“Revolutions are moments of transition which, once passed, may not need replication. Instead, they lay down an agenda for political and social change that through reform, struggles and democracy may take decades or centuries to be achieved. This is at once evident from the programmes on rights of the American and French revolutions, the radical egalitarianism and the international programme associated with each; the point is not whether America or France always, or ever, lived up to these ideas, any more than Russia was to do after 1917, but rather how ideas and aspirations that emerged from these revolutions retain their validity in subsequent epochs.”

2011 may then therefore eventually come to mark the decisive point at which among the populations of developing states, democractic reformism ceased to be seen as essentially a restrictedly “Western” phenomenon, and became recognized as a potentially universal one.

See also my pieces:

Russian Autocracy and the Future of the Arab Spring

Revolution, Democracy and the West.

The Arab Spring and Structural Power

The Egyptian revolution and the precariousness of autocracy.

Posted in Democratization, Domestic NGOs, Egyptian Revolution, Fred Halliday, Historical Materialism, Historical Sociology of International Relations (HSIR), Jasmine Revolution, Libyan Revolution, Moldova, Russian Corruption, Soviet Union, Ukraine, Western Foreign Policy, wikileaks | 12 Comments »

Wikileaks and the broader foreign policy context.

Posted by democratist on February 22, 2011

22nd February 2011,

Democratist has been thinking a bit more about the implications of last year’s various Wikileaks disclosures, and Western information integrity more broadly.

What Assange has helped create is basically a form of journalistic sourcing, albeit enabled by the internet and therefore on the grand scale. He himself comes across as eccentric, but this is far bigger than one man; the technology exists, and Wikileaks seems fairly uncontrollable under existing media laws in most democratic countries. 
 
Freedom of the press is a critical check on government and a sine qua non of an open society. But leaked documents can be used to betray human sources, or techniques which provide information that may be used by governments to bolster the cause of democracy and their national interests. Once the information is out, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle; journalists may edit it to remove names, but sophisticated hostile governments can (presumably) eventually hack into the journalists’ computers to discover the information they did not make publicly available.

Democratist believes that in reacting to Wikileaks (and similar future imitators), Western governments have to put the principle of freedom of the press above that of their own information integrity. It is the job of governments to safeguard their information, but if they are unable to do this they will have to live with the consequences. Once the information is released into the public domain, there are clearly legal limitations to the actions governments can take, and the imposition of additional restraints on the press are unlikely to serve the cause of liberty. It is better to concentrate on protecting those who may have been exposed, and the introduction of additional safety measures for the most sensitive information, rather than going off on legally questionable witch-hunts (although in clear-cut cases where it can be proved that existing laws have been broken, prosecutions should follow). 

Democratist does not consider the Wikileaks cables to have been a major cause of the recent uprisings in MENA (although they may have been a contributory factor), but the Wikileaks saga does appear to be symptomatic of a broader international technologically driven shift in power in terms of availability of information and organization away from the state towards the press and people. Democracies have less power in relation to their populations than autocrats, so autocrats have far more to lose from this trend (and probably have a higher proportion of disgruntled potential “leakers”); and since no one can afford to shut off the internet for too long if they wish to run a successful modern economy, their room for manoeuvre may be limited (they are unlikely to be able to block information as effectively, or for as long as they wish).

While much of the leaked information has so far come from the US, Democratist suspects there will be plenty more from countries that lack democratic legitimacy, and are therefore less stable, so the impact of future leaks will be much larger for these countries than the West. Ensuring and respecting freedom of the press at home will therefore also have positive foreign policy implications, because hostile autocracies will not be able to accuse the West of hypocrisy when the focus falls on them, and their attempts at media and internet crackdowns will further delegitimize them in the eyes of their people.

Posted in Autocracy and Innovation, Democratization, Egyptian Revolution, International Political Economy, Jasmine Revolution, Western Foreign Policy, wikileaks | 1 Comment »

Will the Egyptian Revolution influence Russian Military Reform?

Posted by democratist on February 8, 2011

8th February 2011,

A stimulating piece by Pavel Baev in today’s Jamestown Eurasia Daily monitor . While we don’t necessarily agree with everything he says we found the following passage very interesting;

“What the crises in Egypt and Tunisia have demonstrated convincingly is that the outcome of a protracted confrontation could be determined by the attitude of the army, which was essentially absent from the streets in most of the “color revolutions” in the 2000’s. Putin has prioritized investments into strengthening the police and various special crowd-control units like OMON, comprised of professionals toughened by tours of duty in Chechnya. Putin cannot, however, count on the loyalty of the army, since the ongoing reforms have demoralized the top brass, antagonized the officer corps and incapacitated the combat units manned by poorly trained conscripts drafted for 12 months (Ezhednevny Zhurnal, January 17). The military are traditionally sensitive to external interference but the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia are clearly home-made, so that the US and the EU are at loss about denying support to their trusted allies who were never bothered by democratic values (Ogonyok, February 7).”

While Democratist does not see an Egypt-style revolution taking place in Russia any time soon, we think it will be interesting to see whether the regime considers the services of the OMON adequate to the task of keeping order in the event of a crisis, or alternatively whether the Tunisian and then Egyptian revolutions might have some impact on the course of military reform in Russia over the coming months?

Posted in Egyptian Revolution, Jasmine Revolution, Revolutions, Russia 2012 Elections, Russian Military | 2 Comments »

Egypt: US versus Russian foreign policy.

Posted by democratist on February 4, 2011

4th February 2010,

Over the past week or so Democratist has once again been bemused by how faithfully and obviously Russia Today provides an almost direct representation of Russian government policy on any given issue, at any given time, despite it’s stated claim to editorial independence and posturing as left-wing “alternative” to the mainstream media, especially in the US. While RFE/RL or CNN may sometimes reveal a pro-American bias (and Fox News remains as dreadful as ever), nothing beats the “straight from the Ministry of Information” feel of so much of RT’s reporting. 

A week after the clearly one-sided use of Wikileaks reports to argue that the revolution in Egypt was being directed by the CIA, RT’s latest position alternates between yet another barrage of faux outrage at the shortcomings of American Empire (what right does the US have to interfere in Egyptian affairs, after having supported Mubarak for so long?) combined with an undercurrent which reveals the Russian MFA’s true intentions; an eye to profiting from the West’s potential alienation from autocratic regimes in the region (one of RT’s correspondents today commented that Obama’s calls for a rapid transition of power in Egypt was a message “to friends and foes alike, when the going gets tough, don’t call on us”).

In this regard, Democratist has found RT’s recent interviews with journalists and anti-American peace campaigners critical of US financial support and weapons sales to Egypt rather unconvincing, given that since 1991, the Russians have, just like the Americans (but without the United States’ enduring relationship with the regime, or its deep pockets) been happy to “do business” with Mubarak, and agreed to sell the Egyptians a nuclear energy package worth $2 billion back in 2008, in addition to selling weapons to Syria and Iran.

From our perspective, it would be fairer to point out that, while both the US and USSR/Russia engaged in realpolitik and interference in the internal affairs of third countries in the Middle East and elsewhere during the Cold War, and have both continued to do so to differing extents subsequently (e.g. in Ukraine and Georgia in the Russian case, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere for the US), the Russians have remained wedded to an unswervingly nationalist and realist outlook (attempting to topple regimes they didn’t like or bolster those they did, happy to deal with anyone as long as it supports their national interests), whereas the United States has, in addition to its morally questionable but strategically driven realist maneuvering, also consistently defined a separate liberal, democratizing ethical role for itself, including in the middle East.

Has the US been hypocritical? Certainly this is true to an extent; the US may be more likely to play up human rights abuses by opponents than allies (Iran or Syria versus Saudi Arabia or Turkey). In the case of Iraq, the neo-conservative interpretation of liberal interventionism (“freedom at the barrel of a gun”) has resulted in disaster. And in the current Egyptian case, it seems likely that State Department officials are working with elements of the old regime to make sure that things don’t change too quickly (whilst probably also seeking to bring together oppositionists to help govern the country in the interim before an election).

Nonetheless, as the Wikileaks cables  (which RT did so much to publicise last week) demonstrate, the US has also worked behind the scenes to gradually foster democratization in autocratic allies such as Egypt. This is because as Michael McFaul has observed, it recognizes the long-term security advantages that stem from enduring alliances with other democratic countries that similar agreements with autocrats cannot provide. These include sustainability (how long the relationship lasts), consistency (the threat of internal instability), and cost. The latter two problems are apparent in the Egyptian case.

However, in relation to Russia’s own foreign policy, realpolitik continues to dominate almost completely. Apart from their willingness to sell regional autocrats both weaponry and reactors, the Russian attitude towards democracy and human rights can be gauged by (taking an example closer to home) their actions during last December’s elections in Belarus, before which they provided media and financial backing to the opposition, only to cut a deal with Lukashenko at the last-minute, and then have President Medvedev describe it as an “internal matter,” when 600 people (including 7 of the 9 opposition candidates) were arrested for protesting the subsequent widespread electoral fraud.

Posted in CIS Media, Egyptian Revolution, Revolutions, Russia Propaganda, Russian Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »

The Egyptian Revolution and the Precariousness of Modern Autocracy.

Posted by democratist on January 29, 2011

29th January 2011,

Some of the less perceptive among Democratist’s readers might be forgiven for believing that the US has been caught off-guard by the revolt in Egypt, and that events there have been given much of their impetus by the example of the similar uprising in Tunisia a couple of weeks ago.

Certainly that is the impression one might have garnered from the lack of US government public statements on the subject until yesterday, and an evident unwillingness to abandon long-time ally Hosni Mubarak in Obama’s statement late last night, despite it becoming increasingly apparent that the writing is on the wall.

But if you thought that the Americans had been caught short, you’d be wrong, because in fact it was the CIA that planned and has directed the uprising in Egypt all along - at least according to Russia Today.

Since late last night, RT has been claiming that recently released Wikileaks cables reveal that the US has been plotting to overthrow Mubarak for “at least three years” and that they, “show Washington had been secretly backing leading figures behind the uprising.”

Curiously, RT does not include a link to these documents on their website, so Democratist decided to have a look for ourselves…

It turns out that the extent of the “US plotting” (according to the Telegraph article that broke the story) was that the US Embassy in Cairo helped a young dissident attend a  summit for activists in New York in December 2008, while working to keep his identity secret from Egyptian state police.

A couple of days after his return, when this individual claimed that Egyptian opposition forces were drawing up a plan for a transition to a parliamentary democracy, US Ambassador Scobey (unsurprisingly) questioned whether such an “unrealistic” plot could work, or ever even existed.

Scobey’s reaction (like Obama’s statement yesterday) and the wealth of other Wikileaks documents that repeatedly underscore  the deep and enduring political and military relationship between the US and the Mubarak regime over the last 30 years suggest a rather different story to that put forward by Russia Today; one where the US has attempted to balance the realpolitik support of an important if nasty autocratic ally with a comparatively limited liberal policy of help for moderate oppositionists. Subsequently, it is apparent that the Americans did not expect their democratization projects to have any significant impact over the short-term, and have been caught largely unprepared by the recent rioting.

So why has RT suddenly decided that what is happening in Egypt is a CIA-backed coup?

The answer is simple; just as in Georgia and Ukraine, 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.

Russia Today’s position reveals the precariousness of modern autocracy; the Egyptian revolt highlights that, while the last few years may have been witness to some democratic reversals in the CIS (Ukraine, Belarus), on the global scale, the last two centuries (and especially the last sixty years) demonstrate the growing potency of the democratic ideal, and the erosion of autocracy as a legitimate form of governance, even in the most unexpected places, and despite the United States perceived hypocrisy on this issue.

Over the long-term the nomenklatura has much to fear from this trend, and it is therefore unsurprising their apologists make every effort to explain it away as renewed Western imperialism. In turn, the US and EU have much to gain; but only if they make clear through their actions as well as words that, in addition to the necessary realist policies, they are willing to recognize and support the democratic aspirations of people throughout the region, and indeed the world wherever possible.

Posted in Belarus, Egyptian Revolution, Orange Revolution, Russia Propaganda, Russia Today, wikileaks | 12 Comments »

 
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