The “Arab 1848”: Reflections on US Policy & the Power of Nonviolence
The uprising in the Arab world shows, along with being a textbook example of nonviolence as a mechanism of democratic social change, the crude results of a US policy based on dictatorship promotion.
For Eqbal Ahmad
“In a world built on violence, one must be a revolutionary before one can be a pacifist…human beings acquiesce all too easily in evil conditions; they rebel far too little and too seldom…Those who can bring themselves to renounce wealth, position and power accruing from a social system based on violence and putting a premium on acquisitiveness, and to identify themselves in some real fashion with the struggle of the masses toward the light, may help in a measure-more, doubtless, by life than by words—to devise a more excellent way, a technique of social progress less crude, brutal, costly and slow than mankind [sic] has yet evolved.”
A.J. Muste, nonviolent revolutionary
The interconnected wave of revolutions of late 2010 and early 2011 that have swept the Arab world have invited many comparisons, with at least one perceptive analyst labeling them the “Arab 1948” (Ali, 2011; see also Sperber, 2005). This analogy is of special interest, as some time ago, Giovanni Arrighi, Terence Hopkins and Immanuel Wallerstein (1989, 1992), in their landmark Antisystemic Movements, argued that there had been only two world revolutions, 1848 and 1968, with the subsequent revolutions of 1989 seen as a continuation of 1968. How then, might we see what Immanuel Wallerstein (2011) has called “the Second Arab Revolt” taking place today? One perspective was provided by the Wall Street Journal, the main paper of the US business establishment. In a front page article entitled, “A Pivotal Moment for America,” journalist Gerald F. Seib (2/12-13/11) started off by noting that “The fall of the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak marks a historic shift in the Middle East, away from the power structure America has leaned on for the past three decades and toward a new one still be shaped by a demographic and technological wave that the U.S. and its allies haven’t learned to control(emphasis added).”
Similarly, in a revealing February 17, 2010 interview, CBS journalist Katie Couric asked Richard Haass, former head of Policy Planning in the US Department of State under President Bush from 2001 to 2003, and currently President of the Council on Foreign Relations, one of the most important US Establishment think tanks, “How great a threat are these latest protests to the United States?”; Haass replied, “They are, particularly the one in Bahrain; this, for really half a century has been a centerpiece of the US naval presence in a critical part of the world because of the energy resources,” going on to note that the “stakes [are] great” and emphasizing that the US was particularly concerned about the stability of the Saudi regime. Indeed, according to a recent story in the New York Times (2/19/11) “…the Saudis are closely watching American diplomatic gestures toward Bahrain. Any wavering of American support for Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy, analysts say, would provoke a deep sense of betrayal, and could create an unprecedented rift in a partnership with the United States that has been a pillar of Saudi policy since 1945.”