Vijay Prashad: The Long Arab Revolution

When will the Arab people rule themselves, and not be ruled by one-party dictators and monarchs who are beholden to bond markets and foreign capitals? Not long ago France’s Sarkozy and America’s Clinton offered praise for their “democratic” friends Ben Ali and Mubarak. To top the obscenity, Obama conferred with the Saudis on the democratic transition in Egypt, which is like asking a vegetarian how to cook prime rib.


The current revolt is against the regime set up by Sadat and developed by Mubarak. It is a national security state that has no democratic pretensions. In 1977, Sadat identified Nasserism with “detention camps, custodianship and sequestration, a one-opinion, one-party system.” Sadat allowed three kinds of political forces to emerge, but then hastily defanged them (the leftist National Progressive Grouping Party), coopted them (the Arab Socialist Party, and the Socialist Liberal Party), or tolerated their existence (Muslim Brotherhood). Cleverly, Sadat put in place what he accused Nasser of building. It was under Sadat, and Mubarak (with Omar Suleiman in tow) that the detention camps and torture centers blossomed.


Over the past twenty years we’ve seen two types of revolts. The first, those in Eastern Europe for instance, were revolts against the suffocation of the late Soviet-era State. Indifferent to the tarnished promises of such socialism, the people sought refuge in the glamour of the market economy. It was a revolt for the market. Two decades later, the East European dreams have become a horrid nightmare.

The second, those in the Arab world today, but also the people’s revolt in the Philippines against Marcos and the people’s revolt in Indonesia against Suharto, were revolts against the market. These were revolts by masses of people who wanted an expansion of the social wage. They began with revolts against long-standing autocrats (Ben Ali, Mubarak, Marcos, Suharto) and cascaded into demands for a different social and economic order.

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