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«Sabah Alnasseri Revolutionaries Seldom Harvest the Fruit: On the Current Revolutionary Situation in the Arab Middle East. The 17th Bouazizi 2010 1 ...»

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Sabah Alnasseri

Revolutionaries Seldom Harvest the Fruit: On the Current Revolutionary

Situation in the Arab Middle East. The 17th Bouazizi 2010 1

For Bouazizi

Table of content:

1. For Bouazizi

2. The revolutionary calendar: 17th Bouazizi -- Friday is a tragic day for


3. The global research question

4. Hypotheses

5. Thesis

6. Disambiguation

7. The Crisis: Revolutionary Situation

8. Introducing complexity

9. The Arab neoliberal state: state-of-emergency and authoritarian corporatism

10. Power struggles among the fractions of capital: the case of Egypt

11. The security apparatus: the army and militias of the executive

12. The misery of neoliberalism and the aggravation of the social question

13. Nepotism and moments of crises

14. The protest movements

15. Global and regional impacts

16. The Hydra still has many heads: the dictators disappeared, but the dictatorship?

17. Bibliography


This paper was completed in June 2011 and published in a short version in the German social science journal Prokla, Nr. 2, 2011, pp. 273-294   Are Islam and the so-called Islamic fundamentalists the motor, and is homo islamicus the subject of history in the Arab world? One feels almost foolish to pose such a question, but exactly this absurdity characterized the majority of academic and media accounts, and analyses of the political situation in this region prior to December 17, 2010. 1 On this day, out of the blue, a paradigm shift was announced. We now learn that there are people there, who struggle for democracy. That these very same people have long been struggling, and that many have lost their lives in the struggle against the same regimes that were supported by neoliberal democracy comes for many as a big surprise. Not only the people there were overwhelmed by events, but above all, people in the West.

A revolution cannot be planned. Moments that spark revolts and revolutions are difficult to foretell, precisely because they are very concrete, and because they represent a condensation of multiple shifts in social relations. It is not the protests in themselves that are new, but their condensation. The concentration on certain key demands linked people together. Naturally there are considerable differences between the respective countries. The small, but fine details are crucial. The dialectic between spontaneity and organization, that shapes the revolutionary process, could mean that not the most popular, but rather the politically best-organized forces, gain the upper hand.

The revolutionary calendar: 17th Bouazizi -- Friday is a tragic day for dictators It is fitting to start with a chronological overview. The Tunisians demonstrated how popular will topples a dictator. On December 17, 2010, at 11:30 a.m. the young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi, from the small town of Sidi Bouzid, immolated himself, after police seized his produce stand, spit on him, and insulted and berated him publicly. Humiliated and dejected, Bouazizi, the breadwinner for a family of eight, went to the local prefecture in the hope officials would help him. But, they refused to see him and listen to his grievances. An hour later Bouazizi returned to the prefecture, poured fuel over himself and set himself and the entire region on fire. A spontaneous uprising in solidarity with him began in his town and spread to other peripheral towns and villages before reaching the capital city two weeks after the original incident. On Friday January 14, the Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia. At least 200 people were killed during the unrest.

On January 5, protests started in Algeria, and on January 7, in Jordan. On January 23, 2011, the pro-American government of al-Hariri in Lebanon resigned. On the same day Al-Jazeera published the “Palestine Papers”, the internal diplomatic documents of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from 1999which revealed the complicity of Fatah and Abbas in the misery that Israel is responsible for in the occupied territories. As a result, the head of the   Palestinian negotiation team, Erekat, and the entire cabinet of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, resigned on February 14.

On January 25, hundreds of thousands assembled in Tahrir Square in Cairo and demanded radical reforms. After weeks of mass protests and attacks on demonstrators, in which at least 800 people were killed, the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resigned on February 11. The unrest in Libya, which began in the middle of January, escalated into civil war with thousands dead and a NATO intervention. In the third week of January protests began in Yemen, on January 28 in Saudi Arabia, and on January 30 in Sudan. In Yemen, loyalists and the security forces of president Salih, who held office since 1978, shot hundreds of demonstrators. On February 14, protest marches started in Bahrain that led to a military intervention by the Gulf Cooperation Council and in particular by Saudi Arabia. From February 18 onwards, protests took place in Iraq and Oman; on March 25 protests began in Syria. At all these events the people inaugurated a revolutionary calendar: The day of outrage, of martyrs, of victory, and so forth.

At first, none of the participants had in mind that a revolutionary situation was taking place. They simply thought, if they could manage to mobilize a large number of people, that this in itself would be a great success. As tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands marched, all expectations were exceeded.

Only at this point did people overcome their systemic fear and disorganization. 2 It was, however, above all the regimes, which escalated these events to the point of uncontrollability. The arrogance of power, brutality and violence transformed the turbulent moments into explosive matter. What started as a day of outrage, ended in a revolution? 3 In all these instances, the various governments reacted in predictable ways in the face of revolutionary challenges. They proved themselves to be incredibly incompetent. At first, all presidents, as their positions of power were shaken, announced that they would neither present themselves as candidates for a further term, nor extend their term in office, nor would they transfer power to a family member. They, the Arab monarchies too, promised reforms, increased subsidies, the creation of jobs and so forth. Then, in their desperation they resorted to violence and murder or military intervention (Bahrain), before their own accomplices finally abandoned them like hot potatoes. Everywhere the same pattern of reactions, the same scenario of breakdown, the same breaking of rusty chains took place.

The comprehension, analysis and explanation of these multifaceted and complex events represent a formidable task of research, which in its entirety cannot be undertaken here. Formulated questions, hypotheses, and theses, touch on the developments in general, they delimit the scope of current and future research. In the meantime, although the theoretical assumptions apply to all case studies, I would like to concentrate here on the two cases which to date represent the more successful protests (less so for Tunisia and more so for Egypt). I will deal with the other cases in future works since their complexity and singularities cannot be dealt with in this paper, not least because, as of this writing they are far from having reached their turning and highpoints.

 The global research question

What has gone so dramatically wrong in the organization of state power as class power?

Before addressing this question, I will clarify some theoretical issues concerning the question of the state.

The state is "the material condensation of such a relationship among classes and class fractions, such as this is expressed within the State in a necessarily specific form”. 4 However, the state has its own density and strength and “is not reducible to a relationship of forces…change in the class relationship of forces always affects the State; but it does not find expression in the State in a direct and immediate fashion. It adapts itself exactly to the materiality of the various apparatuses, only becoming crystallized in a refracted form that varies according to the apparatus”. 5 Here I will introduce a slight modification in the definition: the ‘condensation’ of relation of forces is unbalanced due to the dominance of capital, the asymmetry of the relations of power, and the capitalist social division of labour. This has crisis theoretical consequences since a crisis of the state has considerably more of an effect on the fractions of the ruling classes than it has on the popular classes. In this context, what seems to be an advantage of the ruling classes in the form of the institutional selectivity of the state and the expression of the condensation “in a necessarily specific form” represents the Achilles heel of bourgeoisie political power. Thus, the security apparatuses of the state and the monopoly on the legitimate use of violence become essential for the reproduction of bourgeoisie rule. With a weakening of the position of the ruling class, the bureaucracy (the "State Party ") or the state apparatus takes over the dominant role. 6 Gramsci defines the state beyond the legal-repressive moment in the extended or integral sense, as political society and civil society, or as a "dictatorship + hegemony". Thus, civil society is to be conceptualized only with respect to the state or only in the context of the extended state. It represents an ideological terrain for the struggles for power and domination in relation to political hegemony, and not a purely "private" sphere. "The conception of the state as hegemony leads to paradoxical affirmations: the state is not to be found only where it appears to be “institutionalized’ ". 7 Poulantzas 8 builds on this, but also on the Marxian distinction in the 18th Brumaire 9 in his theory of the state to distinguish between forms of state and government or regime types. 10 Forms of government are to be understood in relation to the composition and constitution of the power bloc i.e. focuses the attention on the specific configuration of the ruling classes under the domination or hegemony of a group or class, so one and the same state takes different regime forms. The regime forms are therefore located at the interface between the power blocs and their political representation on the "political scene". 11 The


"is covered by a series of concepts which indicate class relations in parties, situated in that particular space generally described by Marx as the political   scene, in which the direct action of classes operate. In this space, we can precisely delimit the dislocation between (i) the field of political class practices (the power bloc) in a form of the state and (ii) the representation of classes by parties in a form of régime". 12 The relations of power within the power bloc define (‘pertinent effects’) the conjunctural limits of transformation on the political scene.


1. The sudden and rapid collapse of the regimes is due to the structural weaknesses of the states: the weakening of civil society by repression, the containment of public space and the political field. That is why, the conflict immediately goes beyond the mechanisms of representation in the narrow sense (parties, parliament, state media etc.) and permeates the entire state apparatus, with the result that, the bureaucracy, the military and the higher echelons of capital achieve a relative independence.

2. State and party elites were not willing and able to react with necessary reforms to changing socioeconomic realties. Competing national and international forces of economic transformation were restricted in their operations. Their access to decision-making bodies became limited and their property insecure. In other words, these forces were marginalized within the power bloc. The crisis of the governing parties also represents an economic crisis for the comprador fraction of capital, which eased the frontal attack by the masses on the regime, by bringing competing capitalist fractions on to the side of the popular classes (workers, peasants, working poor, unemployed, marginalized etc.).

3. By means of a putsch by party economic elites, the ruling parties destroyed their own local and regional elites such as functionaries, technocrats and military personnel, whose positions were once maintained through state support.

4. The escalation of the conflicts is the fault of the regimes themselves.

The war of position within civil society was transformed into a political war of manoeuvre due to the mistakes and incorrect estimations by the governing elites.

The excessive use of violence generated contrary effects due to the fissures, conflicts and contradictions in and between the security apparatuses of the state.

5. The opposition parties became shadows of their former selves, mummies who were not able to adapt to the new circumstances and relations of power. As a consequence, they transformed into rigid bureaucracies dependent on the state. Their respective social bases were nevertheless still linked to the popular classes, and this fact bestowed on them a relative autonomy in their dealings with the regime. The opposition parties 13 were abandoned by their respective classes (ruling classes, petit bourgeoisie, worker, peasants, new middle classes), class fractions (industrial, financial, and commercial fractions), and other social groups. (lower and middle layers of bureaucrats, professionals,   self employed etc.) Political newcomers or lesser-known forces seized the initiative for change in this conflict situation.

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