Juan Cole

Last active
3 weeks, 5 days ago
  • Thanks so much, Bev, and to all the folks at FDL, for this discussion. Last words? Buy the book! :-)

    cheers Juan

  • Thanks again for being such a good and provocative host. Much appreciated! Aloooha.

  • The military-appointed Egyptian government passed a law last fall that made unlicensed demonstrations illegal. You have to apply for a permit 3 days before. The bloggers laughed that Sisi doesn’t understand the concept of “the protest.” Those activists who challenged the law by protesting without a license have often been arrested. In some cases, as with Ahmad Maher of the April 6 Youth Organization, Alaa Abdel Fattah (a prominent blogger) and Mahienoor El Masry of the Revolutionary Socialists (Trotskyites), they were not only arrested late last fall and into this year, but the book was thrown at them. Ahmad Maher is doing 3 years hard labor. Alaa and Mahienoor face long arbitrary sentences. They are being made object lessons by Sisi, that the 3 years of youth-led upheavals are over and no more grassroots protests will be allowed to change the course of government. We’ll see.

  • Oh, most of the Arab news channels are much worse than Fox. Even after the 2011 revolutions there is a lot of self-censorship. The Sisi press and television in Egypt just makes stuff up and puts forward the most amazing assertions with a straight face. Apparently the Egyptian army has found a cure for AIDS and also the United States had been trying to partition Egypt.

  • Hi, Charles. I wouldn’t say it was the refugees. But certainly Iraqi fighters who had gotten experience fighting Marines in Iraq, and who went to Aleppo, were important in militarizing the conflict and destabilizing Syria in the direction of militant fundamentalism. Bush’s war is the gift that goes on giving.

  • The number of Arab intellectuals involved in environmentalism or aware of climate change impacts is small. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber at Masdar in Abu Dhabi is leading an effort toward green energy and a Masdar scientist has found a desert lichen that can be grown and synthesized for food in arid conditions. Morocco is maybe the best on green policy and has ambitious goals for solar and wind energy.

    Egypt’s Delta is in severe danger because of sea level rise, and will likely be submerged over the next few centuries, with some severe impacts even in this century. It would displace most of the population, i.e. tens of millions of people. I’ve never seen so much as a newspaper article about this in Egypt, though some Egyptian scientists have written about it. Though, I suppose you could say much the same thing about Louisiana.

  • Hi, Bev. In 2011 the youth revolutionaries for the most part focused on domestic grievances and tried not to let the regimes distract the public with foreign policy issues. The US wasn’t very relevant to Tunisia, which is more in the French zone. The Left youth were scathing about both, and I don’t think they much cared whether it was Bush or Obama. I asked them if they felt better about the French socialists than about Sarkozy and they blanched. One said, “I’m quite sure we despise the French socialists.” Obama had some popularity after his Cairo speech but it quickly wore off for lack of follow through. In Egypt, there was some anti-Obama graffiti and sentiment in January of 2011, but once Obama urged Mubarak to go, he largely went away as an issue (the youth did refuse to meet with Hillary Clinton when she came to Cairo, because of her support for Mubarak). When I was in Egypt in March, everyone was mad at Obama. The fundamentalists thought he must have been behind the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood. The nationalists thought he was trying to impose the Muslim Brotherhood on Egypt in hopes that if the fundamentalists dedicated themselves to civil politics they would leave the US alone. Both are crackpot theories but widely believed.

  • The small oil monarchies didn’t have an Arab spring. It was the big republics that had the upheavals.

    The youth bloggers are very exercised about workers rights, and their promotion of labor unions and strikes was key to the emergence of youth organizations into the political limelight in both Tunisia and Egypt. There is a lot about the youth-Labor coalition in my book.

  • Thanks, Brandon.

    As the book went to press, the new constitution had just been passed by parliament, which is very good on freedom of conscience and women’s rights (there is no longer a government agency in charge of internet censorship!) The elected religious-right government stepped down in January in favor of a caretaker cabinet of technocrats who will oversee the next elections, in October. While the youth activists continue to be worried about police brutality and controversies over the limits of free speech, the political transition is going well in my view.

    The worrying thing is that Libya has collapsed politically and its faction-fighting and refugees could spill over on Tunisia in destabilizing ways. So far, it hasn’t happened.

    Ironically, Algerian and Libyan tourists have boosted Tunisia’s tourism economy this summer, since both those countries are pretty dreary right about now…

  • Thanks for your observation, but it seems to me you are being too pessimistic.

    First of all, the Arab Millennials got rid of four, count them, four “presidents for life” backed by police states, militaries, and corrupt elites. They also provoked constitutional change in Morocco. They had a positive effect on the lives of 150 million people despite the forces arrayed against them.

    Syria is an enormous tragedy, but it isn’t very much like the rest of the region, in having a minority community at the head of the government and having an old Soviet-style one-party state. 40% of the population is probably not Sunni Arab, and the Sunnis are split between nationalists and fundamentalists, between wealthy and poor.

  • Regimes like that of Ben Ali in Tunisia were intensively spying on the internet right from the beginning and could have taught the NSA some things. Turns out, if enough of the population wants a change in government, merely spying on the population won’t keep you in power– they overwhelm you.

  • Of the some 350 million Arabs (depending on how you count), very few live under monarchies. Morocco is the most populous monarchy, at 32 million. The Saudis maybe have 22 million citizens. After that they are tiny. Qatar has like 250,000 citizens.

    The oil monarchies are typically very young demographically, with big youth bulges, and are more dynamic and changing rapidly than they seem on the surface. Employment is a problem in part because of the “Dutch disease”– having a pricey primary commodity hardens your currency and hurts handicrafts, industry and agriculture by making those goods expensive to other countries and hard to export.

  • Good point. My book really isn’t about the generation so much as the youth movements that members threw up to organize it and make claims for its aspirations. Those youth movements will be consequential for politics for a long time to come. Most of the really effective ones are left or liberal, moreover.

    Moreover, in the Arab world, generational change is much more stark than in the industrialized West. Egypt’s population in 1980 was 40 million; it is now 85 million or so. A whole new Egypt has been added, of Millennials. And these new Egyptians are *much* more urban, literate and wired than their parents, and somewhat, at least, less religiously observant. That is, the social statistics suggest a genuinely different generational set of values– though of course there is as you say a spectrum and some a quite conservative or reacting against the New Left or the liberals.

  • Ending net neutrality would harm the world wide web as a place for effective dissent, but the Net is such that people will still find ways to communicate on it. You might have to be patient while the non-MSM site you want to read loads into your browser. Or maybe we have to go to peer to peer filesharing, or torrents. Anyway, it would be bad but not fatal.

  • I argue that it is way too soon to tell which of these movements was successful, and of course it depends on what you think their goal was. Ahmad Maher in Egypt (now unfortunately in jail) said that Jan. 25, 2011, was originally about getting rid of the Interior Minister. So obviously that succeeded.

    And, it is very early days. At this stage in the American Revolution, the British still held Staten Island.

    Tunisia has had the best (though still very rocky and imperfect) transition to greater democracy, but it is an open question about whether the elected government will be able to grow the economy fast enough to suit the youth.

    Egypt seems to have gone authoritarian but when I was there in March there were massive and widespread labor strikes, including by postal workers (very debilitating to business), and the military clearly did not dare move against them. That is, spaces have opened that it is hard even for the generals to close back down. I don’t think the youth have gone anywhere, nor have their aspirations, and the old guys at the top won’t be there forever…

    So, let’s keep an open mind about the changes kicked off in 2011. The story isn’t over. One thing seems clear though– presidents for life and their sons inheriting the presidency is not going to be the new paradigm for the region.

  • Again, it is different in different countries and changes over time. In Egypt, the youth movements from about 2005 began trying to cooperate across ideological divides. There was some of that in Libya, as well, in 2011.

    But after the revolutions, when the question was not just getting rid of the dictator but of what came next, cooperation was hard to sustain. The left and liberal youth broke with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 2012-13 when the latter came to power and cracked down on dissent. Libya is now riven by a fight between nationalists and fundamentalists that even has a regional/ clan substrate, thus Zintanis versus Misratans.

  • This is not a cop-out– really– I cite a lot of blogs in my book with URLs. But you might look at Baheyya for Egypt e.g.

    http://baheyya.blogspot.se/

  • You’d have to look at it on a country by country basis. The vast majority of Egyptians at the moment have a bad taste in their mouths from fundamentalist attempts at power-grabbing and they hate and fear ISIL. On the other hand, some Saudis are more aware of the oppression of the Iraqi Sunnis at the hands of the Shiite government of Nouri al-Maliki and so are more sympathetic to ISIL as a Sunni backlash.

  • There were a lot of political blogs among Arab youth, though maybe some of that energy has now gone to social media. They are diverse– leftist, liberal, fundamentalist, loyalist.

    The internet was important to dissidents because the government or relatives of the president often controlled the newspapers and in-country television, and the internet allowed people to get the word out about taboo subjects like police torture. Although the tensions between netroots and the Establishment (including MSM) are structurally similar, those tensions are much more vehement and stark in a dictatorial police state.

  • The funny thing is that the Saudi leadership does not see its Wahhabi brand of Islam as extremist. They think Wahhabis are just very good (i.e. what we would call fundamentalist) Muslims who are characterized by loyalty to the king. I suppose they’re a little like some of the urban 16th century Protestant groups who were frankly fanatical but loyal to a Protestant prince, in contrast to the peasant revolutionaries.

    So the Saudis are afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is not loyal to any monarch or government and is rather populist and sometimes revolutionary. They see the Brotherhood as the extremists.

    So there are two things going on here, strictness in obedience to Muslim canon law as fundamentalists construct it, and the question of loyalty to the king or to the state. People can be quietist and apolitical and yet fundamentalist believers, as with some of the peace churches in the US.

    The strain that is dangerous is what I call fundamentalist vigilantes, those who reject mainstream government authority and think individuals are authorized to act violently on their own account.

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