The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising

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The Arab Revolutions : Five Years On - Day 2 Keynote Gilbert Achcar

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Our family hotel has been welcoming guests and offering fireside comfort to travelers for more than years. The reason, Achcar argues, is that the former countries are or in the case of Libya, was patrimonial states. This praetorian guard is therefore willing to go to war with the majority of the population to defend the regime. Indeed, the entire Syrian military, from top to bottom, is dominated by Alawites, the sect of the ruling group.

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In other words, Achcar argues that the Syrian and Libyan people always had a fight on their hands. In contrast, Tunisia and Egypt are or were merely neo patrimonial states meaning there was some separation between regime and state.

The People Want

Therefore these states could simply discard the regime whilst themselves remaining intact. Infamously, in Egypt for example, the deep core of the state made up of the military was able to jettison Mubarak whilst preserving itself, thus allowing his relatively peaceful overthrow.

Of course, this does not mean the ensuing revolutionary process will be bloodless or plain sailing in neopatrimonial states. It does mean, however, that at least the initial rupture that removes the despot and triggers the long-term revolutionary process might be peaceful, subject to the strength of the mass movement. This is an intriguing argument. But sadly, it is this reasoning that has, at least in part, led to Achcar getting himself into the terrible muddle of arguing not in this book, but elsewhere in favour of foreign intervention. Essentially, he argues that the Syrian people need US arms in order to take on the praetorian guard.

You might say he saw these interventions as the lesser of two evils when it comes to defeating patrimonial regimes. Nevertheless, his conclusions are entirely wrong: in supporting, or rather not opposing, these imperial interventions, he dangerously underplays their destructiveness and how corrosive they are to the integrity of any liberation movement.

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Invariably, such intervention is never the lesser of two evils. To his credit, Achcar explicitly recognises that Western interventions are bloody and do not come without strings; his error is in not giving these facts anywhere near their due weight.

Further, his premise that there would have always been civil wars in patrimonial Libya and Syria, to a large degree lets Western imperialism off the hook for precipitating a great deal of that violence. For lack of space, I will not rehash all the familiar arguments as to why NATO intervention has made things immeasurably worse in Libya and why arming the rebels in Syria would be disastrous for the people.

All I will say is that, in the case of Syria, as much as I recognise how hard it will be for the people to overthrow Assad, not least given the patrimonial nature of the regime, their task will be made infinitely worse by the cruel and cynical interference of foreign powers.

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Given that Achcar provides a revolutionary Marxist analysis throughout the book, it is disappointing that his concluding prescriptions are essentially reformist. So, essentially, Achcar is calling for Nasserism shorn of authoritarianism. Now, I accept we should be under no illusions that socialist revolution is on the horizon in the MENA region.

I also accept that a return to post-World-War-Two style developmentalism would be a massively welcome improvement to the lot of the Arab people. However, ultimately, this cannot be the answer.

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He scrutinizes attempts at co-opting the uprising by these movements and by the oil monarchies that sponsor them, as well as by the protector of these same monarchies: the U. Underlining the limitations of the "Islamic Tsunami" that some have used as a pretext to denigrate the whole uprising, Gilbert Achcar points to the requirements for a lasting solution to the social crisis and the contours of a progressive political alternative. The Future of the Arab Uprising. References and Sources.