lundi 28 février 2011

The non-ideological age

I've mentioned a few times in my previous posts that current revolts in the Arab world are non-ideological, I'd like to come back on this point.

Yesterday, I was for the first time disappointed by a Nial Fergusson piece in Business Insider. In this article, the Harvard historian and economist warns against revolutions that start by generating enthusiasm both at home and abroad but end awry. His basic point is that America being born out of a successful and relatively bloodless revolution tends to get fired up too fast about other people overthrowing their own governments. He then goes on to draw from past examples that include France, China, Russia and the likes to show that most revolutions fail to live up to the expectations people had of them and end up in sclerosed dictatorships at best and bloody genocide at worst. The bottom line is: we shouldn't get our hopes up about Arab revolutions since history teaches us that popular uprisings rarely end up as we had hoped them to.

I certainly don't think that we should be naive and expect revolutions in the Arab world to produce the stable, liberal, democratic regimes we would like them to. There are still too many unknowns in the equation and nobody can real predict what the region will look like when the dust finally settles.

But still, comparing the Jasmine revolutions to those in Russia and China is misleading (France is another, more complex matter) in many ways. Here are, in my view, the two key differences between them:

1- The Jasmine revolts are remarkable non-ideological. The wave of protests was triggered by a mundane, if tragic, event (the self immolation of a Tunisian street vendor) and carried demands that were highly pragmatic. Other revolutions such as those mentioned by Nial Fergusson were deeply ideological. They came with a "ready to think" theory about economy and world affairs along with a pre-packaged set of enemies (which explains why they were usually followed by international conflict). They were radical and uncompromising in nature and thus prone to spark conflicts within the country or with surrounding powers. As a matter of fact, the Arab revolts are more similar to the American revolution in that they are based on pragmatic aspirations rather than ideological nonsense.

2- As a result of their ideological roots, the revolutions Ferguson uses to illustrate his point were well structured . They had their leaders, their thinkers, their models and their objectives. The Jasmine revolutions, on the contrary, are diffuse and loosely organized to say the least. They bring together individuals and organization from various social and ideological backgrounds and use punctual demands as a mortar rather than immutable ideologies. They rely on the power of individuals, not on the magnetic appeal of a few leaders. They are an embodiment of the "Many to many"organizational model and thus are unlike anything we have ever seen before.

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