Patrice Riemens on Tue, 1 Feb 2011 17:25:33 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Slavoj Zizek: Why fear the Arab revolutionary spirit? (The Guardian)

bwo Sarai Reader List/ Sonja Jabbar (but re-layouted from print version of
original at:

Slavoj Zizek
Why fear the Arab revolutionary spirit?

The western liberal reaction to the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia
frequently shows hypocrisy and cynicism

Egyptian demonstrators An Egyptian demonstrator uses his shoe to hit a
picture of President Hosni Mubarak during a protest in Cairo. Photograph:
Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

What cannot but strike the eye in the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt is the
conspicuous absence of Muslim fundamentalism. In the best secular
democratic tradition, people simply revolted against an oppressive regime,
its corruption and poverty, and demanded freedom and economic hope. The
cynical wisdom of western liberals, according to which, in Arab countries,
genuine democratic sense is limited to narrow liberal elites while the
vast majority can only be mobilised through religious fundamentalism or
nationalism, has been proven wrong. The big question is what will happen
next? Who will emerge as the political winner?

When a new provisional government was nominated in Tunis, it excluded
Islamists and the more radical left. The reaction of smug liberals was:
good, they are the basically same; two totalitarian extremes ? but are
things as simple as that? Is the true long-term antagonism not precisely
between Islamists and the left? Even if they are momentarily united
against the regime, once they approach victory, their unity splits, they
engage in a deadly fight, often more cruel than against the shared enemy.

Did we not witness precisely such a fight after the last elections in
Iran? What the hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters stood for was
the popular dream that sustained the Khomeini revolution: freedom and
justice. Even if this dream utopian, it did lead to a breathtaking
explosion of political and social creativity, organisational experiments
and debates among students and ordinary people. This genuine opening that
unleashed unheard-of forces for social transformation, a moment in which
everything seemed possible, was then gradually stifled through the
takeover of political control by the Islamist establishment.

Even in the case of clearly fundamentalist movements, one should be
careful not to miss the social component. The Taliban is regularly
presented as a fundamentalist Islamist group enforcing its rule with
terror. However, when, in the spring of 2009, they took over the Swat
valley in Pakistan, The New York Times reported that they engineered "a
class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small group of
wealthy landlords and their landless tenants". If, by "taking advantage"
of the farmers' plight, the Taliban are creating, in the words of the New
York Times "alarm about the risks to Pakistan, which remains largely
feudal," what prevented liberal democrats in Pakistan and the US similarly
"taking advantage" of this plight and trying to help the landless farmers?
Is it that the feudal forces in Pakistan are the natural ally of liberal

The inevitable conclusion to be drawn is that the rise of radical Islamism
was always the other side of the disappearance of the secular left in
Muslim countries. When Afghanistan is portrayed as the utmost Islamic
fundamentalist country, who still remembers that, 40 years ago, it was a
country with a strong secular tradition, including a powerful communist
party that took power there independently of the Soviet Union? Where did
this secular tradition go?

And it is crucial to read the ongoing events in Tunisia and Egypt (and
Yemen and ? maybe, hopefully, even Saudi Arabia) against this background.
If the situation is eventually stabilised so that the old regime survives
but with some liberal cosmetic surgery, this will generate an
insurmountable fundamentalist backlash. In order for the key liberal
legacy to survive, liberals need the fraternal help of the radical left.
Back to Egypt, the most shameful and dangerously opportunistic reaction
was that of Tony Blair as reported on CNN: change is necessary, but it
should be a stable change. Stable change in Egypt today can mean only a
compromise with the Mubarak forces by way of slightly enlarging the ruling
circle. This is why to talk about peaceful transition now is an obscenity:
by squashing the opposition, Mubarak himself made this impossible. After
Mubarak sent the army against the protesters, the choice became clear:
either a cosmetic change in which something changes so that everything
stays the same, or a true break.

Here, then, is the moment of truth: one cannot claim, as in the case of
Algeria a decade ago, that allowing truly free elections equals delivering
power to Muslim fundamentalists. Another liberal worry is that there is no
organised political power to take over if Mubarak goes. Of course there is
not; Mubarak took care of that by reducing all opposition to marginal
ornaments, so that the result is like the title of the famous Agatha
Christie novel, And Then There Were None. The argument for Mubarak ? it's
either him or chaos ? is an argument against him.

The hypocrisy of western liberals is breathtaking: they publicly supported
democracy, and now, when the people revolt against the tyrants on behalf
of secular freedom and justice, not on behalf of religion, they are all
deeply concerned. Why concern, why not joy that freedom is given a chance?
Today, more than ever, Mao Zedong's old motto is pertinent: "There is
great chaos under heaven ? the situation is excellent."

Where, then, should Mubarak go? Here, the answer is also clear: to the
Hague. If there is a leader who deserves to sit there, it is him.

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