Is there a concerted programme of demands by the new Arab street, a clear orientation?
No. But as Amr Hamzawy comments—and this is an observation worthy of serious note—what is absent is as important as what is present. There are few Islamist signs and chants, no mullahs leading the crowds. That’s not what all this is about.
These countries, in fact, are among those that have already rejected extremist Islam of the Salafist or Wahhabist variety. The demonstrators do not appear to be motivated by a desire to return to a reactionary past: no Muslim Brotherhood for them. Hamzawy writes of Egypt only, but his observations surely apply to the mass demonstrations occurring elsewhere.
Such spontaneous uprisings against corruption, autocracy, poverty and the political and cultural ossification of which these are all symptoms, however, are fearfully vulnerable. Nimble “opposition” leaders from the same ruling class can spring up, a few of the rich and powerful fly into exile, and—meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
But this latest outbreak of mass protest seems different. Has a tipping-point been reached—an unstoppable upsurge of modernism finally grown too big and unruly to be dammed up by the constraints of creaky, outmoded ways, beliefs and institutions? There is much talk of Twitter and Facebook revolutions, which seems a little glib to me. Yet medium and message do appear to have combined: modern lightening-fast communications seem in sync, somehow, with the impatience of youth, enabling and amplifying it, transforming generational discontent into a rapidly-growing movement propelled by a common desire for freedom, for the new, for the untried.
Much can stop them in their tracks, of course: the offer of minor reforms to a crumbling system might be even more of a threat than palace coups and violent clampdowns. But the unprecedented nation-by-nation spread of semi-organized opposition is in itself an optimistic sign.
These ordinary people in the streets will not soon be quelled or lulled into sleep. They offer hope, not only for a great leap into the twenty-first century, with all of its untidiness and confusion, but for its concomitant—a further step away from Islamism, with its enforced ignorance, inequality and violent dogmatism.
We don’t know what they want, specifically, or what they are prepared to settle for. But defying our observers’ hopes and expectations, as they defy their own rulers, may be not be a bad thing. They are after something else, something new, and they may, with luck, push forward and create it, and surprise us all.
[H/t Harry’s Place]