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People Want

People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising

Gilbert Achcar
Translated from the French by G. M. Goshgarian
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    People Want
    Book Description:

    "The people want . . .": This first half of slogans chanted by millions of Arab protesters since 2011 revealed a long-repressed craving for democracy. But huge social and economic problems were also laid bare by the protestors’ demands.

    Simplistic interpretations of the uprising that has been shaking the Arab world since a young street vendor set himself on fire in Central Tunisia, on 17 December 2010, seek to portray it as purely political, or explain it by culture, age, religion, if not conspiracy theories. Instead, Gilbert Achcar locates the deep roots of the upheaval in the specific economic features that hamper the region’s development and lead to dramatic social consequences, including massive youth unemployment. Intertwined with despotism, nepotism, and corruption, these features, produced an explosive situation that was aggravated by post-9/11 U.S. policies. The sponsoring of the Muslim Brotherhood by the Emirate of Qatar and its influential satellite channel, Al Jazeera, contributed to shaping the prelude to the uprising. But the explosion’s deep roots, asserts Achcar, mean that what happened until now is but the beginning of a revolutionary process likely to extend for many more years to come.

    The author identifies the actors and dynamics of the revolutionary process: the role of various social and political movements, the emergence of young actors making intensive use of new information and communication technologies, and the nature of power elites and existing state apparatuses that determine different conditions for regime overthrow in each case. Drawing a balance-sheet of the uprising in the countries that have been most affected by it until now, i.e. Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria, Achcar sheds special light on the nature and role of the movements that use Islam as a political banner. 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.S. government. 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95654-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Figures and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preliminary Notes
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction: Uprisings and Revolutions
    (pp. 1-6)
    Gilbert Achcar

    “The people want!” This proclamation has been and still is omnipresent in the protracted uprising that has been rocking the Arabic-speaking region since the Tunisian episode began in Sidi Bouzid on 17 December 2010. In every imaginable variant and every imaginable tone, it has served as the prelude to all sorts of demands, from the now famous revolutionary slogan “The people want to overthrow the regime!” to highly diverse calls of a comic nature—exemplified by the demonstrator in Cairo’s Tahrir Square who held high a sign reading: “The people want a president who doesn’t dye his hair!”

    “The people...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Fettered Development
    (pp. 7-37)

    When a revolutionary upheaval is not an isolated phenomenon attributable to specific political conditions in a particular country, but constitutes a shock wave that goes beyond the merely episodic to initiate a veritable sociopolitical transformation in a whole group of countries with similar socioeconomic structures, Marx’s thesis cited above takes on its full significance. From this perspective, the “bourgeois” revolutions at the heart of the Age of Revolution—from the sixteenth-century Dutch War of Independence and the seventeenth-century English Revolution through the long process comprising the French Revolution to the 1848 European Revolutions sometimes called the Spring of Nations—appear...

  8. CHAPTER 2 The Peculiar Modalities of Capitalism in the Arab Region
    (pp. 38-75)

    Examining the way the average annual growth rate of GDP per capita has evolved in the MENA region (Fig. 2.1) draws attention to several facts. This rate is subject to frequent sharp variation. It depends closely on political events: nationalization, regional wars (1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, 1980–8 Iran-Iraq war, wars that US-led coalitions waged on Iraq in 1991 and 2003), and so on, as well as oil price fluctuations. The latter, in turn, correlated with the recurrent political tensions in the MENA region, the main exporter of this highly strategic commodity. Yet, since its 1972 peak due to...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Regional Political Factors
    (pp. 76-113)

    After Herodotus, who called Egypt a gift of the Nile, we might with equal justification call the current state of affairs in the Arab region a gift of oil. We would, however, have to add that it is a poisoned chalice. The Arab states alone held over fifty-six percent of the world’s “proven” (that is, technically and commercially recoverable) conventional crude oil reserves in 2006, before the spectacular leap in Venezuela’s proven reserves. Estimates in 2010 were that they still held nearly half of them (48.6%).¹ It is surely no accident that the First World War both catalyzed a quantitative...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Actors and Parameters of the Revolution
    (pp. 114-143)

    Let us return to our point of departure: Marx’s thesis that revolutions are generated by the contradiction between the development of productive forces and the existing relations of production. Setting out from that basic thesis, we first established that such a fundamental contradiction does in fact exist in the region whose revolutionary explosion we are analyzing. In the process, we observed how complex the concrete manifestation of this contradiction is: first, by looking closely at the specific modalities of the mode of production holding back the region’s development; second, by examining the structural and conjunctural developments as well as the...

  11. CHAPTER 5 A Provisional Balance Sheet of the Arab Uprising
    (pp. 144-187)

    This last chapter but one attempts a comparative, cross-sectional analysis of the six major components of the Arab uprising up to the time this present book was completed (October 2012). We shall be looking at the six countries in which the mass movement has attained the proportions of a veritable popular rebellion against the established regime. These countries are, in the order in which their social explosions took place, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria. Our analysis will be concise, subject as it is to a twofold constraint: the scope of this book and the time available for writing...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Co-opting the Uprising
    (pp. 188-217)

    The proportion of partisans of “conspiracy theory”—the tendency to detect political plots everywhere—is naturally higher than average in two groups in particular: anti-imperialists and Middle Easterners. The fact that “conspiracy theory” generally derives from powerful distrust of the dominant powers explains why the proportion of its proponents is higher among people professing anti-imperialism. Those who continue to preach about the West’s “civilizing mission” dishonestly exploit this fact in an attempt to discredit anti-imperialism across the board.

    As for the Middle East, it is the region of the world that, in the twentieth century, became the object or theater...

  13. Conclusion: The Future of the Arab Uprising
    (pp. 218-242)

    Al-Nahda, an Arabic word meaning “awakening” that is used in the sense of “renaissance,” is both the name of the movement that came to power in Tunisia in 2011 and the title of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers’ electoral platform, on which the new Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, ran for office. Islamic fundamentalism lite, that is, a relatively moderate fundamentalism striving to project an image of itself as modernist, has taken the commands in the two countries that initiated the Arab uprising. Is it truly capable of presiding over a regional “renaissance”?

    Both movements, Tunisian and Egyptian, like to evoke the...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 243-280)
  15. References and Sources
    (pp. 281-302)
  16. Index
    (pp. 303-310)