Completely unexpected, 2011 has emerged as a year of revolt against neoliberalism and austerity, from Tahrir Square in Cairo to Plaça de Catalunya of the indignados to Zuccotti Park of Occupy Wall Street. The overthrow of long-standing authoritarian regimes in the Arab world re-asserted the moral and organizational capacities of workers and popular movements to transform the world.
As Adam Hanieh writes in his contribution here: “The events of the year are one of those historical moments where the lessons of many decades can be telescoped into a few brief moments and seemingly minor occurrences can take on immense significance. The entry of millions of Egyptians onto the political stage has graphically illuminated the real processes that underlie the politics of the Middle East. It has laid bare the longstanding complicity of the U.S. and other world powers with the worst possible regimes, revealed the empty and hypocritical rhetoric of United States President Barack Obama and other leaders, exposed the craven capitulation of all the Arab regimes, and demonstrated the real alliances between these regimes, Israel and the USA. These are political lessons that will long be remembered.
“The uprisings have also shown the remarkable fragility of the nepotistic regimes across the Arab world. These regimes depended upon their networks of secret police (mukhabarat) and thugs (baltajiya), and inculcated a seemingly unassailable pessimism about the possibility of change that was reflected in the biting sarcasm of Arab political humour. But these mechanisms of control simply evaporated as people shed their fear. The Arabic word intifada conveys this sense of shaking off, and the sight of millions of people losing their fear and gaining a sense of the possible will long remain one of the most enduring memories of this revolutionary moment. The historic significance of this process should not be lost. There has quite literally never been a moment of such potential in the Arab world.”