Welcoming the students of the 2019-20 batch
The Director’s welcome to all the new students of the academic year, 2019-20 followed by interaction with CDS Community including all students, faculty and staff was held in the Baker Auditorium, at 2.30 pm on 1 August 2019. Prof Sunil Mani, Director, outlined the academic activities, MA, MPhil/PhD programmes and the wide-ranging facilities available for the overall development of the students at the Centre. A self-introduction by the new students and by the faculty, staff and students followed.
This was followed by a lecture titled “What happened to the Arab Spring? A Political Economy Approach,” by Prof Amiya Bagchi, Emeritus Professor, IDS Kolkata.
Abstract of the lecture:
The Arab world has been characterized by authoritarian regimes for a long time. They have been supported on the one hand in the Arabian Peninsula, and the Persian Gulf countries by the rents received from oil, the region containing the largest reservoir of oil in the world, and on the support of the NATO powers, led for a time by the UK, but from the 1960s by the USA. The two countries in the Gulf area that put up resistance against the Western powers, namely, Iraq and Iran were subjected to Repeated armed interventions in the one case and overt and covert CIA operations in the other. It is also the case that the Western powers have felt much more comfortable with Islamist, if not downright theocratic states like Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, than with secular regimes like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or Assad’s Syria. The Western powers were also thoroughly opposed to the regime of Muammar Gaddafi who made Lybia the richest state in Africa and rendered Libya into an exemplar for providing social welfare because the former could not acquire control over Libya’s oil resources without toppling Gaddafi. This background has to be remembered in order to understand why the democratic revolution that started in Tunisia and then spread spontaneously to Egypt and was made to spread to Libya with open help from the NATO powers was aborted everywhere except in Tunisia.
While the Arab Spring is a recent affair, it has to be remembered that there were struggles for democracy in other Arab states a long time back. Like most other Arab countries, Jordan also witnessed periodic struggles for democracy and for some years in the early 1950s, it witnessed a flowering of popular parliamentary democracy. Sulayman al-Nablusi led these democratic struggles. Al-Nabulsi formed a party called the National Socialist Party and initially into an electoral alliance with the Jordanian of the Ba’th Party and Jordanian Communist Party to form the National Front and called for freeing Jordan of foreign influence, political, economic, and military cooperation with Arab nationalist states, to fight against imperialism. Al-Nabulsi had formed a government after his alliance won the parliamentary elections in 1956 and had become prime minister of Jordan. He decided to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and China, Following his family’s pro-imperialist tradition and fearing a nationalist takeover, Hussein decided to throw in his lot with theUS camp. After several other clashes with the King, Al-Nabulsi was forced to resign and then put under house arrest. ‘The palace restored autocracy by declaring martial law, banning all political parties, and rescinding all parliamentary decisions made by the elected parliament that was somewhat progressive, including the granting of suffrage to literate women’. It is salutary to recall this history because the conversion of Libya into a failed state after the barbaric murder of Gaddafi by NATO-aided rebels was not the first interference in Arab affairs by the USA and NATO powers.
The Tunisian Revolution, which successfully ousted longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, consisted of a series of street demonstrations in January 2011 following the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi on December 17, 2010. The demonstrations were an expression of citizens’ frustration over economic issues like food inflation and high unemployment, as well as a lack of political freedoms like rights to free speech. The phrase “SidiBouzid” (Bouazizi’s home city) became shorthand for the revolt. On Twitter, participants began labelling messages discussing the uprisings with #sidibouzid, effectively indexing the Tunisian Revolution through a hashtag. Despite President Ben Ali’s attempts to quell the demonstrations through violence and last minute reforms, the Tunisian military intervened against loyal security forces, leading to the January 14 resignation of Ben Ali.
Following the success of the Tunisian protesters, opposition groups and activists in Egypt organized a demonstration in Cairo for January 25, 2011—National Police Day—to protest abuse by police. These protests also emerged from similar frustrations with unemployment, corruption, and the lack of political freedoms, with #Jan25 becoming the common Twitter hashtag used to mark messages relevant to the Egyptian Revolution. The Egyptian protests were well-organized through both old and new media, with veteran new media activists, such as the “April 6 Youth Movement,” using social media, blogging, and video sharing to encourage people to protest A series of protests involving civil resistance—which were illegal in Egypt—ensued. The Revolutions Were Tweeted several weeks, spreading to other major cities in the country, resulting in violence as protesters clashed with police forces loyal to long-time President Hosni Mubarak
In late January 2011, as Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime in Egypt wobbled, USPresident Barack Obama found himself under growing pressure from many quarters to drop Mubarak and call for free elections. Obama faced a dilemma. He favoured democracy in Egypt, and no doubt would have been delighted to please those demanding it. ButMubarak had long been a friend of the US and a key participant in maintaining theUS-sponsored order in the Middle East. Against the sentiment of many Arabs, Mubarak had steadfastly upheld the Egyptian–Israeli peace treaty of 1979 and was crucial to the containment of Hamas in Palestine and of Iranian influence in the Middle East. In January 2011, it was not at all clear that an Egyptian democracy would maintain these policies. Obama’s team was relieved to learn that the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s leading Islamist organization, declared it would not seek the Egyptian Presidency or a parliamentary majority — a promise it broke on 31 March 2012.Following Mubarak’s resignation, Mohamed Morsi came to the forefront as head of the Freedom and Justice Party. It became the largest party in the 2011-12 parliamentary election, and Morsi was elected president in the 2012 presidential election but then the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, came to power in a coup that, in its aftermath, resulted in the massacre of more than a thousand supporters of his predecessor. A new constitution was hastily finalised by the Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly, presented to the president, and scheduled for a referendum before the Supreme Constitutional Court could rule on the constitutionality of the assembly, was described by independent press agencies not aligned with the regime as an “Islamist coup”. These issues along with complaints of prosecutions of journalists and attacks on nonviolent demonstrators led to the 2012 protests. As part of a compromise, Morsi rescinded the decrees. A new constitution was approved by approximately two-thirds of voters in the referendum. In June 2013, protests calling for Morsi’s resignation erupted. The military, backed by the political opposition and leading religious figures, stepped in and deposed Morsi in a coup. Morsi died in jail this year facing trial on trumped-up charges. Thus ended the Arab Spring in Egypt as well. Democracy still continues in Tunisia because it has no oil and because it is not crucial for preserving the NATO-dominated peace in the Middle East in which Israel acts as the nuclear-armed watchdog for the NATO powers.