Can Popular Revolutions Remain Democratic?

Whenever I want to shock people, I say,

 رحم الله الزعيم ماو و الزعيم فيدل و الزعيم هوغو

May God have mercy on Chairman Mao, Fidel [Castro] and Hugo [Chavez].

All of these leaders came to power in countries dominated by foreign-supported oligarchies. To varying degrees, these revolutions, with the People’s Republic of China being the foremost example, due to its enormous size (and tremendous repression?), were able to resist counter-revolutions.

I don’t know what is going on in Egypt today. I live in the United States, and I’m more concerned with local issues than with the issues of the country of my birth. As my friend Wasiq Khan wrote:

Activism from wealthy diaspora communities on life and death matters in distant homelands can be very problematic. Living comfortable suburban lives abroad, ‘overseas somethings’ share none of the downside when pet causes and projects prove disastrously wrong headed, yet hope for some of the upside when the horses they’ve bet on win and repay. The ‘exiles’ who returned as ministers and magnates to Iraq under Chalabi and Afghanistan under Karzai under the banner and protection of disgraceful invasions & occupations, the Cubans in Miami who demanded embargo for 5 decades, and the Tamils in Europe who funded civil war for 30 years are just a few, and perhaps the most destructive examples of this now potent and pervasive force in in international politics. We’d all be better off if we focused our resources and energy on local issues in communities where we are actually stakeholders.

But I think it is an important question to ask: Can revolutions in the developing countries, where foreign-supported oligarchs dominate, succeed without the repression of political freedoms that the revolutionary governments of China, Cuba and Venezuela practiced?

In Egypt, Muhammad Mursi’s final speeches accused 23 or 25 families of controlling Egypt’s economy and orchestrating opposition to post-military government of July 2012. Now, I have yet to find evidence to support this claim. But let’s just imagine that the Freedom and Justice Party was not itself part of the oligarchy (multiple oligarchies?) and try to strategize on the alleged oligarchy’s behalf.

An oligarchy could certainly maintain operatives within the government and its military and police. An oligarchy could certainly use media outlets, both traditional and electronic, to spread propaganda. An oligarchy, if it held monopolies, could reduce supplies of petrol, kerosene, electricity and other essential goods and services. After the counterrevolution or countercoup, shelves would suddenly be restocked, and the people would mistakenly blame the revolution for the shortages and bless the counterrevolution for the resumption of supply. Finally, money is necessary for political campaigns, and oligarchs can support their candidates in each round of elections.

If the oligarchy had support from foreign powers, all of these tactics become more viable.

The United States terrorized Nicaraguans to vote out the Sandinistas by continually supplying terrorists to cause mayhem in the country. The United States trained soldiers who participated in the attempted 2002 coup d’etat in Venezuela. Sanctions against Cuba certainly limit its options in managing its economy and providing services.

In the case of Egypt, the United States only cares about whether Egypt will continue to support Israel against the Palestinians by preserving the blockade of Gaza and whether it will continue to favor neoliberal trade and labor policies. Because the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) did these things, the United States was willing to work with it. I suspect (but have no direct evidence | Senator Kirk) that the June 30, 2013 movement [met with the approval of | was orchestrated by] the United States, because it [brought the remnants of the National Democratic Party (NDP) closer to | further entrenched, depending on if you ever thought the 2011 revolution removed the remnants in]  power, and the United States views the NDP/military as a more reliable partner than the FJP.

So I ask the revolutionaries who participated in tamarrod (Rebellion): Now that you have ditched the FJP, which represented a significant bloc of Egyptians, in favor of the NDP remnants and the USA-funded military, how are you going to implement your counter-globalization, worker-oriented, nationalistic goals? What are you going to do when the NDP remnants uses the same tactics they used to discredit the FJP to sway the hizb al-kanaba (the Couch Party) and the Islamists against you? And, by the way, when are you actually going to organize and have a political program other than obstruction of the government? And why is Hizb al-Nur, the Salafist party, part of your June 30th coalition? And why does Saudi Arabia and UAE support this military coup?

Back to the original question: Can a revolution in an oligarch-dominated country be democratic and avoid a counterrevolution? I’m pessimistic. Regarding Egypt, I don’t see any group which combines a rational program, popular support and organizational cohesion that I would trust wielding dictatorial powers. So the next best thing would be muddling through popular elections. The only alternative is a reversion to military rule.

Updated: July 7, 2013 – Added link explaining possible reasons for Kingdom of Saudi Arabia support of coup.

Updated: July 4, 2013 22:25 – Egypt’s Misguided Coup by Jackson Diehl

Updated: July 11, 2013 – Suddenly, after coup, shortages of consumer goods end. Note, however, that Egypt suffers from a chronic energy shortage as a result of misguided subsidies, and the reappearance of petrol may have nothing to do with my conspiracy theory.

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One thought on “Can Popular Revolutions Remain Democratic?

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with you, friend Ayman. I just returned from Egypt two weeks ago following a month stay and there indeed was a great deal of frustration with President Morsi. However, I did not expect the military to stage a coup. Nonetheless, many of the people I had conversations with wanted a return to military rule. In fact, I was on a train from Aswan to Cairo, which is a 13 hour trip. However, the train’s air condition was not working efficiently. As a consequence, the temperature on the train reached around 50 degrees C. The people in the carriage I was in all blamed the president for the train’s lack of AC. They noted that the lack of AC on the train, the daily electricity cuts and the high unemployment were due to the president’s mismanagement and that there was no longer an effective government in Egypt. An army officer who was sitting at the rear of the carriage echoed their sentiments and said, “Aiwa faelin mafeesh hukuma,” i..e truly there is no government. Several people in the carriage turned around and laughed and said, if an army officer says there is no effective government, then truly there is no effective government. Those same people said to the officer, the army should take over power again. Well, it seems that those people and many others got their wish. But, as the saying goes, one should be careful for what one wishes.

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