COLLAPSE OF THE ARAB POLITICAL ORDER
Arab revolts and uprisings can be seen as the final step of
a process of hegemonic decay that has been in progress for several
decades, which can be used to the revolutionary movements' advantage.
Arab world is quite literally in shambles.
Egypt, a military dictatorship is reasserting itself with the
usual plethora of oppressive tactics, ranging from mass arbitrary
arrests to torture and verdicts of mass executions.
Syria, the civil war rages on with no end in sight. Bashar El
Assad has carried on the Arab dictator’s obsession with
elections; and staged and won yet another sham election, sending
a clear signal that he is there to stay, destroying any chances
of a negotiated solution.
Libya, the state is unable to control armed militias or monopolize
the use of violence, which has resulted in a state of anarchy.
Iraq, ISIS militants have been successful in taking over large
swathes of territory, as the Iraqi army has collapsed.
these situations raise a number of questions about the current
nature of political order in the Arab world, and the impact
the Arab revolts have had on this order.
Gramsci, an innovative Marxist thinker, argued that a political
order is based on two pillars: coercion and consent. He argued
that a hegemonic political order contains higher ingredients
of consent, while a non-hegemonic order relies mainly on coercion.
A political order becomes hegemonic when the ruling class behaves
in a manner that promotes the interests of the other classes,
as well as its own. Hegemony is also based on the ability of
the ruling class to create an ideology that seeps into society,
thus becoming the ideology accepted by the masses as the correct
way of life; imposing what Engels called a ‘false consciousness’
in order to convey his argument that the masses participate
in their own repression.
on the above, one can argue that the current political order
is a non-hegemonic order, which relies on heavy doses of coercion.
The current ideological base of Arab regimes is fighting terrorism,
stability, and in certain cases protecting minorities.
Egypt, Field Marshal El Sisi came to power on the back of mass
hysteria and fear of – the now outlawed – Muslim
Brotherhood. He promised an end to the chaos of protests and
terrorism. Surprisingly, he did not promise improvements in
the living standards of average Egyptians. On the contrary,
he alluded to increased austerity, greater cuts in social spending,
as well as increased military power.
Syria, President Assad remains in power, with large support
from minorities as well as the urban Sunni middle classes, also
under the same ideological framework of fighting extremism.
two examples illustrate the rejectionist nature of the ideological
base of the current Arab political order. In other words, the
Arab regimes are relying on people’s fear of extremism
to remain in power. Unable to offer a coherent ideological alternative,
the current political order is based on fear of the real or,
in some cases, imaginary boogieman
ideas of the ruling classes have not seeped into society, simply
because these ideas no longer exist. Years of totalitarian rule
have produced a level of ideological and intellectual poverty
in the Arab world which has afflicted both oppositional forces
and the ruling elites. It seems near to impossible for any social
group to produce a coherent ideological platform that has the
potential to create a sense of unity and identity within Arab
polity. Under these conditions, much older identities appear
and take center stage, as a last resort. For example, tribal
or sectarian identities take the forefront as the basis of political
loyalty, even in relatively homogenous populations. We can therefore
observe the rise of sectarianism in Syria, Iraq, Libya and even
Islamist forces, which have long been considered the most credible
threat and most ideologically potent enemies, have failed to
appeal to potential allies and spread their hegemony. On the
contrary, they have turned away from possible allies and become
more sectarian, turning inwards. The clearest example is the
Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, who allied themselves with the
military against the revolutionary movement, later to be betrayed
by the military. During this process, the Muslim Brotherhood
moved sharply to the right, failing to spread their hegemony
over other parts of the Egyptian social spectrum.
terms of behaving in a manner that transcends their narrow corporate
interests, the current ruling elites seem to have no desire
for compromise, even in the narrowest of terms. Prior to stepping
down, Iraq’s El-Maliki publicly declared his unwillingness
to create a national unity government in the face of a possible
partition of Iraq, where the Sunnis, like the Kurds, might possibly
develop their own autonomous region.
Egypt, the current military regime is introducing more austerity
and repression, further concentrating power in its own hands.
In Syria, the elites have not been willing to compromise Assad’s
fate, refusing the notion that he should exit the political
scene in exchange for an end to the civil war. This, in addition
to ideological poverty, makes reliance on force a necessity
for the current elites to remain in power. The masses are now
aware of the nature of their regime: a military regime that
is severely repressive. Support for this repression is justified
under the guise of the need for stability and fighting terrorism.
Thus, the Arab revolt can be seen as the final step of a process
of hegemonic decay that has been in progress for several decades,
rather than an abrupt break with the past.
biggest challenge facing the Arab revolutionaries is the need
to replace the current political order with a new hegemonic
order that is based on consent. This is only possible through
the development of an ideological base through consistent intellectual
efforts that are organically connected to these movements.
this can only occur by conquering the realm of civil society
and de-constructing the bases of the current regimes, which
are not going to be easy tasks in even more repressive political
environments. Considering the current situation, it should not
be a frontal assault on the state, rather a meticulous deconstruction
of terms like stability. Such terms should be replaced with
more potent revolutionary ideologies, as a unifying mechanism
for the revolutionary movement and its possible class allies.
Gramsci argued, the use of coercion increases exponentially
when a current political system is in its final stages of decay,
or when a new order is establishing itself. In the Arab World,
the current political order is going through its final stages
of decay, caused by its own internal contradictions and ideological
inconsistencies. However, this process of decay is not accompanied
by the birth of a new political order, due to another set of
structural and ideological weaknesses. In order to overcome
its weakness, the revolutionary movement, as vague as the term
sounds, has to develop a unitary and structured character with
a clear ideological program.
opinion piece was originally published in www.opendemocracy.net.