Chomsky on the Western Sahara and the “Arab Spring”

Chomsky on the Western Sahara and the “Arab Spring”

This is a well-deserved put-down of Chomsky on Jaddaliya:

Since last year, Noam Chomsky has argued that the so-called “Arab Spring” did not begin in Tunisia, but rather, it began in the Western Sahara. Chomsky slips into a dangerous framework that assumes the ongoing events in the region can be marked with a beginning, and an inevitable end that many have attempted to impose from Morocco to Yemen.

In several media appearances, Chomsky pointed to the October 2010 protests in Gdeim Izik as the beginning of the “Arab Spring.” Moroccan security forces brutally repressed the protests, resulting in the death of eleven people, and several hundred others were injured. If the “Arab Spring” refers to the recent wave of popular uprisings throughout the region, rooted in socioeconomic grievances and the opposition to authoritarianism, placing the Western Saharan struggle on this spectrum is dismissive of a long history.

It's not just a question of the futility of trying to find a starting point other than the death of Mohammed Bouzizi for the Arab Spring. If the protests-turned-riots at Gdeim Izik were the beginning, than why not the 2009 protests in Sidi Ifni in Morocco? Or the 2008 protests in Mahalla in Egypt? Chomsky picks the Western Sahara because it is a pet leftist cause — that's pretty much it. He appears to have no fine-grained understanding pf how those protests began (I was there, in Laayoune, just two weeks before they broke out and followed them closely as they turned from peaceful socio-economic protests into, after provocation and attacks by the Moroccan army, more violent and outright pro-Polisario riots). 

To tell the truth, I'm not sure what Chomsky has to contribute in our understanding of the Arab Spring. He has not been here. This is not his area of specialty. I've always found him over-rated, but while I might listen to what he has to say on the US Occupy movement or media issues, I'm pretty puzzled about what he knows about the current moment in the Arab world.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Links for 10.26.09 to 10.27.09

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