The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Arab Spring and Russia parallels

It's probably too early to tell, but the recent electoral protests in Russia are somehow reminiscent of what's happened in the Arab world not just in the last year, but in the last decade. An autocrat at the height of his powers, who maintains a strictly formal veneer of democracy on a micromanaged polititical system, is blindsided by the rise of a leaderless protest movement. He can't put the ringleaders in jail because there are none, or too many. He can't pin down an ideological movement because the protestors are leftists, liberals, conservatives and anarchists. This passage from TIME reminds me of Egypt:

The brightest response to the crisis from the government side is typical of Putin's system of managed democracy. The ruling party wants to engineer a liberal party to channel the energy of the young, educated and middle-class voters attending the latest demonstrations. "This is a gaping hole in the system," the United Russia official said. "We have no party that can absorb this part of society." Last summer, the Kremlin already attempted to create such a party, Pravoe Delo (Right Cause), by tapping the billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets, Mikhail Prokhorov, to run it. But he did not prove sufficiently loyal. As that party's list of candidates for the parliamentary vote was being formed, Prokhorov began pushing through his own men instead of accepting orders handed down from above. The reaction was swift, and revealed the Kremlin's almost pathological fear of competition. In September, Prokhorov was unseated as the leader of the party, a coup he blamed on the Kremlin's "puppet master," Vladislav Surkov, who has overseen the media and national politics throughout Putin's rule. Most of the protest votes in the elections then ended up going to the Communist Party, which got 19%, even though Russia's urban middle-class youth hardly wants to see it returned to power. Both the Communist speakers at Saturday's rally got a cold reception from the crowd; one was booed off stage.

[Hat tip to Blake who tweeted this fine piece.]