The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Agha/Malley: This Is Not a Revolution

This Is Not a Revolution by Hussein Agha and Robert Malley | The New York Review of Books

Another almost melodramatically lucid-pessimistic view of the Arab uprisings and their consequences by Hussein Agha and Robert Malley. Much of the phenomena they describe is accurate, but what they object to is history in motion, which they see as more of loop. This is too depressed-romantic a view. There are terrible debts to be paid for the way power was organized in the Arab world over the last 60 years, they will be paid in blood. Let's get on with paying them, and not cry over spilt milk. But the idea that a restoration of the Ottoman model (in terms of a MB caliphate, not Turkish domination) is happening I find dubious.

I liked this bit:

The Islamists propose a bargain. In exchange for economic aid and political support, they will not threaten what they believe are core Western interests: regional stability, Israel, the fight against terror, energy flow. No danger to Western security. No commercial war. The showdown with the Jewish state can wait. The focus will be on the slow, steady shaping of Islamic societies. The US and Europe may voice concern, even indignation at such a domestic makeover. But they’ll get over it. Just as they got over the austere fundamentalism of Saudi Arabia. Bartering—as in, we’ll take care of your needs, let us take care of ours—Islamists feel, will do the trick. Looking at history, who can blame them?

Mubarak was toppled in part because he was viewed as excessively subservient to the West, yet the Islamists who succeed him might offer the West a sweeter because more sustainable deal. They think they can get away with what he could not. Stripped of his nationalist mantle, Mubarak had little to fall back on; he was a naked autocrat. The Muslim Brothers by comparison have a much broader program—moral, social, cultural. Islamists feel they can still follow their convictions, even if they are not faithfully anti-Western. They can moderate, dilute, defer.

Agha and Malley lament the rise of the Islamists and the bizarre Gulf-financed taste for Western interventionism that creates opportunities for Islamists, and the retrograde views most Islamists advocate under the petrol-fueled influence of the Salafi international. There is a potential key to making things go differently: the collapse of Saudi Arabia as it currently is politically organized. Which probably means, for a while at least, the collapse of order in that country in the way we see in Syria today. But that is the solution that is always unpalatable to the way the world is run — it has little to do with the Arab world and its politics, the security of the Gulf regimes is not underwritten locally.