There is a line that keeps coming to mind for me from an insightful Washington Post oped by Hussein Agha and Robert Malley published the day the dictator Mubarak resigned in Egypt.
That rings true, not only for Egypt and Tunisia, but for Bahrain, for Algeria, maybe even for Libya (what do any of us know about Libya?).
Sure -- in these countries, there has been repression, there is economic inequality, there are vast numbers of young people with no future prospects, there are rising food prices. But something more animates these uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East; there's a yearning for a more honest national life, a hopeful desire to make their countries into places in which citizens can feel ownership and pride. As Malley and Agha put it:
Everything in my life experience (I am after all a product of the hopeful 1960s) tells me that insurrections happen when material and immaterial spurs to revolt coincide. That such revolts happen doesn't mean that they win, but it takes both factors to create an uprising that presents a vital challenge to the powers-that-be.
These started among students. The Tories brought in (and passed) a downright diabolic plan to enforce market discipline on universities. They eliminated government support for educational departments they thought failed the test of usefulness to financial capital -- such luxuries as the social sciences, English literature, and the arts -- while funding "useful" subjects like engineering and mathematics. They also cut grants to help poorer students. Oh, but they had a plan for continuing to fund higher education. They'd make loans available if any student wanted to take them out that could be used to pay for the disciplines whose funding had been eliminated. Sure, you can study poetry in an English university, if enough students want to mortgage their future to repay the government to support a department of literature.
A broad coalition was so enraged by these measures they stormed Parliament during the vote in December and torched the Tories' party office. They couldn't stop the government from passing its plan -- but they understood that next up was privatizing the National Health Service through strategic cuts that would kill it over time.
And so a creative resistance has been coming into being in Britain. Innovative flash mob eruptions have become the order of the day. And Open Democracy is promoting a downloadable book about the new forms of protest and new visions for a society where all past forms of political engagement -- the parties, the media, the left sects -- seem moribund. Again, Anthony Barnett from the foreword:
This movement is now planning a mass assemblage on March 26 -- though the adherence of the trade unions and the Labour Party to this demonstration raise the specter that it will the kind of broad-based, unfocussed fizzle we saw in the U.S. last fall with One Nation Working Together. Then again, maybe the creative energy Anthony Barnett celebrates will break through. Certainly some of the available propaganda logos are fun.
Just because they speak English across the Atlantic doesn't mean I know much about the ebb and flow of their politics either.
Lead photo from Cairo, via Digby.