Last Thursday, over at Informed Comment, Juan Cole wrote this puzzling paragraph about the Arab Spring:
In Tunisia and Egypt, the military refused for the most part to fire on peaceful noncombatants, and so the dictator had to go. But in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain, the regimes showed themselves willing to use brutal methods. Libya’s Qaddafi has killed and wounded thousands. Syrian troops have probably killed about 1000 persons. Yemen must be nearing 200. Bahrain’s security forces killed less than 30.
This makes absolutely no sense. According to an Egyptian government investigation, at least 846 people were killed and another 6,400 people injured during that country’s 18-day uprising.
That means far more people were killed in Egypt than Yemen or Bahrain. And while the death toll in Syria is now higher than Egypt, the protests there have dragged on for more than four months. Mubarak stepped down after less than three weeks. (Libya can’t really be included in this list because very quickly the conflict there devolved into an all-out civil war, which means many more deaths.)
Therefore, it is pretty clear that the Egyptian regime did not fall because it was softer or less willing to use “brutal methods” than the governments of Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. The fact is that there are different reasons why those regimes have not fallen. Each country has a unique history and each pro-democracy movement has a different make up and dynamic.
In a great interview in April with Jadaliyya, Egyptian journalist and blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy offered one explanation for why the Mubarak regime folded so quickly, which makes a lot of sense to me:
But what pushed matters in our favor and pushed Hosni Mubarak to realize OK, that he had to leave power, were the beginning of labor strikes on the Wednesday and Thursday prior to the Friday he stepped down… The entry of the working class as an independent social force with its independent general strikes, that’s what ended the regime of Hosni Mubarak.
As K-pop fans and Black organizers and artists are demonstrating, joyful, powerful movements draw more people in and reflect the kind of world we want to live in.
If soldiers train for armed combat, why wouldn’t activists train for toppling the political-economic structure that’s killing our chance for a just future? The stakes are just as high.
Uganda’s COVID-19 experience underscores the seemingly universal opportunism of authoritarians amidst crisis, as well as opportunities for resistance.