Lessons from the uprisings in the Maghreb

Published on Pambazuka News, by Gustave Massiah, May 26, 2011.

The revolutionary uprisings underway across the Maghreb region offer five initial lessons, says Gustave Massiah.

The Arab revolutions have taught us more than the various terms used to describe them. They constitute a phenomenon, in the literal sense of the word, hardly predictable, except a posteriori and which opens new horizons. We propose to highlight five lessons from which we can learn.

The first lesson is that the situation can perhaps be described as revolutionary. We already knew that we were in a crisis – a crisis of neoliberalism as a phase of capitalist globalisation, a crisis of the foundations of the capitalist system, a crisis of Western civilisation and its hegemony. The uprisings of the people of the Maghreb and the Mashriq regions show that it was not simply a crisis – in the sense that Lenin and Gramsci give to the definition of a revolutionary situation: ‘When the ones below no longer want to be governed and when those above can no longer govern.’ 

The second lesson is the assertion of the major demands – the social question, the refusal of corruption, freedoms and independence. It involves the confirmation of the contradictions of the current situation. The prevalence of social contradictions between the masses and the oligarchies, the explosion of social inequalities and corruption, the ideological contradictions surrounding the paramount question of freedoms, the geopolitical contradictions related to Western hegemony. Ecological contradictions are not to be spared either, notably with regards to raw materials, land and water. These are however less explicitly present in the Maghreb–Mashriq revolutions as they are in other revolutions in Latin America or Asia.

The uprisings bring to the fore the evolution of social contradictions. They reveal the fact that the oligarchies have divided the masses. In the Maghreb region, the oligarchies have been reduced to business clans who relied on the police, the militias and secret services to ensure that they are self-sufficient and do not need the armies that put them to power. The uprisings underline the fact that corruption, the result of the concentration of outrageous amounts of money in the hands of the oligarchy, is the structural result of neoliberalism and that it denigrates the economy and world politics.

The third lesson is that while revolting, a new generation took over the revolutionary torch. It is not the youth as would be described as an age bracket, but more of a cultural generation which associates itself with a situation and transforms the said situation. It is a generation that highlights major social transformations related to school demography which translates to, on the one hand, brain drain, and on the other hand by educated job seekers. The migrations connect this generation to the world and its contradictions in terms of consumption, cultures and values. The results are certainly contradictory but reduce seclusion and internment. The educated job seekers build a new alliance between children from the working class and those from the middle class.

This new generation builds a new political culture. It modifies the way factors are linked to social structures, classes to social layers, religions, national references and cultures, genre and age affiliations, migrations and diasporas as well as territories. It tries out new forms of organisation through controlling digital and social networks, attempts at self-organisation and horizontality. This new generation tries to define, in different contexts, forms of autonomy between political movements and authorities. Through its demands and inventive nature, this generation reminds us of the strong message in Frantz Fanon’s quote: ‘Each generation must discover its mission, in order to fulfil or betray it.’

The fourth lesson is that the challenge is that of democratisation at the regional level of the Maghreb–Mashriq region. From national situations, counting from the Tunisian catalyst to the Egyptian conflagration, the uprising spread with its own uniqueness. It is important to understand how, at one point, people were no longer afraid to revolt. It is at the regional level that the population revolted. They revealed the true nature of the dictatorships that ruled them while questioning the role reserved for them by the Western hegemony. They showed the reality of the four functions that these dictatorships occupied, the guarantee of access to raw materials, the guarantee to military agreements (notably treaties with Israel), the ‘containment’ of Islamism, the control of migratory trends. The revolt of the people translates to a revelation and the awakening of the people. It brings about the abolition of impossibilities. A new approach is essential and becomes possible … //

… The fifth lesson is that the new era opens to the possibility of a new phase of decolonisation. Neoliberalism started with an offensive against the first phase of decolonisation – an initiative of decolonisation built by the G7, which was then G5, a club of the old colonial powers, bent on controlling raw materials and dominating the global market. This onslaught was built around debt crisis management, structural adjustment plans, the interventions of the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), not to mention, military operations. This recolonisation relied on repressive and oligarchic regimes of decolonised countries, born from broken alliances of national liberation between the people and the elite. This ‘bringing up to speed’ of people from the South was preceded by the adjustment of the world capital markets of workers from countries from the North through unemployment policies, precarisation and the blaming of welfare policies and public services.

The new phase of decolonisation relates to the passage from the independence of states to the self-determination of the people. As is stipulated in the Charter of Human Rights since 1976, each population has a right to external self-determination against any form of external dependence. Each population has a right to internal self-determination, that is, a democratic regime, by means of a regime that guarantees individual as well as collective freedoms. This new phase of decolonisation requires an advanced form of international solidarity. This solidarity is founded in convergence towards another possible world. It starts with the convergence of movements – labour movements, workers, peasants, women, for human rights, youth, indigenous people, ecologists, stateless people, immigrants, diasporas and inhabitants. This convergence progressed in worldwide social forums around a strategic orientation: invent the equality of rights for all at the global scale and affirm the democratic necessity. Many movements in the Maghreb–Mashriq region have taken an active role in these unions. What the revolutions of the Maghreb–Mashriq region have brought to light is the reality and the importance of the convergence of populations in movements. (full text).

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