Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 2, 2011

A Resilient Revolution

Filed under: Events,International HLS — by Mark Chubb on February 2, 2011

In previous posts, I have referred to five metatrends that I think define resilience: local, simple, varied, connected and open. The events over the past few days in Egypt demonstrated once again the power and significance of these concepts. What we have witnessed in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other Egyptian cities as well as Egyptian and sympathetic Arab communities around the globe is a sort of resilient revolution.

Hosni Mubarek’s regime and his 30-year tenure as Egypt’s ruler have been defined by a commitment to stability both internally and externally. To be sure, this track record considered in light of current events should make clear to all the error of confusing longevity with resilience even in a place as volatile as the Middle East.

The U.S. — placing a premium on stability over resilience itself — backed Mubarek despite his decidedly undemocratic tendencies until it became evident such support was both largely irrelevant and ultimately unsustainable. Indeed, the real question now is whether we have harmed our national interest and the credibility of our commitment to human rights and the rule of law by not making it clear where we stood with respect to the protests raging throughout the country and elsewhere in the Middle East sooner than we did.

Putting that aside and returning to the five metatrends, each has played out in interesting ways in recent days despite Mr. Mubarek’s efforts to retain power and his allies’ reluctance to play their hands in public: The people have sensed their power lies in their own resilience as evidenced in the following ways:

Local — Despite efforts by the government of Egypt to interfere with communication and co-opt media for their own aims, spontaneous protests emerged across the country, organized by small groups that relied on decentralized and horizontally aligned allegiances among small groups united by a shared vision rather than a common leader or clear structure. The government’s vertically-oriented hierarchical model of control simply could not keep up with much less outmaneuver the protesters once they sensed an advantage and decided to act.

Simple – The protesters’ amplified their power through the simplicity and directness of their demands: Mubarek must go. The absence of a single, identifiable opposition leader — notwithstanding the prominence of Mohamed elBaradei and his efforts to position himself in front of the mass movement for change — played in the protesters’ favor by making it clear that their objective was the nation’s welfare and therefore interest-based not personality-driven. It also made the movement very difficult to co-opt, control or reorient and will make it all but impossible for President Mubarek to remain in power until his term ends no matter how the next fews days go.

Varied — Decentralized control and local organization coupled with the simplicity of the messages and demands of protesters made it easy for people with very different agendas from every corner of Egyptian society, including marginalized groups that have been excluded from the nation’s social and political life for decades, to join the popular uprising without immediate fear of reprisals for their participation. Christians and other religious minorities have joined the ranks of Muslims just as crowds have seen men and women, young and old, educated and uneducated mixing freely and largely peacefully.

Connected — Even the disruption of Internet and other telecommunications services by the government did not significantly disrupt or interfere with the ability of protesters to organize or communicate their demands. When the army took to the streets at Mr. Mubarek’s direction, they had few good options. Their legitimacy, like his lack of the same quality, hinged on the desires of the people to see their country under democratic control, not simply control. The willingness of protesters to embrace the military and work alongside soldiers to maintain order, prevent looting, protect cultural institutions and suppress disruptive behavior and even violence prevented events from spinning hopelessly out of control.

Open — The willingness of the military and the protesters alike to play their cards face-up has prevented a dangerous situation from becoming truly chaotic. Violence and bloodshed have occurred, but seem to have been limited by the willingness of protest leaders and military leaders alike to make their intentions and expectation clear to all concerned. With the U.S. government’s arrival in the ranks of the openness parade, things have started to look like they might start resolving themselves in a fashion more rather than less consistent with our most fervent hopes for the emergence of peaceful, moderate and more democratic civil institutions in the Middle East. We have a long way to go, but this is looking better than almost anybody could have imagined even a short time ago.

It’s worth noting that this last principle — openness — may have played an unusually significant part in the process from the start. Some commentators have suggested that the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere have been fueled by the release of once secret communications regarding the Middle East peace process and U.S. efforts to deal with states and their leaders, particularly to resolve the Palestinian crisis. This assessment suggests the importance of ensuring that our policies not only reflect our principles in their ends but also in the means by which we pursue them.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

February 2, 2011 @ 4:00 am

Well a very interesting post. Ghandi certainly showed that people peacefully demonstrating in large numbers held power in unique ways. Of course it depends ultimately on how the forces of organized violence in any country–specifically the police and armed forces–view what is transpiring.
I have a slightly different take. Egypt is NOT in any way shape or form a resilient society. Why large imports of fuel and food for one thing. Over 50% of food needs are imported largely because again the US has led the amoral charge to undermine local farmers through its heavy subsidization of its own agriculture where already 4 out of every 10 acres of American farmland do not produce food but produce crops for energy production. And then of course the US again through its failure to emphasize population control by birth control in its foreign policies and foreign relations helps drive overpopulation. Islam is the religion of 23% of the World’s population now. Oddly exceeded as I understand by various Christian sects. We are currently at 6.9 Billion people on earth and headed to close to 10 billion by the end of the century. Why? At least in part by religions that fail to understand that yes we can overpopulate the earth. This has occurred in Egypt. The NILE valley can only support so many people and beyond that number the gross population must be supported by someone else. Essentially subsidies. That is why I think the Egyptian turmoil is so unsettling and demonstrates anything but resilience. I think Egypt has reached the tipping point and given its population, military capability and possible organizational skills, the rest of ARABIA and in particular the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia better watch out. Immense concentrations of wealth in a small percentage of the population is not just the evidence of unbridled capitalism but also of petrocracy throughout much of the world. The US is dependent on relatively cheap oil the rest of this century. World oil prices may skyrocket and not just because so much flows through the Suez Canal. $5 billion a year in revenues is peanuts compared to the canals transportation reduction impact. I argue that there can be no turning back for the Egyptian people and leadership. This population is much too dynamic to not assert its full leadership role in Arabia. Only corruption has kept the Egyptian leadership satisfied. Now if that is not just replaced by another corrupt regime then watch out! It may not be a violent overthrow of the regime but Egypt is not going to be laying down for anyone the rest of this century. Basically the US and others who believed that authoritarian rule capping Egyptian aspirations would last forever are proven wrong again. China are you watching?

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 2, 2011 @ 4:08 am

By the way I believe the true history of Iran’s revolution was replacement of a corrupt Shah by corrupt Mullahs. They in turn have now been replaced by a corrupt Revolutionary Guard. And that latter group is willing to fully employ the tactics of Hitler and Stalin to make sure that no internal dissent threatens their corruption. Again the Chinese leaderhsip also corrupt, but skillful in masking that corruption, has refined the skills of repression of the population politically by making sure an rearing of organizational capability by any individuals or groups not authorized by the government is restricted from operating.
By the way notice the tremendous pressure on the TEA PARTY in the US to dissolve by the US political leadership? Perhaps we have the others beat since no group has the political power to restrict corruption in the US. As soon as the TEA PARTY figures out that they are the Anti-corruption Party watch out. IMO of course!

Comment by Mark Chubb

February 2, 2011 @ 12:23 pm

Bill, I think it is important to note that I do not intend to suggest that “resilient” is synonymous with “good.” Resilient systems explore and exploit random variations to identify adaptations that suit long-term survival in their own unique environments.

If the environment does not punish adaptations that involve corruption and exploitation of others, then these will become features of whatever emerges and persists. That said, I see clear signs that those who initiated the current protests and who seem to be sustaining the momentum calling for Mubarek’s ouster are fed up with the culture of corruption that has accompanied regime stability for the past three decades.

A new regime may not be any less prone to abuses of individual or collective rights, but it will probably employ different tactics or select different targets than those favored in the past.

The increase in violence evident today suggests (to me at least) not that the government is resorting to increasingly desperate tactics to retain control, but that individuals and groups within the government fearing loss of patronage and protection are now organizing independent of the President to protect their own interests even at the expense of the nation-state or the society as a whole.

This whole situation seems likely to become more interesting before we see a new equilibrium attained.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 2, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

Avoiding Darwinia concepts for the moment and the goodness or badness of adaptions, I do sort of view resilience as a good thing for several reasons. First, and probably because I am more conservative them some–been described as a fuzzy headed liberal libertarian–resilience means current systems and processes and maybe even cultures can at least be understoon without learning a totally new dialectic. Religions seem to be very resilient given the few new ones that survive for long (although new ones being invented all the time–Scientolgoy e.g.) and I think that there may well be a change overload and the current systems, processes and cultures are somewhat resistent to change. Which of course is why new paradigms are created and evolve as so brilliantly pointed out by Christopher Bellavita in a recent article.
Technology seems to often force changes in resiliency and paradigms. My Cumming Grandmother told me that all the people in her small Dakota town came to here the first telephone call to the town when she was growing up. At least those people present understood a new technology had arrived. Often most of US have no clue something life changing is on the way. So I really like the paradigm of resilience but hoping of course does not mean being closed to new ideas that are better just probably wanting more testing and understanding of their use and misuse before deployment. Human revolutions can be resilient or perhaps not. Oddly the history of revolution in Egypt is very different given the length of time that NILE culture has existed. Or maybe I just don’t understand some revolutions even when they are happening!

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 2, 2011 @ 3:44 pm

Extract from the ED SHOW:

“By 2008, Wall Street had five times more futures contracts than in
2002. Commodity indexes held about $13 billion in 2003; by 2008, it
was over a quarter trillion. [...] By mid-2008, the IMF food price
index jumped more than 80% in just a year and a half. [...] That’s
why Egypt had riots back in 2008, along with 30 other countries.
[...] Wall Street speculators admitted they were doing it. In 2006,
Merrill Lynch said speculation accounted for 50% of the price of
commodities — half the price.”


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