abir kashouh

Two things define you : Your patience when you have nothing and your attitude when you have everything.

The Leaderless Arab Revolution


           Since December 2010, the Arab world witnessed major uprisings calling for change and democratization. Some ossified political regimes cracked down after the revolutions, other countries are still waiting for the right moment and others went through an unstoppable bleeding civil war. But in all these cases, no leadership figures emerged, neither charismatic individual, thus making those revolutions leaderless. If they succeeded in the short run, will they be able to continue leaderless in the long run?

            These uprisings that swept the region evolved with the social media horizontal diffusion. The latter made them very difficult to break with the organic strength of the diversity and the flexibility. Social media were capable of building networks thus making this revolution special in a way since it is not dominated by political parties or trade unions.  It was successful basing itself on numbers of followers that increased though random growth, meritorious growth, and preferential attachment, ceteris paribus type of growth, giving rise to scale free networks.

            These movements broke the traditional top-down movement. They were driven by the common cry “enough of the old order” and their desire for representation. They also were inspired by their dream of ending corruption and achieving true democracy. Wael Ghonim said :

 “Our revolution is like Wikipedia, okay? Everyone is contributing content, [but] you don’t know the names of the people contributing the content. This is exactly what happened. Revolution 2.0 in Egypt was exactly the same. Everyone is contributing small pieces, bits and pieces. We drew this whole picture of a revolution. And no one is the hero in that picture.”

            But even if the uprisings were successful and capable of toppling down the president, no revolutionary leadership was present. The outcome of the leaderless revolutions started to be felt with the results of the Tunisian and Egyptian elections. In Egypt today, the military responded to people’s demands, took power and promised democratic elections soon. The revolts sparked the world for the leaderless nature. But can we achieve restoration, democratization without a leader? Did anybody asked who would or could be a potential President?

            Thirty years of oppression under Mubarak’s regime led to a state of no legally allowed opposition. Yet, de facto, many ideas were growing in secret or even less in public but fearfully. These opposing and freedom seeker ideas grew up to a certain extent where they became bigger to dissolve together and smaller to unite and form a rigid revolutionary group. The fact that the people witnessed overnight freedom and liberty led to a fragmented revolution with many figures being potential leader and/or president. Also, as in different Arab countries, extremists groups had a fertile soil to grow which added to the diversity in the already fragmented revolutionary groups. This diversified revolution was made of controversial parties that could not stand together which lead to a leaderless revolution first and a second leaderless revolution on it one year after. And thus, today difficulties are emerging in finding leadership to change. The quality of leaderless-ness is not desirable especially with the Islamic extremists growing up and spreading to become metastasis inside nations.

            The latter formed a trend that was duplicated in many countries but fuelled in Syria starting 2011. The leaderless-ness made it easier today for the bloody conflict to aggravate between the regimes and its opponents. The opposition itself in Syria is divided between controversial groups and ideologies, some favoring peaceful negotiations and transitions, others went all the way using religious tools to try to achieve “their” agendas and the rest not knowing who to support. Those are people who originally were against the autocratic regime found themselves in front of some jihadi groups, torturing and violating basic human rights and others divided, fragmented with no democratic political agenda.  And thus people rather than advocating for a leader, who can bring positive democratic change for Syria, tend to support Bashar Al Assad again in order to escape the extremist’s nightmare.

            Today, Arab revolutions are not producing ideologies, demands and leaders. The people want the system to fall and when there is no other system to replace it, why should it fall in the first place? The oppositions and the architects of the revolution should realize that it is a necessity to develop solid alternatives or the downfall of the system will not make their countries a better place.

            Leaderless revolutions used to fascinate many but proved to be the wrong substitute for the status quo. Only under wise leadership of a prominent leader, the broad section of the people can awaken and they would be able to organize themselves and form the political force.


Socio-Economic Dimensions of the Syrian Conflict

The Lebanese Economic Association and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation held a conference last week to discuss the socio-economic dimensions of the crisis in Syria and the Syrian refugees as well as to draw a possible road map for peace, justice and socio-economic recovery. The reality bewildered me and i thought i could share it with you.

To start, the Syrian crisis has had tremendous impacts of the country on three levels: humanitarian, social and economic. 

On the humanitarian and social level, the crisis resulted in a 5.2 billion $ of humanitarian appeal. It is today considered the most serious crisis in these last two decades.  Around  10.5 million syrians are at an elevated risk and in need of assistance and 2 million are at accurate risk. 5 million are displaced. 2 million are refugees in Lebanon and in Jordan. 1.2 million houses suffered from partial or total damage with a 25% of the housing stock loosing its value. 100,000 are dead and half a million are injured.

According to a study made Dr Fouad Fouad at the faculty of Health Sciences in AUB, 70 % of the trained medical staff left Syria and 60 % of the hospitals are partially or totally damaged. Thus there is an overburden of the main hospitals in the capital; every 32 seconds, the emergency room welcomes an injured. To add, 7.4 million people are living in areas where WASH services are insufficient especially with the decrease of the water supply from 75l/person to 25 l/person. Moreover, the camps for Internally Displaced Persons are in a very bad condition where there is 1 toilet for 300 people. Thus an intensification of the problem is more likely to happen soon while facing a massice demographic change, a collapse health system, and a threat of chronic diseases. In addition to all that, according to UNDP, Syria is back to 1977 in terms of human development.

Economically, the system has witnessed a dramatic change with a loss of 28 % in industrial sector, 23 % in trade and 5 % in agriculture. According to the World Bank, the Syrian economy lost 60 % of its private consumption and the financial damage  of the capital store reached 74 billion US $. The burden of the public debt increased from 23 % in 2010 to 65 % in april 2013. The Unemployement level is around 48.79 % with 2.3 million employed and 10 million without any income. 6.7 million are considered to be at the poverty line and 3.6 million below it. They also stated that the inflation rate reached over 60 % in spring 2013.

According to the UNHCR, more than 1.7 million refugees left Syria seeking shelter in neighboring countries mainly in Turkey, Lebanon and  Jordan.  Today, only Lebanon is opening its borders to the syrian refugees. This sitation poses many challenges in securing the needed funds to mitigate the crisis, and in the ability of Lebanon to deal with such emergencies and form convenient networks and coordination channels between official institutions, civil society organizations and the international community.

 According to their studies, the Lebanese population increased by 15 % since the start of the syrian crisis. To add, the situation negatively affected the growth. Lebanon has been witnessing a drop in the private consumer confidence and investment. There is also an increase in supply of labors which leads to a downward pressure on wages. The core inflation increased from 3% in 2012 to 8 % today. Our country will be also facing major threats with an expected  future increase in the financing costs( upward shift in interest rate) as stated by Dr Wael Mansour.

Well as said by many, “one death is tragedy but one million is a statistic “. Facing those numbers, the situation today does not give much hope , with Syria in a state of continuing turmoil,  which is only expected to worsen more and more as the battles rage on and the tragedy deepens. But one must wish that Syria will rebuild itself one day to become a free, pluralistic, and independent homeland that rests on a strong economy to ensure a life of freedom and dignity for all Syrians.

Can it be a democratic coup?

Today, many scenarios are taking place. The first scenario narrates that the Egyptian police killed more than fifty of the innocent Muslim Brotherhood members who were praying at the time of the unrest. For others, the armed pro-Morsi demonstrators attacked the police. Many also believes that the Egyptian military stripped Mohammad Morsi from his powers and shut down the Muslim Brotherhood offices and media outlets. And many other scenarios follow. As for me, I prefer to choose the scenario where the opposition parties in Egypt formed a mass protest on June 30, the date that marked the President Mohammed Mursi’s first anniversary in power. Those people are called by many  “Guardians of the revolutions” for they had guarded the 2011 Egypt uprisings and hold even the president accountable for every step taken.

Going back to 2011. The rebellious of that time can be classified in two groups; the first is the Muslim Brotherhood and the second is the young, educated dreamers of the democratic Egypt. They both merged together to depose Hosni Mubarak. And the problem is that they did not share any other values or goals. Once Hosni Mubarak was ousted, they called for presidential elections and Mohammad Morsi won with a 51 %. The second group gave the chance for the Muslim Brotherhood to give Egypt the democracy they hoped for.

In the past couple of months, Mohammad Morsi had been at odds with virtually every department, organization and institution in Egypt. In addition, he was not on good terms with leading Muslims and Christian Clerics, the judiciary, the armed forces, and the police. To add, he over-empowered the Muslim Brotherhood and failed to tackle Egypt economic problems.

Thus popular anger emerged. Mass protests filled the streets of Egypt and Morsi said absolutely nothing to calm things down or to reach his hands to his own people  rebelling against him. On the third of July, and after a 48 hour ultimatum that gave Morsi the chance to meet the demands of the Egyptian people, General Adbul Fata al-Sisi removed the president, and  suspended the Egyptian constitution. If Morsi was capable of delivering at least a hint of a democracy, the guardians of the revolution would not have taken action.

And here comes the question of the week:  Is it a military or a democratic coup?  The Latter has been very revealing since the military overthrew the so-called democratically-elected leader.

To start, a coup d’etat is defined  when the executive authority is seized by force. The actors of the coup can be the  military, the police, a domestic armed group, a member of the governing elite, or some other set of domestic actors. The use of force may be overt, such as fighting in the capital, or may come in the form of tacit support by the military and security apparatus of the power grab. So here, the definition fits the Egyptian coup. But the conventional framework usually considers military coups to be entirely anti-democratic.

Although all military coups have anti-democratic features, some coups promote democracy since they respond to popular opposition against authoritarian regimes and facilitate free and fair elections. In this case we can give the example of the Turkish military coup in 1960, the 1974 military coup in Portugal and even the 2011 military coup in Egypt.

Democratic military coups commonly feature many attributes.

First, the military coup is staged against an authoritarian or totalitarian regime. Morsi has been elected by a democratic process but the broader truth is that elections are just one pillar of democracy.  Mohamad Morsi has failed to protect human rights, equality under the law and active public participation. And here the coup did not end a democracy, for it had not taken its roots yet. The coup came to correct the democratic transition process that started after the authoritarian breakdown.

Second, the military should respond to popular opposition against that regime and that was seen in the recent developments in Egypt. Third, the authoritarian  leader should refuse to step down in response to the popular opposition and the coup is staged by a military that is highly respected within the nation. In Egypt, the protesters requested the military to take action since Morsi refused to meet their demands. Forth, the military will execute the coup to overthrow the authoritarian or totalitarian regime and that what happened in Egypt. Fifth, the military should facilitate free and fair elections within a short span of time and that was promised when they assumed power. And last but not least, the coup should end by the transfer of power to democratically elected leaders.

Thus,  we can say, that the coup made by the military is promised to be democratic but the future is yet to be designed by the leaders in power. But at least, the Egyptian military gave the Egyptians a new era of hope and offered Egypt a chance to avoid the Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship.

Coups may be signs of failure, but they can also be signs of rebirth!

%d bloggers like this: