Friday, February 11, 2011


First Ben Ali, and now Mubarak. The empire has failed to stop the momentum of the Arab revolt that started in Sidi Bouzid. It is a time of great transition in West Asia and North Africa. What kind of transition will it be?

Samir Amin fears that, in the case of Egypt and perhaps elsewhere if not in Tunisia, it may result in the ascent of religious obscurantists into power, bringing about a new alliance of religious forces with the military establishment, a kind of Pakistanization so to speak. Aijaz Ahmad, on the other hand, hails the revolutionary wave as an upsurge of "secularity" as well as of democracy. Both appear to miss the most striking feature of what is going on: the absence of any vanguard ideology or vanguard party, religious or secular.

Some have named this absence "post-ideological," but that does not quite capture the fluidity of the moment. Ideologies are at work in the intifadas in the region today -- what is clear is that none is in hegemony. No single ideology is in the vanguard, nor is any political party seeking to be the vanguard party of the kind that led 20th-century revolutions. Competing political currents all appear to sense that people are not looking for a charismatic leader, a new Lenin or a new Khomeini. There is a refreshing absence of the quintessential iconography of past revolutions: larger-than-life images of the leader of the revolution.

The question is if the leaderless revolts, without any vanguard party or ideology, can fully dismantle the ancien regimes, which are decapitated but are otherwise more or less intact, establish new ones, and defend and develop them.