velvet revolution now officially over


The Czech Repblic has also warned against speaking out in favour of human rights in Libya.

Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg said the EU should not "get involved too much" and that high-minded EU appeals would only serve to "prove our own importance".

"If Gaddafi falls, then there will be bigger catastrophes in the world," he told journalists in the EU capital on Sunday. "It's no use for anyone if we intervene there loudly, just to prove our own importance."

And Gustav Husak lies gobsmacked in his grave.

death struggle with rumours

No I don't have a clue either, except that the waves seem to be rolling over Atlantis. Anyway, here's a gripping and possibly useful composite twitter feed.

Apparently Ghaddafi junior mentioned Manchester as one of the centres of the plot to overthrow his dad in his bunker speech last night. You wouldn't believe how pleased local TV stations are to get a namecheck in these world-historical events. Bet the scousers are livid.

Anyway, there's five hundred or so Libyans on Oxford Road right now, giving Muammar seven kinds of bollocking.

techniques of the counter-revolution

It looks like the Empire is striking back on multiple fronts. So far as I can see, these seem to have been the lessons learned by regional authoritarians from Egypt.

Never mind the martyrs. Given that ‘martyrdom’ had a catalytic effect on protest in Egypt and Tunisia, you’d have thought that other regimes would have taken care to handle demonstrators more gently. Not so, as events today in Bahrain have demonstrated and as shown in Yemen over the weekend. The issue instead appears to be control of the streets. Once the demonstrators in Egypt and Tunisia had it, they couldn’t be dislodged. So go in fast, early and hard.

Deny the revolution its focal point. That appears to have been the purpose of the raid on the Pearl roundabout in Manama. There have been reports of sporadic clashes in the city since then, but it’s hard either for reporters to get a handle on where or for demonstrators to find a place to assemble.

Get the countergangs in early. The protests in Egypt rapidly reached such a critical mass that the baltagiya lost their ability to intimidate. Indeed, they were defeated by physical force from the demonstrators. So they need to be used before that point is reached, as they are in Iran, Yemen and Libya.

Hijack the agenda. Issandr El Amrani on the forthcoming protests in Morocco:

…a confusion has been deliberately created that the February 20 protests are about overthrowing King Muhammad VI, which they are absolutely not about: they are largely about socio-economic grievances and the need for the reforms that the regime has pretended to undertake to actually be implemented, starting with constitutional reform to make Morocco into a genuine constitutional monarchy rather than an absolute one that disguises what it is by calling itself an "executive monarchy".

For the past two weeks, the regime propaganda machine has created an outpouring of affection from Muhammad VI. Much of it is based on genuine respect for the institution of the monarchy as well as the man himself, but it is dangerous to play with the king's image in this way. One possible backlash is that on February 20 the protestors will get attacked as traitors. Street violence can get pretty savage in Morocco — I dread to think what might happen

Handle this right and you get yourself a genuine loyalist mob.

Be a social dictatorship. Evgeny Morozev got a lot of stick over the past week or so for his scepticism about the role of social media in democratization. His proposition is that new and social media can be a force multiplier for dictatorships which take the trouble to understand its potential and use it effectively. This is the proposition under test now across the region. So far we’ve had Libyan terror messaging, facebook phishing exercises by Sudanese security forces and Iranian wumaodang twitter accounts. No doubt we'll get more along similar lines.

Use it or lose it. It’s difficult to say how effective all of this is. Protests don’t seem to be reaching critical numbers. On the other hand, demonstrators are persisting in the face of constant and occasionally lethal state violence (every day for the past week in Yemen).

One thing that’s going to be prominent in regime calculations is the response of Western and particularly American policy to the Egyptian uprising, which made it clear that a) western powers want their local policies to remain as they are, but aren’t betting everything on maintaining any given government and b) if protests get too big, then there’s nothing your western friends can do for you. So the way to respond is to use every repressive resource in your arsenal to stop them getting too big. Current signals coming from Washington – welcoming the Iranian protests, ignoring the ones elsewhere – seem to indicate that this strategy is generally acceptable.

Libya’s the country to watch here. Ghaddafi’s new friends would drop him like a hot brick if if only for someone less embarrassing given half an excuse, and he’s still on bad terms with the Saudis and the GCC states, so no prospect of exile there. He’s the one actually at risk of ending his rule swinging from a palm tree, and that possibility is going to dictate his response to the local uprising. Given our role in the Megrahi affair, it’ll be interesting to see what Britain’s response to that will be.

Updated: Reminder: Edward at the LSE tonight

For everyone of you, gentle readers, who’s in London tonight  – Edward will be speaking about “How Life In The Internet Changes The Practice Of Macroeconomics” at the LSE tonight. Here’s the details from the LSE website. If there’s a video of the talk, I’ll add it here, once it’s published.

Date: Monday 14 February 2011

Time: 6.30-8.15pm
Venue: Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building
Speaker: Edward Hugh
Chair: Professor Luis Garicano

Update: And here’s the video of Edward’s talk.

épuration, crowdsourced

I’m not sure what either Ethan Zuckerman or Evgeny Morozov would make of this, but this is quite the revolutionary web crowdsourcing project. Piggipedia is an effort by Egyptian Flickr users to pool their photos from the revolution and identify the plain-clothes cops and private thugs responsible for the worst of the violence, with a view to prosecuting them or failing that, just ostracising the hell out of them. I presume this is also going to be a rare deployment outside China of the human flesh search engine. If sex infects new media like a virus, yadda yadda William Gibson feh, just wait ’til you see how revenge does.

then and now and here and there

Question: if Iraq hadn't been invaded back then, would we be seeing the same kind of thing in Baghdad as we saw in Cairo yesterday? I don't think you can definitively say yes. If revolutions were predictable, they wouldn't happen at all. But it seems equally impossible to say that it couldn't have happened in the light of events over the last two months. Of course, between 2003 and whenever it did happen the Iraqis would have had to put up with Saddam. But given what they've had to put up with since then that would not necessarily have been the worst option.

Quote of the Day

Financial Times news article

“Real estate development could become a catalyst for emerging from the crisis,” said Yiannis Stournaras, director of IOBE, an Athens think-tank.

That’s the Greek crisis that we’re talking about.  And although suggesting real estate as a path out of crisis sounds like a hair of the dog cure, since real estate didn’t have much to do with Greece getting into crisis, the point has validity. 

Continue reading

The most useful article you’ll read on Egypt this week

Is here. How did we get to the position where the red flag and the desert eagle were suddenly back ahead of the star and crescent? How do the Muslim Brothers and other Islamists interact with the Left? Where did those people come from?

As a Revolutionary Socialist member who was active in the 1990s recalls: “We were a kind of leftist the Muslim Brothers hadn’t met before. They couldn’t quite figure us out at the beginning. Anyway, we were still too marginal for them to bother with. We were only a few individuals.” This began to change in 1999. On a few occasions in that year, as one socialist remembers, the Muslim Brotherhood students at Cairo University allowed the Revolutionary Socialist students to speak at rallies held on campus against the US airstrikes on Iraq. The socialist students took this unprecedented opportunity as a sign of the Muslim Brothers’ recognition that they were a force that had to be given a place on the political stage. It was a step in a long, slow process of building trust.

This is not another government initiative

So the Big Society is going to get one last push. It was felt to need one. Paul Mason (BBC Newsnight’s economics editor) said:

I’m finding it common among non-politicos these days that whenever you mention the “Big Society” there’s a shrug and a suppressed laugh – yet if you move into the warren of thinktanks around Westminster, it’s treated deadly seriously.

Mason sees this as evidence of a “complete disconnect between the values and language of the state and those of the educated young.” As if determined to prove him right, David Cameron comes out with this piece of third term Blair-speak:

For too long, our country has failed to have a proper debate on how we can make our society stronger and give people more power. Now it is happening. And not just in the thinktanks of Westminster and newspapers of Fleet Street. The big society has been a topic of discussion on a wider basis – from being on the agenda at the General Synod to being debated in front of a live television audience.

It’s pretty obvious that the Big Society has had no positive impact at all on people’s lives generally. The potholes on my street are not being fixed by armies of volunteers. I haven’t knocked on my neighbours’ doors in an attempt to get a new district charity up and running, and no one has knocked on mine. We came up with chairs and quiche for the Big Lunch, yes, but that’s something different.

There have been changes, though. Existing charities have had their state funding cut – they’ll have to re-apply for ‘contracts’ – so for those who volunteered to help out with things some time ago, the Big Society is about being told to do less. It’s the same for local authorities. And I think this is the point. British politicians have their pet projects; the Tories especially. John Major had his national sports academy, Blair had his city academies. And I think you could make a case for privatised rail. These things are still going (with the exception of Railtrack, which got re-nationalised). It’s possible that the Big Society bank will still be going in twenty years’ time. ‘Pet project’ suggests harmlessness: it’d be better to describe these projects as exercises in patronage, where the degree of harm is to do with things like size, take-up, and complexity. Sport: harmless; arguably good. City academies: mostly harmless. National rail infrastructure: decidedly bad.

There’s nothing new about patronage, nor is there anything new about the conditions that traditionally attach. The patron must be satisfied that the recipients are deserving: that they won’t go against the patron’s own ideas about how these things should be done. With the Big Society, the patronage avenues – the scope of the ‘charters’ and the ‘contracts’ – have been defined through the obsessions of the Tory press over the last few decades. Schools. Health and Safety. Local Authority social work. Now, some of the right sort of people, with the right ideas, will be allowed to set up their own state funded substitutes. But perhaps they’ll improve things, and should be allowed a chance? Not if you believe that giving things a chance should be a matter of majoritarian decision-making, and at a local level where possible. Without an acknowledgment of the role of local democracy, the attempt to paint the Big Society as ‘localism’ just doesn’t wash. Big Society advocates talk about empowerment but fling mud at the institutions of local representation: they describe elected council leaders as ‘fat cats’ and local authorities as places where ‘power is trapped’. Established charities don’t fare much better: they’re described by Shaun Bailey – Cameron’s ‘ambassador’ for the Big Society – as ‘civic unions’. The attitude looks well entrenched; the main thing stopping Michael Gove doing end runs around local authorities on schools is the constitutional limit to that sort of behaviour. So I think the death of the Big Society is best understood as the death of a rebranding exercise, not as the end of a policy. The erosion of existing local institutions and the establishment of things like free schools will continue until there’s a change of national government.

(Note: the Americans have something similar: the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.)

(And see also this, at Next Left.)

Egyptian opinion poll

Pechter Middle East Polls has a new Egyptian opinion poll out, commissioned by AIPAC’s think tank, WINEP.

It’s from Cairo and Alexandria rather than the whole of Egypt.

52% dispapprove, 15% approve of the Muslim Brotherhood.

27% for, 37% against annulling peace treaty with Israel.

35% support Mubarak, Suleiman or the PM Shafiq, as president, 26% Amr Moussa, 3% El Baradei, 1% Nour, 1% Babi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

But 57% approve, 17 disapprove of the The Egyptian national association for change, the opposition parties who are part of the protests.

The Brotherhood has mostly rural support, and I bet other cities are less secular.

I guess WINEP supports the revolution? They don’t even acknowledge the poll’s not representative.

You can’t draw too many conclusions from this poll, but I wonder if the opposition’s proposed a yearlong transition before new elections partly because they wanted a chance to establish themselves and organize. I also have a gut feeling that if they do have regime change, they’ll end up with Amr Moussa as president at some point, he just seems like a better politician than anyone in the opposition. He was smart enough to cautiously side with the protesters quite early.

Maybe this will make democracy more palatable to the military and the US. I wouldn’t expect Egypt under someone like Moussa to become a model democracy. At best a Iraq/Turkey style pluralisism mixed with authoritarianism, at worst a democratura. Liberal dissidents like Nour rarely become heads of government for some reason.