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.

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