Chapter 2 & 3
Marwan Bishara discusses the struggles in the Arab spring revolutions, in his book “The Invisible Arab”. In chapter 2, The Miracle Generation, he tries to explain the historical causes of the revolutions. The chapter begins with Marwan wondering what contributed to the wrongs that appeared in Arab leadership. First, he wonders how freedom from colonialism became negative for the Arab society and how self-declared leaders became dictators. Marwan then states his opinion that the problems facing Arabs do not have economic or religious reasons. He, then, continues claiming that the improper use of political power is what has differentiated the modern Arab society.
Mr. Bishara states that the Arab states’ governance is contrary to efforts with regard to improving the human society. He continues saying that those who try to create positive change lose power in various ways. His desire to show that the Arab leadership has been backward, since taking over from the colonialists is rather conspicuous. The autocratic administrations that existed at the beginning of the 21st century portray this quite well. The youngest dictatorship, Tunisia, had been existing for 25 years, before the revolutions started.
Despite being autocracies, Marwan states that countries like Egypt and Tunisia had well-developed societies. This was due to differentiation between the government and society. The totalitarian Arab states, on the other hand, have since then enforced uniform ideologies. Mr. Bishara says that the totalitarian regimes maintained power due to their holistic, yet deceptive ideologies. When challenged, the dictators claimed foreign powers posed a threat and, therefore, no reform should be undertaken. As a result, falling dictators took their states down with them. Consequently, such states have fallen into anarchy, ruled by several small factions. However, Bishara’s view is not correct in its entire entirety. Many of the aforementioned autocracies have largely grown their economies. Most, if not all, are upper middle-income societies.
According to Marwan, the suspicious death is one of the causes of the outcry in social media by the disgruntled Egyptians. They formed a group titled ‘We are all Khaled Said’ on Facebook. Within two months, two million Egyptian people joined the popular social network. However, it is important to note that this surge is not in direct consequence to Said’s death. Mr. Bishara states, that the group raised awareness with the intent to bring the parties responsible for the book. The social media’s importance is attributable to as a significant factor of the events of the revolution. More than sixty million people in the Arab sphere have access to the Internet. As a result, the youth in Arab states have developed a mindset proclaiming global citizenship.
With reference to a poll, Marwan claims that two-thirds of the Arab youth population spend most of their time watching TV. With the connectivity provided by mobile phones, they have developed a radically different national identity as compared to the previous generations. For instance, they exercise their free choice by simply voting for contestants in interactive reality TV. Social media has also provided the Arab youth with a medium for sharing experiences and thoughts. Mr. Bishara also reminds people of the role played by bloggers and other citizen-journalists in providing the public with uncensored information. The affordability of smartphones and laptops enabled protesters to fight on two fronts simultaneously, which is namely referred to the information and political fronts. However, it is important to note that the autocracies had already developed the means of shutting down Internet communications. At this point, Marwan’s view on the social media is doubtful.
Mr. Bishara claims that the role of social media against the authoritarian rule in the Arab countries was overstated. He reckoned that the users of Facebook organized the protests, not the platform by itself. He describes the complex strategies implemented by the Egyptian protesters. For instance, they would devise creative strategies for engaging anti-riot police such as timing their response outbursts. This ensured that they evaded arrest. Cyber warfare also had an impact on that revolution. The WikiLeaks documents infuriated the Tunisian people towards the administration and its corruption.
In response, the government cracked down on bloggers and tech-savvy Tunisians. The hacker group, Anonymous, assisted the Tunisian people in taking down the government’s sites. The influence of satellite TV on the revolutions is extremely significant according to Marwan. This is due to its role in informing the Arab society on global societal advances. However, Marwan’s focus on satellite TV may be overstated. He failed to provide figures on what the percentage of the Arab society has satellite TV in its households. The ‘complex strategies’ mentioned by Marwan also continue being questioned as far as their effectiveness is concerned. They did not alleviate enough protester deaths to deserve a mention in the book.
Chapter 4 & 5
In chapter 4, Marwan writes about ‘Regional power versus people power.’ The Middle East is a region due to its Muslim majority as well as its Arab people. However, it can be further sub-divided into three regions: the Maghreb, the east and the Gulf States. However, it turns out that the main regional powers are Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran. This is attributable to military capabilities, economic capacities, the adopted ideology, political influence and, finally, the demographical capability. In this respect, Marwan failed to mention which is the absolute Middle Eastern power. As a result, the reader is unable to deduce where the revolution’s influence came from. Despite that, they all have several constraints limiting them from being the true power in the region.
Focusing on Egypt, the struggle between regional power and people power is obvious. Egypt’s strategic positioning, as well as the urban nature of its population, provides a compelling instance. The term ‘People Power’ can be attributed to the popular Philippine protests against the authoritarian administration of the then President, Ferdinand Marcos. People power is partly the cause of the Arab Spring revolution. Egypt’s position of influence on the region was a tipping point in the rise of people’s power in the region. Yemen is an example of such countries.
In chapter 5, ‘The West, interest over values’, Marwan says that the West has had an influence on the Arab agenda in the recent past. Of particular importance is the United States, that has had a destabilizing effect on the region. Mr. Bishara claims that it has toppled regimes of ‘unfriendly’ states in the name of its national security. As a result, the Arab people rejected the American imperialism. However, they still desired the American norms of democracy and a well-off middle class. Despite the American focus on the ‘war on terror’ and Israel, it failed to notice the changes in Arab society. Regardless the minimal involvement in bringing about the Arab Spring, it still accredits itself with the results. Past events have proven that the ‘Freedom Agenda’ pioneered by Bush failed.
The stance taken up by the Obama government has lacked a clear stance in its Middle Eastern policy. However, his actions have proven that it maintains autocracies for the purposes of securing critical support in the region. Just six months preceding the Arab Spring, Obama visited Mubarak and promised the dictator a billion dollars’ worth of aid. The US President had even described the dictator as a ‘stalwart ally.’ Western powers are full of contradictory actions. According to Mr. Bishara, Britain adopted a friendly stance to Libya’s dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, in order to secure crucial oil contracts for its oil company, BP. The West had relegated the Arab dictatorships into subservient partners of convenience, who willingly provided energy. As a result, Arabs could not trust in the Western claims on democracy. Bishara claims that their authoritarian overlords overrode the voice of the masses. Marwan’s focus on Egypt is questionable. After all, the revolution began in Tunisia, and its effects ravaged Libya the most. His view on Western strategies, however, is also questionable. After all, they have brought positive developments to the region.
Chapter 6 & 7
In chapter 6, Marwan emphasizes the importance of satellite television in the Arab struggles. Despite the new and social media’s inroads in Arab society, especially among the younger generation, Bishara claims that none is as effective as satellite TV. This is due to its ease in reaching its audience, coupled by the fact that it does not require interactivity. Those who watch hundreds of Arab channels receive a sense of reality. In his book, Bishara claims that this media also has an empowering effect on those not yet convinced by the cause. In the revolutions, satellite TV and the Arab TV networks empowered the organizers and activists tremendously. Bishara claims it is because they were able to transmit their eyewitness accounts at minimal efforts or costs.
Satellite Television proved particularly effective when the regimes tried to block the Internet based communications. As a consequence, various parts of the affected countries were able to keep up with the events unfolding in other areas. Marwan claims that satellite TV was finally able to beat State media. This was due to the state media treating the unfolding events as fantasies created by dissidents. He also claims that once a regime lost control over the information in the past, it simultaneously lost it power over the state. Bishara claims that regionalization took off in the Middle East as an alternative to the efforts of globalization pioneered by Western countries through their companies. As a result, Arab brands have prospered in the region, unlike their Western counterparts. Western content has been successfully adapted for the region. Consequently, Arabs no longer lacked choice by switching to satellite television.
In chapter 7, Mr. Bishara details his thoughts on Islamists and their effect on democracy. Islamism is attributable to Abdul Maududi. It is interesting to note, that secularism has been defeated in Muslim-majority countries. Despite that, Islamism has still not taken over as a complete system. To ensure survival, the Muslim brotherhood has had to transform itself from an undemocratic body. In Turkey, the Islamist Justice and Development Party (A.K.P) is in power. Iran’s revolutionary leadership has steadily enjoyed popular support based on its religious influence.
In Egypt, the Islamists gained power in the elections following the Arab Spring revolution. It is, therefore, clear that Islamist, and not Secularist, influence is on the rise in the Middle East. Islamists have consistently featured in Arab political agenda for most of the past century. Islamism has also proven difficult for the secularist leaders to crush, in the fear of losing power. The toppled Dictators claimed a pointed threat of Islamists as the primary reason for not practicing democracy in their Islamic societies. However, a contradictory argument is in existence, that is related to the the absence of democracy which gave the Islamists the upper hand in the political agenda.
Marwan has listed several noteworthy thoughts in chapters six and seven. In chapter six, he lists the importance of satellite television in the Arab society. He portrays it as the singular most influential source of information for the Arabs during the revolution. In chapter seven, he details his thoughts on the Islamists and their effects on democracy. I differ from Mr. Bishara’s portrayal of satellite TV. The effects of social media should be given a greater credit in the book. Suspicions may also be raised on his promotion of satellite TV networks. After all, he works for one. His thoughts on Islamism are well versed in my opinion. This is because they will play a vital role in determining the region’s political future.