When protests erupted on the Iranian streets in 2009, President Obama adopted a deliberately cautious tone. Mindful of the fact that he was simultaneously trying to convince the regime to abandon its nuclear program—and afraid that his open support would make an indigenous revolt seem like a tool of foreign influence—the president condemned the use of violence against the Green Movement, but stopped short of backing their heartfelt calls for freedom and democracy.
The revolution will always be harmonized. If no song in itself can change the world, revolutionary change usually happens to music, as it is today in the Middle East. News feeds from Tahrir Square and now from Tehran have been capturing streets full of young people singing anthems of uprising, just as eighteenth-century revolutionaries sang in Paris and Philadelphia. In Cairo, the song that emerged quickly as the semi-official anthem of the revolution is “Long Live Egypt,” a buoyant, gently hip-hoppish pop tune by the Egyptian group Scarabeuz and Omima.
[Guest post by Ezra Deutsch-Feldman.] With the sudden success of nonviolent revolution in Egypt, attention has turned to the seemingly ubiquitous influence of Peter Ackerman, a former investment banker who became something of an intellectual godfather to the Middle Eastern protest movements. His group, the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, produced instructional videos for leaders of nonviolent revolutions, held conferences where would-be revolutionaries could meet and swap tactics, and even financed a video game meant to help organizers plan and practice grassroots uprisings.
Dictatorships fear nothing quite like they fear a mob in the streets. In Tunis and Cairo, however, it was not mobs that gathered but crowds. Non-violent crowds, thoughtful crowds. Alas, there were some 300 dead among the protestors. So this was not exactly a costless revolution in terms of human life. Still, the dynamics that unfolded in Tahrir Square were rooted in peaceful communications. In many ways this was a re-enactment of the Committees of Correspondence. These were initiated in 1773 by Dabney Carr, an intimate of Thos.
The massive protests that forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s departure have been widely described as a revolution. And that’s fine. If there is an Internet revolution, a Reagan revolution, and even an Obama revolution, then there has certainly been an Egyptian revolution. But there is another meaning of revolution that applies specifically to events like the French, Russian, or Chinese Revolutions. In this sense of the word, Egypt has not yet had a revolution; and the success of the protests will depend ultimately on whether it does have one.
For nearly three weeks as I watched the exhilarating news coming from Cairo, I had in my head four great canvases by Delacroix that hang forbiddingly in the Grande Galerie at the Louvre: The Massacre at Scio, The Bark of Dante, The Death of Sardanapalus, Liberty Leading the People.Each of them is a passionate semblance of the threat of death or of death itself. I cannot imagine anyone who has seen these impressions ever having them completely out of his head. I know the images in the Dante very well because I happen to have in my house a Cezanne oil study of the Delacroix original.
Over the course of the Egypt crisis, it’s become clear that the Washington-centric cable talk show format is ill-equipped to handle a foreign revolution. The logical thing would have been to book experts on say, Egypt. Instead, shows like MSNBC’s “Meet the Press” and Fox’s “Hannity” often just rotated in their regular go-to guests, asking former politicians, political pundits, and at least one NASCAR driver to share their insights on the latest developments in the Middle East. Some of the answers were vague, some woefully uninformed, and others made no sense at all.
The president has found his fall guy, his collective fall guy, for his failure to see that several sort-of U.S. allies were in terrible trouble: The intelligence community, we are now told, was to blame. But the truth is that, if anyone is at fault for misreading the Arab world, it is Barack Obama himself. Not that many other presidents and their administrations have seen these realities clearly. (John Foster Dulles, secretary of state to Dwight Eisenhower, believed he could transform the Egypt of Gamal Abdel Nasser from a Soviet satrap into a pro-Western republic.
The wave of popular unrest that has spread across the Arab world in recent weeks, toppling the regime in Tunisia, creating the mass protests in Egypt, and leading other governments in the region to scramble to choke off similar eruptions, has evoked images of 1989, when Communist governments fell like dominoes in Eastern Europe. Like today, those earlier events unfolded with surprising speed, catching the West (as well as the oppressive regimes) off guard. But President George H.W.
When the Iranian Revolution overthrew the Shah in 1979, years of “peaceful” U.S. nuclear cooperation with the Persian dictator suddenly seemed like they had been a bad idea. In part as a result of this early assistance, Tehran is on the road to producing a bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium in roughly a year or less. And with protests upending governments in Egypt, Tunisia, and the rest of the Middle East, this sequence is on the cusp of repeating itself to produce a nuclear domino effect.