A question nagged at Occupy Wall Street and its myriad imitators, the most exciting social movement to emanate from the United States in more than a decade, for much of the fall. “What are your demands?” journalists persisted in asking. “What do you want?”
In late December 2009, Arab TV channels aired footage of throngs of demonstrators, surrounded by the usual rows of riot police, on the streets of downtown Cairo and in front of foreign embassies. Street protests in Egypt have been sharply curtailed in the last few years, but the scene was familiar to anyone who had been in the country in 2005, when protests against President Husni Mubarak’s regime and in favor of judicial independence were a semi-regular occurrence. Yet there was something unusual about these protesters: They were all foreigners.
Isam al-Khafaji, Tormented Births: Passages to Modernity in Europe and the Middle East (London: I. B. Tauris, 2005).
Any book-length comparison of the historical trajectories of Western Europe and the region “extending from Iran in the east to Egypt in the west, and from Turkey in the north to the Arabian Sea in the south” is ambitious by definition. In the outstanding Tormented Births, “written and researched over two decades in exile” from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Isam al-Khafaji has attempted more than comparison. He has attempted a new narrative for both European and Mashriq histories. The goal is nothing less than to “show the non-uniqueness of the third world path to modernity, which means by implication the non-uniqueness of the point of reference: Europe’s path to modernity.”
If liberals and the left are united behind anything in our allegedly post-ideological age, it is that human rights and humanitarian considerations must always trump realpolitik. The left opposed the punishing economic sanctions endured by Iraqi civilians from 1991 to 2003, despite the sanctions’ undoubted success in “containing” the former Iraqi regime. The Bush administration, unable so far to detect a single spore of anthrax in Iraq, is now selling the invasion retroactively as a “humanitarian intervention,” mostly to well-deserved hoots of derision from left-liberals.
Palestinian women played a major role in the intifada of 1987-93, but have not, so far, in the current uprising. In January 2001, the Jerusalem-based magazine Between the Lines asked Eileen Kuttab, director of the Women’s Studies Institute at Birzeit University in the West Bank, to talk about the widely noted lack of women’s participation, and prospects for change. An excerpt from her comments is reprinted here with permission.
Has the women’s movement participated as a movement in the current intifada?
At a dinner party in Damascus, our Lebanese host referred enthusiastically to Soviet perestroika, saying: “We Arabs could reap many benefits from it.” A case at hand was his new restaurant in Moscow. Thanks to the good old days when the Communist Party of the USSR used to ladle out scholarships to members of “fraternal parties” around the world, this would-be businessman had earned a university degree there. He speaks Russian and has learned to maneuver through Russian society.
“Ahmad” is a representative of the Socialist Labor Party in the Arabian Peninsula. MERIP interviewed him in February 1984.
What were the origins of your party?
“Al-Hamdani” is the nom de guerre of a representative of the Yemeni People's Unity Party. MERIP spoke with him in February 1984.
The contemporary opposition movements in the Arabian Peninsula have their origins in two processes of radicalization in Middle Eastern politics. The first was the rise of radical nationalists, Nasserists and Baathists, and of communist parties in the 1950s and 1960s, and the second is the spread of the radical Islamic groups in the latter part of the 1970s. The political organizations now engaged in opposition politics in the peninsula spring essentially from these two competing trends.
Criticism and Defeat: An Introduction to George Hawi
A secondary objective of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon was to strike at the forces of the Arab left, which since 1967 had made Beirut their intellectual and, in many cases, operational center. Israel did not fully achieve this objective, just as it failed in several other of its war aims. Nonetheless, the invasion marks an end to a certain period in the historical development of the Arab left, and particularly the Lebanese left.