By Saif Eldin Hamdan
The revolutionary wave in the Middle East will only end when socioeconomic change is achieved to accompany the ongoing political and democratic shifts, speculated French-Lebanese political analyst Gilbert Achcar.
The Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London said that the revolution is rooted in much deeper causes than ousting a president, and that the real generator of this rupture is primarily socioeconomic.
He explained that the “dreadful social situation brought about by the economic status in Arab countries is linked to a specific trend in their economies.”
Achcar is currently on a short visit to Cairo to launch his new book, The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising.
In an exclusive interview with Aswat Masriya, he explained that the uprisings are not simply a matter of getting rid of a ruler or even a political system, but a process that will not end before finding solutions for the region’s deep-rooted socioeconomic problems.
“I believe that we have entered a long-term process that will only end by finding radical solutions,” he said.
The Arab region has witnessed over the past three years popular uprisings that toppled Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian Hosni Mubarak. It resulted in the killing of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and forced Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to give up power in accordance with certain conditions.
The Arab Spring was perceived at first as a progression that would last only for a few months and would spread democracy in the Arab region. He expressed his hope that a new force could bring with it the kind of radical solutions he believes are necessary, as "the situation is threatening to relapse into a worse political situation than before."
Achcar describes what has happened as uprisings, but he poses the question of whether they were time-limited turbulences or events with greater depths.
The Arab spring was perceived at first a process that would last only for a few months and it would spread democracy in the Arab region.
But this notion - from his point of view - is no longer appropriate, because the uprisings have entered their third year, while the spring label implies time-limited historical events.
"In my view, what we are witnessing is a long process that will take in the least estimate several years, if not tens of years."
He stressed that what happened is a "revolutionary process," adding, "We are in the first phase of a very long process. What has happened so far is just the beginning; we could only document the beginning in most cases, but how it is going to end is out of sight.
"When the people revolted in Egypt, important changes occurred in the political system. Even though these changes are restricted to politics, they are still important. The usage of the word 'revolution' here is justified, but if we meant revolution in its deeper meaning, changing the societal system, it hasn’t happened yet. There are more changes necessary if we want the revolutionary process to end or the situation to settle, and they are still ahead of us, not behind us. For this reason, I would call it a long-term revolutionary process."
Achcar said that some conditions should be met in order to complete the revolutionary process, and that "these conditions are related to a profound change in the social structure and economic policy."
He explained that a capitalist system that is closely linked to political governance has prevailed. "This is political capitalism, it is not governed by the market. We do not have transparency in our market, but we have 'favors' and etc. and on the other side, the state is looking for a quick profit. Long-term investments require real development."
"Development is paralyzed due to not addressing societal problems such as unemployment; most economies in the region are dependant economies. They depend on oil, gas and external support."
He added that the economic situation in the Middle East facilitated the development of a type of political system where "the ruling group inherits the state and its economy. This is not confined to the Arab monarchies in the region, but many of the republics."
He called for the nationalisation of the wealth accumulated through the former regime’s economic policies. "In my opinion, this wealth belongs to the people. It should be nationalised because it was not achieved legitimately and did not result from sound economic policies, even from the capitalist view."
On the situation in Egypt, he said that "nothing has changed but some manifestations in the political arena. Maybe the nature of political speech has changed, but that is a formality; the foundation is the same. Political economy remains unchanged, the relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) continues as it was, if not friendlier, and they are actually more willing to bow to the IMF's conditions."
“The Muslim Brotherhood are in line with the neoliberal theory: they cherish the market and the private sector, they consider it as the core of economy. Such policies are doomed to failure. These ideas will not bring the region out of disabled development; they will only make things worse.”
"The Brotherhood has its own understanding of 'Bread, Freedom, and Social Justice' (the demands chanted by the people throughout the 18-day uprising in Egypt). Freedom to them is only economic, but not political. In the cultural sphere they have an oppressive nature: in the name of religion, they are not advocates of freedom. They and traditional liberals meet in that they cherish economic freedom."
He added, "The concepts of justice differ. Justice according to the Muslim Brotherhood and other political Islam groups is only judicial, but regarding society's division into poor and rich, they find it natural. The only thing to do on this front is to ease the burden of the poor through the religious concept of charity."
“These policies cannot address the problems of Arab societies. What is needed here is a radical change in economic policies.” He pointed out, “The social forces that have an interest in radical change are not currently represented in authority,” adding that the social forces depend on producers, workers and popular movements that do not reflect the interests of capitalists.
He called on Egypt's progressive forces to "work to build popular, progressive and broad grassroots forces to include all parties that agree on the necessity of change and the adoption of development policies that prioritize living conditions by providing job opportunities and devoting all means in economy and society to meet that end."