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WORLD FOCUS: Arab spring

December 9, 2011

Bertram Aaron, an electrical engineer by training, was a member of the research team working at Langley on the experimental X-1 project, the first aircraft that extended the speed of sound.

No wonder thus, that he is well tuned to technological innovations and the changes that those innovations bring about. In addition, his interests encompass politics, history and the study of the human condition.

A recent piece in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Review was of particular interest to him. The article described in minute details the role Internet played in igniting and fueling the Arab Spring. He shared the article with me.

"Facebook is pretty much the GPS for revolution. Without the street there's no revolution, but add Facebook to the street and you get great potential," quotes the author, John Pollock, a secretive Tunisian known as "Foetus," one the leaders of the Tunisian uprising that ushered in the "Arab Spring."

"I often wondered what triggered the "Arab Spring," Aaron said. "This article gives some insight."

According to Pollock, the street revolution that overthrew the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia had no Lenin or Trotsky, but two secretive Tunisians known as "Foetus" and "Waterman," and their organization, "Takriz." Although among those who helped remove the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia, were students, lawyers, teachers, human rights activists, the main audience of the Internet messages sent out by Takriz, was the alienated Arab street youth.

"Before this social-media revolution, everybody was very individual, very single, very isolated and oppressed. But social media has created bridges, has created channels between individual activist, between ordinary men to speak out, to know that there are other men who think like me.," an Egyptian activist was quoted saying.

Another innovation of the "Takriz" was its political "pitch" to soccer fans. "The mosque and the soccer have been the only release valves for anger and frustration among young under autocratic Middle East rule. Soccer fans had often fought local battles with the police. By turning their anger to political ends, they were transformed into a quick-reaction force of bloody-minded rioters," noted James Dorsey, a Middle East expert.

The Arab Spring or Arab Awakening will smolder for years to come, Pollock is predicting. The combination, of online and offline strategies and tactics that Takriz and others helped develop will remain a potent force in the Arab world. As "Foetus" noted. "Our motto is, don't talk, analyze, get to the street, go fight." The unemployed and bitter youth in the Arab world had become the shock-troops of the revolution.

Those who know history may recall that Fascism in Italy began with an ideology that supported the restoration of unredeemed Italian territories, and ideology that claimed modern Italy as heir of the Roman Empire. The Fascist Party promoted also a "corporatist" economic system that promised to resolve and ends class conflict by creating collaboration among all segments of the society.

In 1924, the National Fascist Party won the election with 65 percent of the votes. But the opposition parties accused the Fascists of gross electoral fraud. Benito Mussolini, the Duce, unleashed the Blackshirts, his paramilitary squads, to suppress any dissent. Italy has become a totalitarian state and an ally of Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

Some experts on the Middle East see the contours of a parallel between the Arab Spring and Italy's descent into Fascism. Just like the aspiration of the Fascist to be seen as the heirs of the Roman Legions, Osama bin Laden's dream to restore the Caliphate, catches the attention of various segments of the population in many Arab countries. The Moslem Brotherhood, the best organized political force in the Arab world embraces this idea. In addition, it offers solution to every problem by advocating adoption of "Sharia" the religious law of Islam.

To achieve its goal of restoring Arab "dignity" and reintroducing Sharia, the Moslem Brotherhood, advocates Jihad, (Struggle). It must be waged, its doctrine commands, by mujahideen's, Moslem guerilla warriors, not unlike the ones who fought against the Soviet's in Afghanistan and Americans in Iraq, and now again in Afghanistan.

Karl Marx once postulated: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."

But some expert say, he may be wrong. The repeat of history, disguised as the Arab Spring, could also be a tragedy.

Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.



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