Battle of Concrete Balloons, Hiding the Arab Spring, Barbican, London, 2012

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Battle of Concrete Balloons, Hiding the Arab Spring, Barbican, London, 2012

[ Posted by Lara Keller 15/3/19 Updated 17/6/19] anchorTableSmall - Copy Blog Table Of Contents

Contents:

1. Introduction.
2. Doctored Debate.
3. Selected Panel.
4. Structure Of The Debate.
    4.1. Debate Audio And Video Sources.
5. Chairperson’s Introductory Summary.
6. First Question.
7. Answers To First Question.
8. Second Question.
9. Answers To Second Question.
10. Opening Up The “Debate” To The Audience.
11. Answers To First Audience Questions.
12. Second Part Of Opening Up The “Debate” To The Audience.
13. Answers To Second Audience Questions.
14. Conclusion.

1. Introduction.

This document is an analysis of a panel debate held in 2012 in London, called “What happened to the Arab Spring?” A summary of the questions from the chairperson and audience, with the panel’s replies is given. It is intended to be read with the audio or video of the debate as a reference (see 4.1. Debate Audio and Video Sources). The timings given in this document is based on the first of these links, although others seem to be identical. Links are given  and will be updated when necessary to ensure a copy is always available. A commentary on the debate under the title the “Missing Voice” is also given to fill an intentional void in the composition of the panel. The debate was pro-authoritarian PR supplied by a part of the “LM Network”. Apart from warning of the activities of this network, this is also an illustration of the subtle PR of the “debate”. The voices chosen were all antagonistic to effective intervention to support the “Arab Spring”, understood as practical actions in solidarity with a regional movement to create real representative governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), that exploded into a wave of uprisings from 2011 onwards. This “Missing Voice” is based on the work of activists and academics, much of the material was published after 2012. The professional “main stream media” has also been negligent in representing this “missing voice”, because different standards of balance apply to domestic and foreign news. Clearly analysis of this debate is very useful because the debate contains some useful criticisms and views, and a large number of popular misrepresentations which need to be opposed. The notion of concrete balloons comes from the sterile architecture of the venue, and the judgement that the none of the “ideas” expressed in this debate would lift ordinary people from the anchor of repressive elites.

2. Doctored Debate.

A small room in the brutalist concrete monolith of the Barbican Arts Centre in London in the summer of 2012 held a mostly complacently good natured debate on “What happened to the Arab Spring?” The architecture and rather than the words echoed the real world of little over 2000 miles away where breathing people were being tortured to death for demanding a dignity Londoners would unthinkingly expect from their government.

This festival of redbrick university style debates was called grandly “The Battle of Ideas”, effectively organized by the “Academy of Ideas”. A front organization for people from the LM (Living Marxism) network. A group of political extremists from the UK that started as a nasty fringe Trotskyist sect in the 1970s called the Revolutionary Communist Party, and morphed in the mid 1990s into the LM Network. They seemed to have gone a step beyond the recognized merging of communism and fascism (“red-brown” politics) to include libertarianism.

In effect they “apologise for any power, the more corrupt the better”, whether this comes from dictatorships or neo-liberal multi-nationals. The proto-fascist Italian “Futurismo” movement of the early twentieth century would have recognized their core philosophy. Surprisingly the network and its off-shoot front organizations have been successful in attracting attention and money. The “Institute of Ideas” that organized the “Battle of Ideas” festival has even bizarrely attracted corporate funding. (See: 1. Guardian(2000), 2.Standpoint(2012), 3.Useful Summary from critics GMWatch, 4.Left Foot Forward on LM’s star Brendan O’Neill(2013), 5.Powerbase summary from far-left critics , if you are interested in the “LM Network”.)

The debate did not do justice to the struggle for dignity and representative government of the people of the Middle East and North Africa(MENA). A diverse range of opinions were expressed, apart from those of ordinary protesters. This central omission made the debate hollow. I have reintroduced a “missing voice” to the panel to make good this omission.  The debate certainly reinforced the non-intervention line towards these uprisings, which was no doubt the subtle PR intent. This festival had little direct impact on public opinion, but it was attended by journalists looking for ideas for provocative articles.

3. Selected Panel.

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The panel of five was chaired by Dr Tara McCormack, a middle ranking academic in the field of International Relations at the rising “redbrick” Leicester University. She is linked to the “LM Network” and writes regularly for Spiked Magazine and Sputnik News. Since 2012 she has become a notable academic apologist for the Assad genocide in Syria. She has a history of apologizing for war criminals, starting with the Srebrenica massacre in the 1990s and defending Milosevic in the 2000s. In her academic works she argues against the “Responsibility to Protect (R2P)” and against “Humanitarian Intervention”. (See 1. Wikipedia, 2.London Times(2018), 3. Copies of Times Articles on Assadist Academics(2018) , 4. Leicester Socialist(2018) , 5.Summary of her Assadist and Putin Propaganda(2018) , if you are interested in the reality of Dr Tara McCormack.)

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Two ex-pat Lebanese professionals from privileged backgrounds represented most of the Arab component of the panel. Dr Rania Hafez is a senior lecturer in education from Greenwich University in London. She describes herself as the daughter of a successful building contractor, who eventually left Beirut for good during the Civil War. She self identifies as a “citizen of the world”.

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Nadim Shehadi is a relatively well known academic who specializes in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. He is an associate fellow of Chatam House (Royal Institute of International Affairs). The most qualified to speak on the subject of the debate, but also as he later revealed a perfect fit for the neo-liberal bogey man of the far-left activists.

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There was the panelist Mark Seddon, a journalist and left-wing UK Labour party activist. He was a vigorous opponent of the previous UK Labour government’s enthusiastic involvement in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He studied international relations at university, and adopted an “anti-war except when endorsed by the international community in the form of the UN” position. When editor of the Old Labour Left “Tribune” magazine in the 1990s, he did support the successful Nato bombing in response to Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, although this was done without UN authorization (typically blocked by Russia and China). He joined with right-wingers in the UK to call for a Brexit referendum. The EU (unlike the UN) is evidently the wrong type of international cooperation. His stance on Iraq led to a job as UN correspondent for Al-Jazeera, which he had left before the Arab Spring.

In the years following this debate, from 2014 to 2106 Mark Seddon became a speech writer for the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, and has since disappeared into a communications job with a UN commission. He has written in passing about reform of the notorious “veto-all-action-on-human-right-abuse” UN Security Council. The method he champions appears to be waiting for the permanent members of the Security Council to respond to being asked nicely. A progressive socialist who is moderate in most senses, but with an extremist’s believe in the potential of “diplomacy by reason” with authoritarian regimes, that have little fear of appearing irrational to their suppressed and mislead populations.

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The most interesting panelist was Karl Sharro, a talented Lebanese ex-pat architect based in London, who is also a popular satirist. He was at least the most sympathetic panelist, and probably included for his humour. Karl Sharro made by far the most engaging and informed comments. He was very critical of the quality of leadership in the Arab Spring uprisings. I do not know much about his background, except that reading between the lines, he does not appear to have come from a privileged background. He has a strong believe in self-help, but I doubt his commitment to economic justice.

He strongly dislikes sectarian labels and appears to advocate secularism. He is reported to have come from an Iraqi Christian background, although born in Lebanon. Secularism is not necessarily more progressive than moderate Islamic beliefs. The Assad regime for example poses as secularist although it is highly oppressive, and divides Syrians by provoking sectarian fears. Secularism can also denote an elite wealthy background, which looks down and is often over suspicious of religious groups, especially those of Sunni Muslims.

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The panel was not chosen for its knowledge of the subject of the debate, but as sources of criticism of the Arab Spring and to articulate opposition to Western Intervention. Nadim Shehadi was the obvious exception although his neo-liberalism had the effect of increasing opposition to his comments supporting the “uprisings”.

4. Structure Of The Debate.

The debate lasted an hour. The chairperson introduced a summary of the recent events of the Arab Spring. She proposed a series of questions, followed by questions from the audience. Dr Tara McCormack is listed as chairperson and producer of this event. The panel’s answers are listed chronologically, using times in this recording of the debate, so the text can be compared to the audio or video source.

4.1. Debate Audio and Video Sources:

Source 1 (Battle of Ideas): http://archive.battleofideas.org.uk/2012/session_detail/6771

Source 2 (Youtube): https://youtu.be/UUwsOkPsJQw

Source 3 (Archive.org): https://ia801900.us.archive.org/10/items/WhateverHappenedToTheArabSpring/WhateverHappenedToTheArabSpring.mp3

5. Chairperson’s Introductory Summary.

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Summary: Time=0:00_to_3:26 Dr Tara McCormack set the tone immediately by pejoratively adding the epithet “so called” before the “Arab Spring”. She described the events of 2011 in flat tones as the clichéd “1989 moment for the Middle East” and the “spread of democracy”. Then she asked if the “Arab Spring had lived up to its promises”, followed by a description of a string of failures. She described these as, the military in effective power in Egypt, Libya in chaos, oppression in Bahrain and Syria descending into “civil war”.

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[Missing Voice: This shallow introductory summary contrasts the people’s uprisings of the Arab Spring with the lack of short term success in creating democratic governments. This is typical of much of Western media output. The underlying assumption is that this outcome is principally due to flaws in the uprisings themselves. Totally ignoring the active cooperation between the region’s dictatorships to oppose and subvert the Arab Spring. Ignoring the gulf between the advanced military technology available to the dictatorships and those available to the relatively defenseless protesters. Westerners think of democratic revolutions as uprisings involving muskets not jet aircraft and tanks. The use of the term “civil war” to describe the brutal repression of peaceful protests by the Assad regime is clearly partisan. ]

6. First Question.

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Question1 (How understand Arab Spring): Time=3:27_to_4:07 She asked how each panelist understood the events of the Arab Spring. She presented the possible “competing narratives” as “people power”, “decay of old authoritarian regimes” or “imposition of US neoliberal hegemony in the Middle East”?

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[ Missing Voice: The reality of the Arab Spring is ordinary people being sick of an endless future vista of corrupt authoritarian regimes that steal their future, and so have consequently demanded their replacement by good representative governance. This reality is given the shortest throw-away title of “people power” (clearly there are no PR rewards for representing the powerless which is a deep problem). In reality this option should have been phrased by the chairperson as “people power losing ground to military technology”. The correct answer to Question 1 as any former student of bombastic humanities academics would grasp is the longest, the third one (“imposition of US neoliberal hegemony in the Middle East”). ]

7. Answers To First Question.

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Mark Seddon’s Answer to Question1 (How understand Arab Spring) Time=4:08_to_5:27 Mark used the hackneyed Zhou Enlai quote from 1972 on the French Revolution, “It is too early to say.” He said he believed that the Arab Spring has no comparison in terms of significance with the Prague Spring of 1968, or the eventual break up of the Soviet Union in 1989. He claimed there was exaggeration by the Western media about the “Arab Spring”, and this is only the beginning of a long “awakening” process.

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[Missing Voice: Seddon did not acknowledge that the Western media have under reported discontent in the past, and he hinted at the chauvinistic trope that Arabs are not ready for democracy. He took the lack of interest by the Western media in the evidence of discontent, as proof of a lack of evidence. Not well informed opinion. ]

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Nadim Shedadi’s Answer to Question1 (How understand Arab Spring) Time=5:28_to_7:55 Dr McCormack’s tone betrayed hostility when she asked Shedadi this question, that he countered with a joke about being seated on the far-right of the panel. He said he understands the Arab Spring as part of a global movement of discontent and the collapse of “twentieth century politics”. He put himself in the neo-liberal category by saying that the twentieth century was the first time in history when the “state controlled our lives”, and took away our “income, inheritance and freedom”. The state promised life long care that it “cannot now deliver”. He bizarrely included  authoritarian regimes and democracies in this sweeping criticism, and said he believes this idea of state control came from Bismarck and later Keynes.

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[Missing Voice: Shedadi failed completely to recognise the growth of the related ideas of democracy and economic redistribution in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His position on the panel as the strongest supporter of the Arab Spring strengthened the illusion of Western far-left extremists, that it is about neo-liberal hegemony (Dr McCormack’s favoured third choice). This avoids the real problem for the far-left with the Arab Spring, which like the 1989 collapse of Soviet Union, involved ordinary people rejecting the unrepresentative authoritarian state (the primrose path to the paradise of these extremists’ egos).

Shedadi’s idea that these dictatorships “cannot now deliver” services to its suppressed peoples, completely ignored the reality that these regimes are involved in mass extortion. They also cannot deliver development for the same set of reasons.

Systematic state corruption is an important factor together with interrelated economic, demographic and climate change factors in creating the state of despair in the region. The recognition that democracy is one of the supporting pillars of good governance, that respects people’s welfare and dignity, is the driver of the Arab Spring. ]

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Rania Hafez’s Answer to Question1 (How understand Arab Spring) Time=7:56_to_10:31

She disagreed with Mark Seddon, and said Arabs have been “awakening culturally” since the beginning twentieth century as colonialism receded. This has ebbed and flowed, recently effected by the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and loss of vague “powerful factors” in the region. She criticized the Western media for “projecting fantasies” on to the Middle East about the “Arab Spring”. She said the Arab world is complex and each Middle Eastern country is very different. Dr McCormack then prompted her to say that, she believes the West is looking to the Middle East to live out the revolutions it has not had; motivated by a kind of fashionable substitute for its own anxieties.

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[Missing Voice: Rania Hafez used the embarrassment of Western progressives about their lack of knowledge of the Arab world, to safely display a privileged contempt for ordinary Arabs outside her class. ]

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Karl Sharro’s Answer to Question1 (How understand Arab Spring) Time=10:32_to_13:48 Of all the panel Karl Sharro comes across as the most human and involved. He said “sovereignty” and “self-determination” are “very crucial” to the Arab Spring. The old regimes started to die after 1990 when they sold out their legitimacy. He said that generally we are all lacking a “healthy understanding of political agency” (political freedom). People go out on demonstrations but then want the “world to sort it out”. The Arab Spring protesters want the old order to go, but refuse to take responsibility for this change, which results in a “stalemate”. There is a lack of “ideological clarity” and “self confidence”. They should be saying “we do not want the world to come and help us … but here is our vision and this is how we transform our societies”.

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[Missing Voice: Unsure when Karl Sharro is talking about politics in general or specifically about the Arab Spring. His criticisms could be directed at both Western and Arab protesters demanding change in the worldwide protests of 2011. Terrible events after 2012 in the Middle East – particularly Assad’s political genocide in Syria – have shown the limits of “people power” regardless of “ideological clarity”. The only conclusion I can see now (in 2018-2019) about the “Arab Spring” is that twenty first century revolutions need a clear ideology and sufficient principled practical foreign support (which bodies like the UN are intrinsically unable to provide).

The break up of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War was (apart from major exceptions of Afghanistan and Yugoslavia) a relatively peaceful process. It could have been different due to the same lack of accountability of these dictatorships. No one expected the more personal dynastic regimes in the Middle East to resort to mass violence. In retrospect they had the same lack of accountability combined with personal fiefdoms to protect. ]

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Second Part of Mark Seddon’s Answer to Question 1 (How understand Arab Spring) Time=13:49_to_15:31 He is asked by Dr McCormack to make a clearly positive statement about the “Arab Spring”, after the negative previous answers from the panel. He said the Arab Spring is far more complex than the Prague Spring, or the fall of the Soviet Union. He made a vague comment that different pressures where acting in different Middle East countries. He mentioned failure of the uprising in Algeria in the 1990s. The Arab Spring had some success in Tunisia, Yemen and “to a degree” in Libya. He said the “Arab Spring” is about the “collapse of the old order” and a collapse of “Arab secular nationalism” (like Ba’athism in Iraq and Syria). He said the Arab Spring revolutions have a more “religious element” than those centred around Nasser in the 1950s. He said  these recent revolutions have more potential.

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[Missing Voice: The less successful revolutions, that Mark Seddon described, all had more violent opposition. The so called “Algerian Civil War” in the 1990s involved the previously dictatorial FLN regime losing an election to a moderate Islamic party. The regime then resorted to mass murder and torture to stay in power. The regime got the support of the West by selling the lie they were fighting, rather than encouraging Islamic extremism.

In Libya the West helped to remove Gaddafi in 2011, but gave minimal support in helping the new government supply security to its citizens. This left the field open to extremists funded by Saudi Arabia, UAE and the Egyptian military to wreck the country. This was similar to the chaos produced by the US after the invasion of Iraq. Since this debate in 2012, Yemen has slipped into chaos and mass malnutrition after the Iranian regime started a proxy war, that neighbouring Saudi Arabia joined in with a siege and airstrikes that have absolutely no regard for civilian deaths. Syria has been the victim of a brutal political genocide by the Assad regime backed by Russia (and China).

Tunisia is now battling against acts of terrorism funded by Saudi Arabia, with little economic support from the West. Iraq is in a state of permanent decay under the strains of opposing groups supported by the Saudi and Iranian regimes. Added to this the separatist Iraqi Kurds are being supported by everyone, in particular Israel.

The success of the Arab Spring revolutions has less to do with their intrinsic properties, than the brutality and strength of the reactionary forces (and their backers) who oppose them. Mark Seddon is extremely detached from the reality of anti-dictatorship struggle. ]

8. Second Question.

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Question 2: (Role West in Arab Spring): Time= 15:32_to_16:18 Dr Tara McCormack wanted to discuss “How people in Arab Countries are always asking for intervention”, and more broadly the role of the West. She also wanted to go back to the problem of “Islamist victories”. She asked “What is the role of the West in the Arab Spring, too much or [even] too little?” She then said that Karl Sharro was suggesting [the danger of going] “back to the old days of serious imperialism, we [West] knew what we were doing, [leading to] no democracy or change.”

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[Missing Voice: Mark Seddon had just used the phrase “religious element” while McCormack uses the more pejorative “Islamist”. McCormack is suggesting that intervention by the West must lead to “serious imperialism”. It is impossible for her to imagine a Western public opinion that favoured the practical and when necessary forceful support for democratic struggles abroad. Western intervention foreign policy has usually been controlled and created by Western elites, and only modified to fit the propaganda given to placate public opinion. A resurgence in believe in the centrality of democratic values will change this. ]

9. Answers To Second Question.

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Nadim Shedadi’s Answer to  Question 2: (Role West in Arab Spring): time=16:19_to_19:11 He used a small metal spring to illustrate that highly repressive Arab regimes have created a strong opposing reaction. The more you push down on the spring the higher it jumps. Then bizarrely he said Britain was “very repressive” in the 1970s. He said the share of the economy controlled by governments was less than 10% at beginning of the twentieth century, and was 50-60% by the middle of it. “So our lives were taken away from us by the state.”

Sheddi is in favour of intervention in countries like Syria. He said the hang-up about imperialism is outdated, and only exists in radical university departments like the “Madrassa [School] of Oriental African Studies” (SOAS part of London University)”. People in the Middle East want freedom, and “do not want to pass a test to get it”. He said freedom is a human right. People do not have to “deserve it” by having a well organized political program.

People of the Middle East need help from the West and the longer they wait “the worse the transition will be”. Iraqi Ba’ath party should have collapsed as it was nationalist, centralist, socialist and authoritarian. They took everything and gave back nothing. At prompting from McCormack he said [jokingly?] that what is needed is “good old fashioned American Imperialism”.

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[Missing Voice: Nadem Sheddi sounded like a rabid “neo-liberal Western imperialist”. This is exactly the class of people that the Western far-left apologists for brutal dictatorships accuse of “manufacturing” the Arab Spring. He was the panel’s well chosen bogey man.

Both Nadim Sheddi and Karl Sharro slightly missed the point. The people of the Middle East need well organised political programs, not to deserve freedom, but to practically achieve it against a determined well resourced authoritarian opposition. They need Western support, but not of the type that would naturally come from the cynical manipulative Western elites, who traditionally dominate foreign policy. It will have to come from an alliance of Middle Eastern activists, genuine Western progressives and powerful visionary democratic political leaders.

Nadim Sheddi’s vision of a good democratic society was miserably myopic. The freedom to control personal wealth is only one element of many. Equally important is reducing inequality to reasonable levels and providing security. Personal opportunity is important, and therefore so is access to education and a sound national infrastructure. Sheddi describes a type of society that existed in the very limited democracies of the eighteenth century. His views on this are absurd.

McCormack clearly loves his statement. She sarcastically describes Sheddi comment as “old fashioned intervention to help those weak Arabs.” Any unarmed people facing tanks, jets, helicopters, high explosives, chemical weapons and mass torture is weak. This is an attribute of all human flesh. Her attitude is both absurd and deeply inhumane. ]

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Karl Sharro’s Answer to Question 2: (Role West in Arab Spring): Time=19:12_to_22:34 Dr McCormack sarcastically rephrased the question as “do you want some good old fashioned intervention to help these weak Arabs?” Karl Sharro’s reply dismissed this option with “yeah right”. He saw this kind of intervention as an “abdication of responsibility”. He compared the “Arab Spring” to the “Cedar Revolution” in Lebanon in 2005. He said the “Cedar Revolution” was an example of “putting all your eggs in the basket of Western oversight and protection” that then lead to failure and capitulation. This revolution was against Syrian dominance, and the corrupt system of traditional sectarian leadership in Lebanon. These leaders got protection from the West and then failed to reform. The West did not have (or want to have) any real clear idea of how Lebanese politics could be reformed, beyond token actions (in a similar vein to their token responses to the “Arab Spring”).

He stated intensely that “ideas like self-determination and sovereignty” are important because they mean “taking responsibility for your own society and future” because no one else will. He said the old empty rhetoric of “ba’athist” nationalism should be rejected, but “cannot abandon idea of self-determination, that is what is so crucial for re-injecting energy into the Arab Spring.”

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[Missing Voice: Karl Sharro said strongly that the West’s problem is failing to respond adequately to uprisings for reform in the Middle East. This contrasts to the far-left in the West who claim that these uprisings are planned by the West, at least when against notionally anti-Western dictatorships. Sharro importantly promoted the reality, importance and value of “political agency” by the peoples of the Middle East demanding reform in their own countries.

Sharro blamed the relative failure of the Cedar Revolution on the passivity and naivety of Lebanese activists . The Lebanese Civil War lasted from 1975 to 1990. A fragile balance was then established, with local sectarian leaders and their powerful foreign authoritarian regional backers. Challenging this corrupt system of leadership would mean beating the best efforts of these backers to undermine reform. The Lebanese National Army is weaker than the sectarian militias, in particular Hezbollah.

The Bush administration was in power at the time of the Cedar Revolution, and never had any interest in supporting democracy. The Iraq invasion made this obvious. Like the “Arab Spring” the “Cedar Revolution” itself also needed strong foreign backers committed to democracy. Sharro’s self determination has to realistically be combined with a forceful resourceful back-up from foreign democracies. Not because Arabs are weak, but because the ordinary people of the region are caught in a vice of brutal elitist regimes armed with advanced weapons. Clearly exactly the same applies to the “Arab Spring”. ]

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Rania Hafez’s Answer to Question 2 (Role West in Arab Spring) Time=22:34_to_24:58 In response to Sharro’s previous comment on the Cedar Revolution, she said she had seen the West interfering in Lebanon for decades with no benefit to the people. Also she is British and needed to consider the interests of her “adopted nation”. She said the US approved of Syrian domination of Lebanon, in return for promised support by Syria of the US lead invasion of Iraq in 2003. She said she is Lebanese but also has family in Syria. At this point she got a bit vague and waffles. She said she was disagreeing with Karl Sharro’s previous comment on Western intervention, but was actually saying many of the same things on this issue. She advocated the “pragmatic” approach of balancing interests of the West and the people of the region.

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[Missing Voice: Rania Hafez said very little. I wonder what she meant by the “people of the region”? Does this only include the wealthy, powerful or extremely talented? She appeared to be advocating more of the same in the Middle East, with a more equal partnership between the existing local and foreign elites. She said nothing on Karl Sharro’s strong emphasis on “political reform” in his previous comment. ]

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Mark Seddon’s Answer to Question 2: (Role West in Arab Spring): Time=24:59_to_27:38 Dr McCormack summed up the options as too much, too little or muddled Western intervention. Mark Seddon said he hates the “lazy Western journalism” that keeps saying “we must do something”. He asked who “we” is meant to mean. He said there is international law and the United Nations. There are a “multitude of [international] organizations who have responsibility to doing certain things when the situation demands of it”.

He went over the history of British intervention in the Middle East from 1918 to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He said he also thinks US intervention is bad. He said there is a lot of public goodwill in the West towards the people of the Middle East. There are also many contradictions in the West’s attitude to the Middle East. The contradiction between intervening in Libya, but not intervening in Bahrain. The condemnation by many activists of Palestinians being attacked by Israel, by not also of people being attacked by Assad in Syria. He said to solve these contradictions we need an “international morality and humanity” to protect people “when it is possible”, which is a very “big thing” to attempt to do. This is why “we” have the United Nations and the concept of  “Responsibility to Protect”.

He waffled a bit about history not coming in neat periods of time (confused Karl Sahrro’s with Nadim Shedadi’s comments). Then he said that young people in Middle East have more access to world media than previous generations, and want secular democracies. He said people outside the region “must campaign” for this.

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[Missing Voice: Mark Seddon overstated the cohesion and power of the United Nations again. The problem is that the United Nations are not united, and most of them have little interest in “Responsibility to Protect”, especially the many powerful dictatorships who want to have absolute sovereignty over their subjects. There are a lot of disconnected statements in Mark Seddon’s reply. He is right about ordinary people in the Middle East wanting democracy, and needing support outside the region. The rest added up to nothing more than hot air. ]

10. Opening Up The “Debate” To The Audience.

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Opening up the Debate: Time=27:39_to_32:56 Dr Tara MacCormack, said she would take 3 or 4 questions, comments or points. Then give the panel the chance to give  their reaction.This procedure would then be repeated until the end of the debate.

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Audience Question (“man in black shirt”)= He said there is a lack organization in the “Arab Spring”. This is strange as there is a model they could take up, which is to become an industrialized country, and get rid of militaristic exploitation. He said this has not happened.

Audience Question (“lady in green jacket”)= She asked whether high food prices were related to “Arab Spring?” She had seen an interesting paper by scientists showing a link between food price spikes and social unrest.

Audience Question (“man in glasses”)= He claimed that in the “Arab Spring” there is a “disavowal of analysis and theory”, which he found “really problematic”. He said instead there is a “normative stance”, which just involves saying “this is what I would like to happen”. He was interested in the “Arab Spring” of 2011 being like the end of the Soviet Union in 1989. He asked if the “Arab Spring” had failed too much to be comparable.

Audience Question (“man pointing at self”)= He said the “Arab Spring” did not work as “some of us would have hoped”. The same thing is happening in the West, with people unhappy with their governments, but a lack of vision meant their protests collapsed. 

Audience Question (“woman”)= She said Dr Rania Hafez was spot on about the Western media creating a fantasy of the “Arab Spring”. She wondered how this effected  people protesting in the Middle East. As an example, she had been “talking to people I know who know quite a bit about Syria, there is some sense, Syrian Opposition acted more quickly than they should have, and tried to do more than they were actually ever going to be able to, taking on the regime at an earlier time than they should have essentially”.

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[Missing Voice: Only one of these questions showed any understanding of the protesters of the “Arab Spring”. He (“man pointing at self”) found a parallel between protests in the Middle East and those in the West in 2011. He said both sets of protesters “lack vision”. This is not surprising as waves of political thought have failed in the Middle East and in the West. Communism, nationalism, neo-liberalism, religious fundamentalism and even anarchism have all failed. There is a global deficit in political vision.

The first question (“man in black shirt”) ignored the reality that they were protesting against exploitation and lack of development. There is something inhumane and patronizing (“lady in green jacket”), in finding “interesting” the assertion that hunger is linked to protest. An apparently far-left questioner (“man in glasses”) wanted the “Arab Spring” to show homage to some kind of Marxist theory. The last question (“woman”) showed the premium given to Western opinions about the Middle East over the views of the protesters. She appeared to give an exaggerated credence to the claims of her friends. I know people who still claim the Assad regime is legitimate based on having friends who have known wealthy ex-pat Syrians, or who have been on privileged visits to Syria before 2011. Essentially they do not know enough to know they do not know enough. ]

11. Answers To First Audience Questions.

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Nadim Shehadi’s Answer to First Audience Questions: Time=32:57_to_35:59 He joked that these are all interesting questions and so he will give one answer. He said there needed to be a “deprogramming program” for people from the “remaining ideas of the twentieth century”. All these questions came from “residuals” of these ideas. He said the “ladies and gentlemen to my left [on the panel]” and the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm see the twentieth century as lasting effectively from 1914 to 1990, because they are looking at “material developments”. When however looking at “ideas” they start many decades earlier, and finish decades later.

He said the world needed to changes its ideas, because attitudes towards the Middle East are based on “twentieth century prejudices”. It is a twentieth century idea that there must be “homogeneous nationalist strong states that control their populations, and nannies them with education and all that, it is based on the fact [that] if do not have that the place falls apart”. This is why “we have the wrong lesson” from Iraq, which was that when Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party collapsed the place fell apart. In reality the country was already broken due to oppression and the resulting simmering sectarianism. The Iraqi Ba’ath party spent 30 years killing Kurds, Christians and Shia. We need to leave old ideas behind, and “find a totally different picture”.

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[Missing Voice: Importantly Nadem Shehadi is absolutely right that new ideas are needed. His radical notion on rejecting old “twentieth century” ideas, does not fit the reality that ideas evolve over time, and ideas being “new” does not imply “better”. It is also true, as one questioner stated, that there is a deficit of popular new good ideas in the West and the Middle East.

Nadim Shehadi criticized the “strong state” in an earlier answer, as “taking everything and giving nothing”.  The state providing education he criticized as “nannying” the people. In an earlier answer he seems to approve of a state that takes in taxes no more than 10% of GDP. This exposes his neo-liberal ideas, which belong to the eighteenth rather than the twenty first century.

Clearly citizens need a “strong state”  that has the power to move resources from wealthy elites to ordinary people. Only a “strong state” can guarantee the supply of essential services of food, housing, and medical security to all citizens. Only a “strong state” can ensure the development of adequate justice, infrastructure and education.

To keep the “strong state” from being corrupted there needs to be a balance between private freedom and public responsibility. There needs to an equally “strong democratic mechanism” that gives the citizens control over the country (both the state and private organizations), together with free access to the required information. He was right that narrow “homogeneous nationalism” is a bad idea. It should be replaced by an  “inclusive patriotism” that takes pride in the enactment of the constructive civilized values of a society.

Nadem Shehadi is right that Iraqi society was broken before the invasion of 2003 that ended the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. The true nature of Saddam’s regime had largely been ignored by Western media before and after 2003. The same is true of the Assad regime in Syria. Before a “spectacular war” no one is interested, mere information cannot penetrate the iron wall of cultivated incomprehension that surrounds the West. After the war starts, the focus of interest shifts to the West’s involvement in the conflict. The great moral question is then whether this involvement did or could make things better or worse. Opinions differ widely, because they are not grounded in the nature of the embattled regime or the challenges and abilities of those struggling against the regime. When an uprising or intervention goes wrong, there is always a complacent establishment figure to tell us, that they know from experience that the people of this country are so different to us, and all is inevitable and the we are absolved. Plainly this horrific farce has to be ditched and a “totally different picture” of meaningful, and when necessary forceful solidarity created. ]

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Rania Hafez’s Answer to First Audience Questions: Time=36:00_to_38:50 Rania Hafez said that the Western media is presenting a “fantasy” of the “Arab Spring”. The Westernized people who protested in Tahrir Square in Cairo in 2011 – after the dictator Hosni Mubarak was forced out of power – created a political party that only got 2% in the Egyptian elections, that the Muslim Brotherhood won. She claimed that Western intervention had accelerated events in Libya, so “no wonder the Syrians thought well great we could start demonstrating and get that result”. So therefore the “Western media’s fantasy” did feed back to “a point” in the “Arab Spring”. She did not have any “empirical signs for that”, but this is “quite clear from the result of the [Egyptian] election”.

She responded to the food price question directly. She admitted that her initial response to the “Arab Spring” had been correct but simplistic. When protests started in Egypt and Tunisa in 2011, she remembered saying “what they really want, is cheaper goods, a bit more respect and to just to carry on with their lives without struggling so much”. She said the “Arab Spring” reminded her about the 1992 Egyptian comedy film “Terrorism and Kebab” (الإرهاب والكباب‎) about a man fighting bureaucracy, whose group of “misfits” holds part of the “ministry of interior” hostage by accident, and when asked for their demands he says “we want kebabs”. She then backtracked and said this comparison sounds odd. and she did not mean that the “people are not capable”. She explained that when people live under oppression there is no civic space to formulate coherent alternatives.

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[Missing Voice: It is unclear if her use of “fantasy” to describe the Western media representation of the “Arab Spring” refers to the strength of feeling behind the uprisings, the nature of the uprisings or both. I think she means both. Her privileged background means she discounts the degree to which ordinary people are humiliated by these dictatorships and yearn for governments that are truly representative.

The popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is based on the network of services it provides to poorer people abandoned by the state. It is true that the Muslim Brotherhood was slow to support the Tahrir Square demonstrations that led to Mubarak’s departure, although they were more influential in protests outside of Cairo. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is not an extremist Islamist organization. It is not  a monolith, and has both conservative and progressive wings. A correct assessment of its history depends on understanding the changing level of persecution it has suffered.

Dr Hafez insinuated that the election of the Muslim Brotherhood led by Mohamed Morsi in January 2012 showed that the “Arab Spring” in Egypt was really a reactionary movement. This interpretation depends on a Western phobia of all Islamic parties, which Dr Hafez as a practicing Muslim must know is wrong.

The  Morsi government tried to govern an Egypt, still under the economic control of the  Mubarak era elite, who engineered a severe economic crisis. Morsi’s authoritarian response led to protests, which the military used as an excuse to oust the government in June 2013.

Under the Mubarak dictatorship Egypt was ruled by two sometimes conflicting self serving elites, the president’s clique (centred on the absurdly misnamed “National Democratic Party”), and the upper level of the military. Mubarak was removed by the military after the 2011 protests. The military then rigged the writing of the new constitution under the transitional government. They and the rest of the Mubarak era elite, created economic chaos to undermine the Morsi government. The military ousted the Morsi government and then fixed the election of General Sisi in 2014. This is the reality of Egyptian politics.

Dr Hafez reference to kebabs was deeply insulting. She suggested that it was not the dictatorial systems of government that needed to be changed, but these dictatorships needed to be make minor concessions to their subjects. This idea conflicts with academic research on public opinion in Egypt, Lebanon and the rest of the Arab World (See Arabs and democracy: an analysis of the findings of the survey of Arab public opinion towards democracy, Youssef M Sawani, 2014, Contemporary Arab Affairs, Vol 7.3  )]

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Mark Seddon’s Answer to First Audience Questions:  Time=38:51_to_41:05 He stated that the difference between the “Arab” Spring and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc was that there was no organized killing by the state. He said “this issue of state violence is very important”.

He said we should be looking forward to what this great ferment in Middle East (apart from the issue of its representation in the media) will “mean for the future”. He asked what does this mean for Israel, Iran and “the traditional Western response”. He stated we have moved away from a US dominated world to a multipolar world. He then posed the question what will new superpowers like China do?

In a direct response to the question about lack of analysis in the “Arab Spring” he said in a positive voice that he was in favour of “normative responses” (ie socially accepted moral responses).  At the time of the Spanish Civil War for example, they did not sit around analyzing what to do, but got out there and acted. There was then embarrassed laughter at Mark Seddon’s direct dismissive response to the apparently Marxist questioner.

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[Missing Voice: It is critically important to challenge those  living in the West who refuse to grasp what “organized killing and torture by the state” means in the era of modern military technology. The weapons developed by two world wars and a long Cold War have changed the fundamentals of revolution. A state that can acquire sufficient advanced weaponry can terrorize its own population into submission with a relatively small privileged core of loyalists. George Orwell expressed this incisively in his 1945 essay “You and the Atomic Bomb”:

“And though I have no doubt exceptions can be brought forward, I think the following rule would be found generally true: that ages in which the dominant weapon is expensive or difficult to make will tend to be ages of despotism, whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common people have a chance. Thus, for example, tanks, battleships and bombing planes are inherently tyrannical weapons, while rifles, muskets, long-bows and hand-grenades are inherently democratic weapons. A complex weapon makes the strong stronger, while a simple weapon — so long as there is no answer to it — gives claws to the weak.”

The exception in the case of the Russian Revolution was the ability of the Bolsheviks to take control of an army demoralized by the chaos of the First World War. In the Spanish Civil War twenty years later, a section of the army under Franco were able to overthrow a progressive elected Republican government, because of substantial advanced arms supplies from fascist Germany and Italy. After this defeat there were Trotskyists outside Spain, who continued to claim that a perfect revolutionary movement, would have magically transformed the entire population of ordinary Spaniards into heroic suicidal unconquerable revolutionaries. This kind of unbalanced fantasy politics is always highly destructive and would if unchallenged be ultimately ruinous.

Mark Seddon is also right that it is critically important to consider how a post Cold War ideologically unrestrained Russia and China will impact on the Middle East. In combination they have immense military and economic power. They also do not have any meaningful domestic opposition to the brutality of their foreign policies. The political genocide by the Assad regime in Syria – that the regimes in Russia and China have extensively supported – have not led to any significant domestic “anti-war” protests in these countries. There appears to be no consequences for these regimes in giving unlimited support to genocidal dictatorships. This will change the calculations of existing and emerging dictatorships around the world.

Mark Seddon is right that undervaluing accepted moral responses (“normative”) to situations is a mistake, as they provide the emotional motivation required by all struggles. It is also true that these responses are limited to the “short term” and the “familiar”. This is a serious problem when your enemy is thinking in the long term and co-operating with international allies. ]

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Karl Shaddo’s Answer to First Audience Questions:  Time=41:06_to_44:51 He started with a good sardonic joke, saying Rania’s “demand for kebab” is part of the global protest movement, and reminds him of the streets of UK towns every Saturday Night, and this is “unifying our political visions”.

He said he prefers to call the “Arab Spring” the “Arab Uprisings”. He strongly condemned the lack of political analysis, vision, and organization in these uprisings. The protesters wrongly celebrated their leaderless uprisings in conjunction with the Western Media. These deep flaws meant that “they lost control of the process of transition”.

There were “great moments of heroism”, with 850 people dying and thousands injured in Egypt. He also remembered in the same way, those in Bahrain, Tunisia and Libya. There was an “immense amount of bravery”. These people risking their lives, were “let down by the lack of leadership and a vision [which should have stated] what would you like your life to be like, what would your like your society to be like”. These uprisings needed to be channeled towards a clear destination, and this was the failure of the “Arab Uprisings”.

The “Arab Uprisings” got complicated by “external pressure that distorted the narrative” and “nurtured the sense that someone else would carry the day”. Karl Shaddo said he is an internationalist, and “would love to get to a point where we act as a global community, but there is not a political constituency for that”. The World “cannot leap from the current situation we are in now, to some imaginary form of a global constituency, that does not exist, where we have to trust the US to make the right actions just because they have the biggest guns”.

He said he does approve of the World building up this global constituency for action, but while this is happening, “we have to be careful to maintain the boundaries of political actions within the [national] states. The distortion we have now that is feeding a cycle, is reducing that struggle to a caricature, go on the streets, carry a few slogans in English, and we [West] will come and sort it out, obviously that did not happen, so need to take control of your life. I salute the individual and collective struggle, but lament the lack of leadership.” Audience then enthusiastically clapped.

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[Missing Voice: As noted above there are good reasons for the lack of “political analysis, vision, and organization“. Throughout the world this is a time of recovery from a long era of  waves of failed political practice. The result is a global lack of clear, plausible and popular visions. Karl Sharro is right that a vision is essential to creating large organizations, especially those who are progressive and inclusive.

It was good to hear Karl Shaddo praising the “immense amount of bravery” as unarmed protesters faced the full might of well equipped armies and security organizations practicing systematic torture. He mentions Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia and Libya.

He does not mention Syria. In June 2018 the death toll of the Syrian Uprising reached half a million. 85% of these casualties were civilians killed by the Assad Regime. The rest were deaths of combatants on both sides, and civilians killed by anti-Assad opposition (which includes Kurdish groups and the minority of Extremist Islamist groups like Islamic State (ISIL) and Al-Nusra (alias HTS) ). Tens of thousands of Syrians have been tortured to death by the Assad Regime since 2011. The 2014 “Caesar” photographs exposed this reality graphically to the world.  Systematic torture has been a feature of the Assad Regime since its foundation in 1970, after an illegal military coup led by Hafez Assad. Between March 2011 and the formation of the armed opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) in July 2011 the Assad Regime had killed and tortured thousands of peaceful protesters. Before the Cedar Revolution the Assad Regime attempted to control Lebanon by blackmailing the relatives of those it had kidnapped into submission, by threatening to torture their relatives.

Given that Syria is a closely linked neighbour of Lebanon, it is notable that Karl Shaddo who is Lebanese by birth, omitted Syrians in the list of citizenry showing exceptional bravery in this 2012 debate. He strongly dislikes sectarian labels, but they may still be very relevant to his expression of political thought in public. There is a strong Iraqi Christian community in Syria, who fled persecution by the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein. The Assad regime has consciously used minorities to stay in power, by demanding allegiance and fueling sectarian fears, even though its propaganda sells the regime as secularist to the world. Shaddo has an Iraqi Christian background, and so it is reasonable to wonder if he has has pro-Assad family members who might resent being linked to an open critic of the regime.

It is unclear what he means by “external pressure that distorted the narrative” of the Arab Uprisings. He seems to be saying that the attention of the world’s media and the global support from social media, gave the false impression that the “global community” would intervene to pressure regimes not to crackdown on protesters, and so advanced the pace of the protests. He could also be referencing Rania Hafez’s comment that the Arab Uprisings were not as liberal and progressive as they appeared, but were really an opportunity for reactionary Islamists.

Karl Shaddo appeared to assume that there is some plausible method (he termed it  “narrative”) by which people in the countries of the region, can replace oppressive regimes with decent ones by acting totally independently without outside help. He said “we have to be careful to maintain the boundaries of political actions within the [national] states”. In the real world, oppressive states in the region now have security services and militaries with access to advance weaponry, with privileged sections of their populations to operate them. In the real world dictatorships co-operate with foreign powers with imperialist foreign policies. This includes regional powers like the Saudi and Iranian dictatorships, and global powers like Unites States, Russia and China.

Karl Shaddo said he “would love to get to a point where we act as a global community, but there is not a political constituency for that”. This is myopic in the extreme. China is a dictatorship that is becoming an economic power to rival the United States. Russia is a dictatorship capable of producing advanced weaponry on a level with the United States. Foreign policy in the West is dominated by elites. This is possible because ordinary voters engage with domestic policy, but largely ignore foreign policy until a crisis arises. This even applies to the international economic system which has a  huge effect on the scope of domestic policies. Therefore there will never be a political constituency for acting as a global community, unless there is a fundamental reassessment of the importance of international relations by ordinary voters in democratic countries.

A large and growing proportion of the global community is composed of elites from dictatorships, with no link to the interests of the ordinary people they rule. The rest are representatives of democratic governments, with virtually no political pressure to oppose gross human rights abuses in foreign countries. They only have a need for empty short term responses when the media makes a situation the “story of  the day”.

There can only be an effective “global community” when its institutions actually represent the informed opinions of the ordinary citizens of the world. If the old institutions cannot be reformed, then there needs to be new progressive ones.  Representative governments and those who advocate for representative government around the world need to band together.

Karl Shaddo rhetoric confused the westernized components of the social and traditional media of the Arab Uprisings with larger local national campaigns. Western media obviously gives a higher exposure to messages accessible to a Western audience. This may be the reality of Arab Uprisings to this Western audience, but is only a fraction of the reality of the uprisings to local populations.

It is more realistic to acknowledge that activists recognized that Western solidarity was a necessary component of the success of the uprisings, rather than the only or principal component. I do not intend to sound churlish, but those dying and being tortured for demanding their dignity require more than a “salute”. Being human means that something vital is also tormented and dies in us. Solidarity is fundamental. ]

12. Second Part Of Opening Up The “Debate” To The Audience.

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Second Part of Opening up the Debate: Time=44:52_to_51:39 Dr Tara MacCormack, said she would take more questions, for the panel to consider.

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Audience Question (“Dennis (Hayes?)”): Time=45:22_to_46:35 In a confident avuncular tone he grandly wanted to describe the new depressing anti-human western morality. He claimed rhetorically that this was the morality of people in the West who are incapable of doing anything, incapable of democracy and incapable of organizing their own lives. He said this morality is articulated by John Gray at the London School Economics who says “guerillas do not try to organize their lives so why should we”. He continued that the new Twenty First century Western projection, is that Arabs are incapable of organization, they cannot cope with democracy or modern life. He stated that in the Twentieth Century people believed they could take control of their lives. Without this belief “you cannot have organization or leadership”. He was suspicious of “normative interventions” (based on accepted moral values) because this they are “destroying any possibility of a future for the Arab World”. There was some relatively  enthusiastic clapping.

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[Missing Voice: The audience member was Dennis Hayes, Professor of Education at Derby University in the UK (see Powerbase Biography from far-left critic). He is part of the “LM Network” and founder of “Academics for Academic Freedom (AFAF)” (see Powerbase Summary from far-left critic). In true LM Network style he also works for the “The Free Society” campaign, which is run by “Forest” (the tobacco industry front organization, see The Free Society). At the 2012 Battle of Ideas Festival he was chairing a debate on “Genocide denial: should we defend the right to speak evil?” (see Genocide Denial?). The answer according to Dennis and invited panel is of course “yes”.

Professor Hayes statement was little more than academically flavoured rhetoric. It hid the reality that the failure of the unbalanced chauvinistic politics of the Twentieth Century has equally effected the West and the Middle East. People in the Twentieth Century became disillusioned that grand mutually exclusive political ideas could enable them to “take control of their lives” to use Hayes’ words. This is especially true of the so called Middle East (middle to whom?) in the Twentieth Century which has experienced intense waves of upheaval, all promising empowerment and progress: Traditional Monarchy, Nationalism, Communism, Neo-Liberal Economics and Fundamentalist Religion.

It is plainly silly to blame the subsequent suspicion of grand arrogant political schemes on the emergence of social media (Twitter etc). In the real world the lack of future in the Middle East is mainly due to repressive regimes being able to suppress mass decent with advanced weaponry, provided enthusiastically by regional and world superpowers. Hayes indulged in radical “negative chauvinism” towards the West, rather than identifying the real problem of parasitic elites around the globe. Western morality cannot be reduced to the extreme notions of a LSE academic like John Gray.

Professor Hayes was right that leadership and organization is essential, and this depends on a belief that there is a plausible plan by which people can gain their dignity. Hayes was suspicious of the normal morally accepted responses of the West. These involve a combination of the limitations of Western public opinion and the entitled self interest of Western elites who shape foreign policy. Hayes was right that Western public opinion does underestimate the “agency” of the people of the Middle East. It also exaggerates differences, especially around religion. Public opinion naturally demands action in reaction to gross human rights abuses, and thwarted struggles for representative government. It also has a short term attention span based on mass media output. At the same time Western intervention is designed to mollify public opinion, while ensuring narrowly defined Western commercial, diplomatic and security interests are given priority.

Professor Hayes was utterly wrong that Western “normative interventions” would directly destroy any future for the “Arab World” (by which he meant the Middle East). The future was and is being crushed by the advanced weaponry of regimes backed by regional powers and world superpowers. This includes the Iranian and Saudi regimes. This includes the United States, Russia and China. Seen from the vantage point of 2018-2019 it appears that after 2011 Western “non-intervention”  has more often than not been a greater problem than Western “intervention”. This is especially true in Syria where the Assad regime has committed Political Genocide without consequences. In Yemen an illegal siege by the Saudi regime, preventing humanitarian supplies reaching desperate people, could be broken by direct action from the West.

What was and is required are “constructive interventions”, that circumvent the blurred border between the West and the Middle East, that involve practical solidarity that is humanitarian and when necessary forceful. Hayes ignores the strong “normative” reactions of the radical far-left in the West, whose instinctively apologize for fake anti-Western or far-left regimes, and condemn any intervention by the West. A stance often mirrored by the far-right.

It is difficult to see what future Hayes foresaw for the Middle East that Western intervention might destroy. His fellow member of the “LM Network” and chairperson of this debate, Dr Tara McCormack clearly sees the future of the Middle East as dictatorship, mass torture and political genocide. This is evidenced by her subsequent apologia for the Assad Regime in Syria (See Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media , Summary of her Assadist and Putin Propaganda(2018) ). The only people “taking control of their lives” in Professor Hayes’ words, would then be the inflated puffed out, supermen and superwomen of these regimes’ elites. In other words “red-brown” fascists.

An axiom of sociology and its associated branches is that no ethical system
has a privileged position of veracity. However this axiom assumes that the concepts that sociology examines can exist in a vacuum. The very notion of the integrity of human life privileges ethics of dignity (see “Decent Society” by Avishai Margalit  and Archived ). There is a population of radical academics who accept this sociological axiom uncritically and target the values of their own societies for critical demolition. They are free to practice this “negative chauvinism” without contradiction, by just ignoring analysis of the social systems they effectively support by default. The “LM Network” is a self serving network, whose academic members fit this pattern well. ]

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[Back to the questions from the less privileged members of the audience]

Audience Question (“Man 1”):Time=46:39 He asked if the Arab Spring is a single united movement, or separate movements spurred on by each other?

Audience Question (“Man 2, behind Dennis”):Time=47:04 He asked why the “Arab Spring” had great resonance in the West, and what it says about the West? He suggested there seemed to be a restart of history after 1989 and collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Arab Spring was the first time since 1989 that “people where back in the game”. He asked that if we are to dump the ideas of Twentieth Century, as a member of the panel suggested (Nadim Shehadi), then what are the ideas that will take their place? He stated that new Green ideas were not up to the economic challenge. He also dismissed “self organizing” change and “anti-ideology” ideology in general. The Arab Spring was inspiring and depressing, because it had “failed utterly”.

Audience Question (“Male Volunteer”):Time=48:36 He asked if the “Arab Spring” can be viewed as being due to the decline in secularism, and the increase in support for Islamic parties? He stated that the West would not want to intervene, if this led to an Islamic party being in power. Dr Tara McCormack said this was an important question.

Audience Question (“Posh Man at Front”):Time=49:12 He wanted to come back to the question of whether the Twentieth Century ended in 1989? He stated that the two governments who failed most spectacularly in “Arab Spring” were Egypt and Libya, and both were “detritus of the Cold War”. The Murbarak and Gaddafi regimes only made sense as byproducts of the Cold War struggle between the superpowers. He said the Twentieth Century did end in 1990, but no one told the Arabs until 2011. There was general laughter from the audience at this.

Audience Question (“Woman at Front”):Time=50:14 She stated that the West only  intervenes when there are natural resources like oil. This is why the West did intervene in Libya but not in Syria. She asked if this will be a big problem in the future?

Audience Question (“Woman 2”):Time=50:48 She wondered that if the “Arab Spring” had developed the coherent nature that Karl Sharro described, would the Western media have been so keen to jump on the bandwagon? McCormack dismissed this question casually, and appeared impatient to carry on.

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[Missing Voice= These questions after Professor Hayes’ statement, were all interesting except one (from “Male Volunteer”). The “Arab Spring” was about anger at oppressive unrepresentative governments. Secularism versus Islam is a distraction. The wave of secular authoritarian socialism (call it “communism”) has been in decline since the 1970s, and extreme “Islamism” reached it peak twenty years ago.

There is a whole body of Arab intellectual debate on representative government. Protest movements in different countries, are aware of the “octopus” like network of regional dictatorships (with their superpower backers) that support each other in maintaining oppression. Dictators whose very dominance is an insult to the dignity of those they control. Ordinary people in the West recognized the problem of powerful unresponsive elites, that the “Arab Spring” was challenging.

It is myopic to see the dictatorships of Mubarak in Egypt (that originated in Nasser’s coup of 1952) and Gaddafi in Libya (created by his 1969 coup) as just byproducts of the Cold War. Both Nasser and Gaddafi were charismatic so called “Free (Army) Officers” who were corrupted by power. Both used the Cold War to gain support from the Soviet Union to consolidate power. Nasser’s successors Sadat and Mubarak switched to the United States, while after the collapse of the Soviet Union Gaddafi switched to the West. Nasser was clearly a far more substantial political figure.

As stated earlier, the foreign policy of the West is formed by elites, who are  primarily concerned with resources, commercial advantage, so called “stability and security” and geopolitical containment. The corruption endemic in the so called “friendly regimes” that they support, fuses eventually with their own interests. This chauvinistic strategy – that has extended beyond the end of the Cold War – of Western democracies supporting dictatorships in the Middle East and elsewhere, has led to a false sense of victory. The West has only succeeded in creating stronger enemies of democracy both abroad and within its own centres of power. The Western radicals who revile their own elites are right. Perversely by also excusing the crimes of the elites of other powers, they neuter their own influence. This leads to the farce where one set of elites justify their actions in relation to the actions of other elites.

There may be no real “New Cold War”, because the old one was never actually won. There is now an “authoritarian fifth column” both in the heart of democratic governments and among their radical critics. This is very dangerous for democracy. ]

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Directing the Panel to Answer Second Audience Questions: Time=51:06_to_53:31  Dr Tara McCormack now invited the panel to answer the second set of questions from the audience. She emphasized the question about the rise of the Islamic parties (from the “Male Volunteer”) , and if this was related to the absence of united secular parties. She asked if the “Muslim Parties” were a kind of default.

13. Answers To Second Audience Questions.

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Mark Seddon’s Answer to Second Audience Questions: Time=51:40_to_53:22 He questioned putting history into convenient blocks. He implied that the emergence of Fundamentalist Islam goes back to before the Twentieth Century (he may be referring to Muhammad Wahhab’s severe reformed Islam of the Eighteenth Century in Arabia). He linked the collapse of support for “secular nationalist views” with the Cold War policies of the West, who supported the status quo of client states, without knowing who they were supporting. He said a classic example of this blundering was the West’s support for the Mujaheddin against the Soviet Union. He also included the West’s support for “certain forces in Libya (in 2012)” who are hostile to the West. The West has been “essentially blundering around”. He said the questioner (“Posh Man at Front”) was right that Mubarak and Gaddafi took advantage of the “great bipolarity” of the Cold War between the West and the Soviets. Now there was another great bipolarity emerging involving China. He asked what would China be doing over the next ten to twenty years?

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[Missing Voice= The Western elites who form foreign policy are not “blundering” but are more accurately “indifferent” to the dignity of the ordinary people of the countries in which they carelessly intervene. There is also a danger in thinking of an opposition to a regime as being formed of groups having of an immutable character. There is a dynamic which involves having a plausible strategy, and being able to attract powerful committed domestic and foreign backers. There is a relationship between an opposition and its backers, where the nature of the opposition groups and the future of the state can be influenced. The West should have a principled strategy of  promoting the interests and dignity of ordinary people in the countries in which they constructively intervene by forming real “partnerships” with opposition groups.

In Afghanistan the Soviets intervened to prop up a brutal unpopular communist regime. The United States with their Pakistani and Saudi allies were intervening to favour Sunni Afghan groups, in particular the Pashtuns in the South. The Iranians were intervening to support Shia Afghani groups in the West of the country. The traditional structure of the country was based around local neo-feudal elites. This was changed into a country dominated by war lords and religious extremists, and the Islamic mujaheddin groups they controlled. After the Soviets withdrew troops, and despite of continuing Soviet-Russian support, the Afghan Communist Government eventually collapsed in 1992.

The Soviets were effectively defeated in Afghanistan by the mujaheddin and their backers, with a decisive role for advanced weaponry (like “Stinger” anti-aircraft missile). Shallow revisionism by far-left journalists in the West is unconvincing (See Jonathan Steele, UK Guardian, “10 Myths about Afghanistan” for an example of this). The Pashtun dominated Taliban then disastrously seized control.  To remove this Taliban regime and so allow an effective invasion by the West as punishment for 9/11, Western support switched dramatically to the anti-Pashtun mainly Tajiki “Northern Alliance”.

The end result of this is that ordinary Afghanis are no nearer to power through representative government than they were before the beginning of the Civil War. This is not because intervention to support groups opposed to brutal repressive regimes is intrinsically bad, but because of indifferent intervention that encouraged the creation of armed opposition groups with no interest in the welfare of ordinary Afghans. Western foreign policy was narrowly focused on defeating the Soviets and then the Taliban, the future of the country and the interests of ordinary Afghans was effectively ignored. This is not “blundering” in Mark Sedddon’s words, but “gross myopic indifference”. Similar analyses can be applied to the Western interventions in Iraq and Libya. While strong opposition to this in the West is only limited to blinkered radicals – who oppose all intervention rather than condemning bad intervention and promoting good intervention – then this will continue endlessly.

Mark Seddon was right to consider what the end of the Cold War and the rise of China as a superpower, will mean for the future of brutal authoritarian regimes. The Cold War was a battle of geopolitical power tempered by ideology. After the Cold War the rival elites are free from ideological pretenses. Russia is now a country capable of producing advanced weaponry, while China rivals the United States economically.  Existing and emerging brutal authoritarian regimes of any type have a choice of backers. China and Russia in combination are free to back any regimes, whether radical or traditional, with no domestic opposition to genocidal foreign policies. This is the bleak future. It must be recognized that large numbers of radicals in the West have their own “normative” responses which need to be exposed as empty mirages.]

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Dr Rania Hafez’s Answer to Second Audience Questions: Time=53:23_to_55:51 She stated that clearly all Arab countries are different, gave examples of Libya and Egypt. In Egypt the old regime did not really collapse, the dictator President Mubarak went but the army was really in charge, and just carried on. She believed that the United States quietly intervened, to instruct the army not to commit mass killing of protesters, as Egypt was a client state and must behave within acceptable limits. She said that Gaddafi regime in Libya collapsed because of direct Western intervention. She questioned why the West intervened, and suggested this was due to oil.

She said that clearly “Islamists” have always been there, rather than having risen from nowhere. At beginning of the Egyptian Uprising in Tahrir Square she had a heated argument with a friend. She had said that the Muslim Brotherhood would do well, but her friend said she was stupid, as there was now a new social reality due to the uprising. The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood won the elections in May 2012 did not surprise her. She was surprised by Tunisia electing an Islamic government, as this is the most secular country in the Middle East. She remembered the Iranian Revolution in 1979, which ignited the rise of the political force called Islamism. This even in secular Lebanon. She added vaguely that this is all complicated and historical.

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[Missing Voice= In Egypt before the uprising the bogusly misnamed “National Democratic Party” led by Presdeint Mubarak shared power with the Army. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) founded in 1928 by the Egyptian Hassan al-Banna was an established part of society, large, well-organized and successful in promoting Islam and providing welfare services to the poor.  The MB were viciously persecuted under Nasser and Sadat, although they were part of the revolution together with Nasser’s “Free Officers” that toppled King Farouk in 1952. This persecution drove MB theorist Sayyid Qutb to extremism, after he was imprisoned and tortured (and later executed in 1966).

Mubarak’s attitude to the MB  oscillated between tolerance and repression. After the 2011 uprising that deposed Mubarak, the army were happy to see the “Freedom and Justice Party” (FJP, political arm of MB) win the elections as they planned to remove it. The economy was dominated by a kleptocracy who were able to prevent the MB under President Morsi from running the country by ensuring economic chaos. In July 2013 (a year after this debate) the MB government was ousted by an army coup, following violent protests against it. MB President Morsi had attempted to govern by decree, suppress derogatory dissent and insert terms in the new constitution to favour Islamists. General Abdel Sisi was then elected in 2014 (and 2018) in an election where meaningful opposition was excluded. The economy then magically improved due to the end of subversion by Egypt’s economic elite, and generous loans from the Saudis-UAE and IMF.

There is a dimension here between upper and middle class secularism, and lower class moderately conservative Islamism. Fear of Islamist electoral victories in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco among wealthier more educated liberal activists was vastly exaggerated. Morsi’s government unnecessarily gave ammunition to its liberal  opponents by failing to adequately condemn incidents of discriminatory statements by some MB members (and even violence by Salifist extremists) against women and the Christian Coptic minority.

General Sisi and the army are now reported as having direct control of a majority of the Egyptian economy, together with an associated indirect network of patronage. Sisi’s regime is stronger than Mubarak’s and just as repressive. Fear of Morsi becoming an Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini, by Egypt’s more privileged educated liberals, has produced a regime dominated by the army’s elite under General Sisi that is far more dangerous and powerful than Mubarak’s. The conservative MB with it’s absence of internal democracy that produced Morsi, together with the Islamophobia of Egypt’s liberal activists have destroyed the Arab Spring in Egypt.

Dr Hafez is wrong to imply that the MB was the problem, as its liberal activist opponents are equally responsible for the wrecking of the Egyptian revolution. She also underestimates the disaster of the army’s ascendancy under General Sisi. This is essentially the old elite continuing in power but strengthened, unified and militarized.

The fear of a reactionary Islamist Ennahda government in Tunisia was hugely exaggerated.  In 1972 inspired by Egypt’s MB  Rachid Ghannouchi founded the “Islamic Group”, which later became the “The Movement of Islamic Tendency (MIT)” and then “Harakat Ennahda” (Renaissance). Ennahda (EH) has an effective internal democracy, with strong internal debates that ensure the cohesion of the party. In represents two important strands of Tunisian society, modernization and Islam. In the October 2011 elections following the overthrow of the dictator Ben-Ali, EH gained more votes than other parties, but still needed to partner with two other secular parties to govern as a Troika coalition. EH’s Hamadi Jebali became Prime Minister. An economic downturn, a huge refugee crisis from the neighbouring Libyan civil war, and growing strength of violent radical Salifists all created a crisis by 2013. Hamadi Jebali resigned and eventually a technocratic government of national unity was formed and the Troika ceded power.

EH did not attempt to remove women’s rights. They fielded an equal number of male and female candidates in their lists in elections from 2011 onwards as required, many EH women took majors roles in the government, in 2017 EH played a major part in pushing through a landmark law against violence to women. Some EH members however have opposed laws to liberalize marriage and inheritance laws.

Dr Hafez’s is wrong to imply that Ennahda(EH) or the Muslim Brotherhood(MB) are a threat to women’s rights on the scale of the Iranian Revolution. EH competed and governed in a multi party pluralistic political environment. MB had more notional power, but had to compete with a shadow government centered on a large powerful army. EH has internal democracy while MB does not. These factors influenced their approach to government.

The nature of Iranian revolution was very different. The “Black Islamist” faction led by Ayatollah Khomeini crushed other Islamist factions after the removal of the brutally repressive US backed dictator Mohammad Reza Shah in 1979. Khomeini was backed by wealthy Iranian land owners and merchants who had lost out under the Shah’s attempts to create a loyal middle class dependent on his patronage.

As to the idea that Iranian Revolution “ignited something”, this ignores a basic reality for ordinary people in the Middle East. Since the WW1 and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the region has experienced waves of upheaval, based on traditional monarchy, nationalism and authoritarian socialism. All these had failed which made space for an Islamist wave. In turn the (long neglected by the world’s media) democratic wave termed the “Arab Spring” that caught the world’s attention in 2011 with a wave of uprisings was decimated. It has been broken by militarized elites that are too powerful, elites that are backed by regional powers and subsequently international powers. Ordinary people who live in Western democracies have done virtually nothing to support this wave.

In Libya the people were unable to overthrow the hated repressive kleptomaniac Gaddafi regime. Gaddafi (“Free Officer”) took power in 1969 in an echo of Nasser over a decade before. This regime over subsequent decades acquired effective advanced weaponry and trained  security forces. After the uprising in 2011 the West enabled the balance to be tipped against Gaddafi, but did little to help the “Libyan National Transitional Council” to create a national security force, or provide basic services to citizens or rebuild the economy. This created a perfect arena for hostile anti-democratic Saudi-UAE backed salafist extremists to create chaos. This is the reality of trying to create democracy in the Twenty First century Middle East. Europeans would have done no better under the same circumstances. Shame not arrogance is the correct response.

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Nadim Shehadi’s Answer to Second Audience Questions: Time=55:52_to_58:49
Dr Tara McCormack asked Nadim Shehadi if the Islamist parties are part of the old political system, or like “Olivier Roy” [French Political Scientist, whose writings tends to discount hysterical Islamophobic ideas] said are they part of the current lacquered real political system? Nadim Shehadi said it depends when you read “Oliver Roy”. He said Lebanon skipped the Twentieth Century, and was so now ahead of game, because the rest of the region is now dismantling their Twentieth Century government systems. He celebrated the diversity and lack leadership of Arab Spring (including protests of a similar style in Israel and the West). This confusion happens when there are major changes in systems of ideas in the world. It is an atmosphere that changes. He gave the example of the “Renaissance”. He also said all revolutions are doomed to failure, because they never end up where revolutionaries intended (except Marxists who see a grand historical progression). He said there is no great conspiracy by the so called “evil” West. You could say the West intervened in Libya because it has oil, or you could say that as Gaddafi was collaborating with the West they should have protected him. There is a lot of unnecessary self-flagellation by the West.

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[Missing Voice= Nadim Shehadi was giving his thoughts on several of the second batch of audience questions. He evaded Dr Tara McCormack’s question on whether Islamism is part of the old political system or a component of the emerging political systems. This is a meaningless question as “Islamism” is a loose term, that is used to group mainstream Islamic ethics on one end of the scale with violent fundamentalist literalism on the other end. This confusion is used by Islamophobes to condemn all politics influenced by Islam.

Lebanon is stuck with a dysfunctional system that balances the interests of sectarian elites, who are backed by foreign regional powers. The Lebanese people deserve better.

Nadim Shehadi is right that a new system of political ideas is emerging in the world, as the old ones have become clearly ineffective. Nadim Shehadi spoke earlier in this debate of an end to the ideas of the Twentieth Century, an end to the powerful redistributive state, as if the future means returning to the political economy of Eighteenth Century Europe. Clearly a future dominated by neo-conservative ideas is unlikely. New ideas will come from cultures outside Europe, who have a less chauvinistic approach to competing interests, and an acceptance of the importance of  religion when approached rationally.

Revolutions and Wars have been essential to the emergence of democracy in Europe. The French Revolution caused other European autocracies to fear the unrepresented majority of ordinary people, and to reform their regimes to avoid the threat. The British government introduced a system of outdoor poor relief (Speenhamland System, 1795) and an expansion and reform of the franchise (1832 Reform Act) as a direct response to the French Revolution. The competition between European Great Powers meant societies had to be mobilized to create economic and military power, and to fight against competitors. In Britain again, at the close of the First World War in 1918, the franchise was expanded to all men over 21 and women over 30. This was as a result of the terrible carnage of millions ordinary men during the war, the essential work done by women for the war economy and the threat of an imitation of the 1917 Russian Revolution. During the Second World War the Beveridge Report of 1942 was used by Britain to mobilize its war effort, and made Clement Atlee’s 1945 Labour Government – that created a comprehensive welfare system – politically possible.

Globalized free trade appears to be ambivalent to the political rights of citizens of investee countries. On the one hand property rights are important, but on the other voters must be kept away from demanding taxes on profits. The neo-conservative idea that business rather than revolutions and wars will set countries free is bogus. International solidarity by democracies is the best way to defeat the tyranny of repressive governments and chronic underdevelopment. The problem is that it has rarely been applied, because democracy has become a word that feels empty to the ordinary citizens of democracies. This “democratic decline” is becoming an ever more acute problem, as advanced technology means elites in all countries no longer need so many citizens to be workers, soldiers or even enforcers (for their security).

Nadim Shehadi said that revolutions (and my extension wars) have unintended consequences. He should have added that this is because without democratic international solidarity they leave a vacuum in which ordinary people are sidelined and a different tyranny can establish itself. The 1948 Marshall Plan (“European Recovery Program”) was exactly this type of international solidarity, that a reluctant US was forced to give Europe after the Second World War to avoid a Stalinist Communist Europe. Democratic international solidarity that can be forceful when required is the best guarantor of peace. This is rarely applied as democractic leaders prefer myopia and complacency when this is apparently available. Much more self-flagellation by the West is necessary. Gaddafi was brutally repressive and an unreliable ally of the West. Western elites enabled his removal, and then put oil before people, and enabled the unnecessary chaos. ]

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Karl Sharro’s Answer to Second Audience Questions: Time= 58:50_to_60:08  He asked if the West was likely to support any uprising in the Middle East that led to an Islamic government? He said the West is antagonistic to an Islamic country with advanced technology, where the state pays for transgender operations and there is a huge involvement of women in education. He said this country is Iran. He contrasted this attitude to the West being very friendly to Saudi Arabia, which is quite reactionary and repressive.

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[Missing Voice = The regimes in Saudi Arabia and Iran are both dictatorial and highly repressive. One promotes Sunni Fundamentalism and the other Shia Fundamentalism. Both are shameful insults to Islam, and both have achieved this distortion of Islam through the misapplied profits from oil.

Like an old fashioned right-wing South American dictatorship, there are elections in Iran but the elite gets to veto any candidates which may threaten their bloated position. In Iran the veto is held by the Supreme Leader (Shia Cleric, currently Ali Khamenei), and two councils “Assembly of Experts of the Leadership” and “Guardian Council”, all of whose members are ultimately appointed by the Supreme Leader. Just like an old South American dictatorship the Iranian regime also rests on the approval of the army, in particular the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) who like the elite of the Egyptian Army control a large slice of the Iranian economy (estimate 30%).

Being gay is illegal in Iran. Punishments range from lashings, imprisonment to death. It is estimated that between 4000 and 6000 people have been executed for being gay since the Iranian Revolution, some in public by being strangled as they are drawn up by a crane. Many gay people are forced to change gender by sexual reassignment surgery they do not want. This is the surgery that the Iranian regime pays for, and which Karl Sharro sees as progressive.

Iran is producing ballistic missiles like the recent “Sejjil” that has a range over 2000 km and is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Iran has a uranium enrichment program to support power and medical applications. The “Iran Nuclear Deal” finally agreed in 2015, is supposed to ensure that there is no attempt to produce sufficient weapons grade highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb, in return for removing sanctions (in May 2018 the US under Trump withdrew from it). Continued Iran-North Korea military cooperation, especially in the development of ballistic missiles, may mean that Iran does not need to develop its own nuclear warheads.

Iran has been heavily involved in supporting Assad’s political genocide in Syria. It has sent and supported around 70,000 pro-Assad militia fighters to Syria. It has also equipped and supported Lebanese Hezbollah’s reign of terror in Syria in support of the Assad regime. Iran is also involved in supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen. This includes supplying them with missiles they have fired at Saudi Arabia. This civil war has already created mass malnutrition, and is pushing millions of ordinary Yemenis towards starvation.

Reducing inequality remains a key slogan of the Iranian Revolution. The regime succeeded in reducing poverty substantially from the high levels of the brutally corrupt era of the Shah (in 1960s and 1970s Iranians saw oil revenues soar while they became poorer). The regime also managed to drastically improve education opportunities for Iranians. As the regime has matured the slogan has moved from reality to rhetoric. In 2013 for example the official Iranian government statistics reported unemployment at 11% while the reality was closer to 35% (according to Iranian academics like Hossein Raghfar), in a similar way official statistics claimed absolute poverty in 2013 was 8 % when the reality was over 20%. This is a common problem with authoritarian regimes where official statistics can be easily fabricated but are hard to challenge. In 2018 inflation soared and absolute poverty now effects over a third of the population. Unsurprisingly there are now 4.5 million Iranian drug addicts.

Clearly the Iranian regime cannot be blamed for changes in oil prices which are a critical component of the economy. It cannot also be blamed for the exploitive foreign policy of Western elites, which reached a peak in the Iraq-Iran War (the West supported Saddam Hussein’s Iraq) that lasted 8 years, and by 1988 the war had killed a quarter of a million Iranians. Since then the regime has misspent Iran’s assets in military expenditure to preserve and extend its control across the region. The regime can be blamed for suppressing alternative voices from the beginning of the revolution. Red Islamists (inspired by Ali Shariati) who were an essential part of the revolution were liquidated by Ayatollah Khomeini. It can be blamed for spreading an extremist destructive fundamentalist version of Shia Islam. Unrestricted corruption has created a clique close to the government of multi-millionaires at the expense of ordinary Iranians. National income has declined, expensive destructive foreign adventures and national corruption has increased, while the share left for ordinary Iranians has declined.

This is the Iranian regime that Karl Shaddo praised in 2012. As mentioned before this is perhaps due to his Iraqi Christian heritage which sees Fundamentalist Shia Islam as more tolerant of established Christian communities than fundamentalist Sunni Islam.

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Dr Tara McCormack: Time= 60:09_to_60:36  McCormack wrapped up before going to a debate on Syria in 15 minutes. The audience clapped enthusiastically.

14. Conclusion.

This was a distorted debate that gave the illusion of a fair range of independent views, but was designed to devalue meaningful intervention by Western Democracies in partnership with the Arab Spring. These Battle Of Events “debates” have some influence in London’s journalists. This debate had PR value in prompting the interests of Middle East dictatorships. There was no panel member who promoted a realistic strategy to support the legitimate interests of ordinary people for representative government in the Middle East.

Dr Tara McCormack (and Dr Tara McCormack) was an academic who specialized in criticism of the West, and apologized for the policies of the Russian and Chinese regimes. Rania Hafez was a wealthy ex-pat Lebanese academic with no concern for the interests and dignity of ordinary people in the region. Mark Seddon was a UK socialist with an unrealistic belief in the ability of the United Nations to enable representative government in the Middle East and elsewhere. Karl Sharro was another ex-pat from Lebanon, who had created a career as a successful architect. He rejected international forceful intervention of any kind, and appeared entirely unrealistic about how dictatorships in the region work. He also bizarrely presented Iranian regime propaganda, while also rejecting sectarianism. Nadim Shehadi was another ex-pat Lebanese academic with strong neo-conservative political ideas. He endorsed Western intervention of the type which would not empower ordinary citizens. His political ideas were elitist.

I am not aware that any of the panelists have substantially changed their views since 2012 on the issue of the Arab Spring and the struggle for representative government in the Middle East. Dr Tara McCormack and Denis Hayes appear to have become more blatant anti-Western propagandists.

The Missing Voice from the panel was given in this document. It’s conclusion was that intervention in the form of partnership was necessary in the Middle East, especially form 2011 onwards. The adoption of the arguments that the panelists expressed, and the lack of constructive voices, has created a disaster in the middle East which will undermine democracy in the West.

The last words to think on go to Larbi Sadiki in a hopeful Al-Jazeera article in 2012:

“From Muhammad Ali [C19 Egyptian Pasha] through Nasser to Bourguiba – and from Tantawi to Khair Al-Din Pasha – modernisation has been cemented, if not reduced, to a template of relative Western mimicry. Al-Banna [founder of the Muslim Brotherhood] reopens the Islamic repertoire in search of a brand of modernity that never accepts separate realms for God and for Caesar. ‘Islam is the solution’ as advertised in the standard slogan of the 1970s and 1980s is not an itinerary for fanaticism – as Western academy and security apparatuses have tended to oversimplify.

Rather, the phrase was intended to be a roadmap for organising politics, in which ‘God is great’ levels the playing field among mortals. The sanctity of life is conferred by God and humans cannot deny them to each other.

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