February 12, 2011

Revolutionary Training Day

It’s been a tough day to be a protester outside Egypt. While the masses of Tahrir Square and Alexandria are now living their dream, those in Jordan, Yemen, and Algeria awoke to their own dismal lives. Their revolutions incomplete and the road to liberation perilous, Jordanians rose to U.S. attempts to undercut their protests. And invigorated protesters descended upon Sana’a and Algiers to meet injury and arrest.

"This demonstration is a success because it's been 10 years that people haven't been able to march in Algiers and there's a sort of psychological barrier," Ali Rachedi, former head of the Front of Socialist Forces party, said of the estimated 10,000 Algerians participating in the march. "The fear is gone."

An impressive feat considering the 25,000-30,000 riot police reportedly deployed in Algiers.

Fresh but limited protests across the Muslim world demonstrate how much everyone has to learn in the coming months. Brave as Rachedi claims to be, fear remains prevalent amongst the popular opposition. A massive police presence naturally gave way to scuffles and arrests, between 400 and 500 protesters, and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has signaled a clear willingness to apply force. Though Egyptians mobilized a popular uprising in the face of police brutality, this momentum needed time to gather before breaching the fear barrier. The point where a collective spirit makes the individual temporarily forget oneself.

The same pattern must evolve in Algeria and Yemen for broader resistances to bloom from Egypt’s revolutionary seeds.

But Algeria’s aspiring opposition accomplished something more than breaking the ban on protesting. With riot police outnumbering protesters by upwards of three to one, the opposition has feigned the government into revealing its first move. Not that state intimidation is a secret in Algeria, but the endless rows of police have exposed its totalitarian environment to the international media and community.

Said Sadi, who heads the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy, RCD, said the scale of the police deployment was evidence of "the fear of this government, which is in dire straits."

Thus Bouteflika’s regime, while currently dwarfing the protesters’ powers, could find its position reversed over the coming year. Although AQIM may keep it safe from Washington, U.S. fealty couldn’t save Hosni Mubarak from a popular tsunami. For now it enjoys all of the advantages, but then again so did Mubarak. Today’s crackdown illustrates the tight grip Bouteflika has on Algeria’s opposition, and that he’ll try anything to avert Mubarak’s fate.

He’ll take his chances against a mass uprising - a seemingly wise but realistically foolish strategy.

Judging not just by the Obama administration’s handling of Egypt’s revolution but also its new message, few lessons will be applied outside the country. The White House and Pentagon’s policy remains Israeli-centric, and the weekend has allowed the State Department to remain quiet on international developments. Like they don’t want to rock any other boats, particularly in Yemen and Algeria.

That’s not for Washington to decide though.

The feeling has already crept in that America will, through reactive political and economic half-measures, work towards undermining further uprisings in the Muslim world. Egypt hasn’t changed too much. Until a clean policy break in the region, the Obama administration will remain on the wrong side of this historical moment.

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