Saturday 3 December 2022

A 2022 China Winter after 2011 Arab Spring (The Sunday Guardian)


The decline in economic growth and consequent impact on livelihoods has led to hundreds of thousands of PRC citizens venting their rage in protests.

The 2011 “Arab Spring” caused considerable excitement within the Washington think tanks that promise to deliver democracy to those who uncritically go by the advice of such pools of wisdom. After decades of service to the economic and security interests of the US, Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak was cast aside by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As happened often during his first term as President of the United States, Barack Obama followed Hillary’s lead. Mubarak was advised to be gentle, indeed hands-off, with those filling the streets of Cairo and baying for his blood. In large part owing to disgust at the way in which the Egyptian President was seeking to install his profligate son Gamal as his successor, the Egyptian army decided to follow the advice of the US Secretary of State, and abstain from intervening in the chaotic situation that was developing in Cairo. Not surprisingly, crowds that had at one point in time been getting smaller in size grew enormously as a consequence of the enforced impotence of the state machinery under Mubarak. Finally, he had to quit, as did other dictators in some nearby Arab countries. They were replaced by politicians characterised by religious zealotry, a quality that Mubarak and the regime he presided over did not share. As a consequence, and as predicted by this columnist just days after the eruptions of street violence, a Wahhabi Winter descended on Egypt and several other countries that witnessed regime change consequent on the Arab Spring. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood took over. The Brotherhood’s chosen champion, Mohammad Morsi, was in a hurry to transform his country into a theocracy, and began introducing measures designed to make Egypt more like the Saudi Arabia of that time. After a few months of such zealotry, much of Egyptian society got into a panic at Morsi’s haste to convert Egyptian society into a replica of Saudi society at that time. It was not with relief that they witnessed the overthrow of Morsi by the Egyptian military led by General Abdel Fattah Al Sissi. The new Head of Government adopted a muscular stance against the Brotherhood and its elements in Egyptian society, so much so that the threat of a Wahhabi takeover of the country receded. The repressive and regressive performance of the religious zealots who took power in countries where existing regimes had been toppled consequent to the Arab Spring made them unpopular. Exchanging the dictatorship of a Mubarak with that of a Brotherhood zealot did not seem to be an improvement to most of the people in countries such as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
There are a few who liken the present situation in China to what took place just before governments got toppled during the 2011 Arab Spring. They forecast that anti-regime crowds would grow, and that the authorities would find it impossible to hold them back. And that, at the very least, a change in the top leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would be inevitable. That the CCP is getting out of touch with the people in whose name they have governed since 1949 has become obvious during the October-November riots across the PRC. A goodly portion of the protestors backed the view that Xi Jinping should be ousted from office. If ever proof were needed that Xi could not have won his job in a free election, not just the slogans of the crowds but the refusal of other elements in the population to oppose them made clear the CCP General Secretary’s unpopularity. Compare this with the unanimous election of Xi in his present titles by the Central Committee of the CCP, and it is clear that the higher rungs of the immense party bureaucracy in China are wholly out of sync with what the people want. Just as it was claimed during the Arab Spring that the crowds came out in support of democracy and individual freedom, it is now being claimed in sections of the media that the crowds protesting against the “Zero Covid through Maximum Restrictions” policy of Xi Jinping are motivated by a common love of democracy and freedom.
The reality is more prosaic. Sharp rises in the price of bread juxtaposed with steep falls in employment led to the eruption of public anger witnessed in several Arab countries in 2011. Similarly, it is the decline in economic growth and consequent impact on livelihoods that has led hundreds of thousands of PRC citizens venting their rage in protests on a scale not seen in China even in the prelude to the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. Under Xi, for the first time since the 1970s, the standard of life of a young citizen in China is visibly worse than was the case in the two generations that preceded him. Were leaders of countries to undergo a test in how they are dealing with the economy, Xi Jinping would fail. Had the Chinese economy been growing faster rather than slowing down, the Covid-19 restrictions that are being endured would not have motivated so many citizens to protest in public. They are doing so because of the growing belief that their futures are dark under Xi’s leadership. What is taking place is in some ways an analogue of the Arab Spring, it is a China Winter. Equally, it is the PRC’s 1905, the year that saw the unrest in Tsarist Russia that heralded the revolution of 1917, the year that the Tsarist regime disappeared.

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