Sunshine Recorder

Link: Why Violence Works

Discomfiting as the reality may be, violence remains the driving force of political change.

Humans, and perhaps their prehuman ancestors, have engaged in murder and mayhem, as individuals and in groups, for hundreds of thousands of years. And, at least since the advent of recorded history, violence and politics have been intimately related. Nation-states use violence against internal and external foes. Dissidents engage in violence against states. Competing political forces inflict violence on one another. Writing in 1924, Winston Churchill declared—with good reason—that “the story of the human race is war.”

Some writers see violence as an instrument of politics. Thomas Hobbes regarded violence as a rational means to achieve such political goals as territory, safety, and glory. Carl von Clausewitz famously referred to war as the continuation of politics by other means. A second group of writers view violence as a result of political failure and miscalculation. The title of an influential paper on the origins of the American Civil War by the historian James Randall, “The Blundering Generation,” expresses that idea. A third group, most recently exemplified by the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, regards violence as a pathological behavior that is diminishing in frequency with the onward march of civilization. Some proponents of that perspective have even declared that violence is essentially a public-health problem. Whatever their differences, each of these perspectives assigns violence a subordinate role in political life.

But there is an alternative view, one that assigns violence a primary role in politics. This outlook is implied by Mao Zedong’s well-known aphorism that political power “grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Violence, in other words, is the driving force of politics, while peaceful forms of political engagement fill in the details or, perhaps, merely offer post-hoc justifications for the outcomes of violent struggles. Mao corrected Clausewitz by characterizing politics as a sequel to or even an epiphenomenon of violence—a continuation of violence by other means.

Unfortunately, Mao seemed to have an inordinate fondness for bloodshed. After all, he suggested that the quality of a revolutionary should be judged by the number of people he has killed. Yet our revulsion at Mao’s practices should not blind us to the accuracy of his observation. Violence and the threat of violence are the most potent forces in political life.

People say that problems cannot be solved by the use of force, that violence, as the saying goes, is not the answer. That adage appeals to our moral sensibilities. But whether or not violence is the answer depends on the question being asked. For better or worse, violence usually provides the most definitive answers to three major questions of political life: statehood, territoriality, and power. Violent struggle—war, revolution, terrorism—more than any other immediate factor, determines what nations will exist and their relative power, what territories they occupy, and which groups will exercise power within them.

In the case of statehood, there are occasional circumstances when a state may be built and endure mainly through peaceful means. The peaceful divorce of Slovakia and the Czech Republic is an example. This is, however, one of the rare exceptions. As the social scientist Charles Tilly has observed, most regimes are the survivors or descendants of a thousand-year-long culling process in which those states capable of creating and sustaining powerful militaries prevailed, while those that could not or would not fight were conquered or absorbed by others. Similarly, when it comes to control of territory, virtually every square inch of inhabited space on the planet is occupied by groups that forcibly dispossessed—sometimes exterminated—the land’s previous claimants.

The meek, in short, have not inherited very much of the earth. Indeed, the West’s global dominance for most of the past millennium is in large part a function of its capacity for violence.

Within every nation, the composition of the ruling class is generally shaped by the use or threat of what Walter Benjamin called “law-making violence.” That elections have become common in some parts of the world over the past two centuries does not contravene the point. Yes, Barack Obama, America’s first black president, was elected. But the possibility that a black person could join America’s social and political elite was established through sometimes violent protest four decades earlier, to say nothing of the bloody war that freed black people from chattel slavery.

Violence is politically important for several reasons. Two of those—at the risk of stating the obvious—are the dominance of violence as a form of political action, and the fact that violence is, in the end, politically transformative.

First, the issue of dominance: Those willing to use violence to achieve their goals will generally overcome their less bellicose adversaries—overturning the results of elections, negating the actions of parliamentary bodies, riding roughshod over peaceful expressions of political opinion, and so forth. Indeed, the mere threat of violence is often enough to compel acquiescence. Violent groups can usually be defeated only by enemies who use superior force against them.

Occasionally a regime steeped in violence can be successfully confronted via peaceful means, but those are exceptional cases. East Germany collapsed in the face of peaceful protests in 1989 only when its Soviet sponsor, having decided to rid itself of its satellite empire, would not allow the German Democratic Republic to mobilize its feared security services. The Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet actually stepped down after losing a plebiscite in 1988, some 15 years after he had seized power in a bloody military coup. Yet even Pinochet’s departure from office came on the heels of an assassination attempt and five years of violent demonstrations that undermined the Chilean economy, convincing many military officers that it was time to return power to a civilian government.

Generally speaking, force can be defeated only by force. When peaceful dissidents confront tanks, the result is more likely to resemble the Tiananmen Square bloodletting than the fall of the Berlin Wall. This lesson has been learned repeatedly throughout the Middle East in recent years. Peaceful protesters in Libya and Syria were no match for the tanks and machine guns their rulers were only too happy to deploy against them. Only when Libyan insurgents resorted to force backed by NATO airstrikes were they able to defeat the Qaddafi regime. And only through force could Syrian protesters confront the Assad government. In Egypt, President Mubarak was ousted more or less peacefully only because the army calculated that, in the event of violence, it could most easily retain control of the nation by acceding to demands for a new president.

Much attention is given to the putative effectiveness of nonviolence in politics. Nonviolent tactics are often said to have brought an end to segregation in the United States, Communist rule in Eastern Europe, and British rule in India. It’s true that political leaders espousing nonviolence in those cases—Martin Luther King Jr., Vaclav Havel, and Mahatma Gandhi—played important roles. However, the tactics—strikes, boycotts, demonstrations—that leaders like King and Gandhi used were far from nonviolent. Rather, they were designed to provoke violent responses from their opponents. Attacks on apparently peaceful protesters would, it was hoped, elicit sympathy for the innocent victims and encourage politicians to intervene on their behalf.

Consider one of the tactics King used to undermine segregation in the South. King often led peaceful groups into hostile communities where he was confident that local authorities would assault the protesters. Those images helped build support for his cause and for demands that the federal government intervene, by convincing Northern audiences that Jim Crow was brutal, evil, and fundamentally un-American.

One of the most famous protests King organized, in March 1965 at Selma, Ala., is instructive. King picked Selma partly because racial discrimination there and in surrounding Dallas County was so obvious. For example, only a tiny percentage of the county’s registered voters were black, even though blacks accounted for more than half the county’s residents. King was also confident that the state and county political leaders were fools. He expected them to respond with violence and, in doing so, imprint themselves on the collective consciousness of a national television audience as the brutal oppressors of heroic and defenseless crusaders for freedom and democracy. With network cameras rolling, Alabama state troopers viciously attacked marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, seriously injuring many of them in what the news media called “Bloody Sunday.”

Images of the violence unleashed enormous sympathy for the civil-rights cause and helped lay the groundwork for the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which sent an army of federal law-enforcement officials into the South with the power to suppress white resistance to the registration of black voters.

In essence, this nonviolent protest succeeded because the protesters’ allies had an even greater capacity for violence than their foes. But in a case like Tiananmen Square, where protesters had no allies able to deploy or at least threaten the use of force, nonviolent protest will almost always fail.

Link: "Resisting Teargas", or "The Conditions of a Collective Struggle"

Link: Everyone Lost: Protest Art and the Iraq War

While people were killing and dying, what did it matter whether there were decent songs being sung, insightful films being produced, appropriate art being inspired? When did poetry ever stop a war?

Anniversaries are generally pointless; a nice round figure and nothing more, bearing little significance other than that which we have assigned. So it’s worth remembering that ten years is not the outrageous number. The true outrage, as always, is the eight-plus years over which the vast crime of the Iraq war was committed, vandalizing an entire era in the process.

Nevertheless, the fact that 2013 marks a solid decade since the illegal invasion which unleashed so much self-replicating atrocity has prompted many to reexamine the conflict, and that is no bad thing; if anniversaries have any virtue, it is to remind us of things we should not forget so easily. And anyone who lived through those unpleasantly interesting times probably wondered what hindsight would look like, after the smoke cleared. Grim, as it turns out.

I have memories and a lot of records. Sometimes, I get them confused. When our leaders told us we were at war (as Spike Milligan would say, “I loved the ‘we.’”), I was still in high school. Iraq, after a fashion, taught us how to protest; on our first school walk-out, a friend of mine brought along a gas mask, which—should the need arise—several of us would share, back and forth, like in Terminator 2. Eventually, we stormed Edinburgh castle (sort of), made the local news, and then went home again. A few weeks later, there was another demonstration, and another, and another.

In the New Statesman, in her article, “Ten years ago we marched against the Iraq war and I learned a lesson in betrayal” Laurie Penny wrote,

“My generation’s lack of faith in the political process has often been mistaken for apathy. It is only now, with ordinary people across the world putting their energies into movements that bypass mainstream politics, that the betrayal of Bush and Blair’s wars is beginning the be understood. We have known since we were at school that it’s not enough simply to make our voices heard. We have to make sure that we are listened to—and we’re still working out how to do that.” (14 February 2013)

Our reactions may have been insolent, irreverent, half-baked—in a word, teenage—but they were forced to grow up with haste. Meanwhile, the culture around us began to mutate in response to the war that had polluted it.

It was kind of poetic that, for my peers and I, our adolescence—which made no sense, at least to us—had, as its background, a conflict that was just as nonsensical. Then and now, I tried to make sense of the world through its arts—books, music, movies, whatever was handy—but when faced with the horror of Iraq, that task became monumental.

I remember there were whistles, and drums, and slogans that grew steadily more profane. There were also a lot of songs—by John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Joe Strummer, Billy Bragg, Bob Marley, Woody Guthrie and countless more—dredged and borrowed from history to see if they might be made use of again. Some of it was moving, some of it was cringeworthy, some it was just catchy. We weren’t particularly picky. For a lot of us, the political consciousness awoken by Iraq heralded a crash-course in nostalgia: taken unawares by how quickly the world could go insane, we had to learn how these things were done, and quickly. While a new anti-war counterculture grew slowly and organically out of our shared discontent, we looked back and cherry-picked what we wanted from those who had come before, and tried to emulate as best we could.

Chances are, you’ll find this slice of recent history familiar, if not fresh. You were there, and so was I, and I’m still trying to figure out what that did to us all. Looking at the art our society produces under such circumstances is usually a good way to gauge that creeping transformation. Yet the cultural response mirrored the war itself, a fractured mess run through with nonsense and red herrings. What did it achieve? Could it have done better?

Ask a further, cruder question: Why should anyone care? Ultimately, while people were killing and dying, what did it matter whether there were decent songs being sung, insightful films being produced, appropriate art being inspired? When did poetry ever stop a war?

In these matters, there’s always a temptation to act with a certain level of hipsterish snobbery (though there are certainly worse things to act on). Inevitably, we look back to the ‘60s and the cultural response to Vietnam, and almost always find our own era lacking in comparison. As some people have noted, it’s tough to compete with the Beatles. And even now, 45 years after Chicago police broke skulls outside of the 1968 Democratic Convention, the United States is still fighting the ridiculously named ‘culture wars’ that find their origin in the decade of Kennedy and Nixon. Everything we have now can sometimes seem like a shadow, an aftereffect, or an imitation.

However, this superficial perception clashes with the reality. The heady days of 2003 and after were not small potatoes; too few remember that the Iraq invasion provoked the biggest anti-war demonstrations in the history of the world. On 15 February 2003, a coordinated day of global protest, over three million people marched in Rome. One and a half million did the same in Madrid. Some 50,000 of us even managed to trudge through Glasgow, and that’s something nobody should have to do unless it’s for a really good cause. Looking back, it’s clear that the response from our artists and entertainers was equally varied and widespread, and deserves recognition for that. Sooner or later, the Iraq war seeped into every crack of the common culture.

And yet, it’s still hard to imagine that, years or decades from now, the cultural impact of the war will endure on a scale approaching the artistic legacy of Vietnam, or even the myriad militarist bungles of the Reagan years, which acted as Vietnam’s hangover. Maybe that’s simply because the two wars are not equivalent: Iraq polarised America, but Vietnam traumatised it.

Syria’s Civil War: Fifteen months after the start of the uprising in Syria, several experts and at least one top U.N. official are now characterizing the escalating conflict as a Civil War. A wide range of anti-government insurgencies continue to battle official and unofficial Syrian government troops across the country. President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have reportedly carried out a series of horrific civilian massacres, involving attack helicopters, shelling, and brutal incursions into rebel neighborhoods. The Syrian government continues to block foreign journalists, but a number of photographs and reports have made their way out of the country. [39 photos]

The Montreal Protests, 4 Months In: Beginning in February, students throughout Quebec began protesting against a proposed 75 percent hike in the cost of their tuition. Demonstrators staged strikes, sit-ins, and marches, in some cases drawing hundreds of thousands of participants and incurring hundreds of arrests. Quebec’s government responded by passing a controversial emergency law, Bill 78, that places strict limits on free assembly, including a provision that requires demonstrators to submit protest plans and receive police approval. Reacting to the new law, hundreds of thousands more took to the streets to join the broadening protest. Now, four months later, nightly demonstrations continue across Montreal. These marches are called “casseroles,” as participants use pots and pans to create noise and call for attention. [39 photos]

Student General Strike in Quebec: 150,000 could be on strike as early as this afternoon

Concordia University’s 40,000 students could join the province of Quebec’s general student strike already in progress, with a general assembly and vote of the undergraduate Concordia Student Union scheduled for this afternoon (March 6). The vote, which is expected to pass, will speak for the entire student body. Many specific student departments, such as Political Science, Fine Arts, Philosophy and the Simone de Beauvoir Women’s Studies Institute have already voted to start striking individually.

The provincial government plans to increase tuition by $1,625 in total, over the next five years, raising current fees from $2,200 to $3,800 for in-province students, and much more for out-of-province and international students. While Quebec has the lowest tuition rate of any province in Canada, the province also has the highest taxes by far, as well as a somewhat low minimum wage in comparison with that of other expensive provinces like British Columbia and Ontario. Students argue that education is not a commodity, and shifting the financial burden for education to individual user fees would force students out of classes and dramatically increase inequality in an already fractured society.

If Concordia joins the student strike this week, that will bring nearly 150,000 students in Quebec on general strike against the government’s proposed fee hikes.

(photos courtesy The Link and CBC)

(via carton-rouge-deactivated2013051)


V for Vendetta and the rise of Anonymous 
First published in 1982, the comic series V for Vendetta charted a masked vigilante’s attempt to bring down a fascist British government and its complicit media. The BBC asked V for Vendetta’s writer, Alan Moore, for his thoughts on how his creation had become an inspiration and identity to Anonymous.

V for Vendetta and the rise of Anonymous

First published in 1982, the comic series V for Vendetta charted a masked vigilante’s attempt to bring down a fascist British government and its complicit media. The BBC asked V for Vendetta’s writer, Alan Moore, for his thoughts on how his creation had become an inspiration and identity to Anonymous.


Rising Protests in China: As China grows into its role as a 21st-century economic powerhouse, its  government is struggling with the growth of popular unrest. Groups of  Chinese citizens, from small bands of workers to entire villages, have  been staging protests across the massive nation with increasing  frequency. According to research by the Chinese Academy of Governance,  the number of protests in China doubled between 2006 and 2010, rising to  180,000 reported “mass incidents.” The uprisings are responses to  myriad issues, primarily official corruption, government land grabs,  Tibetan autonomy, and environmental problems. Late last year, the  residents of Wukan — angered by a land grab by corrupt officials —  rose up and briefly seized control of their village. After several days,  the government gave in, admitting to mistakes and vowing to crack down  on corruption. Villagers were also allowed to hold their first-ever  secret ballot elections, apparently free from Communist Party  interference. On February 11, 2012, Wukan residents elected their own  governing committee, with a voter turnout of 85 percent. [41 photos]

Rising Protests in China: As China grows into its role as a 21st-century economic powerhouse, its government is struggling with the growth of popular unrest. Groups of Chinese citizens, from small bands of workers to entire villages, have been staging protests across the massive nation with increasing frequency. According to research by the Chinese Academy of Governance, the number of protests in China doubled between 2006 and 2010, rising to 180,000 reported “mass incidents.” The uprisings are responses to myriad issues, primarily official corruption, government land grabs, Tibetan autonomy, and environmental problems. Late last year, the residents of Wukan — angered by a land grab by corrupt officials — rose up and briefly seized control of their village. After several days, the government gave in, admitting to mistakes and vowing to crack down on corruption. Villagers were also allowed to hold their first-ever secret ballot elections, apparently free from Communist Party interference. On February 11, 2012, Wukan residents elected their own governing committee, with a voter turnout of 85 percent. [41 photos]

Link: Hungary’s Government Tightens Grip on Arts

Already under attack from the European Commission for its policies on banking, the law and the media, Hungary’s national conservative government is now facing a tide of protest from the arts community. The government, led by Viktor Orban, stands accused of systematically replacing key figures in cultural institutions, staging pro-government exhibitions, rethinking permanent museum displays and replacing historic statues to fit its political agenda. “The fact that an authoritarian government wants to control the arts is in itself not surprising,” says the Hungarian economist Janos Kovacs. “But it’s incredible that this is happening in the middle of the European Union without provoking angry reactions in Brussels.”


Upping the Ante
With 100,000 protesters — young, old, and everything in between — out  in the freezing streets of Moscow, the heat is being turned up on  Vladimir Putin’s drive for the presidency.

Leaving aside the telling analogy of citizens as mute-animal property, the comment is important for another reason: 100,000 people come out to protest in severe cold, the third such mass protest in the heart of the capital in two months, and the Kremlin is clearly still trying to get used to it — or hoping it will all go away. “It’s a bureaucracy, and it works for itself,” Kotler told me. “It’ll take a long time for them to understand that they’re hired.”
But there is evidence that the initial shock is wearing off and the Kremlin — that is, Putin — is slowly hardening its stance. First, it offered some carrots, in the form of legislation to make party registration easier and to bring back popular election of governors. It stopped cracking down on protests, as it had done in early December. And last week, Putin said his campaign would think about working with the Voters’ League monitors. Russian television viewers even got to see Boris Nemtsov, a veteran of the democratic opposition — and the federal television blacklists — on national television, as well as some criticism of Putin’s performance during his annual Q&A with the public.
Now, there is talk in the capital of “tightening the screws,” one of those still-resonant phrases from the Soviet era, when screw-tightening meant something far harsher than what is available to the Kremlin today. “They’re waiting for the opposition to make a mistake,” says one Moscow source with close knowledge of the Kremlin. “Once they do, it will be a welcome opportunity to crack down.” In fact, the stick has already been used along with the carrots. Opposition figures and those involved in organizing the protests have been harassed in the last months. Nemtsov’s phone was hacked and recordings of his salty discussions with his press secretary were made public. Details of the Christmas holidays of various figures also leaked to the press. The parents of one of the organizers, journalist Ilya Klishin, were summoned to their local branch of the KGB’s successor agency, the FSB, which the security organization later denied.
And the journalist responsible for that rare on-air critique of Putin has since been fired from his station, the Gazprom-owned NTV, where there has been a purge of editorial staff in recent weeks amid rumors that a Kremlin loyalist, Margarita Simonyan, might replace the current head of NTV. Whether or not she does, the point has been clearly made: to bring order to an upstart channel, to remind staff about their ultimate loyalty. It was made even clearer in the decision of Channel 1, the main state-owned channel, not to air potentially sharp programming in the month before the presidential election.

Upping the Ante

With 100,000 protesters — young, old, and everything in between — out in the freezing streets of Moscow, the heat is being turned up on Vladimir Putin’s drive for the presidency.

Leaving aside the telling analogy of citizens as mute-animal property, the comment is important for another reason: 100,000 people come out to protest in severe cold, the third such mass protest in the heart of the capital in two months, and the Kremlin is clearly still trying to get used to it — or hoping it will all go away. “It’s a bureaucracy, and it works for itself,” Kotler told me. “It’ll take a long time for them to understand that they’re hired.”

But there is evidence that the initial shock is wearing off and the Kremlin — that is, Putin — is slowly hardening its stance. First, it offered some carrots, in the form of legislation to make party registration easier and to bring back popular election of governors. It stopped cracking down on protests, as it had done in early December. And last week, Putin said his campaign would think about working with the Voters’ League monitors. Russian television viewers even got to see Boris Nemtsov, a veteran of the democratic opposition — and the federal television blacklists — on national television, as well as some criticism of Putin’s performance during his annual Q&A with the public.

Now, there is talk in the capital of “tightening the screws,” one of those still-resonant phrases from the Soviet era, when screw-tightening meant something far harsher than what is available to the Kremlin today. “They’re waiting for the opposition to make a mistake,” says one Moscow source with close knowledge of the Kremlin. “Once they do, it will be a welcome opportunity to crack down.” In fact, the stick has already been used along with the carrots. Opposition figures and those involved in organizing the protests have been harassed in the last months. Nemtsov’s phone was hacked and recordings of his salty discussions with his press secretary were made public. Details of the Christmas holidays of various figures also leaked to the press. The parents of one of the organizers, journalist Ilya Klishin, were summoned to their local branch of the KGB’s successor agency, the FSB, which the security organization later denied.

And the journalist responsible for that rare on-air critique of Putin has since been fired from his station, the Gazprom-owned NTV, where there has been a purge of editorial staff in recent weeks amid rumors that a Kremlin loyalist, Margarita Simonyan, might replace the current head of NTV. Whether or not she does, the point has been clearly made: to bring order to an upstart channel, to remind staff about their ultimate loyalty. It was made even clearer in the decision of Channel 1, the main state-owned channel, not to air potentially sharp programming in the month before the presidential election.

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.

Frederick Douglass

 

Link: Perceptions of Freedom: Geographies of Urban Protest

One phenomenon that the Occupy Wall Street movement has crystallized in remarkable fashion is the unapologetic negotiation of the physical occupation of urban space. But before considering the context within which OWS has been operating, and what its successes and challenges may be, it is instructive to look into the deeper history of public space in New York. While some observers have examined how the spatial reality of the city, as presently constituted, influences the ability of its citizens to assemble and, implicitly, protest, I would submit that said spatial reality is really a symptom of not just physical geography, but also the landscape of legal precedents, political negotiations and accretions. This is an enormous – and enormously interesting – topic, so I will attempt to limit my remarks to the history of New York as seen through its street grid, its negotiation of what appear to be rights, and the intersection of political and commercial reality.

Thus it is a timely coincidence that 2011 marks the anniversary of the original “grid” plan, as conceived by the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811. Prior to its adoption by New York, street-grid planning had already had a long history – consider, among others, Francisco Pizarro’s original plan for Lima, Peru, conceived in the mid-16th century. The grid was seen by planners as an attractive alternative to the messy results of “organic” growth, that is, growth that lead to narrow alleys, winding streets and tortuous property claims. Such bottom-up density also made the broader provision of services difficult, and seemed to encourage the spread of disease and crime. Thus an authoritative master plan was the perfect means to sweep away the accumulated social and economic flotsam and jetsam that came with the decades of  thousands of citizens scrapping and scraping for economic survival/prosperity over decades. (This tendency to overly treasure the act of tabula rasa continues to manifest itself today, most frequently as usually disastrous slum clearances in the cities of the developing world).

However, these same planners were confronted with a dilemma: by creating cleaner city layouts, the same designs that encourage mobility, commerce and interaction may, at the same time, encourage unwanted assembly, whereby citizens congregate in order to air grievances, hold strikes and generally foment the kind of unrest that might bring down a government. It is one thing to be all in favour of freedom of assembly or expression, but quite another to embody those rights within the built environment itself, no matter (or especially) what UNESCO might hold dear.

Link: Whose Egypt?

Less than a year has passed since the uprising began, but the euphoria in Tahrir Square already seems like a distant memory. The young people who launched the revolution are still protesting, but they have been outflanked by the hard men, the soldiers and Islamist politicians now calling the shots. The Mubarak regime was replaced by a military junta, the 20-member Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), headed by Field Marshal Muhammed Hussein Tantawi.The Scaf has all but declared war on Tahrir, assailing protesters calling for civilian rule as ‘enemies’ of the revolution which it perversely claims to embody. On 16 December, military police officers armed with electric prods and clubs, and assisted by thugs, moved into the square at dawn. At least 14 people were killed and hundreds injured; a woman was stripped half naked and beaten in the square. The country’s newly appointed prime minister, Kamal El-Ganzoury, blamed protesters for the violence, accusing them of an ‘assault on the revolution’.

The other principal beneficiary of the uprising, the Muslim Brotherhood, has seen its political party, Freedom and Justice, win more than 40 per cent of the vote in the first round of elections, and appears to have done just as well in the second round. The Egyptian Bloc, a left-liberal secular coalition, came a dismal third, and performed well only in Cairo: a reminder that ‘Egypt isn’t Tahrir Square’ (as Major General Mukhtar el-Mallah put it), and that Cairo isn’t either. The runner-up was al-Nour, a fanatical Salafi party that promises to impose Islamic law, and to lead the country ‘on the path to light’. Al-Nour appeared on the scene shortly after the revolution, when scores of Salafi prisoners were released from Mubarak’s jails; they are said to receive support from Saudi Arabia, perhaps as a way of sticking it to their neighbourhood rival Qatar, which backs the Brotherhood. The bearded men of al-Nour frown on women’s rights and make little secret of their hostility to Christians. Their strong showing only added to the anxieties of the Copts, nearly a hundred thousand of whom have already emigrated, a number expected to rise to 250,000 next year.


Russian Election Protests: Over the past week, tens of thousands of Russians, decrying the recent parliamentary election results, attended some of the largest protests since the fall of the USSR 20 years ago. Communists, nationalists, and liberals marched in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and several other cities, shouting down Vladimir Putin and the ruling United Russia Party. They carried signs, calling for the election results to be nullified and alleged vote-rigging to be investigated. Protesters clashed with riot police and over a thousand were arrested, including noted anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny. The largest demonstration, coordinated on Facebook, was in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square. Organizers have announced another mass protest, scheduled for December 24, which they claim will be twice as large. [37 photos]

Russian Election Protests: Over the past week, tens of thousands of Russians, decrying the recent parliamentary election results, attended some of the largest protests since the fall of the USSR 20 years ago. Communists, nationalists, and liberals marched in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and several other cities, shouting down Vladimir Putin and the ruling United Russia Party. They carried signs, calling for the election results to be nullified and alleged vote-rigging to be investigated. Protesters clashed with riot police and over a thousand were arrested, including noted anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny. The largest demonstration, coordinated on Facebook, was in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square. Organizers have announced another mass protest, scheduled for December 24, which they claim will be twice as large. [37 photos]

 

LETTER FROM MOSCOW

On Sunday the Russian government held parliamentary elections. As usual, the results were massaged. But after fifteen years of such massaging, going back to the presidential election of Yeltsin in 1996, voters have finally had enough. A large protest gathered on Monday in the center of Moscow, at Chistye Prudy. Our friends in Moscow write:

What happened today at Chistye Prudy was, unquestionably, a major event. There were five or six thousand people. Most of them were young. For many it was the first conscious political act of their lives. Of course, there were many familiar faces, the ones you see at all the opposition meetings. And of course we got the familiar, empty rhetoric of the old guard of liberal activists: Ryzhkov, Yashin, the rock critic Troitsky. And of course the jokes of Shenderovich and the poems of Bykov.
But the spirit of the meeting, and what followed, was radically new. It was the sense of a new power, a conscious and dignified rage against the government and its police, and a creative willingness to step easily over the narrow bounds of the allowable. And the main thing: a sense of changes happening, not somewhere and sometime, but here and now. On this street, in this square, in this city.I can honestly say: this is the first time I felt the spirit of Tahrir in Moscow. Certainly distant, and certainly for the moment only as potential—but no longer impossible.It’s all happening against the background of an increasingly aggressive and helpless government. Thousands of police, bused into the center of town; their lumbering armored vehicles; fantastical constructions of empty stages with the portraits of our “leaders” and the United Russia bear hanging over them; and most of all, the absurd election results—it all just looks so pathetic. And therefore dangerous. The sense of losing control will aggravate the authorities, will cause them to overprepare. There will be more beatings on the kidneys; more “preliminary conversations” with kidnapped activists; more criminal trials on trumped-up charges.And finally, as never before, one felt today the poverty of the movement’s strategy. No one knew what to do after the protest, where to go, what to demand and of whom. The liberals had no sense that the meeting should not, must not end. The result of the meeting should be a concrete goal: the resignation of the government; cancelation of the election results; the beginning of real change. These goals cannot be stated and then achieved by a narrow group of politicians. They can only be achieved through the will and the conscious organization of a constantly growing collection of people who simply refuse, under any pretext whatsoever, to leave the streets to the police.

LETTER FROM MOSCOW

On Sunday the Russian government held parliamentary elections. As usual, the results were massaged. But after fifteen years of such massaging, going back to the presidential election of Yeltsin in 1996, voters have finally had enough. A large protest gathered on Monday in the center of Moscow, at Chistye Prudy. Our friends in Moscow write:

What happened today at Chistye Prudy was, unquestionably, a major event. There were five or six thousand people. Most of them were young. For many it was the first conscious political act of their lives. Of course, there were many familiar faces, the ones you see at all the opposition meetings. And of course we got the familiar, empty rhetoric of the old guard of liberal activists: Ryzhkov, Yashin, the rock critic Troitsky. And of course the jokes of Shenderovich and the poems of Bykov.

But the spirit of the meeting, and what followed, was radically new. It was the sense of a new power, a conscious and dignified rage against the government and its police, and a creative willingness to step easily over the narrow bounds of the allowable. And the main thing: a sense of changes happening, not somewhere and sometime, but here and now. On this street, in this square, in this city.

I can honestly say: this is the first time I felt the spirit of Tahrir in Moscow. Certainly distant, and certainly for the moment only as potential—but no longer impossible.

It’s all happening against the background of an increasingly aggressive and helpless government. Thousands of police, bused into the center of town; their lumbering armored vehicles; fantastical constructions of empty stages with the portraits of our “leaders” and the United Russia bear hanging over them; and most of all, the absurd election results—it all just looks so pathetic. And therefore dangerous. The sense of losing control will aggravate the authorities, will cause them to overprepare. There will be more beatings on the kidneys; more “preliminary conversations” with kidnapped activists; more criminal trials on trumped-up charges.

And finally, as never before, one felt today the poverty of the movement’s strategy. No one knew what to do after the protest, where to go, what to demand and of whom. The liberals had no sense that the meeting should not, must not end. The result of the meeting should be a concrete goal: the resignation of the government; cancelation of the election results; the beginning of real change. These goals cannot be stated and then achieved by a narrow group of politicians. They can only be achieved through the will and the conscious organization of a constantly growing collection of people who simply refuse, under any pretext whatsoever, to leave the streets to the police.