Tag Archives: revolutions

The Coming Egyptian Civil War: Disaster Beckons

Cairo protesters

History has a strange way of playing itself out in the lives of individuals, nations and peoples. I wish that I was wrong bit as I look at the situation in Egypt today I see a situation which is as fluid as the shifting sands of the desert and as dangerous as the legendary Biblical plagues of the time of Moses.

When the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak was overthrow by the military in 2011 it was hoped by many that Egypt would defy he odds of history, not Islamic or Egyptian history, but human history in that a revolution of a people without their own history of freedom and representative democracy seldom in its initial stages produces freedom and representative democracy.

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In Europe alone Britain, France, Spain, Germany and Russia have endured bloody civil wars following the overthrow of autocratic regimes. Likewise the same is true of the history of South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East the history of most successful oppressed peoples who do not have practical experience in democratic government tend to fight things out and even endure more oppressive governments before eventually, often at great cost to themselves and their neighbors achieve peaceful, stable and representative democratic rule.

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Egypt has great potential, many of its people have exactly in temperament, education and wisdom what is needed to become a leading democracy in the region. That being said there are many obstacles to this. First is the longstanding tension between the radical Islamists of the Moslem Brotherhood, secularist military leaders, Social Democrats and others. Second the underlying religious and social tensions between rival Islamic denominations as well as Coptic Christians with generations of internecine bloodshed being played against one another by outside powers, the Ottoman Turks, the French, the British and even to a lesser extent the Soviets and Americans.

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The fact is that Egypt as much as I do not want it to admit is that I believe that there is little that can save Egypt from a bloody civil war with unknown outcomes. The only thing that is sure is that thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of Egyptians will die before the end of it and that Egypt’s instability will exponentially increase the violence and instability of the region.

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I think the best outcome is that a coalition of Social Democrats and militarists will cobble together enough of a government to stabilize the situation, but it will not be without much bloodshed. It will likely be like the early days of Weimar Germany when an unlikely coalition of military leaders and Social Democrats fought a Civil War against the extreme Soviet style Communists and then resisted Right wing extremist putsch attempts. Unfortunately that democracy died as the economies of the world melted down and the cost of reparations levied by Allied Powers at Versailles and radicals of the extreme Right and Left eventually leaving Hitler in power. It took another World War to eventually end that tyranny.

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I guess that a best prospect is pretty much as bad as the worst prospect.

The ouster of the Moslem Brotherhood’s elected President Mohammed Morsi by the Egyptian military follow the protests of the vast majority of the Egyptian electorate is as much of a bad thing as it is a good thing. Morsi was to be sure democratically elected but he governed as an autocrat with increasing dictatorial tendencies. The reaction of the people and the Army was a natural reaction, as one Egyptian boy put it we did not overthrow a dictatorship to replace it with a dictatorial theocracy.  In effect both sides killed the democratic process, Morsi and the Moslem Brotherhood for the sake of Islamic religious power, the military for the sake of their place in society, stability and control and the protestors and democrats the sake of democracy and freedom.

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The situation is much like the days following the the Army High Command’s forced abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II, when in the face of a Communist revolution the German military establishment represented by Field Marshal Paul Von Hindenburg wrote to the new Socialist Chancellor Friedrich Ebert:

“I am convinced that only the following measures can help us overcome the present difficulties: 

  1. Summoning of the National Assembly in the course of December.
  2. Until then, or until the decision of the National Assembly can be carried out, conduct of the administration solely by the government and legitimate administrative organs. 
  3. So as to fulfill the justified wishes of the working class… qualified people of working class origin should be attached to the administrative authorities in an advisory capacity….
  4. The security service must be solely in the hands of the legal police organs and of the armed forces.
  5. Safeguarding of the orders of government by a reliable police force and, after the restoration of discipline, by the army.   

   In your hands lies the fate of the German nation. It will depend on your decision whether the German nation will rise once more. I am persuaded, and with me the whole army, to support you without any reservation…” (Letter from Field Marshal Hindenburg, likely written by General Groener to Chancellor Ebert December 8th 1918. In The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933 by F.L. Carsten, Oxford University Press, London 1966 pp.13-14)

The unfortunate thing is that no one will be happy until they achieve their goals and that will probably not only mean bloodshed, but a full scale civil war. No matter what the talking heads and experts say this has little chance of ending well. Centuries of injustice, dictatorship, colonialism, religious intolerance and economic inequities argue against other eventualities.

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The fact of the matter is that whether or not advocates of democracy like it at the present time no elected government in Egypt can survive without the support of the military. Like Weimar Germany, the fate of Egypt’s democracy will in large part lie in the hands of a military that at its heart is not democratic. It is a conundrum that we would rather not see, but it is reality.

All that being said there is always hope that things can turn out differently and we had better hope, for the people of Egypt, the region and the world that it does, because an Egyptian Civil War now will be disastrous.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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November 1918: The Month that Changed the World

November 1918

In November 1918 a world was ending and a new one beginning.  The Great War which had begun in August 1914 following the assassination of the heir apparent to the Throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire wife on June 29th 1914 was in its final days, as was the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Imperial Germany.  It was a month saw the collapse of a long established order which through wanton ambition and unchecked arrogance had brought about a war that devastated Europe.

In the years following the war revolution and civil war enveloped much of Europe and led to the rise of Fascism, Communism and Nazism and a second world war.  The events of November 1918 led to changes that are still being felt today.

In fact the events that occurred over 90 years ago are the ghosts that haunt Europe today.  They are why the European Union is trying so hard to keep Greece from defaulting on its sovereign debt which most believe would destroy the EU and cause global economic and social disruption. Some key European leaders have even raised the specter of war should the Greeks default and the EU collapse.

To the Europeans the thought of such is frightful having been the epicenter of two world wars, continent changing revolutions, genocide and the division of the continent between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.  The very thought of social and economic chaos brought about by the collapse of the EU is a legitimate concern of the Europeans and it is something that should concern us too because we are so naïve when it comes to civil war.

Yes we had a great civil war which rent the country asunder and cost hundreds of thousands of Americans their lives and left scars that still exist.   We say that our civil war pitted brother against brother but it was really more region against region.  When civil war came toEuropein the aftermath of World War One it was a war that pitted neighbor against neighbor and it as often far more vicious and insidious in the way that it was waged. It was ideology and class warfare at its worst. People on the left and the right surrendered to their basest instincts and permitted themselves to the most brutal atrocities committed not against a foreign power, but their neighbors, and in the case of some men who had served together in the trenches against their former comrades in arms.

The deep scars lurk underneath Europe’s veneer of peace and prosperity.  Despite all its advances and the remarkable changes that have occurred in the years following the Second World War the scars of the wars remain. Europe is more fragile than than it looks and Europe’s leaders understand this.  They also understand that people in the smaller and weaker countries like Greece feel threatened by the power of Germany and France, nations that lead the EU and each at one time dominated the continent by the force of arms and have dominated it economically the past 20 years.

The leaders of Europe and many of its people are justifiably concerned about their future because their ancestors lived that future.  We should be concerned as well because same social, political and economic dynamics are in play in our country but our extremists on the left and the right cannot see the danger.  For both it has become a zero sum game.  Eventually as the Europeans found out in the 1920s and 1930s when it is a zero sum game no compromise is possible and one side will eventually crush their opponents until they themselves are crushed by forces that they unleash but cannot control.

In the mid 1920s an artificial a brief period of prosperity enabled by cheap credit extended by the United States provided Europeans the illusion that their fragile new democracies might take root.  Then in October 1929 the economic house collapsed and the world entered the Great Depression and with it the social order melted away. Governments collapsed under the weight of mass movements championed by radicals on the left and the right.  We know the rest of the story.  The question is will it happen again?

November 1918, November 2011.  Are we about to see Europe and the world plunged into another period of unrelenting economic turmoil, social and political unrest leading to civil wars and wars of conquest?  People like German Chancellor Angela Merkel warn of this with good reason and we should be concerned not just for Europe but for our own country.  If the EU collapses the consequences will wash upon our shores.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Promise and Peril of Revolutionary Times: A Warning From History

“In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

“They who clamor loudest for freedom are often the ones least likely to be happy in a free society.”  Eric Hoffer – The True Believer

I don’t know about you but it seems that everywhere I look that revolution is in the air.  Revolutionary times can be exciting to watch or even to participate in because all at least initially cater to the hopes of people, the hope of change, freedom, justice and equity are common themes.   As a historian I find it fascinating to observe revolutions and to read about revolutions throughout history.  But I always have a concern about how even the most well intentioned revolts against real or perceived injustice often miscarry and create conditions ripe for civil war, dictatorship and even regional or world war.

The revolutions sweeping the world today and I include the proto-revolutionary movements of the conservative Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements as revolutionary movements are becoming mass movements.  As mass movements they share many things in common even if their ideologies and backers appear to be diametrically opposed.  We now have two diametrically opposed revolutionary movements seeking power in this country and neither side will be satisfied until they achieve it.

Those that dismiss or seek to tame the Tea Party or the Occupy Wall Street movement are foolish. The anger, resentment and the hatred that these movements have for the established order are too great to be easily dismissed.  The politicians that try to channel these movements for their own benefit or party or that attempt to encourage them without actually addressing their grievances will discover too late that lip service and cosmetic change will not be enough.  Peaceful nonviolent protests can turn violent in a moment with very unpredictable results.

In our country there is great dissatisfaction with the status quo on the right and the left which in large part is due to the actions of those in power in government, media, business and even religion to address the concerns of those on both sides of the political abyss.  Likewise it is the same entities that in order to maintain their power have used every opportunity to create enmity among Americans.

Similar events are occurring on the other side of the Atlantic as the crisis in Greece threatens the economic stability and quite possibly the viability of the European Union.  The extremists on the left and right are garnering support that they have not had in decades from people that until the current economic downturn were content with the status quo because they were doing alright.

Even those revolutions that bring positive change tend to bring in some form of social unrest and upheaval to include the maltreatment and sometimes exile of people that did not agree with the revolution.  One only has to take a look at the large numbers of British colonists in the 13 Colonies who were loyal to the British Crown and lost their place in society and many times their homes and livelihoods as they were no longer welcome.  Many fled to Canada, the British West Indies or had to return to England.

Revolutionaries do not take kindly to those that oppose them, especially when they are kinsmen.  Those officers or Federal officials that remained loyal to the Union during the American Civil War that hailed from Southern States often found that they were no longer welcome in their communities and sometimes disowned by their families.  This was the fate of General George Thomas who remained faithful to his oath despite being fromVirginia. His family turned his picture around and refused to have anything to do with him from that point forward even refusing financial assistance from him after the war.

The English Civil Wars of 1641-1653 were some of the most brutal to occur inEuropeand devastated Ireland which lost some 41% of its population and where the lingering scars are still seen today.

The French Revolution was a bloodletting that shaped France to the present day.  People tend to forget that the root cause of this revolution was a financial crisis brought about by the costs of the Seven Years War with England and the French support of the American Revolution which brought the country into more conflict with England. The antiquated and regressive French tax code put a heavy burden on the middle and lower classes but provided many exemptions to the nobility and the clergy.  When comptroller Jacques Necker proposed ending or reducing those exemptions he was fired.  But the crown was so week that it decided to call the Estates General into session for the first time since 1618 and when the three components of the assembly could not agree on credentials the lower assembly of commoners broke off and formed their own National Assembly and when it appeared that the King was bringing foreign troops to Paris it set off an armed revolt.

The revolution was brutal and unleashed an unprecedented series of wars which engulfed the European continent the West Indies and Egypt.  Eventually a young Army officer named Napoleon Bonaparte did much to secure the new regime’s security by a series of brilliant military victories.  He was so successful that he overthrew the government and became a dictator in 1799 and would proclaim himself Emperor in 1804.  The wars in Europe were devastating and would create a situation where a weakened Spain and Portugal would lose their colonies in Central and South America.

When Napoleon was finally defeated for the last time at Waterloo in 1815 the Congress of Vienna reestablished a conservative order and peace inEurope.  There was a brief revolutionary period in 1848 and the wars that led to the unification of Germany and the defeat of France by Prussia in 1870-71. But for the most part stability reigned until the First World War as European powers focused on using their power in imperialist ways in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.   The war set in motion revolutionary movements that would lead to the overthrow of empires and birth the mass movements of Communism, Fascism and Nazism that would be responsible for some of the most destructive wars and crimes against humanity ever seen by the world.

Other revolutions have caused immeasurable suffering, the Cultural Revolution in China, the Iranian revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia to name a few. The Spartacus revolution in the early days of the Weimar Republic helped doom it and led to the Nazi revolution in Germany. The Nazi revolution was brought about through legal means with the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor after which his revolutionary policies were put in place.

The revolutions in the Soviet Union and Warsaw pact in aftermath of the Cold War have brought a multiplicity of outcomes, some which appear to have brought forth societies where human rights and individual liberties are respected and others which have become or are in the process of becoming dictatorships.

And so today we live in an age of revolution which is heightened and moves across the globe like a wind fanned wildfire due to the instantaneous nature of the communication and media that we now enjoy.  There is the Arab Spring and the beginnings of revolutionary movements in Europe, Asia and now even North America.  Governments seem impotent to do anything about the conditions that have moved these revolutionary groups to action and have given the ideologues on the left and right respectability that they could have never enjoyed before.  The ideologues make their money by providing a platform for the airing of the grievances of their readers or listeners real and imagined by playing on the need for hope.  The motive of the listener or follower is finding something to believe in a hope and promise, hope around the corner not hope deferred.  Eric Hoffer noted “To have a grievance is to have a purpose in life. It not infrequently happens that those who hunger for hope give their allegiance to him who offers them a grievance.”

The extremists on both sides of the line in the United States have held sway so long that they have turned the extreme into the mainstream inspiring one of the most amazing displays of left-right groupthink that I have ever seen.  I read a lot of conservative and liberal blogs and websites,some which are considered mainstream by their proponents.  I believe that you can tell a lot about movements by what the rank and file write or share.  One thing that I notice is how interchangeable these blogs are and how much they mirror the talking points of their respective echo chambers.  There is little creative though only the endless repetition of talking points. If one ventures a dissenting opinion on one of these sites he or she will find themselves shouted down and demonized and it doesn’t matter if the site is left wing or right wing, religious or secular.  The purity of ideology and necessity of conformity to the group-think ensures that opposing points of view be shouted down.

I first started noticing this when I returned fromIraqin 2008. At that time I was still listening to conservative talk radio on a regular basis and I started noticing that with minor differences all the talk show hosts sounded alike, the same talking points driven home day after day.  Alternative viewpoints even those that differed only slightly from the party line were ridiculed and demonized. That was eye opening to me and I noticed a similar tone emanating from the left.  Both emphasize that they are being oppressed or persecuted and the rank and file believe that they are oppressed and gladly allow themselves to become parts of these mass movements.

It is the real and perceived feelings of oppression or persecution provide these disparate movements their most fervent followers and energy.

One attitude prominently displayed is an absolute hatred and distain of moderation.  Both have an absolute distain of dialogue and neither appear to want a win-win situation to develop simply because to both sides only absolute victory for themselves and destruction of all that that they oppose matters.  It is a nihilistic zero sum game that both sides play.  Both sides are slaves to their doctrine and the vast majorities of the followers of these mass movements are absolutely unaware of this.  Philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote “A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Revolutionary movements of themselves can be transforming and in the long run quite beneficial but for every one that is such there are many more that in succeeding bring about tyrannies as bad or worse than the ones that they ended.  The evidence of this is widespread.  Much of this is due to a desire not for freedom but for revenge as those that viewed themselves as oppressed or persecuted turn their new found power into a weapon of revenge and retaliation.  Hoffer wrote “It is doubtful if the oppressed ever fight for freedom. They fight for pride and power — power to oppress others. The oppressed want above all to imitate their oppressors; they want to retaliate.”

History shows that in more cases than not that when revolutionaries take power they become oppressors themselves and are perfectly willing to crush dissent by force. They become the conservative faction resistant to change and opposed to dissent.  Hannah Arendt observed that “The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.”

Eric Hoffer understood mass movements as few in the last century have.  Hoffer’s book The True Believer (1951) is a study of mass movements and since Hoffer had witnessed the mass movements of the 1920s and 1930s that defined the age, Fascism, Communism and Nazism.  Hoffer notes similarities between political, social and religious mass movements and when it was written in 1951 President Dwight D. Eisenhower praised it.  It is well worth the read.  Hannah Arendt also understood how individuals in mass movements could participate in evil including genocide and think that they were just doing their job and helping society.  Her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.

Revolutionary times are filled with promise and peril. The wise in Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street and other movements around the world need to understand that crucial truth.  Movements such as these can be co-opted and driven in ways that those that began them can little anticipate and the leaders of such movements often become victims of the very movement that they helped create.  The names of such instigators that have become victims is too long to list.

As a historian I find the process that we see unfolding as simply fascinating and I cannot predict how this revolutionary era will play out.  I just hope and pray that things don’t get too sporty.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Real Danger of Revolution and Violence in our Country

Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party a Revolution is Coming

Since the economic crash of 2008 the United States has been in turmoil. The Republican administration of George Bush had made itself so unpopular that the Democrats led by the young and inexperienced Barak Obama took control of the White House and both houses of Congress.  However the new administration and its allies in Congress did nothing to help their cause promoting health care reform instead of addressing serious problems in the economy, especially unemployment. As the Obama administration floundered in its response to the economy and remained mired in the increasingly unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistana new political force came into being. This was the Tea Party movement a collection of social and economic conservatives, libertarians and other conservative groups backed by major business leaders and promoted by the Fox New Channel.

The Tea Party grew in prominence in the Republican Party at the local and state levels mobilizing voters as it took advantage of the discontent and fear felt by many conservatives.  The movement featured many patriotic images and some within the Tea Party used militant language to describe their goals including that of revolution to retake the power of government.  Liberal opponents likened the Tea Party to Nazis and today some Tea Party back members of Congress and Presidential candidates refer to the Occupy Wall Street protestors as anarchist and communists.

The Obama administration and many on the left dismissed the movement but by the 2010 mid term elections the Tea Party and their backers spearheaded the Republican taking of the House and nearly regained control of the Senate. Typically divided government has forced parties to work together and compromise to achieve their goals.  That did not happen in 2010. The Tea Party forced the hand of Republican leadership not to compromise with President Obama and the Democrats.  The near shutdown of the government in June only served to worsen the division.

The Tea Party mow distrusts many established Republican leaders as much as it despises the Democrats and as the division continued to grow a new movement came into being, the Occupy Wall Street campaign.  The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations began in September and were ignored by most of the media, just as the media outside of Fox News ignored or downplayed the incipient Tea Party in 2009. Now the demonstrations continue to gain strength and have spread to close to 90 cities.  Organizers and some commentators are referring to the movement as “the American Spring.”

However the Occupy Wall Street movement is quite diverse from those protesting many of the same things that the Tea Party stands against to those with a harder and revolutionary edge.  While the movement itself is somewhat amorphous and appears to be unclear on its goals the PR head of the movement commented in one interview that the goal is to “overthrow the government.” Other protestors carried an effigy of the head of the CEO of Bank of America on a pike in one demonstration. Still others have simply become a nuisance to those that live and work in the area of their protests.   Such statements and actions give their opponents like Glenn Beck all the ammunition that they need to demonize the protestors as Beck did today when he said “Capitalists, if you think that you can play footsies with these people, you’re wrong. They will come for you and drag you into the streets and kill you…they’re Marxist radicals…these guys are worse than Robespierre from the French Revolution…they’ll kill everybody.” Beck also suggested that the only way to stop the movement was a “forceful crushing from the top” which he compared to Hitler’s “Night of the Long Knives.”

Even the President has called his political opponents “enemies” and they have responded in kind. Of course Obama has been called everything but an American since he was elected by some on the right and many in his own party believe that he is nothing more than a pawn of business and the establishment.

Both the Presidency and the Congress suffer from the fact that most people no longer believe a word that they say and this is shown in their approval ratings which are abysmal.  President Bush’s second term approval rating averaged just 37% and had a low of 25%.  President Obama initially had high approval ratings but his ratings have spun downward to the point that they are hovering at or below 40.  Congress is even worse with all polls below 20 approval rating and the CBS poll is down to 11%, the lowest ever recorded.

Tea Party Message Rockford Illinois 

Is it any wonder that people in the Tea Party andOccupy Wall Street are bringing their own variety of revolution to the nation?  The economy is in tatters and long term unemployment at highs not seen since the Great Depression. The country is deeply divided on religious and social issues, the role ad purpose of government and the majority of people we believe that we have lost the wars inIraqandAfghanistan.  This is a toxic and dangerous environment where it will not take much to bring about violence.

While many on the right and the left seek to frame the members of the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street in the most demonic ways that they can and fan the flames of hatred it is important to take a step back and see both movements in their current and historical context.  The temptation is to get caught up in the emotion of these “revolutionary” movements and proceed down the revolutionary way without thinking of the consequences of revolutions. Revolutions are inherently unpredictable and often bring unintended and sometimes tragic results.  Both movements have valid points and Washington, Wall Street and our political, media and business elites better wake up. Both have many good and law abiding people in them but both also have a people that would do everything that they can do in order to bring about change, if not at the ballot box on the streets.

During revolutionary times those on the extremes gain prominence and their movements grow most often at the cost of the middle. When the center disappears there is little to stop whichever side comes out on top from doing whatever they want.  The winners also have their losers as the most powerful or organized parties within a movement tend to crush opposition within their own ranks once they take power.

Spartacus League fighters in the German Revolution: Coming here? 

Unlike some I do not venture to have an answer for the long term ills of the country but I do not think revolution from the left or right is the way to solve them.  Revolutions tend to be rather messy and bloody affairs and as the rhetoric on the left and the right continues to escalate as the economic and world situation worsens the danger of armed conflict in this country grows greater every day.  In fact there are foreign powers such asIranthat are reveling in such a possibility with others quietly doing so.  Unfortunately I do not think that many people on either side of the divide see the danger looming in our future.

That is what scares me about the revolutionary rhetoric that is that things can spiral out of control when groups are massed on the street. Agitators from any side can create events that precipitate violence on the part of the demonstrators or the police and security forces.  Once in power revolutionaries frequently kill or exile members of their own parties as Hitler did with when he liquidated the leadership of his  SA Brown Shirts on the Night of the Long Knives.

This is a dangerous time and I do pray that our political leaders will regain their collective sanity before all hell breaks loose.  I re-posted a paper about the German Revolution of 1919-1922 in my last post to show some of the unpredictable ways revolutions can develop. You can read it below.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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