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Ukraine is Egypt – well, not really

Egyptians know now what it was like to watch the Tahrir Square uprising in 2011 from outside of the country – because the same kind of media attention was recently projected on Ukraine. This country, which hasn’t been the subject of monthly breaking news for a while – let alone daily breaking news – has …

Dr. H.A. Hellyer
Dr. H.A. Hellyer

Egyptians know now what it was like to watch the Tahrir Square uprising in 2011 from outside of the country – because the same kind of media attention was recently projected on Ukraine. This country, which hasn’t been the subject of monthly breaking news for a while – let alone daily breaking news – has been constantly in the media for the last few weeks. The similarities to Egypt’s situation do not stop at international interest. No, they abound, tremendously, and are shown in so many different aspects of the revolutionary fervour that has swept Ukraine. Well, not really.

OK – there are a few similarities and connections between the two sets of events. But a plethora of headlines and analysis pieces in various parts of the international media would seem to indicate that both countries were almost inextricably joined at the hip in terms of their struggles. It is, as always, more complicated than that. If Egypt is not, say, Libya or Tunisia (by the way, it isn’t), Ukraine is also not Egypt.

For example – some are now wont to claim that Ukraine was “inspired” by Egypt’s revolution. From the outset, it’s not altogether clear why, after the various dramatic and embattled turns the Egyptian revolution has taken, it would be considered an inspiration for people outside of Egypt. Indeed, it might be construed as a warning. (Tunisia, you really ought to pay thanks to Egypt for giving you advance warning as to how disastrous it can be for any political force in a revolutionary transition to ignore the need for consensus, by the way.). Beyond that, however, one might stop to consider that Ukrainians were inspired by, just possibly, their own revolutionary uprising during the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005. Just a thought.

(Egypt, you really ought to apologise to Tunisia – how come you get to steal all the revolutionary thunder when Tunisia started all of this?)

OK – it is true that some Ukrainians in mid-January watched The Square, an Oscar-nominated documentary about Egypt’s revolution, in their own “Euro-Maidan”. I suppose there is a connection there – in addition to the ironic one that thus far, The Square has not been shown in Tahrir Square to revolutionary protestors. Indeed – it still does not have a licence to even be shown in cinemas in Egypt, and Naguib Sawiris seems not to have yet made good on his offer to have the film aired on ONTV.

Yes, both Egyptian protestors and Ukrainian protestors protested in squares that had the word “Maidan” in it. You got me on this one – of course they did, because the word for “square” in both languages is Arabic.

Another similarity between Egypt and Ukraine, perhaps, is that it seems different sides are arguing that protests gave rise to a coup or a revolution. Obviously, most of the 30 June camp argue that Mohamed Morsi’s 3 July ouster was a “revolution” (a minority that supported 30 June do not characterise 3 July in that fashion), while the opponents of 3 July generally describe it as a “coup” (with a minority admitting that it was popularly supported). In Ukraine, although there was no military intervention to speak of in support of the protesters (stand by on that one – there will be one later), the ousted president considered his ouster “coup”. The protesters obviously disagree – but why bring logic into any of this.

Both squares had somewhat unsavoury characters in their midst as supporters at one point or another. There were far-right wing ultranationalists in the EuroMaidan – how many, and what proportion of the protesters? I do not know – but I imagine that in the years to come, they will argue they were fundamental to the protest movement, and others will point out they simply played a role. In Egypt, at least in 2011, a similar force was not immediately evident in Tahrir – the Muslim Brotherhood is rightly called to account in terms of sectarianism, but still.  One can legitimately argue that manifests differently later on – as one can argue that another type of “ultra nationalism” came to be seen in Tahrir Square, but not in 2011 to be sure.

The words “foreign intervention” certainly make their appearances in both countries –particularly throughout the last few months. In Egypt, foreign intervention is a particularly strange phenomenon. It is horrendous when any country comments on Egyptian politics, it seems. But when Vladimir Putin endorses a presidential run by Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, it appears that is not foreign intervention at all. Ironically, Putin’s latest move in the Ukraine, where he has essentially invaded the country, is also not considered foreign intervention (at least to the Kremlin), but rather a humanitarian intervention. It’s annoying to students of history that a number of Western countries are decrying “invasions on the basis of false pretexts”. Irony and hypocrisy are just so inconvenient.

“Democracy is more than the ballot box!” So said the pro-uprising Ukrainians to their adversaries – as did critics of the Muslim Brotherhood in the run-up to the 30 June protests. (The Brotherhood now, ironically, use a similar argument in criticism of the current government). “You’re an unelected government!” So says the opposition to the new regime in Kiev, and the opponents to the military backed authorities in Egypt. OK – a marginal similarity there.

I have news for observers – there was 6 April moment in Egypt, just as there was in Ukraine(Of course, the 6 April rally in the Ukraine was an ultranationalist one, while the 6 April group was a pro-democracy gathering – but again, who needs facts.).

But here is the most striking similarity of all – the creation, seemingly overnight, of “experts” on both countries. Out of nowhere, people who neither know the languages of the countries in question, nor have spent much time there, are writing incessantly to provide “insights”. Alas, if only it were that easy. The truth is – it’s often better to just say “I do not know”, but it seems that is poison in our modern world. Egypt already suffered – and suffers – from that malaise. Ukraine, welcome.

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  • sam enslow

    There are common traits between all the countries of The Arab Spring, Ukraine, Venezuela, and much of the rest of the world. This would include the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US.
    1. People are demanding to be treated like human beings. They actually believe they are entitled to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit Happiness.” Universal Declarations of Human Rights and all other such documents should actually be applied. The individual is important, more so than the State, Government, or Party.
    2. Governments are contracts among men (and women). If governments cannot or will not do their jobs, it is the duty of the people to get rid of the government and replace it. Governments are a product produced and run by men – not by God or some other super entity. Governments work for the people. The people do not work for the government or its leaders. The people are no longer satisfied with words. They want results and honesty. They know the lives they lead and experience. No amount of propaganda will change that reality. No amount of press coverage will make a hungry man feel full or a poor man feel rich or an abused man feel dignified.
    As the saying goes, ” Do not piss on my leg and then tell me it is raining. ”
    3. Autocrats NEVER make mistakes. All discontent is caused by foreign fingers/agents and a few radicals. Dictators are not good at self criticism.
    4. The old “Elites” or aristocracy NEVER gets the message, “Life is good. Only the stupid people are unhappy.” They then proceed to double down on their actions that lead to the revolt in the first place. The security forces are told to teach the rabble a lesson. The bloody revolution follows.
    5. The conflicts between the rural/city, traditionalists/modernists, young/old continue. The young look to the future. The old look to revive a romanticized past. The tarbushes still fight the turbans, the farmers the effendi.
    6. Populations explode causing more shortages of food, water and increasing the demands of the people while over stressing the environment. Population growth is the greatest threat to reform in most countries.

  • BE Macomber

    Punditizing creates buzz subsequently generating advertising dollars in the piddle stream media (identify?). Analysis is part of the meta-data territory in the political arena. This is not the same as govt. intervention in this geo-political state or that one to protect and maintain a global plutocracy. Enslow is right-on. We are seeing dramatic uprisings from the slaves. The elite is doing a piss poor job of keeping the masses down. Social media is the media bunker bomb. The ability to communicate as a mega-pool of like-minded individuals has never been seen or heard thumbed-up on Earth before. Twitter, Fedbook, Youlube, bloggers, and a myriad of struggling other social media sites make the difference. Without a free Internet and whistleblowers any semblance of human rights would disappear into an unholy manipulation of the matrix at the peck and pall of the dirty oil economy. Dr. Hellyer you should be thrilled the foreign media, alternative pundits, and social media step children are on the field of activity. We have the tools, the savvy, and the ability to tell the whole story not some half-assed dribble to uphold a regime. Apres-bitching is immature rhetoric to derail the reality. The story is a military coup happened, in your country, Ukraine, and so forth. In parallel is a slow death coup happening in America as the Bill of Rights are dismantled by the NSA covertly operating as a rogue state. Without privacy on the net, news netizens, and media companies not dependent on corporate sales department (The Guardian, Propublica.com, Wikileaks, etc.) our world would be far worse off. I for one find nationalistic thinking arcane and unworthy in a world going digital borderless. Power to the People, everywhere. Perceive the forest from the trees. Fires of freedom are burning on all continents for the exact same reason – humanity desires to live where justice rules over mega-national special interests.

  • Pingback: From Egypt to Ukraine: Revolution 2.0 has failed. What next? – Mark Heley | Libertarian Hippie()

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