Video of interview available here
Almost two years after the start of the Arab Spring Achcar sums it up: This is a longterm revolutionary process. "Because the roots of all this are not just the issue of the kind of government you had, formally speaking, that is the regime. But the social-economic problem, the main manifestation of it is unemployment." This hasn't changed so far in the region. In Egypt the Morsi government continues the neoliberal economic policy of Mubarak by signing an agreement with the International Monetary Fund. In Tunisia the social and economic decisions are made in continuation with the old regime. But the people keep standing up for their rights. In Bahrein and even in Kuwait big demonstrations are still taking place while Syria is experiencing a fierce civil war. "Egypt and Tunisia themselves, the two countries where it all started, will see yet a lot of upheavals, changes, turns, mass movements, mobilisations."
Gilbert Achcar: Political Scientist and Sociologist at the "School of Oriental and African Studies", University of London, Peace Activist, Author of "The Arabs and the Holocaust" and together with Noam Chomsky "Perilous Power"
David Goessmann: Finally, I want to talk about the Arab and North African region one and a half year after the Arab Spring. In Libya the Transitional National Council handed power over to an elected General Council – but still the situation seems chaotic and violent. In Syria a civil war rages through the streets with no end in sight. The regimes like in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are still in place. What’s the situation like? What has the revolution achieved so far? And what are the interests of the U.S. and European countries in this region?
Gilbert Achcar: What has the process achieved and what is happening? I described what is going on in the region since, as a symbolic date, 12/17/2010 when this young man in Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia set himself on fire. What has been going on since then is what I call a long-term revolutionary process. And this is a long-term process, it's not just three weeks or six months or whatever and that's it and we have elected a new parliament or whatever and that's the end of it. No, that's just the beginning of it. Because the roots of all this are not just the issue of the kind of government you had, formally speaking, that is the regime. But the social-economic problem, the main manifestation of is unemployment. This region, this part of the world had record levels of unemployment since several decades, and this unemployment is mostly young unemployment, youth unemployment.
Of course, revolutionary movements are always young. It is this youth that has taken to the streets in this big uprising over the region, which spread the whole region. It started in Tunisia, spread to the whole Arab speaking region and even beyond, as we are here (?) the Senegalese spring as it has been called. So, what it has achieved is quite uneven, quite different from one country to another. But again, it's just a process. What you got in Tunisia was regime change, but which not changed the social structure, which not changed the orientation of the social-economic policies, they are a continuation of the older regime. With the muslim brothers in Tunisia carrying these policies. Egypt you have even less of a regime change in a sense. There is even more continuity. And economically it's a total continuity.
The Egyptian government just signed, the IMF, an agreement abiding by the same conditionalities that the previous Mubarak regime used to abide with. So, this is no solution at all to the real problem. In Libya you had a more radical overthrow of the state, of the regime, than you had in Tunisia or Egypt, because there the armed forces had being restructured by Gaddafi in such a way that they were a what we call a praetorian guard, that is kind of a private guard of the regime and the rulers. So the revolution could not triumph, except by breaking this. But when you break the state in a country which for 44 years had been dominated by this competely dictatorial kind of state and you don't have an occupying army, because the Libyans rejected any intervention of troops on the ground, then you get a chaotic situation. That's absolutely normal, I would say. The miracle is that it's not more chaotic than it is and they managed indeed for the first time in their history to organise free democratic elections. That is really an achievement despite all the problems you mentioned. Now, beyond that, in Yemen the revolution has been frustrated and kind of aborted by a compromise dictated by gulf-countries and the United States, which is not any solution to even the most basic political problem. That's why the situation is continuing.
In Bahrain the movement has been repressed, with intervention of gulf-countries, but the movement is continuing. There almost daily big demonstrations in Bahrain. It's far from over. The movement is going on. Syria of course is amidst a civil war, which is taking time, a civil war in which an uprising is facing a military apparatus which has a superiority in equipment and training and all that. We have seen civil wars over even recent history that can last a long time. If it wasn't that long in Libya, that was because you had this NATO-intervention, which contributed to shortening it, despite the fact that NATO tried to control the movement – and failed ultimately. The process that started, as I said, is continuing. Now in Jordan, the movement is expanding. What we have seen very recently in Jordan is a kind of stage reached in the movement. Larger and in even more acute stage in the uprising. Even Kuwait, despite the fact that to certain degree it's an artificial society, but even in Kuwait you had very recently big mobilisation, and you can be sure that Egypt and Tunisia themselves, the two countries where it all started, will see yet lot of upheavals, changes, turns, mass movements, mobilisations, and the rest. Again, this is just a beginning. This is a beginning of an uprising, an evolutionary process, about which no one can predict the time when it will end, as I keep saying. There was one country historically, the symbolic date when it began is 07/14/1789. Now, after that you have big discussions among historians "When did it end?" The minimum date that is given is 1799, that is ten years later. Other historians say "No, in the 19th century". Some put the end of it almost a century later. I hope it won't take one century for Arab revolution process to end, to have a positive outcome if you want, but it will definately take several years.
David Goessmann: You are very much engaged in the international peace movement. You are also a Marxist. Talk about your political engagement. Why is that?
Gilbert Achcar: Why is that? I think any political engagement it's a matter of ethical values. What are your ethical values? I've been in my, I would say, intellectual evolution from my teenage years, I have been very much attracted by values of justice, of equality, of self-determination, emancipation from oppression of all sorts of oppression. That's the real reason why of course I'm opposed to oppression, to wars of oppression, to wars through which strong powers try to oppress and crush other people. I'm not opposed to wars of liberation, I'm not a pacifist in the sense that non-violent or Ghandian. No, I support the right of the oppressed, of those who are under occupation, oppression and the rest to fight by all means necessary for their liberation and emancipation. So, my deep motivation is this right of people to determine themselves, to determine their future, freely and again, justice and equality, which is of course the reason in the first place, why I am a Marxist in the broad sense if you want. But this is because I do believe that the present kind of society in which we live is a deeply unjust society and that we need major societal change in order to move to different kind of societies, different kind of world also, where there would be greater equality and justice than whatever we have now.
David Goessmann: Thank you Mr. Achcar.
Gilbert Achcar: You're most welcome. My pleasure.