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Revolutions: the democracy thing is becoming an economic thing

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Paul Mason | 17:54 UK time, Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Here's how the dynamic of the Middle East revolution is unfolding, and in the process morphing from an essentially political movement against a bunch of corrupt dictators who nobody (not even their allies) ever liked, into a wider movement that is unsettling centres of economic power.

The dynamic driving the revolts was never purely economic, but there was an economic through-line: 24% youth unemployment in countries where 2/3 of the population are under 30, a downturn in growth rates after 2008, and then commodity price inflation hits.

If you read about the life of Mohamed Bouazizi, who burned himself to death sparking the Tunisian revolution, you get a tragic micro-case study of how this plays out for millions of people: he can't get a regular job because he lacks connections; he becomes a street trader living on credit, but then an official confiscates his wares. His sister points out: "those with no connections and no money for bribes are humiliated and insulted and not allowed to live".

There is then, an intimate connection between corruption, the powerlessness of the poor, of autocratic regimes - all of which are seen as "political" issues - and the economic facts of life for the urban poor.

Freed of autocracy, suddenly allowed onto the streets to find a voice, they merge with the "graduates with no future" who have been networking to build this moment for months and years. And where there are organized workers' movements the workers - as in Egypt - finally come onto the streets and again find a mixture of political and economic freedom. The state run trade unions chase out their appointed heads and the next thing is, wage demands break out.

In country run by old men, where the borders between corruption and perfectly legal patronage and cronyism are blurred (I am writing this in Dublin Airport!), for the youth, the workers and the urban poor, each in their own way, there is no separation of grievances between economics and politics.

What's happening now is that the second phase of the revolutions is already opening up. The Egyptian workers launched a round of wage demands; the Bahraini poor want economic reforms and access to jobs.

Such struggles - I have written at length about them in history - do not conform to the deadlines of 24 hour news channels. They are more like an infantry battle in which you only find out who is winning when the losing side throws its last reserves in and then crumbles. This can take months and the battlefield is the boring, subcutaneous world of the clocking-in desk at the door of shabby factories on the outskirts of suburbs nobody has heard of.

That's one dynamic that's been unleashed in North Africa.

A second one is the oil dynamic - now spectacularly unfolding in Libya. If the regime falls there will be a temporary glitch in the world's oil supplies and the price will spike. It would spike even higher if Iran blew up. But ultimately, western leaders are presuming, "democracy" or democratic values will win out and in the ensuing stability prices will fall.

There is a non-negligible risk of stagflation in the west while this happens: doomsters Nouriel Roubini and Mohamed El Erian have both warned of this in the last couple of days. But there is also the issue of ownership and control of the oil wealth of nations.

Libya, where growth is spectacular - 10% - and inflation low, has 30% unemployment. If the peoples of the middle east actually achieve some form of democratic control over the allocation of oil wealth, the terms of oil contracts etc, it will at the very least change the terms of trade between the developed world and the major oil producers.

OPEC, for example, has worked well as a cartel because it is an association of like-minded despots. The Bush administration may have dreamed of busting up OPEC with a pro-western government in Iraq, before the invasion, but it soon gave up on that - indeed it took the best part of a decade even to get oil contracts to the major producers signed.

And while the oil producing despotic regimes were concerned with the oil price and the oil supply, they were not examining the terms of trade, the restrictions on development, the economic rights of their own populations. There is a chance now that governments in these countries will embrace a more complex and challenging development path than cartel-pricing oil and swanning around the posh hotels of London and Paris.

A third big thing has changed. Libya was courted by western governments because there was a win-win. Gaddafi gave up his WMDs and gave intelligence about the WMDs of others; in return his family became suddenly welcome in the social circles of Berlusconi's Rome and Blair's London. And in return the West could suddenly access a big pool of cheapish (to extract) oil; while it would ultimately have to prospect the tar sands of Alberta, here suddenly was a new supply of the old, bubbly, sweet stuff on tap.

The miscalculation came in that - even if Gaddafi survives - the level of lethal force he has reportedly used means the whole deal is over. As Libyan diplomats jump ship, and fighter pilots defect, the whole ability of autocratic governments to use force against insurrections is being eroded.

And this in turn is being seen by opposition movements from Beijing to Puerto Rico.

The revolutions that spread across Europe in 1848 were driven by different factors: but once people had seen revolution succeed, the desire for it became a common factor. In most places those revolutions produced only counter-revolution, autocracy and then - after 20 years - the beginnings of industrial development. It is hard to see the revolutions of 2011 ending with a Louis Napoleon, a General Heynau, a Bismarck etc everywhere. Indeed David Cameron's speech in Kuwait indicates that the democratic powers in the world would rather see them end with stable democracy.

But democracy opens the way to economic instability, and to an economic re-balancing of wealth and power. All across the developing world people sense this is possible - and that the actions of their own rulers, even if unconstrained locally, are becoming constrained by the global forces.


  • Comment number 1.

    Maybe this blogger should have realised this would happen a few years ago when I spoke to Ted Simon, a journalist who had first ridden around the world on a Triumph motorcycle in the 1970's (Jupiter's Travels) and then repeated the same journey a couple of years back on a BMW motorcycle (Dreaming of Jupiter).

    I asked Ted what was the most significant difference he had noticed between the two trips.

    Without hesitating, he replied that generally he had found that the people he met again were now more dissatisfied with their lives than they had been previously.

    He went on to explain that nowadays, people in even the most far flung places have access to the media and they can then see how other people live - and this is what made them unhappy with their lot.

    Information truly is power.

  • Comment number 2.

    What definition of 'despot' are you using here? Venezuela has a multi-party democracy, and its leader Hugo Chavez has been elected in open verified elections. Your inclusion of Venezuela as despotic is inaccurate and unhelpful.

  • Comment number 3.

    Spot on number one but the in yer face depiction of obscene wealth in the ubiquitous media with its effects is not confined to the seriously poor - it has an effect on the population of the West too.
    There is no telling where this will end - Egypt could have a military leader who suffers from amnesia when the call for elections comes or until a more acceptable dictator emerges. On the other hand a form of democracy incorporating the Muslim Brotherhood but pursuing a more radical and less West orientated foreign policy would not be ridiculous. And so on for Syria, Lebanon, Morocco even Jordan.

    What of Israel when the understanding with Egypt/Syria/Jordan goes?
    Opportunities for China, Hammas and Hezbolah to attract the admiration of the vast numbers of disaffected youth. A social storm sweeping the middle east and North Africa - it will be exciting and dangerous!

  • Comment number 4.

    watriler - totally agree about the media. Every property program on tv is about someone buying a massive house. This gives the appearance that everyone is loaded except the watcher. Same for bank bonuses - you would think all people who work for banks are millionaires. The media only reports extremes but under the banner of normality. This is making a lot of people in the west unhappy, causing people to take on more debt than is sensible as they try to live out the "average" lifestyle portrayed on their tv.

  • Comment number 5.

    The Monkees are reforming. Are we back in the 1970s? Ok they were a 60s band but i saw them on the TV in the 70s. If saudi goes the same way we could be back to the 1970s oil crisis and no drive days on the roads as oil supplies become irregular and expensive.

    If the rise of arab consciousness is an increasing trend with no short term end in sight one has to ask what then?

    The mutter is an oil price of $120 is a global recovery breaker. If saudi goes under $200 might see the light of day. The USA forces in iraq may have to 'secure' the oil fields? Non muslims on holy ground in an occupation might ignite muslim insurgencies in western capitals?

    Cameron has burned our boats with the current arab dictatorships/monarchist/oligarchy but say supporting them for all those years was a 'mistake'. So cameron is betting the arabs will overthrow more despots and is trying to surf the wave of revolution. If he is wrong will the despots forgive and forget and still flow the oil to the uk?

    If we assume democracy delivers incompetence than democracy may very quickly become the playground of the more organised and connected ie islamic brotherhood type who deliver services already?

    so democracy maybe the tin opener but are 20 somethings sophisticated and funded enough to create functioning organisations and keep the borders secure? AQ is unlikely to ignore the opportunity to promote the ' restore the caliphate' agenda? Indeed they may see all this as the will of heaven?

    the Monkees have some very apt song titles for the youth revolutions which given they were a pop band appealing to the young is hardly surprising. Gadaffi maybe singing '(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone' but he should be catching the Last Train to Clarksville' as the kids in the squares sing 'I Wanna Be Free' and by the end of it we'll all be Believers or Monkees?

  • Comment number 6.


    My dads favourite book was Jupiters travels, in fact it inspired him to do a similar thing but on a smaller scale around Europe.

    I have also been fortunate enough to travel extensively before global access to media became a reality for almost everyone. I realised the world had changed when I saw families living under cardboard on the streets of Delhi had TVs.. how they plugged them in was ingenious!!).

    Here is the rub, the tacit assumption seems to be that free media access can only be agood thing, yet all it presents (mostly) is an economic model and an aspirational version of life expectation that is impossible to realise for a finite planet with a population of 6.9 Billion and it is making people unhappy and resentful of each other as a result.

    We are hopelessly imature culturally as a species for the technology we have.

  • Comment number 7.

    Paul, really an excellent article - thanks. I've worked as a journalist and photographer in many North African countries including Libya and Tunisia and whilst there is much turmoil both politically and economically in the region at present, I think this year will usher in an exciting era of renewed growth - provided as you imply, that one despotic regime of sorts doesn't replace the former one.

    The link you draw between the youth, the workers and the urban poor is indeed an insightful one. I am working out in South Africa at the moment and certainly parallels can be drawn albeit on a significantly less revolutionary scale. Here too, the regime changed to a more equitably democratic one in 1994. Peacefully, one has to add - and without the economic instability that your article predicts for the current Arab revolts. However, the situation here seems to be one that is brewing discontent in exactly the segment you mention: the youth, workers and poor (both rural and urban in this case). Take, for instance the upcoming trade union protests against the proposed new toll fees in Gauteng - the basic claim is that the legacy of the past regime is being entrenched with fees that will largely affect the poor and mostly non-white population that were previously forced to live outside the city. The link between politics and economics is tight, and already the ruling ANC party is scrambling to appease the masses. If they don't, they can surely expect wide-spread public protests, Cosatu strike action and violence breaking out as it did in many regions in South Africa over the last year.

    You second point about oil is not really relevant to South Africa - but the equivalent argument in this case would apply to the effective redistribution of wealth in the country.

    One can only hope that the transition to economic stability in the Middle East is a quick one. The repercussions for the rest of the world given the precious resource they supply would make an already delicate global economic state even more fragile.

    Olga Rikova (Czech on Africa blog)

  • Comment number 8.

    " economic re-balancing of wealth and power".

    Indeed, if a revolution is a revolution it is new economic relations.

    The smug politicians of the West who think this is western 'democracy' sweeping the world are so very much mistaken.

    Just see their reaction as the struggles in Wisconsin spread.
    The revolution is coming to the USA as well - they also want democracy.

  • Comment number 9.

    Gadaffi, Berlusconi and Blair.

    Sums it all up really. Their's was the victory of style over substance.

    Sadly for such as they style does not feed bellies or aspirations.

    Time and tide waiteth for no man, the tide has turned and there is little time left. Change has to come so embrace it.

    Run forward comrade, the past is behind you!

  • Comment number 10.

    EYES TO SEE (#8)

    I came across mention of 'The Genesis Network' and followed the link. Lots of pictures of black and brown bare-foot survivors.

    You have to smile - WE are the ones in irreversible trouble. And WE are the ones threatening THEIR SURVIVAL.

    But ever since we took ship to their lands, our arrogance and blindness has gone with us. Little has changed - only the ability to do greater harm.

    (With a nod to Larkin and Kipling)

    We mucked the World, we British folk
    We did not mean to but we did
    And now we snarl and remonstrate
    With those who of us would be rid.

    As gold and slaves came pouring in
    Disease and piety left our shores.
    We weren’t alone in what we did
    But we excelled and scarce gave pause.

    In farming then in industry
    Each revolution overturned
    Our last connections with the Earth
    As in our hearts a passion burned.

    We’d bring this gift to all the World
    The wondrous Western Way of Life.
    We’d cut them off from nature’s whim
    Then - for their sake - we’d turn the knife.

    We’d bleed them of their foolish ways
    Where water’s borne on balanced head.
    Entice away with cash-crop beads
    To string them up on Mammon’s thread.

    Their way of life we cast aside
    In arrogance of pitch and toss.
    Yet as we reap the whirlwind’s lash
    We breathe no word about their loss.

    So now the mucking worm has turned
    It eats the very guts we lack.
    The Tree of Life, felled for its wood
    Makes us a rod for our own back.

  • Comment number 11.

    The hypermeedja-'Hello! magazine' revolution. Who would have thought that ordinary people and their ordinary wants could be more powerful than the plotting and cajoling of the radicals and fanatics with their revolutionary blueprints

    To be honest I think we should credit that Lloyd Grossman as the revolutionary spark behind Middle Eastern uprising...if William Hill would take odds and let me pass my slip down to my great grandchildren I reckon the writing of history would put him in the fulcrum

    Good luck to all the brave citizens! We are the people!

  • Comment number 12.

    Mr Mason

    You seem to like democracy....although you say that democracy may open the way to instability. But perhaps the BBC is not so enthusiastic !

    The moderators continue to 'say' for my one of my previous blogs submitted more than 48 hours ago :

    11. At 00:22am on 21 Feb 2011, you wrote:
    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain

    Why don't you or the BBC explain why my entry has neither been disallowed or published.

    Or would it be better to think along the lines of an ordinary citizen taking legal action along the lines of your breaking the 2006 Act of Parliament.

    Sir you do not own the is the public domain. It was set up by Royal Charter.

  • Comment number 13.

    More focus on the S word as well as the D word would be helpful.

  • Comment number 14.

    The most important question is whether or not the arms dealers secured any orders during their Middle East trip. I trust Newsnight will raise this issue with Posh Boy at the earliest.

  • Comment number 15.


    Shirley Bassey used to sing: "If there's a wrong way to do it - nobody does it like me."

    Something weird has gripped this country. The one word that best describes it is PERVERSITY. And a string of Prime Ministers have been High Priests of perversity - and we have got ourselves another one.

    For us to castigate 'Honest Gadaffi', who wears his Rottweiler on his sleeve, while we sell 'DEFENCE weapons' to any snake who can hiss a 'form of words', puts us on a far lower level of iniquity.

    The list of our evils is endless, and always fronted by 'democracy and the rule of law' HYPOCRISY.

    Weep Britain.

  • Comment number 16.

    Listening to Michael Hudson one gets a clear sense of how the economic warfare "thing" is playing out:

    He describes how the USA is prepared to squeeze US standards of living to protect the dollar and the US economy. Indeed it is actually a case of beggar thyself. Those countries that can deflate their economy without provoking rebellion among the hoi polloi are the ones that will survive this currency war.

    If the Kleptocracy is blatant, and living standards are low and declining then for sure revolt is likely (e.g. Egypt, Tunisia & Libya). Other Middle East countries may be able to protect themselves as much by reasonable standards of living (say an average income of over $12k) as they can through Autocratic regimes. Ireland is a case in point in that people are broadly aware of the Kleptocracy, but fortunately they still have a reasonably comfortable lifestyle, so the friction is moderated.

    In the UK we still have (the illusion of) a comfortable lifestyle and very little awareness of the fraud. As in the US (and Japan beforehand), we are bending over the barrel and taking the economic shafting (Austerity & Inflation) without much of a whimper. In a bizarre and masochistic sort of way, this could indeed be our saviour.

    We just need to hang on long enough to break our opponents. China is bubbling though and this could be the real test case, as the population may not yet have graduated in to the category of docile Kleptocracy tolerators.

    Is this the beginning of the end game?

  • Comment number 17.

    11 SPOT ON mojothingy!

    For decades I was locked into our partly political party system (in my case the Young Socialists and Labour with some fascinating lectures from Max Gluckman of Marxism Today)...but I early on realised that "Labour" was no more likely to care about working people and the underclass than Margaret fact in some ways I thought Enoch Powell was their real champion!

    Anyway...before kashi "comes early with a tan" all over my post can I just thank him for his thoughtful response to my post about his criticisms of Barrie`s AV idea .....and say what a joy it is to read all these fascinating and various ideas .....and suggest that there`s a lot more hope now than there has ever been for people to talk over the heads of the powerful and spoil the powerful`s games!

    This blog suggests to me that we have in the English language ...and the internet ...and the unexpected multiracial consequences of our ancestor`s piracy the potential for a New Enlightenment (with these blogs as the new coffee houses?).... where we are free to think and talk outside the box .....and form new boxes of our own ....unmolested by the silly nonsense of the party non-politics that has trapped us into wasting our lives playing futile Punch `n Judy party games for centuries.

    But a word to the wise...before we allow ourselves too much pleasure at the discomfort of our present and past party politicians..... let`s ask ourselves if they were really as deliberately dishonest and hypocritical and treacherous as we might imagine...or just trapped in the same system that held us all in its grip....and reflect on the likelihood that they and we (and even the dictators of this world) are just bumbling along making the best of things using the beliefs and opportunies life throws in our path?

    And that maybe the way is now clear for all of us to build a completely new ways that our ancestors were denied....through no fault of their own!


  • Comment number 18.

    Fantastic Newsnight last night and we don't say that too often but the discussion on press v internet was high standard and chair'd by Jeremy who gave everyone equal time...just wish they had broardend it and asked each of them their opinion on Libya, but I suppose you have to stick to your brief.....

  • Comment number 19.

    re the discussion about journos or the bloggers on the internet well after NN I switched on Sky for their paper review as NN gives it about four milliseconds and there was an 'investigative' reporter who works for ITV and was given his two pennyworth on 'civil rights' his rant was to the right of Ghengis and pure Thatcherite, his female counterpart shot him down in flames as did the presenter but if a journo can hold 'views' like this then I prefer a blogger anyday, especially one who lives in this century. Just how did Sky let him off with his 'lesbian' remark...incredible...

  • Comment number 20.


    the uk is still under norman monarchy occupation. the establishment game is to farm the uk for revenue.
    this is why millionaire landowners get 4 billion a year subsidy ringfenced while other services to poor people are cut. Why tax money is chucked at multinationals to deliver failed projects. If tax money is for the poor and needy in what way are millionaires 'poor and needy'?

    the only concern of the apartheid norman monarchy occupation is revenue. not to take the good as the highest idea of the mind. there are even laws protecting that world of false belief from reason.

    as one person joked a long time ago the English people are the last colony of 'the empire' [who unlike, the Irish, Welsh and Scots, don't realise it].

  • Comment number 21.

    Surely what we are seeing is one of the corollaries to the consensus view of globalisation. The latter has presumed that the developed world can blithely reap the "rewards" of cheap foreign labour. But life is not so simple. The rest of the world wants their share as well ...

  • Comment number 22.

    The democracy thing is becoming an economic thing.
    No, the economic thing is becoming a revolutionary thing.
    The ongoing revolts in the Middle East & North Africa have exposed the always outrageous claim that the US government has an interest in democracy. It doesn't even have a democracy in the United States; it has rule for the rich, by the rich = plutocracy.
    One Middle Eastern or North African revolution has risen up after another - all of these regimes armed, financed and maintained by Washington and to a lessor extent United Kingdom.
    The goal of western foreign policy is to defend the strategic interests of the US/UK corporate-financial oligarchy.
    This fact has not been lost on everyone. The revelation of the source of financing and weaponry has always been an open secret that everyone tried really hard to overlook. US imperialism has always camouflaged its imperalistic aspirations in the cloaks of “freedom and democracy”.
    You probably won't recollect but as far back as the 1920's, Trotsky wrote: “America is always liberating somebody, that’s her profession.” e.g. “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and “Operation Enduring Freedom” - the official names used by the US governments for its liberation (i.e. unending occupation) of Iraq & Afghanistan.
    So, the question must be asked: what sort of countries pour billions of dollars into Ben Ali (Tunisia), Mubarak (Egypt), or Saleh (Yemen)? Countries that love and hold dear democracy?
    For decades these regimes have arrested, tortured and even murdered political opponents. For decades, they have suppressed the people in the interest of their foreign corporations & privitization of wealth.
    I forget in which newspaper I read in regards to the Green Revolution in Iran, that it's important to understand why success will be harder in Iran than in Egypt and Tunisia: because while conditions in Iran, Egypt and numerous other countries are generally similar, Iran’s leaders are “more ruthless.” More ruthless? More ruthless than Mubarak, Saleh and Ben Ali?
    This is a lie.
    Mubarak and Egypt’s military lived by violence; it lived by violence through the "generosity" of the western financing and weaponry. Far from pressuring the Egyptian government to avoid violence, Washington enlisted Egyptian officials to torture US-held prisoners as part of the US' rendition scheme in its feigned “war on terror.” The regime killed thousands and imprisoned tens of thousands.
    One of these pro-American dictatorships in Bahrain, an island nation whose people live in the ominous shadow of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The dictatorship launched a deadly assault on protesters. Officially, five were killed, although 60 are missing - batons, rubber bullets and pellets were fired. People were attacked sleeping - men, women and children without mercy. Thereafter, during the huge funeral processions, crowds were attacked (again), this time by an American-trained army. Bahrain is vital to American geopolitical interests. As far as Washington is concerned, this Persian Gulf kingdom - so important geopolitically - could be, may well be where support for Middle East democracy dies. (I wonder what justification the US will come up with for that.)
    Please don't kid yourself; the US government has supported absolutely vile, evil regimes, such as:
    - Franco’s Spain
    - apartheid South Africa,
    - governments run by really barberous butchers in Central and South America, and
    - practically feudal monarchies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. American foreign policy has in fact never seemed to mind lots of blood to grease the American world vision.
    The hostile comments about the Iranian Government are not driven by any love for democracy. The strongest Iranian support comes from the middle class, which criticizes the Ahmadinejad government for not buying into The International Monetary Fund-inspired “free market reforms.” Tell me why Ahmadinejad should do that when Sharia-compliant banks are making a solid, substantial profits. And remember - a Mousavi-Karroubi regime in Iran would still be a dictatorship, only it would be a “pro-American” dictatorship.
    The Obama administration registers its “alarm” and “deep concern” about each successive atrocity carried out by its dictatorial client-states while it is (likely) deciding behind closed doors how to form a Coalition of the Willing to take out Gaddafi and thus make another fortune for the American military complex.
    Such blatant hypocracy!
    But who will call out the Americans?
    Who will tell them that that they are not wanted where true democracy has a chance to flower.

  • Comment number 23.

    'Here's how the dynamic of the Middle East revolution is unfolding...'

    That's quite a claim. Maybe it's worth checking around to see what others might, er, opine, not be so sure about, etc...

    Can't wait to see who gets the invite for tonight... to 'discuss' things.

  • Comment number 24.

    Well Jim at 17...its analysis, but not as we know it

    I post elsewhere and padded out the quick though above a bit here you seem fiesty so I expect a decent kicking afterwards...

    The hypermeedja-'Hello! magazine' revolution is picking up pace. Who would have thought that ordinary people and their ordinary wants could be more powerful than the plotting and cajoling of the radicals and fanatics with their revolutionary blueprints.

    We have always thought of revolutionary sorts as a bit mad, bad and dangerous...disaffectedly formenting in the corners trying to inflict their joylessness on us (sort of like the punters in the LR ;-) )...and in doing so forming a vanguard of supposed hope and change for the better that lets the malevolent thiefs, crooks and fascists in behind them. The old story goes...we (ie the people of the world in all their various poitical captions) are all busy with our lives, we want a bit of change, we are not that empowered but we know some people that sort of seem to be on our page so we back them and then get back to living (as most of us don't give a damn about political theories)...its not that we are lazy, we are busy worker bees. I mean this story as much as in a British election as an Egyptian revolt. Then there's the new story....

    Hypermeedja! We thought it was purely cuddly and distracting (a wholesome break from the porn perhaps that was getting a bit waring through the hypermeedja portal...that's got to have some powerful psycho-sexual ramifications for society...but I'll be sploshed if I know what it is!?)....ahem....enough fullsome ladies sitting in chocolate cakes and back to the story.....

    BUT it is much more than just fluffy. It is a tool that means we, the peeple, are part of the revolution. Some of you intellectual sorts will think that there must be a plan for a revolution (both to have it and to stop the fringe nutters from running the agenda)....but you are "so far behind the curve history is laughing at you" TM (another mojovision post to be released as soon as I have the time to sift the chaos in my head and put it down for you). You are behind the curve as hypermeedja is allowing ordinary and mundane people to sheperd the revolution. I have posted before on the hypermeedja meta bubble we are in (the recent market bubbles are a function of this) and in doing so I pointed out that the power of this thing was not in business, consumerism, illicit affairs...but in voila...the Middle East goes pop in a way that 'the people in charge' didn't see coming

    There was much more spice in the ME but we have seen shades of hypermeedja revolution elsewhere. Some examples of how this is formenting include Tea Party, Con-Lib pastiche, Wisconsin protests, the whole Fox News effect in US, many subcurrents currently submerged in China (will the Jasmine thing go anywhere?)...and perhaps little ol Ireland may give us some surprises now that the fuse is lit.

    My point is that a tool for fostering radical change is in place...and if you look around us in the aftermath of the credit crisis (it was soooooo 2008!) you see that there is global background upon which foment can build. Now, don't expect your conventional politicians and media outlets to be quick on this (though I love some of the Paul Mason stuff over on his Idle Scrawl blog) nor shoud you expect it to be safe conversation in the office around the watercooler...the barrier of conventional perception are resolute...and of course that is why they are so fragile and disappear in a puff of hypermeedja smoke that carries our inner selfs into the public domain.....FREEEEEEDOM! Its just like a glorious global Bette Middler moment...let it out!...join the revolution and see where is takes us all. We know it is fabulously incoherent and we don't all agree with each other...but, unlike the old guard, we can live with it

    To be honest I think we should credit that Lloyd Grossman (the revolutionary that brought us "Through the Keyhole of the Rich and Famous" cunning and farsighted of him) as the revolutionary spark behind Middle Eastern uprising and other coming hypermeedja revolutions (not all dramatic!)...if William Hill would take odds and let me pass my slip down to my great grandchildren I reckon the writing of history would put him in the fulcrum

    Good luck to all the brave citizens! We are the people!

    (And good luck to the Libyan peoples and here's hoping the terror they have met does not poison their dreams)

    And remember campers...don't get carried away...this is revolution, but now as we know it. It wont show up as dramatically in Europe and US as in Egypt (or maybe China!?) but we are in revolutionary times. We need a song for it....

  • Comment number 25.

    Paul liked the blog but you have....
    "But democracy opens the way to economic instability, and to an economic re-balancing of wealth and power."
    In an immediate sense, this statement has a ring of truth. There will be a clamour for greater say by the long downtrodden in Egypt, Tunisia and the rest of the revolting Middle East. These countries may dispose of entrenched despots such as Mubarak, Ghaddafi and Ben Ali. However, the real power in Egypt is the army, in Libya, I don't know that well tbf, but I expect the Oil Companies and their correspondents in the apparat will hold sway and cling on to the vestiges of power. The extent to which democracy, however declared, can change these loci of power remains to be seen. There are forces that have a huge stake in maintaining the status quo (not just Francis Rossi) that can tolerate "democracy" as long as the economic drivers still operate. Can democracies change things more than the despots in any event? We have seen developed democracies such as the UK be impacted by commodity price inflation, according to Mervyn beyond their/our control. I don't disagree that democracy may ameliorate wealth distribution to some extent - However, the fundamental global instability, the eddies from the crash of 2008/9 are still playing out. Food price inflation problems can not entirely be solved by redistributing wealth through democracy. I think the issue is more how do democracies deal with economic instability and the effects of an imbalanced world economy, including clamours for protectionism, immigration controls, creaking safety net, devaluing living standards, etc. as well as the more hum drum feeding of the population which Egypt even managed to do before the outbreak of democracy. Western democracy has never quite overcome the military industrial complex, or the strength of large banks, which all act as a distortion on the distribution of wealth and power in democracies.

  • Comment number 26.

    24 mojo...I am so trapped in the past that I can only empathise with your general sentiments....a sort of emotional dynamic about the exciting prospect of a bloodless consensual reformation of what has gone before without a swift return to hierarchical us and them exploiter/exploited structure (of the sort that Thatcherism affected to be about with the idea that "we are all self-employed now."?)

    But my brain was configuired too long ago and I struggle with this distinction between economic and political and societal and philosophical issues...and always did.

    I never could understand Popper or his disciple Soros...yet if there is an elephant in our room now it`s the "Open Society" now....rather than socialism or liberalism or capitalism/reaction in the form they come to us in our strange neoliberal "party political" system.Do we discuss it?

    You are the future..I am the wishes...swim on!

  • Comment number 27.

    Paul, your title, and Mr Cameron pontificating about human rights on his arms-pushing tour, reminded me of one of my favourite Brecht/Weill songs from the Threepenny Opera:
    (Ernst Busch with subtitles)

    Or Tom Watts' version

    Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral! - You can afford morals when your belly is full!

  • Comment number 28.

    Here's a scenario. The public are so fed-up with the Lib-Dems that there is a NO to AV in referendum. The Lib-Dems then implode because of the anger about being pimped by Clegg. The govermment then collapses and calls an early election. Thanks to boundary changes the Tories get 36% of the vote but an ovearll majority of 50. The new Tory government claims a "mandate" for a new austerity regime.

    Then the strikes and demonstrations start and turn into riots. The government sends troops to defend "democracy and the rule of law" against the majority who did not vote for them. Who would be right?

    To quote the passage from Hemmingway again:

    "There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes."

  • Comment number 29.

    @Sasha Clarkson

    My LibDem friend has spoken of a different vision: rather than precipitating a general election, where they will be wiped out, the LieDems abandon the Cons and form a coalition with Labour. Problem is will the numbers ever add up?

  • Comment number 30.

    Not now. But if they'd offered conditional support to the Tories but no coalition, and let the Tories hang themselves, it might have worked.

  • Comment number 31.


    I have now established, beyond reasonable doubt, that the Conservative confection: "THE CONSERVATIVES MUST WIN HERE TO STOP ANOTHER 5 YEARS OF GORDON BROWN" was, is, and ever shall be, a lie. As I have posted, it was used in a generic flyer from Con HQ, modified slightly to suit, across a number (16+) of constituencies.

    Now hear this: THE ASA HAVE NO POWER OVER PRINTED POLITICAL FALSE ADVERTISING. And even if they did, political parties have no reality in law.

    So next time you hear 'FREE AND FAIR DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS UNDER THE RULE OF LAW', you will know it is not a valid reference to Britain - probably Venezuela or some joke republic with a rubbish GDP and no 'defence' industry.

    "We can't go on like this." (Dave) If ever a country were ripe for revolution - it is ours. As a start


  • Comment number 32.


    The Age of Perversity will always deliver needy juveniles to high office through the medium of the Perverse Palace Politics of Westminster. Nick had not the maturity to recognise that NEED was driving him, and that altruism had fled. With juvenile fearfulness (that he might not get this close again) Nick clutched second prize and fell into the presumptuous grasp of Devious Dave.

    Nick could have done SO MUCH in the name of integrity. the moment will not come again.

  • Comment number 33.

    I partly agree with George @30, but I'd go further. The Lib-Dems suffered from a failure of imagination at a crucial point. They could have supported a minority conservative ADMINISTRATION. That is, ministerial offices needed filling for the day to day management of the state. However, in the country, and in the manifestos of elected candidates, there was a clear majority against many Tory policies, which could have translated itself into a majority in the House if parties had been prepared to cooperate across party lines where their principles coincided. What we had instead was an unprincipled conspiracy to hijack the state, shaft the electorate, and share the spoils of victory.

    I agree with Barrie (@32) - I think that such an opportunity is unlikely to come again. I am particularly angry about the dishonest sophistry of the former St Vince, who implied that Because their party didn't win the election, they didn't need to keep their promises.

    In that case why make promises at all? Just give your MP a blank cheque to do what he likes!

    Short term the Lib-Dems are probably toast. The only chance for a medium term revival would be if they split. Someone, say like Kennedy, could probably carry the bulk of the grass roots with him, leaving a parliamentary rump under Clegg to suffer the fate of the Liberal nationals after 1935 - increasing irrelvance and final absorbtion into the Tories.

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 34.

    y'know what.

    The end is nigh.

    We have about 18 months.

    Just enough to prove the Mayan's right.

    Let he who hath understanding stockpile fuel,food,morphine and sustainable technology in abundance on a small sub - equatorial island with a high proportion of elevated topography, sit back and watch the show.

  • Comment number 35.

    Meanwhile, I saw this first on aljazeera. It's on the BBC website but not on the news:

    As for @33 - I've not an inkling as to why it was referred, and I'm VERY cross about it. I was, as usual, moderate in my language, and whatever criticisms of politicians I made were as nothing compared with the regular unpleasantness churned out by bloggers on Nick R's blog. Now, at best, what I feel was one of my more valuable contributions will be buried for a couple of days.

    GRRRRRR! :-(

  • Comment number 36.

    #35 - Sasha Clarkson

    Oh you should try Hewitt's Euroblog where moderation standards have sunk to a level which would have Goebbels laughing in his grave.

  • Comment number 37.

    @35 Here's the aljazeera web-report.

    I particularly like the slogans: "We are not paying" and "No sacrifice for plutocracy!"

  • Comment number 38.


    I used 'male-chicken-eyed' in its more usual form, and though hyphenated, the first word (male chicken) triggered non-appearance and an email! I reposted using the three word compilation and up it went.

    Once again I suggest NewsyNighty should re-deploy the guy who enhances Gaddafi's image with incongruous colour, and put him on Blogdog duty.

  • Comment number 39.

    @38 Ha! :-D I use such subterfuge quite a lot, and it can be amusing; but the necessity for so much self-censorship gets tedious at times. What a load of oblate spheroids! (Or is it shoe repairers?) I think I should find the time to compile a dictionary of euphemism! G'night!

  • Comment number 40.

    No mention of any intelligence agencies then? Given the historical record of the CIA in orchestrating coups of this type you'd think people would at least consider their part in this, after all the US intelligence community don't get $500 billion of funding to twiddle their thumbs idly all day. People are making out that these "revolutions" are counter to Western interests, they're saying Mubarak was a puppet, I've even heard some dimwits calling Gaddafi a US puppet.

    Mubarak wouldn't allow military bases on US soil, apart from the 500 troops specified under the Camp David accord. He said Iran was a stabilising force in the Middle East at the height of America's attempts to isolate them in october 2010 and he refused to sign a treaty binding Isreal, the US, Saudi Arabia and Egypt together in case of a war with Iran. He wasn't a puppet, now he's gone, thanks to the CIA. The US doesn't like dictators because they are difficult to control, they'd much prefer a "democracy" where they can pick a new leader every four years.

  • Comment number 41.

    If we truly want to restore stability to Africa we must put pressure on the Tories to get out of bed with the banks and do something about the detestable practice of food commodities speculating. I did some digging, spoke to some economist colleagues (and an ex commodities trader) and have tried to explain the situation, as simply as I can here:

    An Idiot's Guide to Food Speculating

    It is incomprehensible to me that on the same day that I read reports of hundreds, possibly thousands, of dead, investments magazines are publishing articles entitled "9 Agriculture Stocks to Consider Before the Middle East Dust Settles".

  • Comment number 42.

    @ Good point, and not only food but oil too. The money governments are throwing at the banks isn't being loaned out because it's much more profitable to buy speculative derivatives with it. The only problem is that derivatives don't create value, they only leach money out of the real economy, so our taxes are paying for the bankers' right to steal from us.

    It's still not too late to let them fail, let the banks that weren't up to their eyeballs in fraud and toxic derivatives replace them.

  • Comment number 43.

    @41 Thanks for the link :-) @42 "....our taxes are paying for the bankers' right to steal from us. .." Nice turn of phrase - I shall plagiarise this in the future! ;-)

  • Comment number 44.

    MALE SUCCESS (#41 link)

    I used to suggest (e.g. to Rowntree in 1995) the planet had been 'male-ised' (by force unknown) such that all success and value is now measured in male terms. I have since discovered 'The Master and his Emmisary' which has convinced me it is the 'locus of viewpoint' in' the human brain, that has shifted to the male, inexorably male-ing our planet.

    Look around: even women's liberation is in MALE TERMS (read Bright Yang Thing, on the other thread).

    Wisdom resides in BALANCE, as the ancient Chinese seem to have known. Mankind is now seriously 'unbalanced' (never a truer word). Male goals, male values, male prizes, male over-focus; and on to oblivion.

    Alex B. I tried to include reference to Harry Lime but failed.

  • Comment number 45.

    Brilliant article, Mr Mason! It's interesting reading about the recent African uprisings, and even more interesting reading about the impact that it's going to have in North Africa and the Middle East, and indeed the world going forward - economically and otherwise.

    You're very right in drawing the link between the urban poor, autocratic regimes and corruption - in fact, it need not even be an autocratic regime. There are plenty of real democracies in which in the Gini coefficients are ridiculous - and the correlation between these countries and the level of corruption is unsurprisingly high.

    On a lighter note, I think you'd enjoy this satirical cartoon take on the North African revolutions I found on an African news blog. The warning is there - loud and clear - against apathy when it comes to holding government to account for their actions and their responsibilities, even if the country is a democracy.

  • Comment number 46.

    Great article Mr Mason,

    Democracy is definitely becoming an economic thing, and in this case especially. Why else would Blair and Berlusconi be frantically calling Gadaffi on the phone, to tell him to step down?

    The business links between Berlusconi and Gadaffi have been out in the press since 2009. See below

    More recent arms deals facilitated by Blair, Putin and Sarcozy are going to be under close scrutiny in the near future I would expect.

    What are Libyan people doing when they hold up a placard to a TV camera? They are asking us to hold our governments accountable, our oil and gas companies and our failing international political system accountable. How did Gadaffi get a seat on the UN human right council? Was everyone having a nap that day?

    I've put together my own little piece on how rule and stay cool in the 21st century here. Satire but I hope it will make people think.



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