The cynical wisdom of western liberals – according to whom, in Arab countries, any genuine democratic sensibility is limited to small bunch of liberal elites, while the vast majority can only be mobilized through religious fundamentalism or vulgar nationalism – has been proven wrong.
When a new provisional government was nominated in Tunis, it excluded Islamists and the more radical left. The reaction of smug liberals was: good, they are the basically same two totalitarian extremes – but are things really as simple as that? Is the true long-term antagonism not precisely between Islamists and the left?
Even if they are temporarily united against their common enemy, once they approach victory their unity will doubtless become unstable, and what will most likely ensure is a deadly struggle even more cruel than that against the regime.
Is such a struggle not precisely what we witnessed after the 2009 elections in Iran? What the hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters stood for was the popular dream that sustained the Khomeini revolution: freedom and justice. Even if this dream was utopian, it did lead to a breathtaking explosion of political and social creativity, organizational experiments and debates among students and ordinary people.
This genuine opening that unleashed real potential for social transformation – a moment in which everything seemed possible – was then gradually stifled through the takeover of political control by the Islamist establishment.
[Extract. Appeared in ABC on February 3rd 2011.]