« installations that create conversations | Main | the greedy ghost of market madness in the university »

February 1, 2011

Egypt as a velvet revolution

In a New York Review article in 2009, Timothy Garton Ash offered some generalizations about the "Velvet Revolution" [VR] as a historical phenomenon. Its archetype is Eastern Europe in 1989, but other important examples have occurred in South Africa, the Philippines, Chile, and now perhaps in Egypt. After the metaphor of velvet seemed to wear out, the language shifted to colors, so that we have now seen a Rose Revolution in Georgia, an Orange Revolution in Ukraine, a Pink Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, a frustrated Green Revolution in Iran, and a Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. I haven't seen much mention of a color in Egypt, but citizens there are clearly following the Velvet Revolution or Color Revolution script.

Ash writes:

Two other defining features of the Velvet or Color Revolution:

1) It locates the ideal outcome not in a hitherto unrealized future, but in a real past or in an actual existing situation from today's world. I cannot speak for Egyptians, but I suspect they want a society more like today's Turkey, Spain, or Sweden. In Velvet Revolutions, the actual parliamentary democracies of the present are treated as normal, and the goal is to attain normality. This is very different from trying to end history or achieve a novel kind of state.

2) It is self-limiting, concerned to avoid replacing the old tyrant with a new tyrant. Mass movements can easily be taken over by well-placed, professional revolutionaries who then become dictators. Mass nonviolent protests can easily turn violent, and once political killing becomes common, it is extremely hard to avoid civil war and then repression. Successful mass movements limit themselves by finding some bright-line rule, a restriction on their own power, that they demand their own members follow. Non-violence is one such rule, and it has the advantage of being clearly defined. But it is not the only workable rule. In Iran in 2009, protesters seemed to fasten on the rule: "Hurt the machines, love the human beings." They would violently pelt Revolutionary Guard motorcyclists with stones until the Guardsmen were unseated, at which point they would give them medical assistance. In Egypt, one emergent rule is: "Molotov Cocktails yes, Guns no."

February 1, 2011 9:49 AM | category: democratic reform overseas | Comments



Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?

Site Meter