'Each man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world'
-- Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

'Artists are tricky fellows sir, forever shaping the world according to some design of their own'
-- Jonathan Strange, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Monday, 14 February 2011

Iran, Egypt as Insurgency - Fighting for a Contested Space


'In essence, the contest in insurgencies, as Mao understood, was for the support of the 'people' - the 'sea' in which both guerillas and security forces operate. In insurgency warfare whichever protagonist gains the support of the people is the one who will emerge victorious... When the forces countering an insurgency make the people feel safe, and when they can guarantee their security and a path to a better future [my italics], then they will gain the people's support, and ultimately they will win. If this does not happen, then the 'people' will be forced to support those that they fear - the insurgents. The first point here is that the 'people' will only feel confident with the security [and this includes economic and legalistic security, the latter enshrined by a constitution] provided by the proper authorities [my italics] when they see that the forces of that authority are close and available. If they are, then the authority tends to be accepted at the legitimate power, and the 'people' will be attracted to that power like moths to a flame.'
-- Rod Thornton, Asymmetric Warfare, 2007

What happened in Egypt? A constitution that limited the ability of opposition movements to function in the legitimate apparatus of government has been torn up. A new constitution will be written; unsaid at this time is the notion that this will allow legitimate position/opposition, but democracy is an all-or-nothing venture. You either have democracy or you do not have democracy. 

The army have maintained their monopoly on violence. It was never in question. Since 1952 they have assumed de facto leadership in the country - Nasser, Sadat (a member of the Free Officers club from the 1952 coup), Mubharak all came from the ranks of the military. U.S. aid abets the military machine (the fifth largest military exports to any nation), and with 448 000 military personnel, is the 11th largest army in the world with a reserve of nearly 400 000 again that makes the percentage employed in the armed forces as a percentage of the labour force (males aged 15-49) approximately 3.5%, the fifteenth largest percentage in the world. The military are accorded privileged status. With a lack of visible leadership in the opposition protests, it has been left to high ranking military officials to precipitate the transition authority. Israel has already indicated that it might be able to 'work with' Field Marshal Tantawi.

Don't be fooled then by media portrayals of the events. The army were called in when the police lost the ability to prosecute the state's monopoly on violence. The army prosecuted. Reports of arrests and torture by the army on civilians abound and many protestors are still missing.The army will not have the monopoly on violence rested from them. What matters then is that the concerns of the population are addressed - and that main concern is the economy, which has deprived many civilians of basic social trappings

When Schopenhaeur wrote that men take the limits of their field of vision for the limits of the world, he wasn't discussing the world media but it would have had relevance. The media has focused, rightly, on the cities, but Egypt is a nation. In the periphery, the protestors are seen by many as anarchists and the police have continued, in these areas to implement the rule of law. 

The planned day of solidarity with Egypt, scheduled for the 14th February by  Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi (both now under house arrest) was likely to be a focal point for renewed protests against the ruling establishment. This is not about economics, this is about Fukuyama's other principle - recognition. Similar riots in 2009, known as the Green Revolution (or Twitter Revolution after the social network of choice), were brutally crushed, and since the monopoly on violence remains with the theocracy as does the ability to restrict global media access (the latter being orders of magnitude higher than in Egypt), caution should be the watchword. A bloodbath could ensue or at least the disappearance of a great many activists in the capital. So efficient were the authorities in quelling the Green Revolution that they videotaped large areas of the protests so as to imprison certain ringleaders when they had been identified at a later date. It is also rumoured that some 5000 members of Hizbollah were drafted into the capital to contest the protestors' physical spaces. Figures, general at best, give Monday's protestors at 100, 000, perhaps a third of the number of protestors at the height of the Twitter 'Revolution'

Logo employed by demonstrators during the 2009 Twitter Revolution
That the words are in English not Farsi suggests an attempt to engage world media
When examining media reports in the coming days - on Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, Iran inter alia, envisage this contested space as insurgency, with all its commensurate implications, and examine the dynamic of the state's monopoly on violence and the protestors as the insurgents fighting for the support of the people. 

Further [Internet activity in Iran has been disrupted]:

Freegate: Freeware software used to open proxies (circumvent firewalls) 

@tehranbureau  - best reporting from the ground in Tehran (thanks to Alex Strick for this twitter feed)

www.kaleme.org - Mir Hussein Mousavi's Official Website

www.en-hrana.org - Human Rights Organization

Guardian UK's page that maintains a record of the dead and detained from the Green Revolution 

'Theocracy and its Discontents', Fareed Zakaria. 2009 article detailing the current status quo in Tehran

'Iran's Long Reach: Iran as a Pivotal State in the Muslim World', Susanne Maloney, USIP. Brilliant work on Iranian Theocracy, written before the 2009 Green Revolution

'The Islamic Republic of Iran: Is it Really?" Shaffer, in Shaffer ed. 'The Limits of Culture: Islam and Foreign Policy', MIT Press


  1. That Guardian list of the missing, detained and dead in Iran hasn't been updated since January 2010. The Iran Prisoner List at http://hyperactivist.info/ipr.html was created to provide a better quality list of verified information that I have pledged to maintain as long as it is needed.

  2. Thanks - that is a detailed database. I'm writing a further post on Iran and I'll include that link there. That's an interesting article you wrote on the DoS against balatarin, also.