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Star Wars and Understanding the Arab Spring

Posted: 28/02/2012 22:45

The heady optimism of 2011 and the rapid fall of the regimes of Gaddafi, Mubarak and Ben Ali, has been replaced by disappointment in the new military leadership in Cairo, deep divisions in Libya and of course the continued brutal clampdown against protestors in Syria. Western public's confidence in the Arab Spring, divided from the start between support to the non-violent square seizing revolutionaries and scepticism about the religious slogan chanting Islamists, can be forgiven for wondering what will happen next.

In the interests of creative thinking I suggest that there are a series of interesting parallels with the original Star Wars trilogy (episodes IV-VI) can provide a practical narrative of understanding.

This may appear a little bizarre but it is worth remembering that the original Star Wars films chronicled the story of a hero who represents a crucially important demographic component of what would form the Arab Spring's revolutionary vanguard. Indeed Luke Skywalker was a under-employed young graduate, living at home with high expectations for his future not being met by the Empire's lack of attention to the provincial backwater where he lived. As the Observer's Henry Porter explained, "youth unemployment and the grinding lack of hope are the source of the most serious social and political problems across the Arab world. The unemployment rate among Tunisians under 25 is about 26%. Half of the 60,000 graduates released on to the jobs market every year will not find work".

Skywalker would ultimately be responsible for the destruction of Empire's most fearsome weapon largely due to secret official documents being smuggled to the rebels that he joined. Although it cannot be said to be of the same impact, the smuggled official secret US diplomatic cables, revealed in the Wikileaks documents, highlighted cases of massive corruption in the Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes. As the US Ambassador in Tunis wrote "whether it's cash, services, land, property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali's family is rumoured to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants".

Of course Skywalker had originally opted not to join the rebellion, it was the murder of his uncle and aunt by the Empire that triggered his quest for revenge. In Syria the continued protests have been maintained by a 'momentum of martyrdom', whereby funerals in particular have been used as rallying points for further protest. The use of disproportionate force in an attempt to scare opposition into submission was a common tactic used by all the dictatorial regimes, but as with the Empire's willingness to destroy entire planets it only succeeded in consolidated hatred against the regimes.

Yet the most important parallel to be made is the euphoria that surrounded the destruction of the Death Star, in parallel to the excitement that came with the fall of the dictators in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, and the corresponding disappointment about what came next. Indeed in Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back - the Empire showed that despite having its centrepiece weapon destroyed it remained a potent force. In the case of the Middle East and North Africa region in 2012 the state is fighting back. The most obvious and brutal case of this is the current siege of cities in Syria, where the disproportionate balance of power could be said to compare to the Battle of Hoth one-sidedness. While in Egypt the dictator has gone but his military-industrial infrastructure remains.

The message is that despite the incredible rate of change over 2011 people must taper their expectations and be aware that there is a long way to go until the Arab revolutions can truly be said to have succeeded. Of course there is the Libyan exception where the rebels have already won their civil war, but what is happening since - a fragile post-conflict country with significant divisions and challenges to be addressed - was never shown in Star Wars. Instead the trilogy chose to finish on the moment of complete victory rather than focus on the complex and potentially dangerous aftermath.

 

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