Some Thoughts on Arab Socialism...

04/09/2012 15:12 BST | Updated 03/11/2012 09:12 GMT

Some would have said the notion of a Muslim Brotherhood-ruled Egypt was a fantasy. On YouTube it is possible to find a video of Gamal Abdul Nasser, former dictatorial President of Egypt, speaking on the subject of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950's. Looking very modern and urbane - as he always did - he describes an encounter with the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in what he called an attempt to 'compromise' with the Islamist group. "He sat with me and made his requests. What did he request?" Nasser rhetorically inquires, "The first thing he asked for was to make wearing a hijab mandatory in Egypt and demand that every woman walking in the street wear a tarha." His audience greets this with hysterical laughter.

Its not hard to look at Nasser now and think of how things have changed in Egypt - from the point of view of a liberal Westerner it would seem as though the country has retrograded. The smooth, smartly-dressed, progressive Nasser has been replaced by Mohamed Morsi - no less charismatic, but in every other respect, politically, economically and socially Nasser's opposite. Nasser's vision of a pan-Arabic republic governed under socialist (but not communist) principles has been replaced by mindset that uneasily sits liberal democracy next to Islamic theocracy, with a military junta looming over it all. In the Egyptian parliamentary elections the Nasserists won only one seat compared to 37 for the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. A far cry from the time when Nasser's vision was the most visible view of the Middle East's future - only matched by Michel Afleq's Ba'athism, another Arab Socialist ideology.

So Arab Socialism has fallen far from favour in the Middle East - with everyone from Gaddafi to Mubarak (in name only of course) to Assad seen as champions of the movement, few are willing to re-evaluate its benefits. This is of course music to the ears of the USA. It's important to note that while the Brotherhood may indeed be Islamists, they are, in another sense, very attractive to the West in that they are lead by millionaire businessmen, proper 1% types, who would quite happily embrace a neoliberal consensus. It's hardly ever though of that Islamism as an ideology is far more compatible with unregulated capitalism than it is with the secular ideologies of socialism and communism, but you only need to look at the Brotherhood, or Ayatollah Khamanei's privitization drive, or the oil barons of Saudi Arabia to see that this is often the case. No-one in their right mind would argue that the Arab Spring is a socialist revolution, even though many socialists throw their support behind it.

But Arab Socialism as ideology still has a lot going for it - the brand that was put into play in Syria and Iraq was horrendously bastardised by brutal, crypto-fascist tyrannies of Hafiz al-Assad and Saddam Hussein, who pursued sectarian vendettas which Arab Socialism had originally been formed to override. The other key element was its place in the Israel-Palestine conflict with the PLO largely being made up of Arab nationalists and socialists (although the political spectrum ranged as far as the out-and-out communism of the PFLP as well) and the shift in ideologies in the Arab world can generally be said to fall in line with the shift in the conflict with the Islamist Hamas now being most visible and both Fatah and the Israelis gradually abandoning their original socialist/social democratic aims to embrace more neo-liberal capitalist tendencies.

Now you might ask why Arab socialism - rather than any other left-wing movement - would benefit the Middle East? Because all the original motives for its original ideological creation still exist. A secular, anti-sectarian, anti-imperialist, pan-Arabic movement is still the best and most practical form of government for stablising the region and providing political independence from America or the other emerging superpowers. With more focus on the implementation of liberal democracy, which most modern followers of Nasser consider to be essential, there could be real success here; quietly breaking down the power of the military would, in my view, be a pretty obvious move as well, seeing as how many of these well-meaning movements have degenerated into brutal, tyrannical juntas.

However, as things stand this is clearly just a pipedream - the collapsing Arabic states have so far resulted in sectarian conflict and centre-right or far-right Islamist parties come to the fore. The Muslim Brotherhood's patience paid off and their time has come; the ruthless, impatient social engineering of the Arab socialist dictators is arguably what lead to their downfall (to put it in nice terms) and their beliefs are discredited. It may a long time before people look back behind the bloodshed and authoritarianism to the ideological origins of a movement which set out to created a liberal, united, secular Arabia.

Just a thought, anyway!

What do other people think?