If what we have seen unfolding around us is America’s Arab Spring, be sure that it only manifests itself because protesters have been given permission to rise up.
“Pharaoh said: How dare you believe in him before I have given you permission?” — from Qur’an 20:71
What made this act of police brutality a catalyst for global protest, where hundreds before it failed? Is it truly simply the stirring of emotions, made explosive by the powder keg of lockdown — social isolation, mass unemployment, mental health crises, poverty and loss — causing millions to rise up, chanting “enough is enough”?
Emotions are raw and passions running high: all of this is true. There are legitimate grievances. Ordinary people want change. So did the populations of the Middle East and North Africa a decade ago as they mobilised against the dictators that had ruled over them since Independence, they too angry about mass unemployment and economic stagnation. Digital social media, it seemed, had lent them the power to affect change in their lives and become masters of their own destiny.
In the Middle East and North Africa, the discontent was real. But there was another factor too. Pharaoh had given the protestors permission to believe, funnelling hundreds of millions of dollars for assistance, training and support from the State Department and USAID to dissident groups agitating for change.
In the current protests against police brutality sweeping across the globe, I see genuine feeling finding expression, fuelled by economic desperation. But I also see a political class in the United States desperate to rid their country of Donald Trump as president. In short, I am convinced that they are using the passion of the protestors to achieve their own political aims ahead of elections in November; the flip-side of Trump’s appeal to the white supremacists he believes will deliver his second term. These protests have been given permission, where others fell flat, because it serves the interests of two parties fighting for power.
As for the social protest strategy sponsored by the US State Department during the Arab Spring, we should realise by now that state actors the world over have adopted this playbook wholesale and have refined their tactics to sow discord in the societies of their opponents. Beijing no doubt sees America’s hand in the Hong Kong uprising, but they can play at that game too, flooding social media with the slogans and hashtags of the Black Lives protest, amplifying the message still further. Russia has long been thought to have been attempting to exacerbate US racial tensions too, in pursuit of its own global ambitions.
America’s covert strategies around the world may be coming home to roost. In Syria, different parts of US military intelligence funded different rebel groups — sometimes even rebel groups fighting other rebel groups funded by a different arm of the US government —- carefully coopting Muslim sectarianism to ensure grassroots support throughout the Sunni majority populace. I am sure Moscow and Beijing took careful note.
Once more the elephants will fight and the grass will be trampled. The people believe they are the master of their own destiny, but really they are just being used. They have been given permission to protest for now. Yes, but superpowers plot and plan, but Allah is the best of planners. Sometimes nations can’t envisage their own demise.
“Have they not traveled through the earth and observed how was the end of those before them? They were greater than them in power, and they plowed the earth and built it up more than they have built it up, and their messengers came to them with clear evidences. And God would not ever have wronged them, but they were wronging themselves.” — Qur’an 30:9