Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Postponement Of Utopia

By Husam Itani
This comment was published in al-Hayat on 25/02/2011

The Arab revolutions are leading salvation projects towards further unfeasibility, as the slogan of the Civil State raised by the Egyptians clearly indicates that those raising it no longer tolerate any talk about a religious state.

The same applies to all the earthly heavens that were promised by utopian ideologies of different sources and backgrounds. The new Arab revolutions have put an end to the illusions of the Aflaqist and Gaddafist unions founded on utopian Pan-Arab ideologies, or at least have postponed them indefinitely. Likewise, the revolutions have upended whatever remains of the actual or potential leverage enjoyed by Islamist movements, especially in their Jihadist facet.

After millions of people took to the streets in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain, the conspiratorial-subversive mind fell in a deep predicament. Who will believe after this that a small clique with limited education and imagination could indeed induce change towards the better for the Arab people? Who will believe in the utopia that this clique will be calling for, after seeing history being made by the shouts and actions of the crowds?

More importantly, history proved once again that it chooses its own surprising path. Here are the regimes that have started to take shape in Tunisia and Egypt, featuring coalitions that cannot be otherwise tolerated by ideological governments carrying absolute salvation projects. And here are these new regimes announcing that the Arabs – or at least the Tunisian and Egyptian people – have relinquished the impossible utopia in favor of the possible national state, and that the two people among other Arab populations will no longer await the realization of this utopia and will instead move toward the accomplishment of a feasible political, social and economic project, capable of realizing the minimum level of requirements of a decent living for the Tunisians and the Egyptians.

These facts bring back to mind a study by American critic Fredric Jameson entitled “Progress Versus Utopia.” Although the study focuses on the role of utopia in various literary and narrative works by clarifying the obstacles hindering humanity’s progress, and the role of science fiction in conveying the contradictions of the present in a futuristic light - while relying on literary critique rather than political philosophy –, one can conclude that realistic progress often contradicts utopian ideologies, whether those embracing humanity as a whole or those related to a specific group.

Moreover, also based on Jameson’s writings, the utopian project is a “promises-making machine.” This means that the high level of political realism will automatically lead to the collapse of utopian ideas, as currently being witnessed in Egypt and Tunisia.

On the opposite end of the expressions traditionally used to describe the political practices of the youths - by saying for example they are romantic and staged in complete disregard of objective facts on the ground -, we are seeing in Tunisia and Egypt something that shows political craftsmanship in terms of the management of realities on the ground and the recognition of and coexistence with differences of opinions and beliefs. Also on the opposite end of vagaries hostile to politics and politicians, which accuse the latter of being “involved in filthy tricks” (as it was said by Wael Ghonim in an angry statement), the majority of the young activists involved in public affairs are aware of basic concepts related, for example, to the balances of internal and external powers, and the importance of avoiding positions dictated by the wishes and desires drawn up by the ideological mind.

The youths have replaced the utopian project with another feasible one, thus showing a maturity exceeding that of many pretending to be young and rushing to reap the fruits of change.

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