Mark LeVine: The Shaping of a New World Order





[Mark LeVine is a professor of history at UC Irvine and senior visiting researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden. His most recent books are Heavy Metal Islam (Random House) and Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989 (Zed Books).]

I remember the images well, even though I was too young to understand their political significance. But they were visceral, those photos in the New York Times from Tehran in the midst of its revolutionary moment in late 1978 and early 1979. Not merely exuberance jumped from the page, but also anger; anger fuelled by an intensity of religious fervour that seemed so alien as to emanate from another planet to a "normal" pre-teen American boy being shown the newspaper by his father over breakfast.

Many commentators are comparing Egypt to Iran of 32 years ago, mostly to warn of the risks of the country descending into some sort of Islamist dictatorship that would tear up the peace treaty with Israel, engage in anti-American policies, and deprive women and minorities of their rights (as if they had so many rights under the Mubarak dictatorship).

I write this on February 2, the precise anniversary of Khomeini's return to Tehran from exile. It's clear that, while religion is a crucial foundation of Egyptian identity and Mubarak's level of corruption and brutality could give the Shah a run for his money, the situations are radically different on the ground.

The following description, I believe, sums up what Egypt faces today as well as, if not better, than most:

"It is not a revolution, not in the literal sense of the term, not a way of standing up and straightening things out. It is the insurrection of men with bare hands who want to lift the fearful weight, the weight of the entire world order that bears down on each of us - but more specifically on them, these ... workers and peasants at the frontiers of empires. It is perhaps the first great insurrection against global systems, the form of revolt that is the most modern and the most insane....


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Paul Siff - 2/11/2011

Are the protesters in Cairo really bare-handed workers and peasants, or, rather, well-educated, savvy young people armed with smartphones?


Arnold Shcherban - 2/8/2011

<...the amalgam of social and political forces behind the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt today - and who knows where tomorrow - actually constitute a far greater threat to the "global system" al-Qa'eda has pledged to destroy than the jihadis roaming the badlands of Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Yemen.>
Right on the money, Prof. LeVine!