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March 05, 2013

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shah8

/me squints...

No. The primary impetus for Arab Spring protests in Syria had to do with a stagnant economy and the Syrian government's attempt at neoliberal economic reform (obviously on the back of the people and not the elites with state-sanctioned monopolies). Broadly speaking, MENA regimes are very careful to have enough bread on the streets. Not only that, the importation of food does not tend to be a huge part of these countries' budget. What's at heart is high oil and resulting high fertilizer prices that are delivering killing pressure on third world folks everywheres. Oil prices are what prompted those ill fated neoliberal reforms in Syria. Oil prices are what's destabilizing Egypt's trade and finances. Oil prices are what's making industry less and less viable in Pakistan and just now creating high pressures in Bangladesh. Not to mention make farming even harder in India, let alone modernize it.

Okay, the real question is...why is there so much, basically, faith that the downfall of Assad will happen anytime soon? Any perusal of Wikipedia or reading books about rebellions will show that there are very long odds against a rebellion with no central political or policy origination. Why are the evidently propaganda outlets just believed whenever after repeated instances of bad faith reporting? I mean, just now, there was all the triumphant reporting about the "the fall of Al Raqqa". Well, why is that an important victory? Does it further any long term aims? Are people who were already there happy? Did they capture resources? Was it part of a series of campaigns going somewheres? Or was it just a lightly defended city packed with refugees that the rebels didn't want to govern until they decided that they needed a victory to keep the money flowing?

Am I going to be sitting in my chair in 2015, *still* reading that Assad's fall is just six months away?

jamie

AL Raqqa matters because they flat out took a city, which is new and which indicates both better C4 and greater capacity. The point about it being not a priority is good, but it could also mean that the rebels weren't going to overstretch themselves until they had the promise of better armaments. They got some, and delivered.

I still reckon Assad should go sometime over the next three months. But I think what we're getting to here is how the SAA get integrated into the anti-Islamist forces in the next stage of the civil war.

ajay

The primary impetus for Arab Spring protests in Syria had to do with a stagnant economy and the Syrian government's attempt at neoliberal economic reform (obviously on the back of the people and not the elites with state-sanctioned monopolies). Broadly speaking, MENA regimes are very careful to have enough bread on the streets.

Not the impression I had - there were protests about the price of staple foods across MENA in early 2011.

Oil prices are what prompted those ill fated neoliberal reforms in Syria.

Syria exports oil. And subsidises domestic fuel massively. It had fuel price problems in 2008 because the price of oil (and hence Syrian government revenues) had fallen so low that the government couldn't afford to keep the subsidies coming.

the importation of food does not tend to be a huge part of these countries' budget

Depends which country we're talking about. You can't roll Egypt and Tunisia and Syria and Libya and Bahrain into a single category like that!

Phil

Am I the only one who's been mentally singing this post title and searching for a rhyme for Cairo?

"Oh, the weather-in-Shandong and Cairo..."

shah8

Well, I don't think I'm the one rolling countries into single categories. Moreover, talking in terms of waves of food protests is trite. Most countries have protests happening about some food or other, it's an essential part of the social relations within the compact. For example, would you cite food protest if the Greek government was overthrown starting tomorrow? Did massive famine play a direct role in the overthrow of the Tsar? The Great Leap Forward move the sentiment of the country against the Communist Party? No?

The casual dripdown into Malthusian bullshit has always been a typical failing of middle-class or richer people on the left. Whether that be Club of Rome bullshit or lapping up "Golden Rice" or other technowhackery high modernism propaganda designed to distract from what's real. Such people espouse this stuff because they feel so much more comfortable talking about people and their resources like widgets and gadgets instead of using the imagination muscles in their brains and thinking about people as if they had agency. So, a proper leftist doesn't whine about all the brown people breeding, they try to make family planning available, increase the rights of women, and make sure the economy is working for them. Those things are hard to do, though. A proper leftist doesn't babble about Golden Rice or microlending or clean property titles, they talk about the government and market structures that prevents people from growing nutritious subsistence crops, how access to loans are mediated, or just how people never got to have titles to their land in the first place. Then they craft policy solutions that might work in that specific instance.

Talking about how food was so important to Arab Spring is really missing so damned far beyond the point, it's borderline insulting. What started the Arab Spring? A peddler of fruits and vegetable set himself on fire. Was it because he had no fruits or vegetables to sell? No, he set himself on fire because he was entirely hopeless about his prospects for advancement in the face of a predatory state bent on enrichening a few families. Why does he need advancement? He'd like to have a wife, kids, a few happy moments in the things he'd like to do. To speak of food as such a primary cause is lazy thinking at its absolute worst. People felt that they lacked dignity. What fits under that umbrella, dignity? How about services? Like adequate housing instead of living in tombs? Schools where your kid isn't one of sixty in the class? Police that comes and helps when you need assistance? Transportation that allows you to get your goods to market or just the job commute? How about being able to afford goods other than food? Fertilizer, kerosene, clothes, telecom services, trucks. All this isn't speaking of the fear that you might get arrested by some security service and abused in custody. Casual Malthusian dialogues in leftist circles fundamentally is about the refusal to think of other people in complex terms, agency included.

So ajay, about your "impression", could you say word one about whether said impression about food protests were a more meaningful contributer than protests about desire for democracy? I mean, for a dictator like Assad, I'm sure it could be easy to roll a knob and dump more food. So why protest for elections? I'll tell you why. Syrian didn't believe that their concerns, which had more to do with lack of services/expensive services in the cities, lack of water and fertilizer in the countryside, could be dealt with so long as predatory elites like the Tlas of the world were in charge. They also wanted a more open society in general, freedom of speech, a bit more tolerance of islamic organizations as well as unions, etc, etc. The complexity of their wishes deserves to be honored. And yeah, the reduction of fuel subsidies was a far more pertinent trigger than lack of grain, if you want to talk from primary colors or something.

Okay, elementary correction here. Syria does export oil, but like many oil exporters, Syria does not have sufficient capacity for domestic refining of oil. That means that refined oil products is naturally expensive in the Syrian economy, since it has to be imported. Low oil prices in 2008 had little immediate impact other than add a data point that reform was necessary (smuggling was a bigger issue).

whew! Long reply.

shah8

Do long posts get eaten?

dsquared

"is enough to melt a biro"

ajay

shah8, you're very confident about your knowledge of Syria, and about how I'm a smug ignorant middle-class neoliberal pseudoleft high modernist technocrat bullshitter or whatever, but there's only one of us here who actually knows anything at all about the most important single part of Syria's economy, and it manifestly isn't you.

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