Tariq Ali: What Is A Revolution?

Ever since the beginning of the Arab Spring there has been much talk of revolutions. Not from me. I’ve argued against the position that mass uprisings on their own constitute a revolution, i.e., a transfer of power from one social class (or even a layer) to another that leads to fundamental change. The actual size of the crowd is not a determinant—members of a crowd become a revolution only when they have, in their majority, a clear set of social and political aims. If they do not, they will always be outflanked by those who do, or by the state that will recapture lost ground very rapidly.

Egypt is the clearest example in recent years. No organs of autonomous power ever emerged. The Muslim Brotherhood, a conservative social force, one that belatedly joined the struggle to overthrow Mubarak, emerged as the  …

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‘How do the 99% compare with mass protests of the past – and can they succeed?’

‘How do the ninety-nine percenters compare with mass protests of the past – and can they succeed?’, by Tariq Ali for the Sunday Herald, October 23 2011

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth glancing at,” wrote Oscar Wilde, “for it leaves out the one country at which humanity is always landing. And when humanity lands there, it looks out, and seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.” The spirit of that 19th century socialist is alive among the idealistic young people who have come out in protest against the turbo-charged global capitalism that has dominated the world ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters who have taken up residence at the heart of New York’s financial distract, are demonstrating against a system of  …

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‘Ill fares the land’

‘Ill fares the land’ by Tariq Ali for the Times of India, August 12 2011

The queasy condition of Pakistan, incapable of either a complete collapse or of throwing up a regime that could move the country even a few steps forward, has been a cause for depression for many a decade. The privileged elite — military and civilian — live happily in their bubble exercising military, political, administrative, economic and judicial power over the whole land.

This is, of course, the case in most countries, but in Pakistan the contrast between rulers and ruled is so stark that there is nothing to protect the weak majority from the powerful and rich minority. Kinship networks, like protection offered by gangsters, can do a bit but any notion that this can substitute for the state in providing the necessities of  …

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‘Muammar Gaddafi’s planned resignation speech’

‘Muammar Gaddafi’s planned resignation speech,’ as seen by Tariq Ali, February 25 2011

“It’s raining outside which is why I cannot address you. Sorry. It seems to be raining inside my tent as well. Can this be rain? No. It’s dogs polluting the uniforms of my bodyguards. No respect for women. Benghazi. I hate that city. Once I accidentally addressed my friend Berlusconi as Benghazi. Drunkards, pimps and religious extremists. I will bomb them again before I leave. I wish we had bought some drones so I could press button myself. My relations with the people are informal, based on friendship and fear. Why have they become so noisy and combative? I have many children. The British Foreign Office adopted one of them, my dear Saif, and wanted to put him on the throne, but that would have no effect  …

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‘Egypt Chaos Defines Bleeding in Despot Arab World’

‘Egypt Chaos Defines Bleeding in Despot Arab World’ by Tariq Ali for Bloomberg, February 4 2011

“Freedom lies behind a door closed shut,” the great Egyptian poet Ahmed Shawqi wrote in the last century. “It can only be knocked down with a bleeding fist.” More than that is bleeding in the Arab world at the moment.

The uprisings we are witnessing in Egypt have been a rude awakening for all those who imagined that the despots of the Arab world could be kept in place provided they continued to serve the needs of the West and their harsh methods weren’t aired on CNN and BBC World. But while Western establishments lull themselves to sleep with fairy tales, ordinary citizens, who are defeated and demoralized, mull their revenge.

The French government seriously considered sending its paratroopers to save former President  …

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From the archive

  • ’1968: The year that changed the world’

    January 5, 2008

    ‘The year that changed the world’ by Tariq Ali for The Sydney Morning Herald, January 5, 2008

    There has never been a year like it: unrest, rebellion and revolution. Tariq Ali, at the forefront of the action 40 years ago, looks at how we still live with the consequences of 1968

    After the shallow, fading Cold War decades—the middle period—of the last century, an invigorating fever gripped the world.

    Its effect was so strong that even today, 40 years later, conferences are being organised, and essays, documentaries and books are being produced to mark the event.

    The tale has been told many times and in many languages, but it refuses to go away. Why? A banal reason could simply be biology: the ’60s generation is now in its 60s and some of its members are big in publishing,  …

  • Night of the Golden Butterfly wins French literary prize

    April 4, 2012

    Night of the Golden Butterfly, the last volume of the Islam Quintet by Tariq Ali, has been awarded the 2012 Cercle Interallié literary prize for foreign language novels. The French edition was published in October 2011 by Sabine Wespieser Publishers.

    The Inerallié Prize was established on December 3, 1930 by a group of around thirty journalists who were members of the Cercle de l’Union Inerallié. The latter is a private Parisian club founded in 1917, which aimed to bring material and moral resources to officers and other representatives of the nations of the Triple Entente. Today, its members are politicians, diplomats, lawyers, CEOs, journalists.

    Although not comprising of any financial reward, each year the Prize gives honour to a novel, usually written by a journalist. The jury itself is made up of ten journalists, joined by the previous year’s  …

  • A Sultan in Palermo – Islam Quintet IV

    January 1, 2005

    Published by Verso, 2005

    The fourth and penultimate novel in Tariq Ali’s celebrated Islam Quintet

    A Sultan in Palermo is set in medieval Palermo, a Muslim city rivaling Baghdad and Cordoba in size and splendor. The year is 1153. The Normans are ruling Siqqiliya, but Arab culture and language dominate the island and the court. Sultan Rujari (King Roger) surrounds himself with Muslim intellectuals, several concubines, and an administration presided over by gifted eunuchs. The bishops, expecting to be at the pinnacle of power, are angered by the decadence of the court. In this captivating novel, Tariq Ali charts the life and loves of the medieval cartographer Muhammed al-Idrisi. Torn between his close friendship with the sultan and his friends who are leaving the island or plotting a resistance to Norman rule, Idrisi finds temporary solace in the harem;  …