The Meaning of Words

In February 2011, a series of protests began in North Africa, spreading from Tunisia to Egypt and then into Syria and the Arabian Peninsula. It was described as a popular revolt demanding more democracy, and dubbed the "Arab Spring." Soon however, details emerged about the involvement of activists funded and trained by the Empire. Here was the revolutionary virus, manufactured in 2000 to take down Serbia, toppling governments in the Arab world.

In Libya and Syria, the revolutionaries failed. Libyan jihadists had to be bailed out by NATO bombers, much like the KLA a dozen years prior. Despite weapons, volunteers and training from the Empire, recent reports indicate the would-be "liberators" of Syria from everything Christian, Druze and Alawi are losing their war.

Bahrain’s rebellion was crushed by force; the gulf kingdom is a major U.S. naval base and a Saudi client.

Tunisia and Egypt, however, saw the demise of their long-standing secular strongmen in favor of Islamist political movements that won the subsequent elections. While Tunisia appears stable for now, Egypt’s elected government was just overthrown by a military coup.

The Meaning of "Is"

When is a coup not a coup? Whenever the Empire says so.

Had the "Arab Spring" been a genuine popular movement for democracy, and the West actually believed in democracy, this would indeed be an "unmitigated disaster", as Brendan O’Neill put it. However, let us recall that the Empire doesn’t observe normal logic, but the who/whom kind. And by that logic, no matter what they actually do, those the Empire opposes are vile and those it supports are virtuous.

Not surprisingly, then, the mainstream media first refused to call what happened in Egypt a "coup", then proceeded to justify it as "will of the people" and claim it was legitimate because the "Muslim Brotherhood is a vile organization."

Lest one think this is all an expression of concern for the well-being of Egyptians, it might be worth nothing that sending foreign aid to a country whose elected leadership was ousted in a military coup would be explicitly against the law. Therefore, from Empire’s standpoint, what happened in Egypt needs to be something else.

Once it becomes acceptable to redefine reality through managing perceptions, there is no end to it. What began as redefining "sexual relations" and quibbling over the definition of the word "is," has turned into "kinetic military action" and the nonexistent "principle" of intervening in sovereign states.

Redefining Democracy

Among the many casualties of this process is democracy. Originally an ancient Greek concept of popular rule through direct balloting, adjusted by the Romans into Res Publica in order to scale beyond the city-state, "democracy" has now become whatever the Empire says it is.

By law, logic and custom, a democratic election is the one where after a fair vote someone wins the qualified majority of ballots cast. Nothing more, nothing less. Yet Empire-designed "color revolutions" are all about alleging voter fraud and ousting a government on the street, not at the ballot box. Imperial viceroys in places like Bosnia-Herzegovina have asserted authority to dismiss elected officials and impose laws, while immune to any legal redress.

Last year’s vote in Russia was monitored by hundreds of thousands of webcams at polling stations, but Empire’s observers said that wasn’t good enough. Two months later, a sham election in Serbia – featuring both ballot fraud and post-electoral manipulations – was deemed fair. How come?

Simply put, the outcome of the vote in Russia did not please the Empire, while the outcome in Serbia did. So the procedure by which that outcome was reached received criticism or approval accordingly. This is the type of causality violation Philip Cunliffe observed back in 2007:

"…what counts as democracy is what the EU decides is democratic, and the democrats are those who are anointed by the international community, regardless of who actually receives the votes."

If you have Empire’s backing, you are a "democrat" and your country is a "democracy", whether that is actually the case or not. Likewise, with Empire’s blessing, one can be a terrorist (KLA), or a jihadist (1980s Afghanistan, present-day Libya and Syria) with impunity.

The Looking-Glass World

In such a looking-glass world, it makes perfect sense for the coup in Egypt or the fraud in Serbia to be "democratic." There is nothing strange about the Imperial viceroy in Bosnia supporting riots against elected officials. It is entirely normal to apply double standards even to Empire’s own allies, depending on whether they fought the designated villain or the designated victim.

The American Empire is exceptional – though not in the way its leaders imagine. It is the only Empire in history deliberately destroying its own order. And what happened in Egypt is part of that destruction. As Ron Paul put it:

"There is only one side that the US government has never supported: our side. The American side. It has never supported the side of the US taxpayers who resent being forced to fund a foreign dictatorship, a foreign military, and foreign protesters."

For now, at least, elections still represent a symbol, a ritual bestowing legitimacy on the rulers and thus securing the consent of the ruled. But as "color revolutions" and coups-that-are-not-called-coups render elections increasingly meaningless – and worse yet, as the ruled become increasingly aware of it – it is but a matter of time before the rulers decide that voting is simply not efficient, and ought to be replaced with something "better". Thus vindicating Polybius’s cyclical theory of government once again.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.