01-03-2011 - Traces, n. 3


The Motor of the REVOLUTION
We have seen them challenge police and armies, demonstrating with banners without any political stance, despite bloodshed and thousands of deaths. There are men and women, Muslims and Christians, the poor and intellectuals. But what is really happening in Algiers, Cairo, and Tripoli? "Something to do with the heart," says the sociologist FRANCESCO ALBERONI, and something not planned in an office.


In the images that, for weeks, have inundated the media, we have seen the streets fill with ordinary people: Christians and Muslims, of various factions and extractions, but united in demonstrations against those in power, from Tunis to Algiers, from Amman, San'a, Cairo, and Libya, with the tragedy following in its wake. North Africa and the Middle East are in revolt. "An incandescent magma," observes Francesco Alberoni, sociologist and journalist for Italy's top daily paper, Corriere della Sera. For years, he has been studying collective movements. "What is happening in those countries is the first phase in the genesis of new societies. But it has not come from nowhere. The birth of a movement of this nature needs pre-conditions that enable it to form and grow, as well as the spark that made it explode."

What are you referring to?
We have to go back and see how the critical mass was formed. If we look at North Africa and at the other countries aflame in the Middle East, we see that in the past 40 years, there has been a powerful surge in the population under 25 years of age, infant mortality has dropped, and the level of schooling has increased.

Then there is poverty, and absence of rights… These are the sparks that kindle the haystack.
We have seen people jumping, dancing, dreaming... It's a phenomenon of collective excitement, in which a powerful strike force is formed, because there are desires and hopes. The ideological decline comes later. In Egypt's case, for example, it is difficult to imagine that there is no organization. There is the Muslim Brotherhood with its ramifications, controlling the university. On the other hand, there is the army, a rich elite with many privileges. In between are the others, including the Copts. I don't think that in Egypt there can be a drift of the Iranian type. The Muslim Brotherhood is a political dimension, not territorially organized.

So are they already working in those streets for the autumn elections?
There are facts. Order is being kept; there is no more fighting, so it means someone is at work. When Mubarak's supporters went on the streets, who organized the counter-offensive? I believe in spontaneity among the masses, but I also believe that, in the course of 20 days, organized infrastructures were set up. The spontaneous and the organized co-exist, or rather the first often overpowers the second.

The pressure of the people… Fr. Giussani once said, "The forces that move history are the same forces that move the human heart." It this true?
Without this, there is nothing. The heart of the people has the category of the ascent State: unum, verum, bonum [one, true, and good]. These are the general values that the people want. The declension, the modality, comes later. Take a value like "virtue": the people want virtue, so we can make a "kingdom of virtue" like Robespierre, or decide that virtue is established by Sharia. The incandescent magma of the nascent State is defined later. When you fall in love, you have to decide at a certain point where to live. A movement is determined by means of choices; and then conflicts can arise. This incandescent mass, Egyptian or otherwise, is striking. It is not the only one in history but, seeing all that "brotherhood," you can be tempted to think that democracy will be born of it spontaneously. It would be the realization of Rousseau's dream, the social contract which expresses the general will. But the general will does not exist; if it did, it would be infallible–that is, if you oppose it, you are put to death. I am saying that a decision is made, by acclamation or election, that there are institutions of society, there is a process. It does not happen in a moment.

Not at all the "general will," then?
The Revolution devours its own children, they used to say. Let's not be taken in–the fact that people are dancing does not mean there is no aggression. We are seeing it in Libya. Yes, they are the same forces that change history. What is happening in North Africa is human, characteristic of man, and it is a wholly positive human force, the great beating heart that generates society and, without it, society would not exist. For sure, when it becomes a rule or an institution, it can become totalitarianism and terror.

What about the problem of declension, of which way to go?
When there is excitement, the problems vanish, but the question has to be asked: What institutions must we have? We cannot predict this. Whoever wins power will make a case against the old regime, perhaps with the excuse of punishing corruption. And the minorities, well positioned for surviving before, will have to find new spaces and new guarantees. The Christians, for example, are 10% of the population. Historically, for the "crushed" Christians, the only way was exile. I don't say they will be killed, but Islamists will force them to leave. The regimes that actually give better guarantees to minorities are oligarchies. Democracy, instead, demands the birth of direct, individual, personal respect.

In this dynamic, how important is the relationship with the West? Many have said that Facebook and Twitter are playing an important role.
For sure, they discover a "wealthy" model that enthralls them, but it's reductive. People believe that technology builds minds, but it does not. The Islamist movements were born in the 20th century, and the most backward form of Sharia was introduced in Iran, the most scientifically and technologically advanced country in the Middle East. We have not to accept the Enlightenment's equation which puts technical, scientific progress in parallel with moral progress. I can have maximum scientific progress and maximum barbarity at the same time. The champions of the Enlightenment believed they had reached the high point of modernity, but their guillotine was the highest point of barbarity. In America, they have the telephone and there are no revolutions there. There was revolution before the advent of the telephone. It is a structural question. The motor is the human heart.

Is the drive always positive?
I have considered it so. All in all, these people you see on the streets are people who love themselves and love each other. It's dangerous, of course; tensions can arise–it happens in couples, and can end in divorce.

Why does much analysis pass over this aspect?
It's the world we live in, where the human soul is replaced with chemistry. I am irritated when people talk of love and bring in "oxytocin and testosterone"–they don't speak of feelings any more. It's a culture that reduces even what is happening in Egypt, in Libya, and in Bahrain. This is a political culture that does away with the heart's reasons. It is economistic; it calculates only costs and profits. That human tumult that annoys is put aside, because you think it's what you have in mind, but you can't apply the rules of democracy if you don't start off from the tumult.