Watching the Twitter feeds light up as the #OccupyGezi protests metastasized from a local protest against the destruction of a historic park into something much grander and more ambitious, it was hard not to get excited.
A part of me could not help but envy Lisa Morrow's vantage point. There's nothing like seeing ordinary people joining together and rising up against a nasty government.
In Cairo, when attacked by the army and police they tore up the very streets, and turned them into weapons. It was a powerful demonstration of the truth recognized by all great political thinkers, from Hobbes, through Hume to Chomsky, that power lies at the end of the day not in the hands of the rulers, but of the ruled. The police don't give us permission to take to the streets, we give it to them.
Following quickly on the heels of this euphoria, however, was a nagging sense of doubt. I'd seen this movie before. In Iran in 2009, and again in Egypt – not during the 2011 protests against first Mubarak and then the US funded Military – but in 2012, when Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other secular strongholds rose up against the Muslim Brotherhood.
In both those cases, as in Turkey now, a cosmopolitan 'secular' minority with a historically enlarged role rose up in what looked like a revolutionary outpouring. But their targets were not dictators, they were democratically elected leaders. The same thing is happening now with Istanbul's "white Turks".
Reporting from Tehran in 2009, I am very embarrassed to say, I was taken in. Younger and dumber even than I am now, I went along with the press pack that surrounded me, who in turn relied on local sources who were far from a representative sample of the Iranian population. I am still not 100 per cent certain about the election of 2009, but have been forced to concede over the years that serious evidence of result-altering-scale fraud has just not been produced.
It was a situation where a sizable minority were richer than their opponents not only in material but in cultural wealth – their bookshelves often overflowing with tomes in many languages. Thus plugged in to global culture and communications technologies, as well as being concentrated in the big cities where all the press and government buildings are, they were able to amplify their voice on the global stage. More power to them. A specialty of the Iranian regime thugs was sending in packs of men on high-powered dirt-bikes, two to a bike one driving and one wielding a kind of modern adaptation of the medieval mace. A stick with a chain on the end of it, which in turn had a Taser on the end of it. It was very ugly.
Similarly ugly was the repression against anti-Brotherhood protests in Cairo. However, the protesters' side had some pretty ugly elements too, which often went under-reported in the Western media, both left and right alike.
The deaths that occurred were widely circulated, with numbers being tweeted and broadcast as they came in over a horrible violent weekend settling at a total of just over a dozen. When the dust settled it was clear that most of the dead were from the Brotherhood side, with their political offices being stormed and set ablaze. The inter-webs were strangely quiet.
Once the revolutionary (non-Brotherhood, non-old regime) candidates in Egypt managed to cancel each other out in a textbook example of vote splitting, it was Ahmed Shafik, a former air force man like Mubarak and Sadat before him who ran against Morsi in the final vote. He only lost by a few percentage points, as many more globalized Egyptians, including my wife, found themselves unable to vote for either candidate. Thankfully many non-Brotherhood voters made a different call, held their noses, went to the polls, and voted against Shafik.
Since then the much anticipated third force in Egyptian politics has failed to materialize and by now major secular opposition papers are running headlines calling for a military coups.
These three countries Iran, Egypt, Turkey are to the Middle East something like what France, Germany and England are to Europe – only more so as their geographical spread and strategic positioning gives each a greater sphere of independent influence. All are now controlled by Islamist regimes that, according to the polling and the election results, have the backing of the majority of the population. All these regimes have inherited an authoritarian apparatus build by secular western backed predecessors. In none of these cases is it clear that this authoritarian core would be weakened should the Islamists lose power – especially not if that would mean handing the reigns back to the current secular leadership.
The problem of the Turkish protesters then becomes the problem of progressive forces globally: What is your alternative? It is a question that is starting to get serious. As the echoes of the Arab spring, Occupy and Indignados movements refuse to fade, the hope lingers that out of these spontaneous explosive uprisings and the new culture of courageous political participation can be ignited amongst what WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange calls the "internet educated" generation, a new political force could be emerging.
If this is to happen however, we need to offer these component movements more than just cheer-leading and loudly ringing moral support. One thing that can be offered by Western progressives, who have the time to spare from more pressing issues (like not getting shot for protesting), is the development of new models of organization, which can allow this "movement of movements", to borrow a term from the 90's "globalization" struggles, to mature into an enduring force and formulate a collective vision, without reverting to the same top down models used by the institutions and forces we seek to transform and defeat.
This however seems a long way off, and a more likely outcome seems a "Wave Speech"-like cresting of this movement within months or perhaps years – unless it transforms, and it isn't at all clear it will to transform the way we would like it to. As for the Turkish protesters, photos of whom I too have been gleefully sharing on Facebook, well guys, it's a nice high for now, enough to outweigh all the teargas and blood, but the comedown is already on the horizon.