What the Russian Revolution can teach us about the Middle East today
The Bolshevik demonisation of the ‘White’ Russians in the ferocious anti-religious, anti-capitalist posters on display in Paris at the Musee de l’Armee are not dissimilar to the “war against terror” which Bashar al-Assad and the Russians think they are fighting in Syria today
These days, uprisings should be studied with a cold eye and there’s a fine little exhibition on in Paris about the 1917 Russian revolution which casts a dark reflection on the Arab “awakening” we’ve all been observing in the Middle East. It’s an extraordinary display from the “revolution which changed the world”, including posters, photographs and – amazingly – some documents which show just how much the Mencheviks (and the Russian Provisional Government) and then the Bolsheviks tried to enlist the Muslim world – and the Armenians – in their destruction of the Romanov dynasty.
I suppose the overthrow of Mubarak (the Tsar) and then the brief 11-month tenure of Mohamed Morsi (representing the temporary Mensheviks comes to mind; but Field Marshal-President al-Sissi of Egypt hardly counts as a Lenin (or a Stalin) and the war which the Egyptian government is now fighting in Sinai bears no relation to the “Whites” versus the “Reds” – yet. On balance, the end of King Farouq of Egypt, the temporary leadership of General Neguib (the Mensheviks) and then the takeover by Nasser would be much closer to the mark.
But Syria is a worrying parallel since it demonstrates just how easily revolution can turn into civil war. The casualty figures don’t come anywhere close to the millions of Russians who were killed in the conflict after 1917, but there are some disturbing features which both conflicts share. The Syrians could scarcely have known how swiftly their war would come upon them. Nor did the Russians in 1917. And the interference of foreign nations – Russia on the side of the Syrian government, America and Britain on the side of the rebels (the “Whites”, until they turned out to be Muslim “Greens”), inserting their troops into Syria with minimum losses since they would let others do the dying – is a painful reminder of what happens when overseas powers decide that they will decide who wins the war.