Young Arab men and women in the streets of their cities have been fighting for popular sovereignty and social justice because the US went to war in Iraq to spread democracy. Contrary to critics, the US did not declare war on Iraq to determine the balance of power in the Middle East and retain hegemonic influence in this energy-rich region where Iran is the most powerful nation. In short, the rebels of North Africa and the Middle East need to thank former President Bush for invading Iraq and for spreading democracy at gunpoint to the Arabs! As absurd as this explanation of the neocons sounds, it actually has a grain of truth to it, in so far as the Arab youth took to the streets to overthrow authoritarian regimes that were either openly pro-Western as in the case of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, or doing business with the West while employing anti-West rhetoric, as was the case of Libya.
If US militarism is spreading democracy, what countries are next in line to experience popular uprisings? Reuters has compiled a list of 25 countries as most likely to experience uprisings, using four factors: official corruption, rising food prices, lack of political freedom, and internet penetration. Sudan, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Russia top the list. How useful is such a list considering that popular uprisings have taken place in the past when there were no rising food prices or internet it is difficult to say, or when corruption, high food prices and lack of democracy were prevalent but no uprising in the works.
That Russia is 6th on this list but Mexico is not although it qualifies on all four criteria defies logic. Such lists are compiled by thinks tanks and governments more as scenarios, not as anything scientific on which government can base policy. Otherwise, all countries today would have a very cautious policy toward Russia that is the 6th most likely nation for a popular uprising.
Why is it that so difficult to predict uprisings like those that have been taking place across North Africa and the Middle East in the first months of 2011, or the collapse of the entire Communist bloc and its thorough integration into the western capitalist regime? There were signs that institutions were not functioning to the benefit of the majority of the population and the future looked bleak both in the case of the Communist bloc burdened by immense military and domestic security costs, and in the case of Arabic-speaking countries where authoritarian regimes had become Leviathans devouring the hopes of people instead of geared to work for their welfare.
There were individuals who actually had warned about the problems as much in the Communist bloc nations as in the Arabic-speaking countries. But their marginalized works were either intended and/or received more in the motif of politicized studies that opposed the regime (s) they criticized. The result was that mainstream academics, media, and institutional players, including intelligence services, did not take them seriously enough to prepare for the inevitable change.
Are social scientists able to predict how past and current social, economic and political trends would work to shape the future? Can social scientists predict when and where radical forces and popular movements will take hold, and when and where popular protests and demonstrations would turn into mass uprisings? In a world of so many different ideological and political views, in a world where neo-conservatives claim the invasion and occupation of Iraq must take credit for popular uprisings across Arabic-speaking countries, how easy is it to predict social uprisings?
If social scientists merely reflect on what has already taken place or currently unfolding, then is it not the case that they are always tracking events and trends instead of helping lead or guide them to help guide people toward a prudent course of action? Are there stages of societal development that indicate what will take place in the near or distant future, and can social science predict outcomes in the manner that science can on the basis of empirical experiments?
If there are some who make attempts at 'historicist' predictions, are they not committing the fallacy of historicism, because human development is as unpredictable as societal evolution? And if that is the case, can social science help society carve out a better future by trying to predict it, or simply confine itself to studying the past and present to determine what works best for the welfare of the people?
No matter what statistics show about the lack of social justice, concentration of wealth and decline of living standards for the middle class and workers, cultural relativism has convinced people that they have as much right to their views as defenders of the status quo like the American neo-Conservatives now claiming the US has helped to spread democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. We know the political, economic, financial, social, and cultural conditions of countries, but can we predict when and how they will impact popular social forces to react in order to overthrow the status quo?