By Ben Young – a writer and campaigner living in York

Last month, Palestine campaigners in York held a sombre discussion about what 2011 might hold for the Middle East. I think we’d all now cheerfully accept that we were magnificently wrong.

As millions advance on Mubarak’s palace, it now even seems possible — that is, not crazy — to imagine that the seige of Gaza will be lifted within days.

I know that in only a few hours’ time these words might seem dreadfully stupid. But I’ll dream nonetheless: because whatever the retrospective judgement, I’m confident that now — right now — no one knows how it will turn out.

Doubtless, pundits will later on claim that whatever happens next had to happen given such-and-such facts. But they’ll be wrong. The outcome of the events is now being determined by the individual choices of the people involved. The decisions are hyper-sensitive, and ultra-contingent. That is to say: they’re free.

It is only in moments of crisis that real political principles are revealed. For politicians, normal politics requires saying whatever’s necessary to stay in power. But a crisis is by definition a time when they don’t know what they should do to stay in power.* Under stress and uncertainty, people cleave to their natural allies (thus Netanyahu calls Mubarak to offer support; and — perhaps — Obama doesn’t); and this reveals their true political afililations.

A handful of crucial decisions are now being taken, in panic, under stress, and, above all, in ignorance of the outcomes; and these will determine the futures of millions of people. I don’t know what the outcome will be; but if the decisions are as delicate as I think they are, then they might even be sensitive to the attitudes of far-off well-wishers.

Choices today create paths into the future which are hard or impossible to reverse. But which route we take is no less underdetermined for all that. So I continue to dream that the Revolution will meet the Egyptians’ — and our — aspirations. I dream that the seige of Gaza will be lifted within days.

And the next vague and tedious warning I hear regarding the potential rise of totalitarian theocracy in North Africa will meet with a savage rebuke.

*I’m grateful to a particular PhD thesis I read for making this point. The author will know who she is.