Friday, April 8, 2011

265. From Nasser to Mubarak: Part 3. What Is To Be Done?

Children of the Middle East and
North Africa Deserve a Better Future
By Kamran Nayeri, April 8, 2011

In Part 1, I argued that a singular characteristic of the current Arab revolt is the historical failure of Arab (petit) bourgeois nationalism. Revolting against colonial regimes but unable to fulfill the promise of a modern bourgeois republic, these regimes became increasingly dictatorial and dependent, first on Moscow (during the Cold War period) and then on the very same imperialist powers they rebelled on. There is no exception—even Syria, which remains partially politically independent, has come to common understanding with the United States and has served as torture center in Washington's “war on terror” campaign.  

In Part 2, I noted how the Middle East and North Africa were carved up chiefly by British and French imperialisms (a main exception is Israel which was largely constituted by the U.S. imperialism) into countries with little history torn by tribal, ethnic, religious and sectarian conflicts.  Thus, imperialism created weak and dependent Arab states they could more easily control. Only Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia (and Iran and Turkey with largely non-Arab populations) have a long history as a country.

These historical facts explain the common characteristics of the current Arab upsurge spearheaded by a new generation of frustrate and undefeated Arab youth.  Most explanations for the upsurge capture aspects of this multidimensional reality; that is search for dignity”, or “fight for bread”, or “self-determination, including for Palestinians”, or for “democracy”, or the “global capitalist slump.” However, the popular character of the upsurge—its multi-class, multi-generational, multi-ethnic, and at times, with active participation of women-- suggests an overall desire for independence, democracy and social justice that glues the “masses” at the current stage.

It is important also to note that the current upsurge is not yet a political revolution (characterized by the takeover of the state by a new set of social groups within the ruling class) or a social revolution (a new class establishes its own state). In fact, nowhere the political transformation has gone further than forcing a hated strongman out of power without replacing his regime.  Yet, in every case where the mass movement has not been suppressed more political space has opened up for the working people.

It would be useful also to note some important differences by country.  As can be expected, the Egyptian and Tunisian uprising are the most promising because both countries have a longer history and have higher degree of capitalist development.  Thus, working people and the trade unions have come to play a more significant role and women have been more involved. As we look at Libya and especially Yemen, the conflict appears more tribal and there is hardly any sign of independent involvement of workers or women.  Therefore, there is a stronger democratic movement in Egypt and Tunisia than in Yemen or even Libya even though in these latter two countries too the opposition is fighting against decades old dictatorships.  The degree of social differentiation and development of modern social classes and groups matter not only for the character of the existing movement but also for their revolutionary potential.

Imperialist Hands Off!

If the Arab uprising has anything to do with empowering the Arab working people, it is absolutely essential to oppose any form of imperialist intervention

The United States and other imperialist powers have responded to the Arab upsurge with a well-known strategy. They have united to make sure that Arab masses would not upset the fundamental interests of the imperialist system. Thus, their support for neo-colonial regimes such as in Saudi Arabia or those they deem friendly such as in Yemen (in each case, subject to the pressure of mass movement). Elsewhere ruled by post-colonial regimes as in Syria and Libya, they look for an opportunity to replace the existing set up with one that serves them better. At the same time, each imperialist power maneuvers to increase its sphere of influence vis-à-vis others (inter-imperialist rivalry).  

In case of Libya, Paris, London and Washington united to pass a Security Council resolution authorizing them to attack Libya under the cover of conducting a “humanitarian” mission: to “protect” the Libyan opposition. The opposition appears to have a regional rather than a national character—much like the case in Iraq where Washington was able to exploit ethnic and religious divisions in the south and the north to intervene and the invade the country.  The opposition to Qaddafi seems to have first emerged in Benghazi among the professionals and some local police and army officers, who had been long opposed to Qaddafi, riding a wave of rebellion by disaffected youth. A section of this “leadership” has worked closely with the imperialist powers and quickly moved from civic protest to armed struggle initiating a civil war.  Once Qaddafi moved to militarily suppress them, the opposition leaders asked for the American and European military intervention.   Thus unlike elsewhere in the Arab world, there is a civil war in process in Libya with imperialism propping the opposition forces. It is now acknowledged that C.I.A. operatives have worked with the opposition on the ground for some time.

Jon Lee Anderson who spent several weeks in Benghazi describes the Libyan rebels in April 4 issue of the New Yorker as follows:

“The hard core of the fighters has been the shabab—the young people whose protests in mid-February sparked the uprising. They range from street toughs to university students (many in computer science, engineering, or medicine), and have been joined by unemployed hipsters and middle-aged mechanics, merchants, and storekeepers. There is a contingent of workers for foreign companies: oil and maritime engineers, construction supervisors, translators. There are former soldiers, their gunstocks painted red, green, and black—the suddenly ubiquitous colors of the pre-Qaddafi Libyan flag.

“And there are a few bearded religious men, more disciplined than the others, who appear intent on fighting at the dangerous tip of the advancing lines. It seems unlikely, however, that they represent Al Qaeda.”

Let me just note two crucial elements missing from Anderson's description.  There is little independent presence of workers and women among the rebels. With the significant portion of immigrant workers, the Libyan workers movement is rather weak and immigrant African and Arab workers have been leaving the country in large numbers.  

Two week into imperialist bombing of Libya, it is clear that this opposition is unable to win a military victory against Qaddafi forces. The aerial bombing is not sufficient to overthrow Qaddafi.  Steven Erlanger reports in the New York Times (April 7): “The United States has had C.I.A. agents on the ground with the rebels in eastern Libya for some time, and there is unconfirmed reports that they may be helping to train the rebel army’s raw recruits.”  

From the beginning of the imperialist assault there has been tension in the imperialist coalition. Taking a lesson from the Iraq war, some in the Obama administration (including Secretary of Defense Gates) do not want to take on training and arming the anti-Qaddafi forces (see Thomas Friedman’s column on this here). Gates has openly offered the French to take on this task (the French imperialist have been a "hawk" in the Libyan war and are currently engaged in three shooting wars: Afghanistan, Libya and Ivory Coast). 

Thus, the position of certain leftists academics (e.g. Gilber Achcar, Juan Cole, Marc Cooper, in the U.S., philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy in France) who have supported intervention in Libya by the U.S. and other imperialist powers on “humanitarian” grounds serves to offer legitimacy to a classic case of imperialist adventure. In fact, these positions are identical with the “liberal internationalists” within the Obama administration, including his aide Samantha Power and Hillary Clinton and U.S. representative to the UN, Susan Rice, who reportedly helped convince Obama to authorize the current war against Libya. 

Their argument is that Qaddafi would have massacred his opposition without “international” intervention and they evoke genocides committed in Rwanda and the Balkans.  Power has argued for the "duty of nations" to intervene in such situation.

However, Powers and others fail to offer any credible institutional arrangement that can actually defend civilians in such cases.  They point to the United Nations Security Council as if it was a representative of the peoples of the planet.  The United Nations Security Council is a post-World War II institutional arrangement that gave the victors (U.S. Britain, France, Russia, and China) veto power over key decisions of the United Nations.  It is notorious for rubber-stamping imperialist interventions around the world from the Korean War up to the present war in Libya.  Governments represented at the United Nations are not some collection civic institutions expressing the will of the peoples of the world but the ruling elites (typically capitalist ruling classes) that always place their self-interest above any humanitarian cause.

But if it is the imperialists that are to save the Libyan people from their dictator, who is to save them from imperialism?  Are not the current problems of the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa in good measure due to the past and current policies of the British, French and American imperialisms. 

Furthermore, why did not these "left" and liberal ladies and gentlemen demand the same for the cases of Ivory Coast (where 100,000 people have fled the country) Bahrain when Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates sent armed forced to help the Sunni minority government to crush Shiite protesters who compose 70% of the population that face systematic discrimination? Or why they have not called for similar measures in the decades long history of Israeli militaristic oppression of the millions of Palestinians (like the current siege of Gaza)? 

It is easy to understand imperialism’s positions on these cases.  Libya has vast oil and water resources and ruled by an erratic autocrat that is not exactly a neocolonial puppet. The Emir of Bahrain is nothing more than an American puppet that has turned Bahrain into the base for the U.S. Fifth Fleet.  In Washington jargon, Power, Achcar, Cole and Cooper are “liberal internationalists.”  The logic of their position is that imperialism should police the world for “humanitarian” causes (as it sees fit). This is essentially the “civilizing mission” of colonialism defended by “social chauvinists” of the Second International a century ago.

More accurately, Power, Achcar, Cole and Cooper take a liberal imperialist position that despite a century old history of imperialist brutality around the world pretend that Washington, Paris and London or NATO will protect the Arab masses.  They conveniently forget the French crime against humanity in the Algerian war of independence when they killed millions of Algerians and now propose that imperialist france will protect the Libyan peoples right to liberty! Or the British who razed Kenya and killed tens of thousands of freedom fighters in the war against the Mau Mau uprising will now defend Libyan peoples?  Or the Master of Destruction of the Planet in Washington that are waging a murderous war Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and have brought us the horrors of Abu-Ghraib, Guantanamo, and “Kill-Team” in Afghanistan will somehow obey orders from ivy tower leftists or liberal humanitarians to conduct aerial bombing of Libya to protect its people (they need to, and, they may send in ground forces to occupy Libya)!

No to the Arab Tyrants, No to Qaddafi!

The road to progress in the Middle East and North Africa has to pass through empowerment of its working people. That means all current neocolonial and post-colonial regimes would have to go.

This includes the Arab (petty) bourgeois nationalist demagogues who sometimes call themselves  “socialist” as in Libya and Syria. Both these regimes are brutally repressive, and despite their origin in Arab nationalism, have gradually come to some level of understanding with imperialism (even though they still are not regimes imperialism prefers). Thus, positions taken by President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela that give support to Qaddafi regime should be rejected. Hugo Chavez has also extended his political support to the Syrian President Bashar el-Assad. There is nothing progressive in the anti-Western demagogic pronouncement of Arab post-colonial leaders. True anti-imperialism begins with empowering Arab working people not by oppressing and exploiting them—which is exactly what these regimes do. Further, Chavez's and Ortega's positions undermine confidence of working people of Latin America and the Middle East and North Africa in socialism by equating it with support for corrupt regimes. (The Cuban position is more complex but also has failed to welcome openly the mass upsurge of in the Middle East and North Africa no doubt because of the mistaken political support for these "anti-imperialist" regimes). 

For an Ecological Socialist Federation of the Middle East and North Africa!

The present upsurge makes it clear that people across the Middle East and North Africa emulate and support each other despite high cost in repression.  Despite the specificity of each country’s situation, there is a recognition that the region suffers from a common set of problems. These include the artificial border created by the British and French imperialist before World War II and creation of the state of Israel after the war. The latter has served as a colonial-settler Jewish state without any specific border.  According to the reactionary Zionist ideology a large part of the Middle East ("historic Jewish land") should be cleansed of non-Jewish population; a vision supported by a number of predatory wars and constant military pressure. The task of the neocolonial Arab regimes has been to pacify their population and all bourgeois Arab regimes have used the Palestinian causes to advance their petty interests in dealing with imperialism and with Israel. Still, the complexity of political divisions in the Middle East and North Africa goes well beyond the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict.  Arab countries are not entirely made of Arabs. For example, Kurdish nationality for the most part resides in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Berber and Bedouin people live among others in North Africa and Middle East.  The region has given birth to Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions (and many of their various sects) as well others. There is an African presence in the region as well.  More recently, people from other continents have moved to the region—Jews from Europe and immigrant workers from Africa and Asia.

The way forward in the Middle East and North Africa is to recognize this reality through a vision of equal rights for each national, ethnic, religious, and gender group in a federated republic of the Middle East and North Africa.  The peaceable and progressive way forward for the Palestinian and Jews is not a two state “solution” with an garrison style Jewish state continuing to discriminate against its Palestinian citizens and refuse to allow those expelled from their homeland to return as its has for decades and to forcibly take and keep land from Arabs and Bantustan type of “state” for the Palestinians (copying the South African apartheid “solution”), but a democratic secular Palestine where Jews, Muslims and Christians as well as others (including atheists) can live in peace and with equal rights. 

The main cause of the continuous crisis in the Middle East and North Africa is imperialism and capitalism.  To empower the working people of the region, it is necessary for them to gain state power. There is no reason for working people to keep a capitalist economy or continue to be subservient to the world capitalist market.

Finally, Middle East and North Africa is mostly known for its oil and gas exports—two major sources of global warming.  If biodiversity on Earth—which is life itself—is to survive we have to stop using fossil fuels. The Ecological Socialist Federation of the Middle East and North will lead the world out of dependence on fossil fuels and in developing alternative renewable energy resources.  It will create a nuclear free region by getting rid of Israeli nuclear weapons and all current or future nuclear programs such as the one in Iran or Syria. For thousands of years the region has suffered environmental and ecological degradation. Forests given way to deserts and species have disappeared.  It is high time to honor all life on Earth and revive the Middle East and North Africa as the true cradle of ecological socialist civilization where humans live in harmony amongst themselves and with other species and nature.  

Such a vision is utopian but also a realistic alternative for emancipation of the working peoples of the Middle East and North Africa. In 1979, the Iranian revolution created the grassroots movements that could have taken state power and inaugurate an ecological socialist revolution. Yet, the failure of the Iranian working people to maintain these grassroots organizations by handing over power to Ayatollah Khomeini and his associates resulted in the bloody repression that has lasted over three decades.  There are indications of similar grassroots movement being formed across the Middle East and North Africa. It is high time to strengthen and join these forces within and across national boundaries.  Thus, the need for a vision of an Ecological Socialist Middle East and North Africa.

Around the world, it is high time to rise in solidarity with the Arab uprising. A good place to start is to join with or build anti-war coalitions to stop imperialist wars against Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Pakistan with demand for a nuclear free world. 

No comments: