Jan R. Steinholt
The popular revolts for bread, democracy and national self-determination create despair among the imperialists and their Arab puppets.
The revolt in Tunisia was the spark that started a fire that is now spreading across North Africa and eastward into the core Arab countries. The popular masses and the youth in the more or less despotic Arab regimes have overcome their fear of state violence, and they will not settle for empty words and promises.
Now the battle is centred on the very pivot of the U.S. strategy for control of the Middle East region; Egypt.
The Tunisian people’s revolt against the regime of President Zine El Abidin Ben Ali has already harvested the first fruits; the old regime’s supporters at home and abroad are being pushed from bulwark to bulwark. Through the establishment of ‘Front of January 14th’, which consists of a number of progressive and national forces, including the Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party, the national and democratic Tunisian revolution has advanced its offensive.
As these words are being written, the masses in Egypt are defying President Mubarak’s web censorship and curfews. Demonstrators have attacked police stations in Cairo, and Mubarak has warned that he will involve the army. That could be a serious mistake. Egypt practises universal conscription. The 340,000-strong Egyptian army is made up of the sons of the people. For the people in the streets it is mainly the police, not the army, they consider to be the enemy.
In the cities of Alexandria and Suez, thousands went into the streets after Friday prayers, and confronted a huge police presence. The mobilisation has been possible despite the fact that the regime has shut down the internet and mobile networks, frightened of the ‘twitter effect’.
Previously, people have poured into the streets of Algeria, Morocco, Yemen and in the Jordanian capital, Amman. All these regimes have been and are instruments of imperialism. They have been assured by the United States that they are safe if they put the neo-liberal dictates of the IMF and the multinational companies into effect, and as long as they openly or secretly contribute to the US-dictated policy of normalisation of relations with Zionism.
But it is precisely the hunger and mass unemployment that the neo-liberal policies have led to that has angered the masses, the youth in particular, and triggered the rebellion in Northern Africa. In Egypt, 75 percent of the population is under 30 years of age, and they are mostly unemployed – and without bread. Both demographic and social conditions are typical for countries in the Maghreb belt. Young people see no future and no hope without radical social change. Their despair makes the fear of the authoritarian regimes evaporate.
The IMF argues that Tunisia, by following the IMF prescriptions of structural adjustment and free market reforms, is showing ‘tremendous progress’ and prosperity, with only seven percent of the population living below the poverty line – far less than in the U.S. and Europe! This apparent manipulation of data falls to the ground when faced with reality. If 93 percent of Tunisians had a fairly good standard of living, of course there would not have been a popular uprising.
The soaring price hikes on food and fuel result from a combination of speculation on the commodity exchanges and the elimination of government subsidies. In September 2010 an agreement between Tunisia and the IMF was signed, the latter instructed that the remaining subsidies must be abolished, as a means to achieve budget balance, and as a condition for new loans.
Paradoxically, the IMF dictates and structural adjustment plans have removed the regimes’ opportunity to reintroduce subsidies as a measure to ease the simmering discontent. This option the IMF has overruled, and riots in Algeria and Tunisia were recently sparked by the announcement of the removal of subsidies on bread and necessities.
The despair among the Arab youth has its counterpart in a growing desperation among perpetrators and supporters of the reactionary Arab regimes.
The U.S. and the European Union fear the development and see that they may need to replace some of their puppets in the Middle East if they shall pull through the storm. Obama, Sarkozy and the remaining bunch of imperialist ministers have all of a sudden taken interest in democracy and respect for human rights. The French Foreign Minister, who offered Ben Ali assistance from the French security forces to quell the uprising in Tunisia, is now paddling desperately to dissociate from the old regime and explains that she has been ‘misinterpreted’. The U.S. ambassador to Cairo is ‘concerned’ about the use of brute police force. EU, and for that matter Norway, are sending fervent calls to Mubarak & Co. asking him to let the people demonstrate and express themselves. In this way they hope at a later hour to appear as if they were ‘on the right side’, crossing their fingers that people have short memories.
As a possible Egyptian transitional figure, it appears that the imperialists pin some hopes on Mustafa Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel laureate and former head of the IAEA. But ElBaradei is far from America’s first choice: he warned, together with Hans Blix, against attacking Iraq, he has also said that military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities would be pure madness. Moreover, he declared in 2009, according to Xinhua, that the Israeli nuclear arsenal represents the greatest threat in the Middle East. But ElBaradei has lived in exile for the past 30 years and the country’s young people barely know who he is. Only in recent days has he been sharp and directly against Hosni Mubarak in judgmental terms.
The Egyptians know of course that the main sponsor of the regime of Hosni Mubarak has been and is the U.S. No state in the world, apart from the favourite pet Israel, has received similar massive military and economic support from Washington. Thus, Egypt has become a militarised police state. Without these billion dollar transfers Mubarak’s regime would never have survived for 30 years.
Funding has remained at around two billion U.S. dollars each year, but has been somewhat reduced over the last few years because of U.S. budget deficits and increased transfers to the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mubarak has been paid well to continue the great treachery from Camp David in 1973 when Egypt, the most important Arab state, signed the peace treaty with Israel and drove a sword into the backs of the Palestinian people. For this the former President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin received the Nobel Peace Prize. Of course.
While the Royal family of Jordan has traditionally played a key role as the main agency of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East, this role was gradually taken over by Egypt under Sadat and Mubarak. With its 80 million inhabitants, control of the vital Suez Canal and the border to the Palestinian territories annexed by Israel, Egypt is a main cog in U.S. imperialism’s Middle Eastern strategy.
The Egyptians’ struggle for genuine democracy and the recovery of national sovereignty may thus be even tougher and require even greater sacrifices than we have seen in Tunisia. The imperialists might ‘tolerate’ losing their grip on Tunisia, at least temporarily. They will, however, never accept a free and independent Egypt in covenant with the people’s will, and will definitely resort to all means to force Egypt to its knees and into the West’s ‘humanitarian’ stranglehold. If the US loses Egypt, the Middle East stronghold as a whole might fall apart.
Since 1981, Operation Bright Star has taken place as a series of annual military exercises where U.S. forces practice how to ‘defend’ Egypt. Direct military intervention – for example, under the pretext of protection of passage of maritime traffic through the Suez Canal – is in other words a fully realistic possibility. Unless the West succeeds in installing a compliant regime to replace Mubarak by means of backdoor diplomacy, flattery and bribes.
As in Tunisia, we speak of a youth dominated insurgency where the demands for bread and work, freedom and democracy have been and are pivotal. The people also demand an end to the fraternisation with Israel and the ‘policy of normalisation’ in relation to the Zionist state. Up to this point, we are not witnessing anything resembling an Islamist insurgency, neither in Tunisia nor in Egypt.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been a semi-illegal political opposition in Egypt, but the Brotherhood has hardly played any role in the first phase of the rebellion. They have been strikingly invisible. This might be due to internal dissension and paralysis, but also that the young people’s demands are social and political, far less religious. Currently there are no obvious political or religious forces playing a leading role in the Egyptian revolt.
Which political or religious forces that eventually will appear on the scene, remains to be seen. But if they follow the example of their Tunisian brothers to the west, things look promising for the Egyptian workers and youth. Conversely, the outlooks are extremely bad for imperialism and Zionism, who are now working frantically to regain control and fear that Gamal Nasser and the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 might haunt them again.
Friday 28 January 2011
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