Perspectives for Revolution in the Middle East – P art One
Perspectives for Revolution in the Middle East � Part
Written by International Marxist TendencyMonday, 18 February 2013
Two years since the Egyptian revolution and we have seen many killed on the
streets of Cairo in clashes between the revolutionary youth and workers and
the Islamists of the regime. This is an indication of the situation as it
stands today in the Arab world. The revolution brought down the Mubarak and
Ben Ali regimes, but did not solve any of the underlying social problems
that were the fundamental cause of the revolution. [A statement based on a
discussion by the International Executive Committee of the IMT at its
recent January meeting].
we said in the past
The Arab revolution came as no surprise to the Marxists. We had been
following developments there for some time. For example, we published an
article on the Arab Revolution in 2007: "*Class Struggle Brewing in the
other articles. This was at a time when capitalism in Europe and North
America was still experiencing a boom and Latin America was at the
forefront. We emphasised the role of Venezuela and Latin America as a
whole, as the centre of revolutionary developments on a world scale.
While we were highlighting the revolutionary potential of the Latin
American situation, explaining that it was an anticipation of what would
soon emerge on a global scale, many on the left were sceptical. These
people are always playing down the revolutionary potential of the masses.
At the time they were claiming that the Middle East was the opposite of
what pertained in Latin America. They claimed that what dominated in the
Middle East was black reaction, and even some �Marxists� were of the
opinion that the IMT leadership was too optimistic about world revolution.
The fact, however, is that we base our optimistic perspectives not on
subjective wishful thinking, but on the reality of the objective situation,
on the economic, social, and political conditions and the real
possibilities for social revolution that flow from these conditions. Ours
is not an empty, abstract optimism.
Back in 2007 we explained that in Israel, with the defeat in the war in
Lebanon, the class contradictions would come to the fore. These
perspectives were soon confirmed by a series of strikes by dockworkers and
other sectors. In Iran we highlighted the splits that were emerging at the
top of the regime and the growing social discontent. Two years later we saw
the magnificent revolutionary movement that shook the regime to its
foundations, and only failed to overthrow it due to lack of a firm
On Palestine we explained how Fatah and Hamas were both exposing themselves
in the eyes of the masses, as they administered the Palestinian territories
in the service of imperialism.
Concerning the situation in Egypt, we wrote articles about the coming
storm, despite the boom the country was experiencing at the time. If one
had a superficial and undialectical approach to the siltation, looking only
at the surface, everything would have looked fine, but we could see the
huge social polarization that was taking place. We understood that the
growing economy would lead to a strengthening of the working class; we also
highlighted the role of women and the revolutionary role they would play.
The strikes of the Malhalla textile workers, where women, wearing the veil
led the way in pushing the men to also come out on strike, were an
indication of what was about to erupt. We also highlighted the role of a
highly educated but unemployed youth, with no outlet. It was a powder keg,
just waiting for a spark.
The Tunisian spark to the revolution
That spark came at the end of 2010 in Tunisia, when one young, desperate
poor man, set himself ablaze in protest at the way he had been treated by
the police. This has an immediate resonance among the wider masses who
identified with his condition, and the Tunisian revolution began. In turn,
the Tunisian revolution was the bigger spark that then spread to Egypt, and
then to the entire Arab world ad beyond.
Our analysis on the Egyptian revolution was second to none, a daily
analysis at the height of the struggle against Mubarak. We analysed each
and every turn in the situation, anticipating the next step of the
revolutionary masses. And we have followed the main stages since then.
The main feature of the Arab Revolution is that there was no revolutionary
leadership of the working class. Unless we understand this, we cannot
explain subsequent events. Events don't stand still waiting for the
�subjective factor�, the revolutionary party to be created. In such a
situation a vacuum appears and it must be filled. In Tunisia and Egypt,
that vacuum was filled by the Islamists. This has been also the case in
Libya, Syria, etc.
When such rapid changes take place, with swings from revolution to
counter-revolution, many on the left start moaning once again, returning to
their previous mantra about "Islamic fundamentalism!", almost as if this
were some kind of invisible unstoppable force. This is utterly false.
The rise of such forces is the consequence of a lack of revolutionary
leadership. Revolution is a process and not one single act. Revolution and
counter-revolution march together and at different moments in the process
one or the other can dominate. The point is that life teaches. The
Islamists took office in Egypt and Tunisia, filling the void, but now that
they are in government they are being exposed as a reactionary force. Their
task is to cut across the revolution, divert the masses down the road of
Islamic fundamentalism, put up the pretence of being "anti-imperialists"
while secretly doing business with "the Great Satan," and to apply the
policies capitalism requires: austerity, cuts in subsidies, etc. parallel
to the policies everywhere else. They demagogically say they are defending
the revolution, while they in fact undermine it. The point is that now the
masses are seeing through this and that explains the latest turn of events
in these countries.
New wave of revolution being prepared
The revolution is not over. Far from it! A new wave of revolution is now
developing. There will be many waves, precisely due to 1) the lack of the
subjective factor, 2) the relative weakness of the ruling class, and 3) the
enormous strength of the working class. This means that the ruling class is
too weak to move immediately to a reactionary clampdown and therefore has
to constantly manoeuvre and count on the weakness of the leadership of the
In 2011 all eyes were on the revolution in the Arab World, but within a
very short amount of time it shifted to Europe. This is an important
development, as we have always explained that the key to the world
revolution is to be found in the advanced capitalist countries. In the
past, the colonial revolution raged (in the 1960s and 1970s), while for the
most part, in the advanced capitalist countries, there was a prolonged
boom. The conditions in the former colonial countries were ripe for
revolution, but revolution in the advanced capitalist countries was
delayed. This explained the peculiar developments in these countries.
The masses in these countries could not wait for the revolution in the
advanced countries and proceeded towards revolution, but in the given
circumstances, and with the mainly Stalinist leadership of these
revolutions, the best that could be achieved was some form of Stalinism.
This explains the phenomenon of proletarian Bonapartism that emerged from
guerrilla wars, military coups and so on.
Now the situation is very different. We have revolutionary and
pre-revolutionary convulsions worldwide, involving both the former colonial
countries and the advanced capitalist countries. The Arab masses now see
their revolution as part of a regional and worldwide movement. They look to
Spain, Greece, etc. for inspiration, and vice versa the masses in Europe
are inspired by the revolutions in the Middle East. We see this also in the
United States. See, for example, the struggle against Scott Walker in
Wisconsin at the same time as the fall of Mubarak. An important element is
that the Arab masses see also the diminishing power of U.S. and Israeli
imperialism and their ability to crush revolutions, etc. and this gives the
masses greater confidence.
Initially in Egypt a section of the people had illusions in the Muslim
Brotherhood (MB). But in a very short period of time people have started to
see through them. Now the president, Morsi, is trying to move towards some
form of Bonapartism, by assuming greater powers. But the masses reacted in
hundreds of thousands, coming out onto the streets attacking MB
headquarters, calling for the fall of the regime.
The response of the regime to all this has been brutal. Through such
experiences the masses see that nothing has changed. Now the MB is losing
support rapidly. This is because the masses carried the revolution, not
only to overthrow Mubarak but to solve the burning social and economic
problems they were facing. And now that Mubarak has been removed nothing
fundamental has changed for the masses. On the contrary, things have
actually worsened for them.
GDP in Egypt has gone from over 6% growth before the revolution to 1.8%
now. There has been a sharp slowdown in the economy. Unemployment has risen
and foreign investment has gone done to just 10% of what it was previously.
In these conditions the youth and workers are drawing conclusions. The
Islamists have been exposed, and there is a shift in the politics. This
explains the emergence of the National Salvation Front (NSF), made up of
various forces, including Nasserites like Sabbahi, who also declares
himself a socialist (in reality more of a social-democrat). This is an
interesting development, for Nasser was moving in the direction of
proletarian Bonapartism and carried out many nationalizations and welfare
reforms, opposing imperialism, and so on. Nasser is remembered positively
in the memory of the Egyptian working class).
However, the NSF also includes bourgeois liberals like El Baradei, and
Moussa from the old Mubarak regime. This is a kind of popular front of
forces that are rooted within the working masses and forces that represent
the same ruling class that stood behind Mubarak. This Front has gathered
much support among the masses, especially the youth in the recent period,
and is an indication a of a further radicalisation taking place.
The next period will see the present Egyptian government come under
remorseless pressure. For the bourgeois and the imperialist its task is to
carry out severe austerity measures. At this stage, in reality, Morsi has
only just begun to implement the policies of the IMF and World Bank. He was
forced to back off temporarily in face of the mass protests. The problem is
that he has so far not lived up to the tasks the bourgeois and imperialists
have been demanding of him. Thus the MB will have to press forward with the
attacks � and this will only expose them further in the eyes of the masses.
Islamic fundamentalism � a reactionary phenomenon
The Muslim Brotherhood is and always has been a reactionary force. We took
a principled stand on the Muslim Brotherhood when they tried to present
themselves as being part of the revolution. We explained who they were and
what they would do. Unfortunately, others on the left, like the
Revolutionary Socialists, the Egyptian group affiliated to the British SWP,
supported the MB, with the excuse that it was �part of the revolution�,
albeit its right wing! This was a scandalous position to adopt for a group
claiming to be socialists.
What they forgot was that the role of Marxists is not to tail-end the
masses. It is to tell the workers and the youth the truth. Sometimes
telling the truth can make you temporarily unpopular. Sometimes it can be
difficult to maintain one� bearings in such a situation, and if one is not
anchored to the fundamental ideas of Marxism one can make very serious
mistakes. The IMT told the truth, and explained the real nature of the
Muslim Brotherhood. Now we have the authority to enter into dialogue with
the healthier elements on the left in Egypt, while the authority of those
who sowed illusions in it has now been seriously reduced.
This is a clear example of how a theoretical discussion and understanding
of a phenomenon, and the position we take, determines whether you can build
or not. With a wrong position you cannot build, even if you temporarily
gather support. Sooner or later, the truth comes out.
We see a similar situation in Tunisia, where now big protests and strike
waves have continued. Towards the end of last year there were a series of
strikes and regional strikes, with a general strike called for
mid-December. But this was called off at the last minute by the UGTT union
leadership. The decision to call off the strike was only passed with a very
small margin on the National Executive of the union. There is in fact a
strong left wing in the union. Had it not been for this decision there
would have been a mass general strike that could have brought down the
Islamist government. [Since then we have seen the mass movement, including
a general strike, after the assassination of the opposition leader, Chokri
Bela�d. Thousands took to the streets, attacking the offices of the ruling
Islamist Ennahda party, which they considered responsible for the
In both Tunisia and Egypt, the Islamic government have already revealed
their true colours, and the masses are being further radicalized as a
result. Who can doubt that if there were a genuine socialist force, that it
would be growing rapidly in these conditions? Rather than the �black
reaction� of Islamism dominating the scene, we have the masses learning
from experience and moving to a higher level. This is clearly the case in
both Egypt and Tunisia.
The Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions sparked off a wider process that went
well beyond the borders of these two countries. We see how in Libya the
masses followed the lead of their neighbours and moved onto the road of
revolution. But Libya is very different from its neighbours. It had a
different history, a different regime, a far weaker working class, etc.
Thus, it proved to be a much more distorted process, not as clear as in the
Egypt and Tunisia.
The so-called liberation � achieved with the aid of imperialist bombs � has
led de facto to the fragmentation of the country. Different militias and
local warlords have emerged, and the bourgeois internationally are deeply
concerned at how things have turned out. Instead of a nice friendly,
stable, pro-Western regime, they have a mess on their hands, with a split
between Tripoli and Benghazi and many different local warlords controlling
different parts of the country.
Gadhafi was genuinely surprised when he was attacked by the west. "I'm your
friend!� he repeated many times. He expressed shock at being attacked by
imperialist countries he had been doing good business with until very
recently. He had collaborated with the west in its �war on terrorism�; he
was policing the North African coast holding back the wave of desperate
people trying to illegally emigrate to Europe. But the imperialists,
especially the French, saw in Libya the opportunity of intervening in the
Arab Revolution, cutting across the whole process and pushing it in a
Now they are facing an extremely unstable situation, which has spread into
Mali, and threatens to go further. It is true that Al Qaeda has found a
niche for itself and has been intervening.Nonetheless, it would be an
exaggeration to focus all attention on the Al Qaeda elements � they are
there, of course, but that is not the whole story. Gadhafi had built up a
complex network of tribal alliances, buying off the so-called tribal
leaders, balancing one against the other, etc. Now, however, without the
centralizing power of Gadhafi, this is falling apart, and the country risks
actual break up.
However, in Libya also, like in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia, there is a
strong anti-Islamic current. For example, after the killing of the U.S.
ambassador in Benghazi, thousands of Libyans attacked the headquarters of
the Salafite militias and burned them down, killing several of them,
demanding they be disbanded, disarmed, etc.
Conflict in Mali
What the imperialists achieved with the bombing of the country has been the
destabilization of Libya which has allowed Islamic groups to operate there,
and this has connected with the internal conflict in Mali, which is a
leftover of the colonial period. The borders of Mali are artificial; they
cut though living communities and fuse together peoples that speak
different languages and have different religions. This has created a
complex National Question, which the Islamists have attempted to exploit.
The situation is getting out of control for the imperialists � as they
stumble from one blunder to another.
The French were the most enthusiastic in calling for a military
intervention in Libya. They did not calculate the effects this would have
in Mali and now they have been forced to intervene there as well.
Mali has in fact been ravaged by civil war for more than a year. The Tuareg
people have a history of national liberation movements. For decades the
MNLA have been fighting for decades against Bamako's central authority. At
the end of 2011, an alliance was formed by three fundamentalist groups: Al
Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM); Ansar el Din; and the Movement for
Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA). In April this alliance occupied
the north of Mali and the major cities Kidal, Gao, Timbuktu and Niafunke. A
temporary agreement between the Tuareg militias and the central government
created a temporary breathing space, but the "men in blue" were soon
overwhelmed by the jihadists of Al Qaeda. The threat of four thousand
Jihadist fighters, well armed and much more determined and aggressive than
the Malian army, made the situation too precarious and unsustainable for
Mali is a key country in the middle of West Africa, and is an important
route to Niger, the main supplier of uranium for French nuclear power
plants. So, far from the official pretext of the 'rise of Islamic
Fundamentalism', there are important strategic and economic interests at
The French claim that military intervention is to "defend democracy". But
there is no �democracy� in Mali, not even of the limited bourgeois type. In
March 2012 there was a coup that removed the previous government and
installed a military dictatorship under the control of Captain Amadou Haya
Sanogo, who suspended the constitution and the main democratic rights, and
who appoints and removes the presidents at will. Sanogo was trained in the
US, and was therefore granted a degree of confidence in controlling Mali.
But he has not been able to deliver; that is, to stop the advance of the
rebels. This is where the "disinterested" democratic France comes into the
The fact is that there is no easy solution to the situation, either in
Libya or Mali. The only real solution would be for the workers in Egypt and
Tunisia to take power. The situation in Libya would then be rapidly
One cannot discuss perspectives within the narrow borders of this or that
country, especially when we are dealing with quite undeveloped countries
such as Mali. Events in the advanced capitalist countries, in the long run,
will develop what happens in the less developed countries. In this sense
the European revolution is also key to understanding how things will
develop in this situation. In fact, the whole world is interconnected. The
Arab Revolution inspired the European masses and now the European masses
offer inspiration and hope to the Arab masses.
*[To be continued...]*
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