It is a period of sudden upheaval in the Middle East, portenting great things to come. In the spirit of the international organisation against official secrecy Wikileaks, the Arab news channel al-Jazeera has published a great collection of papers relating to the so-called peace process between Israel and Palestine.(1) What these Palestine Papers reveal is not anything surprising for any diligent observer of Middle Eastern affairs, but their contents are explosive nonetheless. The more than 1600 documents revealed show irrefutably how the Palestinian Authority and its official negotiators have used the veil of secrecy to go much beyond what even the most peace-loving Palestinian would condone, and have offered to cede basically all bones of contention to Israel in exchange for a recognition of an independent Palestinian state. Not just the right of return for expelled Palestinians was sacrificed in the offer, leaving five million Palestinians permanently in exile, but negotiatior Saeb Erekat also offered to cede Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem, and even actively asking Israel to occupy strategic positions within Palestinian territory in order to undermine the position of the ruling party’s main opposition, Hamas. This does not just reveal the egocentrism, the mendacity and the opportunism of Fatah and the so-called representatives of the Palestinian people in their sham negotiations with Israel, where they were willing to sell virtually all of the significant demands of the Palestinians for a mess of pottage consisting of some fleeting prestige in the West and subverting their domestic opponents, but it also reveals the even greater hypocrisy and mendacity of the Israelis. After all, Israel and its supporters have forever been claiming that Israel is always willing to sacrifice so much to achieve a lasting peace, but those crazy Arabs are just unwilling to see reason. That old story should now be definitively dead and buried, now that the world knows how without any such mandate the PA was willing to give up virtually everything in order to rule its little bogus enclave as Palestine, and even that was too much for the Israelis and their ‘clean hands’.
This news should only strengthen even further the ever increasing dissatisfaction with and resentment against the various tinpot dictators, incompetent thieves and opportunistic windbags that rule most Arabic countries over the heads of their peoples and their aspirations. The rise in worldwide food prices, which has reached a new FAO record in January of this year, has caused much unrest and potentially revolutionary sentiment worldwide; but normally the Arab leaders manage to put the lid on such dissent all too easily. Not so this time, however. The useless kleptocracy of the hypocrite Ben Ali has finally been overthrown in Tunisia, where the population not only has revolted against one of the world’s longest-ruling tyrants, but seems intent to carry their revolution through with great seriousness. Several of the family members and clique among Ben Ali have been arrested before they could flee with the stolen valuables of their country to hospitable nations like France and Saudi Arabia, and the people are in revolt again over the attempts by the remainder to entrench themselves in the provisional government. The experience of Togo, for example, after the death of Gnassingbé Eyadema shows that it is of great importance to prevent the clique around the old tyrant from becoming the ‘temporary’ new leadership, something which the Bolsheviks realized full well when they organized against the Provisional Government in 1917. There is some chance that in Tunisia the outcome will be a military rule, rather than a progressive-democratic coalition of some sort, as all reports indicate the military is the only existing institution fully trusted by the Tunisian people (mainly since Ben Ali largely disempowered it in favor of his police forces and only used it against potential islamist rebels, who are very weak in Tunisia in any case). This is not likely a desirable outcome of itself, yet there may be more room for democratic maneouvre under such a regime than under Ben Ali – one could think of a government like that of the military rule in Guinea, or even that of Burkina Faso in the past.
The spirit of Tunisia and the effects of the current crisis are now also felt elsewhere, however. In Jordan there have been risings, and in Egypt the first mass demonstrations against the odious bureaucratic pharaonism of Hosni Mubarak in decades have scared the government sufficiently to send in both hired counterdemonstrators and, when this failed, armed paramilitary units. Even as I write this the struggle in Egypt is expanding. Mubarak is one of the best established regimes in the region and besides one of the imperialists’ most reliable comprador allies, so it is not to be expected that the revolt will have much chance of success, unless the military were to withdraw support as with Sadat; but all of good will wish the Egyptian people good luck in their efforts nonetheless. The same goes for any revolt in Morocco, should such an opportunity present itself. In Lebanon in the meantime yet another government has fallen. Here the developments are less positive, as Hezbollah has taken over the government with the support of the Druze faction after they rejected the implications of the international report on the assassination of Hariri. While the demonization of Hezbollah does nobody any good and serves mainly the interests of the Lebanese falange and Israel, this particular move on their part is born of opportunism and the desire to shield themselves from having to reveal their willingness to murder in concert with Syria to maintain their position within Lebanon. While Hariri was by no means a progressive political leader, this approach brings nothing but risk of more civil war and division to Lebanon and serves to further divide the country among sectarian ethno-religious lines. This might benefit Hezbollah in its militarist form in the short run, but is not in the interests of the Lebanese people, who can only progress entirely in proportion to their ability to resist sectarian divisions and foreign manipulation of their affairs. Whether such manipulation is by Israel or by Syria is for these purposes immaterial. This goes especially in the context of attempts by the secret police of Western countries to undermine anti-imperialist groups in the region, as shown in the MI6 documents on Palestine(2). When such plans are made, it will not do to act in the sectarian interest of one particular political clique and so open up room for intervention and manipulation from outside.
Generally though, the perspective is getting better for the first time in a long period of oppression of the Arab peoples. What the greater Middle East needs more than anything is room for maneouvre, some space for the many different political movements in the region to breathe; it is only under the conditions of total stifling of all real political content and of an artificial particularist nationalism that progressive movements are strangled entirely for want of political oxygen. Under these conditions, popular discontent will move towards ultimately self-destructive movements such as islamism, or they will be set against each other in a spirit of sectarian competition. It is for this reason that whatever the outcome of the current wave of uprisings, it can be said by any socialist that they bode well for the future of the region.