The Arab Revolutionary Movement Expands

To the great joy of all progressive minded people in the world, the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt and its ad interim replacement by a military regime is not by any means the end of the current revolutionary wave in the ‘Arab world’. Quite on the contrary. Not only are many Egyptians not accepting arbitrary military rule by a clique of corrupt generals as sufficient (however much sympathy they may have for the individual conscript fellah‘s son), but in other countries the people are rising up as well. The next weakest links in the chain of oppression in the Middle East and North Africa seem to be at this moment Bahrain and Libya, and to a lesser extent Yemen and Algeria. In the latter cases, the outlook is difficult: the military in Algeria is already in full control of the country and is able to use the bogeyman of islamism very effectively, knowing full well that most Algerians despise the corrupt and impotent regime of Abdelaziz Bouteflika but prefer it to another protracted period of civil war and massacre. Yemen’s decrepit rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who came to power after the imperialist-supported side of Yemen annexed the Soviet-supported side, is not strong at all in terms of his own political power. However, the United States has had a constant military activity in the country since the start of the Obama presidency in order to destroy certain islamist forces there, and Saudi Arabia’s extensive military power is also regularly applied across the border to defeat certain insurgencies which it sees as proxies of Iran. In both cases, this implies the revolutionary groups among the people of these countries are directly confronted with substantial military power as their direct opponent, rather than being able to confront the state as an entity apart from the interests of the average soldier. The result is a much lesser likelihood of success, given the unequal strength prevailing between the sides.

In Libya’s second most signficant city, Benghazi, there have been major protests – which is a rare public show of dissatisfaction indeed against the clownish opportunistic regime of ‘Colonel’ Ghadaffi. This latter figure, the supposed protector of his people against all outside influences and powers, has shown his love for the people by having them shot at, killing at least 24 across the country. The secret police apparatus of the country has since then been in overdrive to find and repress any sign of resistance. Much like the other failed regimes that have now been overthrown, the first response of the government has besides been to organize a Potemkin ‘counterdemonstration’, which shows nothing so much as to what extent appearance and reality are constantly manipulated into diverging by the various Arab dictators, who fear nothing more than an informed population. (Another example of this is Ghadaffi’s instinctive response to blame WikiLeaks for the events: tyrants always are inclined to shoot the messenger, as the expression goes.) In Libya at least Ghadaffi will not have the opportunity of presenting himself as the savior of the Western interests against the specter of Islamism, though: both because of the virtual nonexistence of the latter as a political force there and because of Ghadaffi’s own showmanship against the United States in earlier periods of his reign. This ensures that at least it will be a direct confrontation between his government and his people, which is the best scenario for revolutionary change.

Bahrain appears to be the most interesting case at the moment. Despite the great wealth earned from oil in that country, the government is a reactionary absolute monarchy ruled by Sunnis, while the population is majority Shia and suffers from an almost complete lack of political or social freedom. Moreover, the Sunni aristocracy has been actively attempting to import other Sunni aristocrats from Saudi Arabia and other countries in order to strengthen their position, a cynical move which shows the utter disregard for the real social development of their nation’s people the governments of this region have. Inspired by the revolutionary uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and elsewhere, there have been severe protests and demonstrations in Bahrain as well. These protesters, representing the interests of the majority in Bahrain against the monarchists and their Saudi and American masters, have been brutally repressed and fired upon by the government forces, who apparently seek to destroy any potential for revolution there by swiftly drowning it in blood. They will, however, not succeed. When two previously impervious autocrats in larger countries have been overthrown by popular action, Mao’s observation that reactionaries are paper tigers will have passed mere abstraction and become an immediately perceptible reality to the peoples of the Middle East, including in Bahrain. This applies also to the United States’ major military presence there (the US has used the country ever since its pseudo-independence from Britain in 1971 as a staging base to threaten Iran with and to control the Gulf). The US will now have to show its true colors: will it support the bloody Sheikhs and so maintain its military strategic position at the expense of its supposed commitments to democracy and progress, or will it choose to support the revolt? Staying aloof will, depending on the course of events, be likely to be an implicit endorsement of the former, just like American inaction on the question of Egypt was based on the premise that any intervention in word or deed was likely to make the situation worse in terms of support for the US. Yet the consequence of inaction is that the default prevails, which usually means the persistence of tyranny: this the Western politicians, with all their ‘democratic’ credentials, usually praise under the banner of ‘stability’.

Whither Egypt?

President Mubarak’s non-resignation this evening expresses such a fundamental contempt for the Egyptian people that it is difficult to believe his regime will be able to exist one week hence. With the pompous and grandiloquent style of any puffed up petty tyrant, he waxed lyrical about practically every patriotic subject he could think of but offered absolutely nothing to the revolutionaries other than the mere possibility of formal Constitutional changes, which would change the procedure for his succession and which may or may not get rid of the emergency law which has held the country in his grip for decades. The shift of real power from Mubarak to Omar Suleiman is, if possible, even a retrograde step: Suleiman was head of the main intelligence agency (the Mukhabarat), and although the average Egyptian has had less to do with this than with the corrupt and brutal police force, it is still hardly a beloved state institution. Moreover, Suleiman in this role has been consistently the go-to man for the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies in their many manipulative attempts at controlling Egypt as the lever for the Middle East and Israel in particular. There is no reason to believe that Suleiman has any more interest in the progress of Egypt, even just towards a liberal democracy, than Mubarak did, and his appointment seems to have been mainly calculated to appease the military leadership, beneficiaries of American largesse. This move then is a cynical attempt at placating the West in their strategic interests and the army within Egypt, while leaving as little as possible transformed. The Egyptian people will not accept this. Continue reading “Whither Egypt?”

Revolt in Egypt

The Egyptian tyrant Hosni Mubarak, after having ruled for thirty years under the emergency laws called into effect after the assassination of Anwar Sadat, has been confronted with the largest demonstrations against his regime since the ‘bread riots’ in the 1970s. His infantile tinpot tyranny has given the Egyptian people nothing whatsoever in thirty years of rule: one-third of the population is illiterate, a quarter lives on less than $2 a day, there are virtually no political institutions that can represent the popular will and needs, and the Third World ‘population trap’ is present in one of its worst forms in that country. Mubarak has now declared around midnight local time in Cairo that he has fired his government, many of whose ministers had been ‘serving’ for more than ten years; although this is a blatant attempt at sacrificing those around him in order to buy himself time and legitimacy, this seems if anything rather a sign of weakness. The inspiration from the people of Tunisia in their overthrow of the useless kleptocracy of Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali will certainly have played a major role, but so has the persistent economic failure of the government, the lack of development, and the worsening of poverty under the current crisis and the attendant rise in food prices. Continue reading “Revolt in Egypt”

Revolution in Tunisia

All the Arab world, and perhaps the wider world as well, is amazed at the recent news that the Tunisian people have risen up and overthrown their dictator of many years, Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali. Ben Ali, who was known for holding ‘elections’ in which he invariably won with at least 90% of the vote, had ruled for about 24 years without interruption or meaningful opposition. During his reign, Tunisia underwent a period of steady economic growth and an influx of foreign tourism, while domestic opposition both of the left and of the reactionary kind was easily kept in check by Ben Ali’s security apparatus. Tunisia as a result was never known as a country with much serious chance of undergoing revolt, let alone revolution; it was praised by the hypocrites in the West as a fount of ‘stability’, that Holy Grail of Western policy, by which they mean the persistence of tyranny. But as Mao said, all reactionaries when it comes to it are paper tigers, and are easily blown away by the wind, no matter how strong they may look from the outside. This month in 2011 therefore marks the important date of being the first time in history that direct street protests and revolt managed to overthrow, and overthrow quickly and efficiently, an Arab dictator. Continue reading “Revolution in Tunisia”

British Study Shows Zimbabwean Land Reform “Not a Failure”

After years of propagandizing and venom against the strongman rule of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe by the Western press, a recent study at Sussex University’s Institute of Development Studies has concluded that it has in fact roughly succeeded in its goals of distributing the land more fairly among the general population, while it also is not to blame for the food problems that have struck Zimbabwe in recent years and caused a significant exodus of labor to South Africa and elsewhere.(1) While this is not to say that the stories of violence and excesses during expropriations are untrue, and while the study confirms that the Mugabe government has distributed land on nepotist and cronyist grounds as well, it concludes on the basis of research in southern Masvingo province that the latter constitutes only 5% of the people newly given land under the program. As the authors, who are British and Zimbabwean, cite in the summary of their study:

“This book challenges five myths through the examination of the field data from Masvingo province:

Myth 1 Zimbabwean land reform has been a total failure
Myth 2 The beneficiaries of Zimbabwean land reform have been largely political ‘cronies’
Myth 3 There is no investment in the new resettlements
Myth 4 Agriculture is in complete ruins creating chronic food insecurity
Myth 5 The rural economy has collapsed
By challenging these myths, and suggesting alternative policy narratives, this book presents the story as it has been observed on the ground: warts and all. What comes through very strongly is the complexity, the differences, almost farm by farm: there is no single, simple story of the Zimbabwe land reform as sometimes assumed by press reports, political commentators, or indeed much academic study.

(2) Continue reading “British Study Shows Zimbabwean Land Reform “Not a Failure””