Lindsey German: The growing revolutionary ferment in the Middle East is bad news for western imperialism as one by one their Arab tyrant friends face the wrath of their long oppressed people.
This hasn’t been a good week for the interests of the west and imperialism in the Middle East. The pro western government in Lebanon has been replaced by one which supports Hezbollah and Syria.
The Tunisians continue their revolution following the departure of President Ben Ali. The leaks about the Palestinian talks with Israel reveal the pro western Palestinians to be craven apologists. Most important of all the regime in Egypt has been rocked and hopefully fatally wounded by a popular uprising.
The momentous events of yesterday in Egypt showed the overwhelming opposition to Hosni Mubarak’s 30 year dictatorship among virtually all sections of Egyptian society. The ruling party headquarters was burnt down and thousands defied curfews to fight long into the night against the riot police and army. Alexandria, Cairo and Suez were in flames. This culmination of four days of protest has terrified the US and British governments, leading them to change their tune about Mubarak.
The man on whom they have depended for so long to maintain their foreign policy in the region, has now got to ‘listen to the grievances of his people and encourage more democracy’.
Hillary Clinton who only last week was saying everything was ‘stable’ is now discovering something rotten in the state of Egypt. How could she have missed those political prisoners, bans on demonstrations, torture of opponents and rigging of elections for so long? William Hague repeated the need for the Mubarak government to listen to its people.
Mubarak himself responded with the barefaced cheek of a man who has relied on the police and army - not to mention US aid and political support - for his entire political career. At the very time that Egyptians were tearing down the massive posters of him which adorn their cities, he went on television to attack the demonstrators for violence and to announce that he had sacked his government.
Today as I write there are reports of tanks on the streets, of the sound of bullets and the smell of tear gas as thousands once again come out in defiance of a murder machine which left many dead and 1000 wounded yesterday, according to independent sources. The big question now is will Mubarak succeed in hanging on to power, even though his support has long slipped away domestically and is now slipping away in Washington?
He can only do so if he uses levels of repression which so far have not been seen- hundreds or thousands massacred on the streets and a complete shut-down of the cities, with thousands more put in prison. Will the army go along with that, or will cracks appear among the soldiers who must themselves sympathise with many of the protesters’ demands?
And what would that mean for the western governments now that around the world millions have seen the Egyptians demonstrating for democracy? Can Obama and Cameron really back a crackdown on this scale when it is clear they want the old tyrant to go anyway, since he has fulfilled his use for them?
Can they spend the past ten years banging on about the need to remove dictators in the Middle East and then back one who so clearly is hated by his own people. And what will all of this mean for the wider Middle East? There are mass demonstrations in Yemen and Jordan against pro western governments.
Everywhere will be looking to Egypt. Success there will mean the world changing: democracy in the Middle East which has suffered colonialism and dictatorship for so long; and a massive blow the foreign policy which backs Israel in its oppression of the Palestinians. Israel is centrally threatened by this process, and is likely to respond by lashing out more wildly at its neighbours in Iran or Lebanon, or at the Palestinians.
For the Egyptians and others in the Middle East, their struggle opens up the potential of revolution: at first revolution against dictatorship, but then for a fundamental change in their societies in favour of those who create the wealth- a socialist revolution.
A note to all those in the media - and in the unreconstructed sections of the left - who seem to fear an Islamic revolution more than the current dictatorships. The majority in the Middle East are Muslims. Please don’t assume they are all Islamicists. Muslims, like everyone else, encompass the full range of politics. What happens in Egypt and elsewhere depends on how the socialists and the left put their arguments, what concrete steps they propose to take the struggle forward and how clear they are about the nature of imperialism.
The rise of Islamic parties (including the relatively politically conservative Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) has been a direct product of the policies of imperialism in the region which has backed successive corrupt dictators and monarchs, was complicit in the destruction of left parties, and sometimes encouraged Islamic parties for political reasons.
Most people in the Middle East have a combination of economic and political grievances; the task of the left is to build mass united movements which can address those grievances and take the struggles forward to challenging capitalism and imperialism across the region.
The Egyptians have made a brilliant start.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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