The urgent quest for radical change in the Middle East impacts and teaches every fighter against injustice. It is rooted in the economic stagnation imposed by neoliberal austerity policies of the International Monetary Fund, peoples’ rage at profound inequality of wealth, and decades of violent repression.
In 2009, Iranians tried to unseat their 30-year theocracy. Arab uprisings erupted in 2011 in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen, toppling three tyrants. Motivating them all is the long-unappeased Palestinian intifada against Israel’s land theft and war crimes.
A contagious revolutionary process had truly begun. Today, that stunning course is being severely assaulted by counter-revolutionary recoil, with no chance of quick or peaceful resolution. But the process is by no means finished, for the region’s peoples continue to do battle against imperialist invasion, regional dictators and deadly jihadism.
Who are the major forces? What’s happening? What side should working people be on?
Imperialist backstory. Western imperialist powers have dominated the Middle East ever since France and England, World War I victors, carved up these lands to create artificial states whose rich resources they could control, especially oil.
Today, the major powers with hooks in the area include the United States, European Union, Russia, China, and Japan. The regional sub-imperialists are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and of course, Israel. All of these capitalist governments depend on stable social and political conditions and quake at the thought of rebellion.
Whatever their complex and changing alliances, their goals are counter-revolutionary. They may call it a “war on terror,” delivering “democracy,” dispensing with “infidels,” imposing stability on “the ignorant,” etc. Whatever, it’s the haves against the have-nots.
What is the IS? The sudden rise of the Islamic State group (IS) has riveted world attention in the last year. Despite what most of its recruits believe and the world media reports, IS was not founded by anti-Western, Sunni fundamentalists who believe in an end-of-the-world apocalypse and paradise for the chosen few. It is the creation of senior officers from Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. They are determined to recover the power and riches they lost when the U.S. invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003 and dissolved Hussein’s army.
Much about IS, a break-away from al-Qaeda, has been revealed through the secret files of IS architect Haji Bakr, published by the German newspaper Der Spiegel in April 2015, “The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State.” The documents show that the organization and goals of IS are carefully modeled after Hussein’s dictatorship in Iraq.
Today, IS has small forces in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and Egypt. Its main strength is in northwest Iraq and northeast Syria, where it controls through blackmail, rape, torture, beheadings and Islamist laws.
Iraq and Syria. Iraq’s 32 million people have been mercilessly pummeled over the last two decades. U.S. bombs and invasions throughout the 1990s and 2000s under the Clinton and Bush administrations killed hundreds of thousands and brought untold destruction to the people and lands” (See Iraq’s sectarian strife: mayhem made in the USA).
Now U.S. bombs and troops have descended again, another corrupt regime rules, and the Islamic State group is assaulting civilians and taking over land and oil wells.
Since January 2014, 2.7 million people have been displaced. This grueling civil war reflects dark days for its peoples and narrow pathways for revolutionaries and other progressives to revive a resistance movement that is severely outgunned by the IS and army counterrevolutionary forces.
The counterrevolutionary attacks are most acute in Syria, which has undergone a humanitarian and socioeconomic catastrophe. More than 215,000 Syrians have been killed. Towns and cities are being destroyed, and half of the population are now refugees inside Syria or in neighboring states.
The popular movement’s goals embrace democracy and social justice in a secular society with equality for women and ethnic minorities. It politically out-organized Assad and made considerable headway up to late 2013. (See Syria’s raging civil war.)
But then Iraqi IS jihadists started invading. They pretended to be on the side of the rebels, but in fact helped Assad. Hence, Syria’s civil war rather suddenly became a battle between a revolutionary movement and its two-pronged enemy — Assad and IS.
Warns Joseph Daher of Revolutionary Left Current in Syria, “Some … have chosen to support one of these two counterrevolutionary forces, presenting them as the choice of ‘the lesser evil.’ This actually represents the road to defeat.”
Significantly, outrage against the counter-revolutionary assaults by IS and Assad, and U.S. air attacks that kill many civilians, has revived progressive forces.
Multiple rebel militias are fighting alongside experienced Syrian Kurds whose secular, leftist politics are in tune with the revolutionaries. Kurdish women fighters have been particularly noted for their battle skills and secular politics. The Kurdish city of Kobane was liberated from IS, as was Tal Abyad in June.
Yemen vs. Saudi Arabia & Co. As of late March 2015, the newest raging war is in Yemen, among the poorest countries in the world. Yemenis have been seething and rebelling for years — including in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring — against poverty, ethnic and sectarian discrimination, and years of USA drone bombings. Now it is under fierce military attack by Saudi Arabia, backed by nine other Arab League states. Many Yemeni civilians have perished.
Why Yemen? Because gulf monarchies must prevent Yemeni Houthis from taking the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb, a vital water passage for oil between the world’s east and west.
As the Joint Statement by Revolutionary Socialist Groups in the Middle East aptly charges, “The only war these regimes are interested in conducting will be directed against potential and current popular insurgencies and uprisings within the Arab world.”
Tunisia, Egypt, Libya. The fact that three dictators were toppled very early in the 2011 Arab insurrections gave instant hope to the popular masses in each country, and worldwide too. But those hopes were dashed. Elected Islamist governments in Tunisia and Egypt proved as utterly incapable as the secular capitalists of dealing with the countries’ deep socioeconomic problems. In Tunisia, a secular/Islamist government now mismanages the country.
In Egypt, President Sisi and his military junta violently assault protesters, have arrested tens of thousands, attacked labor union activists, and executed hundreds of secular and Muslim political opponents. France and the U.S. count on Egypt to buy their weaponry and support their “war on terror.” Libya, bombed by NATO at the onset of its insurrection in 2011, is caught in a chaotic civil war involving authentic rebels, a pro-imperialist government, and jihadists.
Hard-won truths. Critical lessons are being absorbed in the Middle East’s permanent revolution, a phrase Trotsky used to express oppressed people’s unstoppable rebellions for a better world.
• Solutions must be regional — indeed, international — for they depend on revolutionary motion in the West.
• No capitalist or Islamist or military dictatorship has proved capable of solving the catastrophes that are giving birth to Middle East revolution. Only a socialist option gives hope to the steadfast.
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