US Struggles To Contain ‘Arab Spring’

Arab dictators depend on the support of the US to stay in power

We’re nearly into May, and the Arab uprisings which have shaken US imperialism since the start of the year show no sign of running out of steam. But why would they? Though they have generally taken the form of pro-democracy movements against tyranny, those taking part are pushed forward by their material needs for food, shelter and clothing. Needs which remain unfulfilled in every case.

In each country where the revolts are taking place, the Obama administration is trying to make the best of the situation – either strengthening its weak presence in some, or battling to save longtime allies in others. In doing so, Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are blatantly exposing the hypocrisy inherent in imperialism, by advocating contrasting ‘principles’ according to whether or not their man is in power. In the final analysis, the battle is over the control of resources, with the US seeking to control oil and gas supplies on one side, and working class citizens struggling to obtain a decent standard of living on the other. The two conditions are mutually exclusive, and this is understood by growing numbers of demonstrators.

Here’s a brief update on the situation in each of the major conflict zones.

Egypt
Since they ended the three decade reign of Hosni Mubarak in February, Egyptian workers have been discovering that they have no less an enemy in the ‘interim’ army administration. The army has its own commerical interests to protect, so it has repeatedly attacked protesters in the now highly symbolic Tahrir Square, forced through a repressive new constitution, and effectively banned strike action in the country. In this, it has the full support of the US, which has sent high profile representatives to Cairo, each promising military and financial aid for the junta. In the face of this, an illegal strike movement seems to be growing, as large numbers of workers fight for better pay and conditions.

Tunisia
Having forced the resignation of the dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January – an event which inspired the oppressed in Egypt and around the Arab world – Tunisian demonstrators have forced many political concessions. Immediately after Ben Ali’s departure, a ‘caretaker’ government was formed, including several key members of Ben Ali’s own RDC party. Protests eventually forced their departure, the banning of the RDC, and the start of prosecutions against Ben Ali, his family, and former government ministers. The regime is now headed by eighty-four year old Beji Caid el Sebsi – a veteran of Tunisian bourgeois politics. Having abandoned Ben Ali once they sensed the game was up, the US is now watching developments keenly, and hoping that the political concessions won’t encourage widespread industrial struggle.

Obama is trying to recast ‘blood for oil’ as humanitarian intervention in Libya

Libya
The US is leading a regime change military operation in the Libya, aimed at replacing recent ally and now once again ‘mad dog’ Muammar Gaddafi with a government that can better guarantee the flow of oil to the west, and particularly the US. The UK, France and Italy are pursuing their own imperial interests in the country, and there has been much in-fighting between the supposed ‘allies’ for the spoils of this war. The Libyan working class seems to be unrepresented in a ragtag ‘rebel’ army now led by a longterm CIA asset, and advised by US, UK and French military leaders. Frustrated by the lack of progress from the ‘rebel’ soliders, the US is now trying to assassinate Gaddafi. The pretext of a ‘humanitarian mission’ to enforce a ‘no-fly zone’ is now barely mentioned by the politicians or the corporate media.

Yemen
After three months of brutally repressing protests against his government, US-backed dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh has now offered to resign, and hand the reins of power over to his deputy, Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi, and a coalition comprised of various bourgeois opposition groups. The agreement was brokered by the Saudi-based Gulf Cooperation Council and the Obama administration, amid fears that Yemeni unrest might spread into neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which has the world’s biggest oil reserves. Another consideration is that Yemen sits on the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, which is the waterway through which most Persian Gulf oil is shipped to the outside world. However, the deal was made conditional on the bourgeois opposition shutting down the protest movement, and this will be a difficult task, since protesters tend to see them as Saleh collaborators, and not leaders. Furthermore, the agreement highlights US hypocrisy, since a very similar one was roundly rejected in the case of Gaddafi in Libya.

Bahrain
In another country bordering Saudi Arabia, the Al Khalifa royal family is terrorising the population, with even hospitals now being “places to be feared”, according to the Physicians for Human Rights group. Since the last open displays of working class defiance in February, more than a thousand people have been disappeared. In mi-March, Obama gave the green light for Saudi forces to be deployed in Bahrain, further underscoring the strategic importance of the immediate region for US imperialism. Unfortunately for him, material needs cannot simply by terrorised out of existance, and they will find further expression soon enough. 

Syria
Perhaps the most brutal repression in the Middle East at the moment is happening in Syria, where the regime is opposed by the US and Israel, as well as the broad masses within the country, although for altogether different reasons. President Bashar al-Assad is systematically ordering his troops to slaughter protesters, and then slaughter people who attend their funerals. The US has announced that it is considering sanctions against the Syrian government, and is clearly hoping to engineer the downfall of a regime with links to Iran, and which frequently makes use of anti-imperialist rhetoric. However, more strident opposition to Israel is a key demand of the Syrian protest movement, alongside the need for better living conditions and democratic reform.

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