Posts tagged arab spring
Posts tagged arab spring
As we observe the one-year anniversaries of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, we hear more news everyday about the ongoing protests throughout the Middle East, Europe, and even the United States. For the past year and a half, we have been witness to a resurgence of revolutionary sentiment worldwide. It is not a movement of any individual group or nationality bent against localized injustices; it is a revolution of the immense majority against the worldwide rule of an extreme minority. Instead of seeing each battle against injustice as an isolated struggle, we are increasingly seeing the connections between them. Today, a link of solidarity exists between protesters all over the world in a way not felt in decades. We are waking to the fact that we are not fighting individual rulers or policies but a common system of oppression and degradation.
Solidarity. Together we are strong
Despite the best efforts of authorities the “Arab Spring” has rolled into a People’s Summer. Since the first cracks appeared in the Middle Eastern patchwork of autocratic regimes last December, the people have reinvented the region in a way not thought possible just a year ago. Two governments (Egypt and Tunisia) have fallen, a third (Libya) is desperately fighting a losing battle for supremacy against NATO backed rebels, and eleven other regimes are facing sharp resistance from popular demonstrators.
But how has the US responded to this dramatic shift? Far from the soaring rhetoric about freedom and democracy that usually accompanies any US foreign policy, the American government’s approach has been cautious and conservative. The US government’s response to the Arab Spring casts in sharp relief the difference between their supposed ideals and the imperialist attitude which pervades their actions.
The Obama administration has waited an exceedingly long time before making statements of support for any of the protesters. Tunisia’s Dictator Ben Alli, an ally in the “War on Terror,” received US support right up until his overthrow. When asked who the US supported in the Tunisian uprising Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke volumes with her statement of, “We can’t take sides.” It was only after the overthrow of Ben Alli had become a fact that the United States voiced open support for the revolutionaries. Similarly in Egypt, a state long on the US payroll (receiving 1.3 billion in military aid annually) the American government was continuing to call for a Mubarak led reform process just five days before Mubarak finally bowed to the will of protesters and began talking of leaving office.
As the protests expanded to touch almost every country in the Middle East the United States’ cynical tactics came into ever greater prominence. Gaddafi’s Libya, another US ally in the “War on Terror” under President Bush, had recently fallen out of favor in Washington for demanding a greater share of oil profits from US corporations. After just 8 days of revolt Obama condemned State violence in Libya saying, “The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and it is unacceptable.” The US has since led a NATO backed intervention on the side of rebel forces. Similarly Syria, a long time enemy of US/Israeli interests in the region and ally of Iran, has faced firm rhetoric and sanctions. Though initially calling for a movement for reform under President Bashar al-Assad, Washington has recently accepted that a lack of popular support has made the Assad’s family’s decades-long rule untenable. In mid August the US joined other world governments in finally condemning the regime and calling on President Bashar al-Assad to resign.
However while taking these tougher stances on Libya and Syria, and reluctantly endorsing the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions after the fact, the US government has also made several key omissions to it’s democracy loving agenda. Most notably in Saudi Arabia, one of the regions most oppressive governments and also a key US ally with massive oil reserves. The Saudis were carefully ignored in Obama’s March 19th speech about the Arab Spring, as were Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (each countries that have supported US hegemony in the region). This policy of selective blindness when it comes to repression has continued up to the present. Each of these countries has faced its own political pressures calling for reform, and have engaged in similar repression seen elsewhere in the region. While Libya’s crack down was “outrageous and unacceptable” Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Bahrain, crushing pro-democracy protesters, was largely ignored. As the US condemned Syria’s killing of protesters, Jordan’s killings have been hardly reported.
At some points hailing the democratic spirit of the people, at others calling for patience and faith in despotic regimes with a history of decades of repression, Washington’s position on the Arab spring seems at times contradictory and illogical. In reality what we see today is an imperial power grappling with an empire gone awry. When reality finally forces them to accept that their loyal allies have been overthrown, the US has tried to appear supportive of the revolutionaries. A great example is in Libya, where the the US and its allies have for all intensive purposes chosen the new ruling faction, the National Transitional Council of Libya (TNC). Western powers have dealt exclusively with the TNC and recognized them as the legitimate rulers of Libya, all despite the lack of any real signal that the Libyan people actually endorse their policies. In return the TNC has publicly promised to reward those countries that assisted it, presumably with the oil contracts and strategic military bases that western powers are now cueing up for. By championing pro western elements of the popular forces the US hopes to maintain their hegemony in the region. Indeed, key elements in several of the revolutionary states remain on US payroll, including the Egyptian Military. But while the US attempts to shore up its faltering empire something has fundamentally changed in the consciousness of the people.
Dictators that the US has supported for decades are now deposed, and the US and its ally Israel are beginning to find the very people they have for decades helped to oppress attempting to seize power. US domination of the Middle East can not survive an election, as the people of Egypt and Tunisia are making increasingly clear with their overtures towards Palestine and rejections of IMF neo-liberal loans . And so the US is trapped by its own rhetoric: attempting to appear to be the champion of liberty it claims to be, while at every turn trying to roll back the democratic tide that has swept over millions.
By Ian Matchett
On January 25, 2011, a series of protests, strikes, and riots began that eventually resulted in the resignation of long-reigning Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. As these events unfolded, the Western news media struggled to explain the cause of this phenomenon. While journalists credited things such as twitter and speeches by Barack Obama for the sudden manifestation of pro-democracy sentiment among the Egyptian people, virtually all of these narratives ignored the important role played by Egyptian activists and organizers, especially in the labor movement.
Egypt has a long history of labor militancy that begins around the turn of the twentieth century, during which trade unions helped organize actions against British colonial control over Egypt. Under the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser (1954-1970), the role of unions in Egypt changed drastically. Previously centers of opposition and radicalism, the trade unions came under the control of the state, which created the Egyptian Trade Union Federation in 1957. This Federation, which was, until the 2011 Revolution, the only such organization in Egypt, was controlled by the ruling National Democratic Party and has opposed workers’ agitation against government policies.
Labor activists did, however, manage to play a role in politics independent of the state-controlled Federation. In 1977, the government of Anwar Sadat announced a plan to end subsidies of basic commodities such as flour and rice. This move was part of a years-long process of liberalizing the Egyptian economy and dismantling the elements of a welfare state created under Nasser. The reaction of the Egyptian people to the news of the impending cancellation of food subsidies was immediate and outraged. Led in part by labor militants, people across Egypt marched and rioted for two days against Sadat’s decision, eventually resulting in the policy being retracted.
More recently, the last ten years has seen a rising tide of labor activity in Egypt. On April 6, 2008, Egyptian textile workers called for a general strike in support of their demand for a raise in the minimum wage. When police prevented the strike from taking place, a demonstration took place in the textile-producing city of El-Mahalla El-Kubra, also attacked by security forces. The April 6th Youth Movement, the group which initiated many of the January 25 protests, took its name from the date of this attempted strike and protest.
When the pro-democracy movement in Tunisia succeeded in ousting president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, it was a great inspiration to others with similar goals. Egypt, with its growing labor movement and well-organized opposition, was a logical place for the next revolution to take place. On January 30, the sixth day of protests, the Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions, an independent organization, was created in opposition to the government-run federation. This new federation called for a general strike in support of the movement against Mubarak’s government. Demonstrations took place for several weeks, and more and more workers joined the strike, eventually leading to Mubarak stepping down on February 11. Although Mubarak is gone, the struggle must continue if it is to achieve justice for the workers of Egypt. Even though it remains to be seen what the outcome of the revolution will be, it certainly demonstrates the power of labor, and popular movements in general, to bringing about dramatic change. And it continues to serve as an inspiration to activists and revolutionaries around the world, including those who are participating in the struggles currently taking place in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. On February 20, Egyptian labor leader Kemal Abbas issued a statement of solidarity with workers’ struggles around the world, in particular, addressing those in Wisconsin who are resisting the governor’s attack on the pay and collective bargaining rights of state employees. Speaking for the workers of Egypt, Abbas declared, “We want you to know that we stand on your side. Stand firm and don’t waiver. Don’t give up on your rights. Victory always belongs to the people who stand firm and demand their just rights.”
By: Jack Hagen