Wednesday, December 28, 2011

And yet, still it moves!

SPRING scene from Regueb, 'the land of free people', Tunisia. (photo by Fawzi Chihaoui)

AS the year draws to a close the enemies of the Arab peoples may be assuring themselves that the "Arab Spring' is all over bar the shooting, as reaction clamps down brutally in Egypt, while Islamic parties there and in Tunisa taste the fruits of others struggle and sacrifice. The Saudis have shown willing to put all that Western hardware to use in Bahrain.

In Libya the new regime brought forth by NATO help has promised sharia law, and a "freedom" that could make people nostalgic for the tyrrany of Gaddafi. There, as in Iraq after western "liberation", the oil companies are not the only ones taking advantage of opportunities. Al Qaida is reportedly moving into new quarters nearer Europe, and anyone who believed the imperialist guff about "winning the war on terror" may yet wonder why outfits like MI6 and the CIA are called "intelligence" services.

It is too soon to call what is going to happen in Syria, with or without interference from the West, whose sanctions are making people suffer more, or the Arab League, which send a human rights team headed by a Sudanese general accused of war crimes in Darfur.

In Israel, the movement for social justice inspired by Tahrir Square has folded its tents without, for the most part, its leaders worrying how it could achieve anything without acknowledging the rights of the neighbours Or perhaps the leaders did worry, and decided to settle for more modest advances, such as jobs for themselves in the establishment political parties which, including Labour, have created the mess.

Now, while settlers and ultra-Orthodox battle as to who can best finish Israel's pretence of modern democracy, the military come to the fore again with their panacea; whatever is happening in the rest of the world, never mind the Middle East - "Let's bomb Gaza!". They may think they can get away with it again, especially in an American election year, but counting on the Mid West instead of the Middle East, they may have miscalculated.

The Palestinians are no longer as divided as they were, and nor is the Egyptian border safe. Israel may try to compensate for loss of its Turkish ally by discovering the Armenian Holocause and the plight of the Kurds, but making propaganda is not the same as taking positions on the ground. As for the Arab masses, having shed their blood for changes in their own countries, they are not going to forget the Palestinians, nor forgive any regime, be it nationalist or Islamic in garb, that accepts humiliation in the name of compromise.

As to what is happening in the countries of the 'Arab Spring', we can see that in spite of any setbacks or suppression, this revolution is still moving, and its character is being decided, not by outside pundits or even political leaders, but by the people taking part.

In Tunisia, the combination of political dictatorship and economic neo-liberalism offering no hope led to a young man setting fire to himself and igniting the revolt. The aspiration to work and a future remains, and with it the awakening of women and awareness of minorities are aspects to which some attention has been drawn. Attacks on synagogues, whether perpetrated by Salafis or others, were seen as the work of saboteurs of the revolution, and the new Tunisian leader has urged Jews who left the country during past Middle East tension to return. It may be just a gesture but that does not mean it is insignificant.

If women in Tunisia are anxious, in Egypt they have been enraged by police brutality, which forced US secretary of State Hilary Clinton to take her distance from Washington's allies. Rather than be intimidated, the women turned out in huge, almost unprecedented numbers in solidarity with their sisters.

While an important aspect of democratic revolution in Egypt is the establishment of works committees and free trade unions, it is also interesting to see how the struggle to determine the revolution's character finds a microcosmic echo in a battle within a professional body, in this case the doctors' union.

As in Bahrain, it seems the medical professionals in Egypt too are taking blows from the state for asserting their independence and duty to come to the aid of their people injured ghting for freedom.

It was the historical failure of Egypt's bourgeoise to establish a democracy free from corruption and undertake modern development which doomed the country to decades of military rule, from Nasser's "Arab Socialism" through to Mubarak's regime. Replacing khaki with cleric's garb, or a coalition of both, will not deliver social justice. The Egyptian working class, so often brave in struggle, must have a political voice.

One group which has emerged are the revolutionary socialists, and they seem to have aroused the fear and hatred of both the regime and the religious reactionaries. For their part they are refusing to be silenced or intimidated, and this seems to be enlarging the hearing they receive . While we don't know enough yet to comment on their policies, let us hope the fears they arouse among the witch-hunters are justified!

It may even give people on the Left here something to think about.

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