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Uprisings across Arab world pose dilemma for U.S. imperialism

Jan 31, 2011

The revolutionary upheaval in Egypt has brought millions of workers, youth and professionals into the streets to demand the removal of the U.S.-backed regime of Hosni Mubarak. The potential looms for a total collapse of Washington’s foreign policy in the region.

Egypt’s mass outpouring was inspired by the earlier mass demonstrations, strikes and rebellions in Tunisia that drove longtime neocolonial puppet Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to seek refuge in Saudi Arabia, another imperialist outpost in the Arabian Peninsula.

In addition to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, significant mass actions have protested the governments in Yemen and Jordan, where U.S. imperialism has dominated the regimes as a key component of their so-called “war on terrorism” against political Islam and against the masses of the region. Obama administration officials have been scrambling to formulate and articulate a coherent position on the rapidly developing situation where the people have lost all fear of repression and retaliation from the client states of the region and their U.S. benefactors.

President Barack Obama during his Jan. 25 “State of the Union” address stated that the U.S. supported the democratic aspirations of the people in Tunisia. Washington, however, has been a solid supporter of the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) in Tunisia. The Obama administration maintained its backing of Ben Ali until after he fled the country on Jan. 14.

Regarding Egypt, the U.S. administration has refused to publicly call for Mubarak’s removal as of Jan. 31. The April 6 Movement and other opposition forces have called a general strike for Feb. 1. These groups said that one million people will enter the streets around the country to demand the immediate removal of Mubarak and his ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

U.S. imperialist policy in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula has been based on the shoring up of a number of neocolonial and autocratic regimes, as well as giving full backing to the Israeli settler state. Now, with the failure of this strategy, the ruling class inside the U.S. is debating what course of action to take in order to maintain its economic and strategic interests in the region.

Economic impact of the uprisings

There is much at stake for the U.S., the European Union and Israel regarding the political outcomes of the current crisis. Tunisia has been a source of cheap agricultural products that are marketed in Europe and around the world. Egypt, with its population of 80 million, borders the state of Israel and on its territory is the Suez Canal, a gateway to the most important waterways where vessels transport oil and other resources that are essential to the world capitalist market.

Already, as reported in the Jan. 31 MarketWatch, “European markets fell on Jan. 31 as investors remained nervous about the growing unrest in Egypt, with financial firms, travel companies and car makers posting some of the biggest losses.”

MarketWatch’s Simon Kennedy also notes, “[The Jan. 31] retreat came after worries about the situation in Egypt also had pulled Asian markets lower. The main concern for markets is over what would happen if unrest spreads to other countries, said Andy Lynch, European equity fund manager at Schroders.”

This same article continues: “Fears about the potential impact on oil supplies pushed crude-oil prices sharply higher. Lynch said the protests could also lead to policy changes in other countries. ‘The trigger point seems to have been the rise in food prices.’”

These developments have placed additional pressure on the European currency, the euro, which was artificially shored up in a bailout package in 2010 that was prompted by the grave economic crises in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. Also the lower than expected U.S. gross domestic product growth rate of only 3.2 percent resulted in a decline in the stock market on Jan. 28 by 166 points.

Even the New York Times (Jan. 31) admitted that the situation in Egypt could further destabilize capitalist economies around the world. It quoted Nomura Holdings Inc. as saying it “would expect regional markets to remain unsettled because we don’t look any closer to a political resolution than we did on Friday [Jan. 28]. Instability in the Middle East makes global markets uncomfortable. We’ve entered a new and unpredictable phase of transitioning governments in the Middle East.”

Imperialism seeks alternate strategy

Early on in Obama’s term, the president visited Egypt, where he delivered a speech calling for a new approach to relations with the predominately Muslim states in the region.

Nonetheless, the U.S. has continued its unconditional support of the state of Israel and its upholding of the dictatorial regimes headed by puppets of the U.S. and other imperialist countries. Conditions for the Palestinians in Gaza have worsened, and the documents released by WikiLeaks on the role of the Palestinian Authority have further confirmed the historic U.S. interference in the internal affairs of the colonized peoples.

Even NATO member Turkey, a staunch U.S. military and political ally that maintains diplomatic relations with Israel, has begun to criticize both the Zionist state and Washington’s foreign policy in the region. In May 2010, the Israeli Navy attacked an aid flotilla heading towards Gaza to provide humanitarian assistance, resulting in the deaths of nine Turkish nationals, one of whom was also a citizen of the U.S.

The Israeli government spoke out on Jan. 31 in support of the Mubarak regime, which as a successor to the government of President Anwar Sadat (who was assassinated in 1981 following his conciliation with Israel), negotiated a separate peace deal with Tel Aviv that the masses throughout the region and the world condemned. Israel fears that the coming to power of a new coalition government in Egypt could result in the abrogation of the 1979 peace treaty and the possible reopening of the border between the North African state and Gaza.

In a recent commentary published in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Aluf Benn stated, “Jimmy Carter will go down in American history as ‘the president who lost Iran,’ which during his term went from being a major strategic ally of the United States to being the revolutionary Islamic Republic. Barack Obama will be remembered as the president who ‘lost’ Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt, and during whose tenure America’s alliances in the Middle East crumbled.” (Associated Press, Jan. 31)

Hussein Agha of St. Anthony’s College at Oxford University and Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group wrote of the current situation that, “decades of U.S. policy in the Middle East are coming back to haunt Washington. The United States backed Arab regimes that supported U.S. objectives irrespective of whether they legitimately represented popular aspirations. ... The more they aligned themselves with Washington, the more generous America’s support and the greater the erosion of their domestic credibility. As a result, the United States now faces a battle it cannot win.” (Washington Post, Jan. 31)

A senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Ed Husain, said in relation to the current crisis for U.S. imperialism in the region, “Arabs regularly accuse America of flagrant hypocrisy: The United States claims that it stands for freedom and democracy and yet supports the world’s most tyrannical governments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.” (Washington Post, Jan. 31)

Husain went on to note, “Former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice once quipped that America [the U.S.] had traded freedom for stability in the region and got neither.” Demonstrators on the streets of Egypt have openly voiced anti-U.S. and anti-Zionist sentiments that if put into practice in a new government of national unity could result in a profound shift in the political and military balance of forces in North Africa and throughout the Middle East.

U.S. workers and the oppressed

Such a shift could set the stage for an escalation of solidarity efforts in support of the Palestinian people and other oppressed Arab populations within the region. Public opinion within the U.S. has been largely shaped by the U.S. corporate media and political culture, which has distorted the understanding of the character of national and class oppression in the region as well as in other majority Muslim states such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Despite this lack of debate, more people within the U.S. have supported the legitimate struggles for national independence and self-determination for the Palestinians as well as the people of Lebanon and other neighboring states. A majority of people in the U.S. oppose the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and see no possibility for peace outside a total withdrawal of military forces by the Pentagon and NATO.

Numerous demonstrations inside the U.S. and around the world have shown solidarity with the people of Egypt and Tunisia. The upcoming anti-war demonstrations on April 9-10 will inevitably be bolstered by the developing revolutionary movements throughout North Africa and the Middle East.

Anti-imperialists and anti-war activists must incorporate slogans and programs that support fundamental social change throughout North Africa and the Middle East as well as in Central Asia and the Horn of Africa, especially those that demand that the U.S. and the EU keep out. Moreover, the struggles waged by the workers and youth in Egypt and Tunisia have direct relevance for the people of the U.S., who are also facing high levels of unemployment, growing poverty, cutbacks on public and social services and escalating state repression.

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UPDATED Feb 1, 2011 10:55 AM
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