In nature an earthquake is followed by aftershocks. These can be as catastrophic in their effects as the original explosion. What we are now witnessing is the same phenomenon in terms of society and politics. The revolutionary earthquake in Egypt and Tunisia has sent seismic shocks to the most distant parts of the Arab speaking world. Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Sudan, Bahrain, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Kuwait, Djibouti -- the list is growing longer, not by the day but by the hour.
In Bahrain, which is next to both Iran and Saudi Arabia, the desperate attempt of the monarchy to crush the mass movement in blood has failed. The revolutionary people showed immense courage in the face of the bullets of the regime's hired mercenaries. As a result the authorities were forced to retreat and withdraw the thugs in uniform, allowing the masses to retake possession of Pearl Square, which has now become the centre of gravity for the uprising, like Tahrir Square in Cairo.
The upheavals in Bahrain also represents a potential fuse that can ignite a powder keg in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, where there is also a large Shiia minority and an increasingly disaffected population.
The crisis is already beginning to affect the reactionary Saudi regime. Last week the Mufti of Saudi Arabia warned the ruling clique that unless they carried out urgent reforms to improve the living standards of the Saudi people they could face overthrow like the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. In an unprecedented statement, he criticised the royal family for its extravagance, contrasting it with the poverty of the masses.
It is impossible to understate the importance of this development, since the entire Saudi regime is based on an understanding between the House of Saud and the clergy. A split between them would be a clear harbinger of a revolutionary crisis in this bastion of reaction in the Middle East and the broader Islamic world. It is something that sends shivers up the spine of the US imperialists.
In Iran also there are indications that the mass movement is reviving. There are clear signs of splits in the regime and in the state upon which it rests. According to a document received by The Telegraph, several lower ranking commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (a professional militia counting 120,000) have signed a document stating that they do not want to shoot on demonstrators. As we have pointed out in Marxist.com, if this document is correct, it marks a very important milestone in the development of the Iranian revolution.
The hypocrisy of the imperialists knows no bounds. On the one hand they are obliged to make noises in public expressing their profound sympathy with the pro-democracy movement. But in reality they have backed every reactionary regime in the region, including Bahrain, which is home to the Fifth Fleet, the main US naval force in the Middle East. The British and Americans have armed these regimes for decades against their own populations. The tear gas and rubber bullets and other symbols of western democratic civilization used on the protesters in Pearl Square come from Britain, where the government is currently “reconsidering” its policy on arms sales to places like Bahrain and Libya.
For all their economic and military might, the US imperialists are powerless to intervene directly against the revolution. They have already burnt their fingers badly in Iraq. Nine years, hundreds of thousands killed and maimed, and billions of dollars later, Iraq is no closer to “democracy” and “freedom” than when GW Bush toppled the US' former ally in Baghdad. Ironically, the debt incurred during this adventure has laid the foundations for mass unrest in the US itself. Despite this draining of blood and treasure, the US still does not and cannot control Iraq. By contrast, mass mobilizations and the entry of the organized working class has resulted in the overthrow of two dictators, with more to follow. This exposes the lie by the imperialists that only they can bring “civilization” to the “backwards” peoples of the region, which was, lest we forget, the cradle of human civilization.
The revolutionary wave sweeping the region shows that once the masses are mobilized, no force on earth can stop them. Not even the mighty Mubarak could survive. If it can happen in Egypt, it can happen anywhere. Now, in Kurdish Iraq, mass unrest has erupted, threatening the shaky edifice put in place by the imperialists as they try to cut their losses while maintaining influence over the country's affairs – and oil.
In Tunisia tens of thousands marched over the weekend in the main cities against the Gannouchi government and demanding the immediate convening of a Constituent Assembly. “The Tunisian revolution is not over yet” was the common message of these demonstrations. The largest of these demonstrations took place in the capital Tunis on Sunday February 20, where tens of thousands marched to the government building shouting slogans like “Leave – Degage” and “We don't want the friends of Ben Ali”. Most media sources tried to minimise the size of this protest, but Reuters journalists who were present put the number in attendace at a massive 40,000. This video clearly shows there were at least tens of thousands present (Video ). Similar marches took place in Sfax (Video ), Kairouan (Video ), Bizerte (Video ), Monastir and other cities with thousands demonstrating.
Despite heavy police presence and the army firing into the air, the protestors, made up of youth and trade unionists, camped in the Kashba Esplanade outside the government building from where they had been forcibly removed four weeks earlier. Reports on Monday were of widespread school student walk outs in different cities and many of them marching to join the protestors at the Kashba. It is clear that after a short period of reorganisation, after the UGTT bureaucracy gave legitimacy to the Gannouchi government, the revolutionary movement of the Tunisian masses has gained renewed strength.
The revolutionary wave has reached its latest and bloodiest point of influx in Libya, where the situation has now reached white heat. Sandwiched between Tunisia and Egypt, many commentators (and Gaddafi himself!) imagined Libya could somehow avoid the general conflagration. According to the latest reports the uprising has spread from eastern Libya to the capital of Tripoli. Last night heavy gunfire was heard in central Tripoli and other districts. Al Jazeera puts the number of people killed in Tripoli at 61. Other unconfirmed reports say protesters attacked the headquarters of Al-Jamahiriya Two television and Al-Shababia as well as other government buildings in Tripoli overnight.
The People’s Conference Centre where the General People’s Congress (parliament) meets was set on fire, and police stations and other government buildings were also attacked, ransacked and set on fire. This is now a full-blown armed insurrection. Clashes have been going on between the protesters and security forces in eastern cities of the country and in Benghazi in particular, where opposition to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi is most intense. But this has spread to the south and west of the country and to Tripoli itself.
The protests in Tripoli were not pacified but intensified following a televised speech by Gaddafi' s son Saif al-Islam. He promised political, social and economic reforms and said that the killing of demonstrators was a “mistake”, but described the protesters as drunks and drug addicts following orders from foreigners. He promised a conference on constitutional reforms within two days and said Libyans should "forget oil and petrol" and prepare themselves for occupation by "the West" and 40 years of civil war if they failed to agree.
The younger Gaddafi attempted to draw a contrast between the situation in Libya with the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia: “Libya is different, if there is disturbance it will split into several states,” he said. But the same things were said before about Egypt, which was said to be different to Tunisia and therefore immune to revolutionary contagion. Events soon exposed the hollowness of these assertions. There were no pyramids in Tunisia and there are none in Libya. But there is mass discontent in all these countries, which is seeking a way out. The harder it is repressed, the more violent will be the explosion when it finally breaks through.
The speech implied that the army and national guard would crack down on “seditious elements” spreading unrest: “You can say we want democracy and rights, we can talk about it, we should have talked about it before. It's this or war. Instead of crying over 200 deaths, we will cry over hundreds of thousands of deaths.
“We will fight to the last minute, until the last bullet,” Gaddafi said. But the question is: for whom is the last bullet reserved?
Saif Gaddafi admitted that some military bases, tanks and weapons had been seized and acknowledged that the army, under stress, opened fire on crowds because it was not used to controlling demonstrations.
Witnesses in Libya have reported that some cities, especially in the east, which is perceived as less loyal to Moammar Gaddafi, have fallen completely into the hands of civilians and protesters. After the speech, the protesters in the street began chanting slogans against Saif al-Islam as well as his father.
There have been reports of army defections in Benghazi and Al Bayda in eastern Libya from February 20, and now spreading unrest to Tripoli on Feb. 21, This suggest that the regime is losing its grip on the the situation.
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, said Saif Gaddafi's speech appeared “desperate”.
“It sounded like a desperate speech by a desperate son of a dictator who's trying to use blackmail on the Libyan people by threatening that he could turn the country into a bloodbath,” Bishara said.
“That is very dangerous coming from someone who doesn't even hold an official role in Libya -- so in so many ways, this could be the beginning of a nightmare scenario for Libya if a despotic leader puts his son on air in order to warn his people of a bloodbath if they don't listen to the orders or the dictates of a dictators.”
If the Libyan regime tries to cling to power by force it may end up like the regime of Ceaucescu in Romania. Such a prospect is a nightmare scenario for the imperialists and their puppet regimes everywhere. The latest reports indicate that the Libyan air force and navy are firing on rebellious military installations and even civilians. It would now appear that open civil war has erupted as Gaddafi desperately clings to power, but it is a gamble he may well not win.
Wherever one looks, the whole vast expanse of North Africa and the Middle East is in flames. Regimes which were regarded as stable and unassailable only two months ago, are being rocked to their foundations. The Arab masses who were described in contemptuous terms by bourgeois commentators, as passive, ignorant and apathetic, have emerged as the most revolutionary force on the planet. This is a major turning point not only in the history of this region but in world history.
The Bible says “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first”. Those who for so long regarded themselves as the “vanguard” have shown themselves to be completely unprepared and out of step with the real movement of the working class and the youth. Those who were “advanced” have turned out to be the most backward and retrograde elements in the equation. And those who were supposed to be “backward”, now stand in the front line. Thus it is, thus it always was.
In 1917, during the Russian Revolution, Lenin said that the working class is more revolutionary than the most revolutionary party. The events of 1917 proved him to be correct. On the streets of Cairo, Teheran, and Manama, history is being repeated. The revolutionary instincts of the masses have carried the movement forward despite all obstacles. They have brushed aside bullets and truncheons as a man swats a mosquito. The only thing that is lacking here, that guaranteed the final victory in 1917, is the presence of a genuine revolutionary party and leadership.
What is astonishing is the extraordinary degree of revolutionary maturity shown by the workers and youth of these countries. With no party, no real leadership, no preconceived plan of action, they have achieved miracles. They bring to mind the marvelous movement of the workers of Barcelona, who in 1936, armed with just sticks, knives, and old hunting rifles, stormed the barracks and smashed the fascist counterrevolution. They bring to mind the Paris Commune, which in the words of Marx, “stormed heaven”.
It is impossible to predict with accuracy how the revolution will develop. This will depend on a number of factors, both objective and subjective. But in the absence of genuine revolutionary leadership, it is inevitable that the revolution will be prolonged in time. There will inevitably be ups and downs, ebbs and flows, periods of euphoria followed by disappointment, defeats, and even periods of reaction. But it will be impossible to reestablish anything resembling stability as long as the capitalist system exists. One regime of crisis will follow another.
The most important thing, however, is that the revolution has begun. It is impossible to turn the clock back in any of these countries. And through all the stormy events that are unfolding and will unfold over a period of months and even years, the working class and the youth will learn. They will learn which parties and leaders have betrayed them and which can be trusted. In the end, they will come to understand that the only way forward is a radical break with the past and the complete elimination, not just of this or that leader or regime, but of a fundamentally unjust system of society.
The overthrow of Ben Ali and Mubarak was the work of the revolutionary masses, and in particular the working class and the youth. These are the only genuinely revolutionary forces in society. There can be no solution to the problems of these countries unless and until the working class takes power into its own hands and expropriates the wealth of the oligarchy and imperialism.
When the present wave of fighting is over, when the clouds of teargas and gunpowder is lifted, the workers and youth will look around and see that they are not alone. The revolutionary movement has gone beyond all the artificial frontiers established by imperialism in the past, frontiers that cut across all natural boundaries and divide the living body of the peoples. The power of imperialism over the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East is based on this criminal division. To overcome it is essential if the peoples are ever to achieve their freedom and raise themselves to their true height.
The instinct of the masses is to spread the revolution. It is spreading and will spread further. This poses the question of the unity of the peoples of the region. The only way to achieve this is through a Socialist Federation of the North Africa and the Middle East, not as a utopian and distant aim, but as a burning and urgent necessity.
- Long live the Revolution!
- Down with capitalism and imperialism!
- Workers of the world unite!