The tilting balance in the Middle East and North Africa

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The furious demonstrations and attacks on US and other western embassies in over 20 countries from Nigeria to Indonesia in September express the anger of millions of people at their oppression by imperialism. For the people from Tunis to Benghazi, Cairo to Karachi, the US-made video insulting the Prophet Mohammed represents the imperialists’ humiliation of their people and their nations – which they have suffered for over a century. However the US, Britain, France and their allies manoeuvre to contain and co-opt the people’s risings, the Arab Spring still threatens to weaken and break the entire edifice that was constructed by the victorious powers after World War One to dominate the Middle East and North Africa.

After Tunisian President Ben Ali and Egyptian President Mubarak were overthrown in early 2011 the imperialists mobilised their regional allies, especially the Gulf states, to intervene in the revolt in Libya. Money and weapons were channelled from Qatar and Saudi Arabia to groups opposed to the Gaddafi government. On 11 September 2012, the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the US, the US ambassador to Libya and three of his diplomatic colleagues were killed in a rocket attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. The attack is blamed on a fundamentalist group that benefitted from the aid sent to fight Gaddafi’s army; they have bitten the hand that fed them. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, ‘How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction?’

The Gaddafi-led government would not have been overthrown without NATO bombers leading the way. The new government is weak; it is headed by Mohamed Al Magariaf, who lived in the US from 1980 to 2011. Rival militias control much of the country and their members have infiltrated the state forces. Just as the imperialists backed religious fundamentalists against the Soviet-supported government in Afghanistan in the 1980s, out of which grew Al Qaeda, so in Libya and now in Syria the imperialists may be sowing the seeds of something they will regret. US warships now patrol off Benghazi, drones cross its skies and US marines have been dispatched to seek revenge.

At the end of August the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was held in Tehran and was a diplomatic triumph for Iran and defeat for imperialism and Israel. After years of the US and Israel calling Iran a pariah and threat to the world the representatives of 120 countries, including 31 heads of state and 29 foreign secretaries were joined by UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, in Tehran in defiance of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who asked them to stay away. They voted for Iran to be chair of the NAM and for Venezuela to host the next summit, and acknowledged the right of Iran to enrich uranium. The BBC dwelt on Egyptian President Morsi’s verbal support for the opposition in Syria, presenting it as a snub to Iran. They omitted any mention of Morsi’s and the NAM’s commitment to Palestine.

Also at the end of August, speaking in London, the chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, cautioned against escalation in Syria and said that an Israeli attack on Iran would be counter-productive. While the US, Britain and France have assembled an armada in the Persian Gulf, the US has scaled back a joint military exercise with Israel planned for October to test Israel’s missile-defence shield. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to call for the US to impose ‘red lines’ beyond which Iran must not step or it will be attacked. The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, General Jafari, warned that ‘nothing would remain’ of Israel if it attacked Iran and that US bases would also be targeted. He confirmed that Revolutionary Guards were in Syria supporting the Ba’athist state. It is most unlikely that Israel would attack Iran without US agreement and dominant sections of the US ruling class are very wary about this.

Any weakening of the states and structures put in place after World War One by imperialism will provide opportunities for their greatest victims: the Palestinians, the Kurds and the poor and working class masses. They continue to struggle and the balance of forces is being tilted in their favour.

Trevor Rayne

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012

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