Arming the Middle East and North Africa / FRFI 223 Oct/Nov 2011

FRFI 223 October/November 2011

While US President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron talk of a ‘free democratic and prosperous’ Libya and say that they are promoting democracy throughout the region, the US and British governments are arming dictatorial regimes to save these regimes from the masses.

World military expenditure in 2000 was $810 billion. In 2006 it had reached $1.2 trillion and in 2010 it was $1.63 trillion; that is double the 2000 figure. The US accounts for 43% of world military spending, an 81% increase on 2001, and its defence budget is ten times that of its nearest rival China. The profits of the US arms companies have quadrupled in the past decade. BAE Systems UK had the second largest arms sales of any company in the world in 2009. If we combine BAE Systems UK with its operations in the US and Australia then it had the largest arms sales in 2009 by far. Eleven out of the top 100 arms companies are based in Britain. According to the Ministry of Defence the UK security sector has 18,000 companies and employs 335,000 people.

World arms sales have risen by 59% since 2002. The Middle East purchased $111 billion of weapons in 2010; Saudi Arabia was the biggest of the buyers. In early May 2011 there were non-violent protests held at night in Saudi Arabia. Within days the US government said that Saudi security forces would receive $330 million worth of night vision and thermal-imaging equipment. Six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) are to spend $70 billion on US weapons this year, rising to $80 billion per year by 2015. Britain is second only to the US as an arms supplier to the Middle East. British arms sales to the Middle East and North Africa have risen 30% since the Arab Spring began in January 2011.

This is the reality behind the window dressing about democracy; imperialism prepared to fight to the death, use torture and wage war, to keep control of the Middle East and North Africa.

Trevor Rayne

Hands off the Middle East and North Africa / FRFI 221 Jun/Jul 2011

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 221 June/July 2011

The people’s revolt across the Middle East and North Africa continues to send tremors through the centres of imperialist power. The capitalists are pledging billions of dollars to shore up states and maintain their grip on the region. In Libya they send missiles and helicopter gunships, always in the name of democracy and humanitarianism, never in the name of oil and power. For every dollar they give as aid, they send twenty as weapons. The demands of the risen peoples of the Middle East and North Africa threaten the entire system of exploitation that has ruled over them and much of the world for more than a century – imperialism.


In the early morning of 24 May British RAF Typhoon and Tornado warplanes attacked Tripoli, a city of over one million people. They killed 19 civilians and wounded some 150 others. The criminal NATO strategy to remove the Libyan government combines aerial bombardment with economic sanctions. The intention is to squeeze the government until it fractures amidst a demoralised and hungry population. The removal of Colonel Gaddafi is to serve as both a symbolic and a practical demonstration of imperialist power in the Middle East and North Africa in a context of sustained mass revolt. Neither Libyan government forces nor the opposition are strong enough to overcome the other. The opposition depends upon NATO; Britain and France are escalating the war.

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Middle East and North Africa / FRFI 219 Feb/Mar 2011

FRFI 219 February / March 2011

‘A demographic time bomb’

Every country in the Middle East and North Africa is unique, with different political features, but they share underlying potentially explosive structural problems. The same forces that rebelled in Tunisia, the youth and the unemployed, exist in abundance throughout the region and they are moving to confront repressive regimes.

Shortly after the removal of Tunisia’s President Ben Ali, Amr Moussa, the Egyptian secretary-general of the Arab League, warned that the revolt in Tunisia may be a harbinger for the entire region: ‘The Tunisian revolution is not far from us. The Arab citizen has entered an unprecedented state of anger and frustration.’ The League announced a $2 billion regional jobs creation programme. A 2008 Financial Times special supplement on youth in the Middle East and North Africa warned: ‘The Middle East and North Africa are sitting on a demographic time bomb. The region presides over the lowest employment rate in the world. One in four people under the age of 25 is out of work. Yet over the next decade or so, the region is likely to experience growth in population of 150 million, the equivalent of two Egypts. What is to be done?...The spectre of disaffected youth with no prospect of gainful employment should haunt all of us.’ (Financial Times, 2 June 2008).

Two-thirds of Arab people do not live in big oil-producing countries. People under 25 make up 60% of the Arab population. Any slowing of economic growth and price rises has desperate consequences for millions of Arab people struggling in or on the brink of poverty. Tunisia’s economic growth fell from an average 5% per annum for the decade to 2008 to 3.8% in 2010. The unemployment rate is officially 14% but is estimated to be 30% for those aged between 15 and 29. The proportion of those out of work with degrees rose from 20% in 2000 to 55% in 2009. The number of graduates has increased across the region, with women outnumbering male graduates in several countries, including Tunisia.

70% of Algerians are under 30. Algeria needs to create 400,000 new jobs each year just to keep the unemployment rate level. Officially, unemployment is 10%, but for graduates it is 21.4%. Over a third of women graduates in Algeria are unemployed. Many young Algerians seek to escape to Europe.

Egypt has 80 million people of whom 40% live on or below the poverty level. Approximately 60% of the population are under 30 years old. Over a fifth of Egypt’s 15-29 year olds are unemployed. Egypt is the Middle East’s second biggest recipient of US aid after Israel. $1.3 billion is scheduled for 2011. Egypt’s complicity with the US is essential to imperialism.

Into this volatile situation the crisis of the world capitalist system has propelled food and fuel price rises, threatening not only the poor but the middle classes too. By summer 2010 food price inflation in the region reached 22%. In the year to January 2011 the world commodity food price index for corn rose by 52%, for wheat 49% and soya beans 28%. Oil prices have risen 27%. Food price rises have provoked protests in Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Mozambique and Yemen. Droughts in Russia and Argentina and floods in Brazil and Australia have badly damaged crops. The use of soya beans and corn for bio-fuel has also harmed food supplies, but speculation in crops and land adds to the price rises.

As food prices increase so do land values; both attract speculation from financial parasites. Prudential, UBS, Rabobank, Macquarrie and a host of private equity firms have joined the business. ‘Jonathan Davis, Financial Times columnist and founding shareholder of Agrifirma Brazil, estimates it requires at least four years for managers to see a return on Brazilian land ...But it is possible to see an internal rate of return of 20% to 25%.’ (Financial Times 16 January 2011).

The region’s governments have increased subsidies in response to the Tunisian revolt. The Egyptian state spends $11.5bn a year on fuel subsidies and $2.3bn subsidising food. This is over 20% of government expenditure: more than is spent on education and health combined. The International Monetary Fund demands that subsidies be cut in exchange for loans; there could not be a more calculated provocation for rebellion.

Trevor Rayne

Discontent in the desert kingdom

To date Venezuela, a country going through a revolutionary democratic process, is believed to have the world’s third largest oil reserves. Iraq is believed to have the second largest reserves of oil and is currently the most unstable country in the world. Within this context imperialism is having to rely on its old ally Saudi Arabia – the world’s largest oil producer – more than ever. But the oil-rich kingdom is itself facing turmoil, as Andrew Alexander reports.

Over the past two years Saudi Arabia has been rocked by numerous bombings and attacks by groups aligned to Al Qaida, in particular on 12 May 2003 when 35 foreign workers were killed in a compound in Riyadh, and on 29 May 2004 when militants attacked a similar housing compound in Khobar, killing 22. Many journalists have also been targeted including BBC correspondent Frank Gardner and cameraman Simon Cumbers, who were shot in a drive-by shooting on 14 July 2004 (though there is circumstantial evidence that Gardner, an ex-soldier and expert on Al Qaida, was an MI5 agent). Cumbers died and Gardner was seriously injured. These attacks however represent only the fringe of what is a wider discontent at the deterioration of the Saudi economy and the absolutist monarchic rule of the Al Sauds – a dynasty that has ruled brutally for over 70 years.

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Doha trade talks collapse

Disputes that resulted in the failure of the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organisation (WTO) conference were replayed and led to the collapse of the so called ‘Doha round’ of talks in Geneva at the end of July.

Ostensibly about promoting free trade, the US and EU agenda is really about promoting big business at the expense of small producers, especially in the under-developed countries. The US and EU representatives fell out over reducing agricultural subsidies: neither would move before the other. The underdeveloped countries resisted opening their markets even wider to US and EU exports and investments without the US and EU cutting their farm subsidies. India’s trade minister, Kamal Nath, explained that: ‘Indian farmers can compete with US farmers, but not with the US Treasury.’

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