Arab spring turns to winter

Tony Greenstein gives his view on the cooling prospects of the Arab Springs

The Arab spring began in Tunisia in December 2010, provoking popular uprisings across the region and in Egypt and Syria in particular. Unsurprisingly the United States’ allies in the region panicked at the thought that it could happen to them. In Bahrain, Saudi troops were sent in to put down any opposition.

But in Egypt a cleverer strategy was followed. Mubarak was cast to the wind in order that the army could preserve its power. At the subsequent elections Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood emerged victorious. Mursi used his year in power to demonstrate the stupidity of the MB creating a constitution that very few voted for but gave him far-reaching powers. Described as the “new Pharaoh” and naively believing he had secured the backing of the army and US, Mursi continued the attacks on workers and use of torture by the Mubarak police. The MB itself, always a conservative force, had initially failed to back the anti-Mubarak movement.

Like Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Assad has learnt that exercising too much independence from the US merits punishment. In addition the USA, along with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, were determined that a popular regime should not come to power in Syria, hence they sought to militarise the popular struggle and reduce it to a battle between two armies. There was a massive influx of weaponry. But the motley collection of Salafists, al Qa’eda supporters and sectarian butchers has not proved strong enough to see off a regime backed by Hezbollah and Iran and militarily equipped by Russia.

The latest attack using chemical weapons seems unlikely to have been perpetrated by the Assad regime, which knew such use would invite open western intervention. In fact the US itself has used chemical weapons - white phosphorus in Iraq and, of course, napalm and Agent Orange in Vietnam. As recently released CIA documents show, the US provided intelligence and satellite reports to Iraq in its war against Iran, even though it knew what weaponry Saddam had at his disposal. The hypocrisy emanating from western capitals is nauseating.

None of this has prevented the pro-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty from seeing Assad, not the US, as the main enemy and focusing on calls for the withdrawal of Hezbollah and Iranian troops from Syria. As a resolution passed by the AWL national committee said, “The biggest problem in Syria is Assad’s policy, not US intervention.” Its main objection to US bombing, unlike that which it supported in Libya, is that it will not be successful! Saudi Arabia does not get a mention, presumably because of its good relations with Israel and the US.

Assad’s regime, of course, is a horrendous one which no socialist could support. Likewise Russia has been forced to stand up to US hegemony, not because it is anti-imperialist, but because it is threatened by imperialism. The AWL, however, has consistently shown itself to be in favour of imperialism.

For socialists it is precisely US imperialism that is the main problem. It is because of the US’s constant interventions - sometimes directly military, but usually through proxies - that the region is controlled by various dictatorships. Its local satrap, Israel, although not ideal to intervene directly, is able to destabilise the surrounding countries and thus help ensure that they are controlled by military or royal dictatorships. Hence Israel’s dismay when Mubarak fell and its joy at the coming to power of a new military dictatorship.

The major problem in the Middle East is that the forces which could overthrow the existing order are too cowed or weak. In Egypt there is a sizeable working class, but it has been subject to savage attacks by the military regime. Without a political party that can help galvanise the oppressed, the Arab spring is fast turning into an Arab winter.