Summer of Imperialism in Middle East, North Africa


Lucien Gauthier

(reprinted from Informations Ouvrières No. 264, the weekly newspaper of the Independent Workers Party of France)

In the middle of August, the violence but also the “negotiations” have increased across the Middle East and in the Maghreb.

More than two years after the fall of Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia, the situation in these two regions, far from being “stabilized,” as U.S. imperialism would like it, is witnessing ever-increasing contradictions.

Mobilizations by millions upon millions of workers, youth, and people as a whole led to the fall of President Morsi. Many political forces of the Egyptian opposition have carefully avoided saying that the regime in Egypt was not made up solely by the Muslim Brotherhood, but was formed by a coalition of this current with the Egyptian Army.

In the face of these latest revolutionary developments, the top military brass, in conjunction with the U.S. administration, ousted Morsi to preserve the regime.

For decades, it has been the highest echelons of the Army that in fact run the country and constitute its main political, economic and legal force.

In this situation, part of the population that does not want a return to military rule continues to mobilize to demand the return of President Morsi.

Faced with the risk of an all-out explosive situation, the U.S. administration is pushing with all its weight for the Muslim Brotherhood to be reinstated in the Egyptian government via the formation of a government of national unity in Egypt. This country is indeed one of the pillars of imperialist domination in the Middle East. An explosion of Egypt could lead to a general explosion in the Middle East, already marked by a major drift toward its dislocation.

“The Islamic State in Iraq,” that is to say, the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the wave of attacks that left dozens dead during the holiday of Aïd, which marks the end of Ramadan.

Le Monde (August 13) said that the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda has now extended its influence in Syria. The newspaper notes that the organization “imposes its methods wherever it goes: decapitation of Alawites, anti-Christian violence and even attacks on Sunni forces considered too luke-warm. This was the case in Rakka, where the Islamic State in Iraq eventually ousted all other rebel forces through abductions and assassinations.”

Given all these developments, the U.S. administration has thrown all its weight to force the leaders of the State of Israel to reopen negotiations with the “Palestinian Authority.” This has caused profound contradictions in the government of the State of Israel, as major sectors of the state apparatus oppose any negotiations and in fact are pushing for greater confrontations with the Palestinians.

On the Palestinian side, the participation of leaders of the Palestinian Authority in the pseudo-negotiations has not met with the approval of the masses of Palestinians, who know from experience that nothing positive will come of these “negotiations” for the Palestinian people.

The assassination of Member of Parliament Brahmi, after that of Choukri Belaïd, both leaders of the Popular Front, led to a new wave of mass protests. The international press has presented these developments in Tunisia as an opposition between the Islamist government and a secular opposition. Some groups in Tunisia have done the same. Many articles have sought to draw a parallel with the situation in Egypt.

But the reality is different. The revolutionary mobilizations in Tunisia, framed and structured by the UGTT trade union federation, not only resulted in throwing out Ben Ali, but also led to the liquidation of large parts of the Ben Ali regime — unlike what happened in Egypt, where the army remained in power and preserved the regime.

Thus the mobilization of the people in Tunisia led to the convening of a Constituent Assembly. But the combination of the actions taken by many political parties, all supported by the Major Powers, distorted and gutted the content of these elections, prohibiting de facto the election of a true Constituent Assembly. What resulted was a parliamentary election that led to the formation of a government that brought together the Islamic Party, Ennadha, and two secular parties, one on the right, the Congress for the Republic, and the other on the left, Ettakatol.

The result of this agreement was as follows: the appointed President of the Republic, Marzouki, is a leader of the Congress of the Republic; the Prime Minister comes from Ennadha; and the President of the Constituent Assembly is a leader representing Ettakatol.

Why do they all hide this fact? Precisely because this national coalition agreement has not only preserved the broad policy directives of the Ben Ali government, but has even accelerated them. This coalition government not only did not oppose, let alone challenge, the Association Agreement with the European Union, a “free trade” agreement with the EU, but has gone a step further by signing a special partnership with it.

The coalition government has accepted all the conditions put forward by the IMF and the U.S. administration. And yet it was precisely these agreements that laid the basis for the destruction of the Tunisian economy and that caused the revolutionary uprising in Tunisia two and a half years ago, raising the demand of “Bread and Water — Not Ben Ali” .

Faced with the mobilizations in Tunisia, the Major Powers and some of their relays in Tunisia seek to lay the groundwork for a broader coalition government, including other political forces now in opposition. Thus the President of the Constituent Assembly announced that his work would be put on hold as a gesture toward the opposition. At the same time, he asked the UGTT trade union federation to assume its “historic role by sponsoring talks between the government and the opposition.”

According to the Agence France-Presse (AFP), “after more than four hours of negotiations, Ghannouchi, the leaders of the Islamic party Ennadha, and Abassi, the leader of the powerful UGTT union federation, announced that they had made no progress that could lead to a solution to the crisis caused by the assassination of Member of Parliament Brahmi …. The UGTT had found itself placed reluctantly in the role of mediator between the opposition and Ennadha. ”

One question is carefully hidden by the international media, and that is the fact that the sovereignty of the Tunisian people can only be guaranteed by severing the ties of subordination to imperialism. This is valid in Tunisia, but also in Egypt and elsewhere.


How Egypt Killed Political Islam

Shamus Cooke

The rebirth of the Egyptian revolution ushered in the death of the first Muslim Brotherhood government. But some near-sighted analysts limit the events of Egypt to a military coup. Yes, the military is desperately trying to stay relevant — given the enormous initiative of the Egyptian masses — but the generals realize their own limitations in this context better than anybody. This wasn’t a mere re-shuffling at the top of society, but a flood from the bottom.

In reality the Egyptian people had already destroyed the Morsi regime (for example government buildings had already been occupied or shut down by the people), which is why the generals intervened — the same reason they intervened against Mubarak: better to try to lead than be led by the people. But the people remain in the driver’s seat, no matter what “national salvation government” the generals try to cobble together to retain legitimacy before the Egyptian people.

Political legitimacy — especially in times of revolution — must be earned, not assumed. Revolutionary legitimacy comes from taking bold actions to satisfy the political demands of the people: jobs, housing, public services, etc. A “democracy” that represents only Egypt’s upper crust as the Muslim Brotherhood government did, cannot emerge from a revolution and maintain itself; it was destroyed by a higher form of revolutionary democracy.

The brief, uninspiring reign of the first Muslim Brotherhood government will alter the course of Middle East history, whose modern chapter was formed, in part, by the rise of the Brotherhood. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has done the Middle East a profound favor by exposing its political and economic ideology for what it is: pro-western/capitalist economic policies that serve the IMF-dominated big banks, while preventing any real measures to address Egypt’s jobs crisis and massive inequality — itself born from previous neo-liberal privatization policies.

What did the Brotherhood do with the corrupt state they inherited? They tried to adapt; they flirted with the Egyptian military, coddled up to the security services, and seduced the dictatorship’s primary backer, the United States. They shielded all the Mubarak criminals from facing justice.

The Brotherhood’s foreign policy was also the same as Mubarak’s, favoring Israel at the expense of the Palestinians, and favoring the U.S.-backed Syrian rebels against the Syrian government, while increasingly adopting an anti-Iran agenda. A primary financial backer of the Muslim Brotherhood government was the oil-rich monarchy of Qatar (a U.S. puppet government), who helped steer the foreign policy of the Egyptian government.

The Muslim Brotherhood followed the same policies as the dictatorship because they serve the same elite interests. Consequently, political Islam will no longer be a goal for millions across the Middle East, who will opt for a new politics that will serve the real needs of the people of the region.

Political Islam outside of Egypt is also being rapidly discredited across the Middle East. In Turkey the mass protests that erupted were, in part, a reaction by the youth in Turkey to the conservative political and free-market economic policies of the Islam-oriented government.

The people of Iran recently chose the most religiously moderate of candidates to represent them, whose electoral campaign sparked an emerging mass movement.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has allowed itself to become a pawn of U.S. foreign policy against the Syrian government, participating in a U.S.-organized “transition government” that will take power, in theory, after the U.S.-backed rebels destroy the Syrian government. The Syrian government’s battlefield victories and the new Egyptian revolution will further set back the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

Political Islam was already stained by the disgraceful monarchies of the Middle East. The especially corrupt and decrepit dictatorship of Saudi Arabia has thoroughly exploited Islam, where a fundamentalist version of Sharia law is reserved for the Saudi masses, while the Saudi monarchy partakes in any kind of illegal or immoral behavior it wants. Saudi Arabia’s only source of political legitimacy is its self-portrayal as the “protector of Islam” — since the holiest Islamic cities are in Saudi Arabia. But the Ottoman Empire that was destroyed in WWI also based its legitimacy on being the “defender of Islam” — both exploited Islam for political and financial power.

Of course, Islam is not the only religion that is exploited by elites. The ruling class of Israel defiles Judaism by using it to legitimize the state’s racist and expansionist policies. A nation-state based on religion — like Israel — implies that the non-religious minority be treated as second class citizens, while also implying that the “most devout,” i.e. most conservative religious groups, gain greater influence and are granted greater privileges by the state.

The same is true in the United States for the Republican Party — and increasingly the Democrats — who base much of their legitimacy on a fundamentalist version of Christianity, the inevitable result of which discriminates against non-Christians, though especially Muslims. Republicans increasingly rely on whipping up their fundamentalist Christian base against immigrants, Muslims, and homosexuals, allowing them the cover to pursue a pro-corporate and militarist foreign policy.

In the Middle East the modern history of political Islam was birthed by the Western powers after WWII, who installed and supported monarchies across the Middle East to maintain cheap oil and subservient governments; these monarchies use a fundamentalist version of Islam as their primary source of legitimacy.

This Islamic-exploitative policy was extended to fight the rise of the powerful pan-Arab socialist governments that favored a Soviet-style publicly-owned economy, first initiated by the still-beloved Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Retired CIA agent Robert Baer discusses this pro-Islamic/anti-Soviet dynamic in his excellent book, Sleeping With the Devil, How Washington Sold Our Soul For Saudi Crude.

When Arab countries — like Syria, Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, etc. — followed Egypt’s example in the 1960’s and later took action against the rich and western corporations, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia relied ever more strongly on the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic extremists to destabilize these nations or steer their politics to the right.

When the Muslim Brotherhood tried to assassinate Egypt’s Nasser, he used the military and state repression to destroy the organization, whose members then fled to Syria and Saudi Arabia. Then the Brotherhood tried to assassinate Syrian President Hafez al-Assad — Bashar al-Assad’s father — who followed Nasser’s example and physically destroyed the organization. Libya’s Gaddafi and Tunisia’s Bourguiba — both popular Presidents for years — likewise took aggressive action against the Brotherhood’s own aggressive, reactionary tactics, which remained protected and nurtured by U.S.-backed Saudi Arabia.

This policy of using radical Islamists against Soviet-allied states was extended further when the U.S. and Saudi Arabia funded, armed, and trained the groups later known as al-Qaida and the Taliban against the Soviet-allied Afghanistan government. After this “success” the same policy was applied to Yugoslavia, where the radical Islamists, known as the Kosovo Liberation Army, were funded and supported by Saudi Arabia and the U.S. as they targeted the Soviet-inspired Yugoslavia government. Now, the Saudi-backed radical Islamists are being employed against the Syrian government.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, the semi-socialist Arab nations that depended on it for trade and support found themselves economically and politically isolated, and consequently shifted their economies towards western capitalist policies seeking injections of capital (foreign investment) and new avenues for trade.

This transition required neo-liberal policies — especially widespread privatization schemes — that created vast inequality and unemployment, and eventually became the main economic causes of the revolutionary movements now known as the Arab Spring. Ironically, to combat their flagging popularity, these regimes lessened restrictions on the Islamic parties as a way to funnel energy away from economic demands, while also acting as a counterbalance to the political left.

The Arab Spring toppled dictatorships [Crimson Satellite note: Libya was not a dictatorship, but a direct democracy] but didn’t provide an organized political alternative. The Muslim Brotherhood was sucked into this vacuum, and was quickly spit out as a viable political alternative for the demands of a revolutionary Egypt and the broader Middle East.

And although the Egyptian military again holds the reins of institutional power in Egypt, it understands the people’s distrust of the post-Mubarak military, and is thus limited in its ability to act, since mass repression would further inflame the revolution and possibly fracture the army — the same way it did when former President Nasser rose to power in a junior officer’s leftist coup (a similar type of coup was attempted and failed by Hugo Chavez before he was elected president).

Ultimately, the Muslim Brotherhood and other similar Islamic political organizations are not a natural expression of the religious attitudes of people in the Middle East, but instead an unnatural political creation that serves a specific geo-political agenda, specifically that of the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

The Egyptian people have now had the experience of political Islam and have discarded it, in the same way a tank deals with a speed bump. Now new policies must be sought based on a different political-economic ideology, until one is found that will represent the actual needs of the people.

Until the Egyptian masses discover and organize around a platform that serves the people’s needs, a series of other governments will be constructed in an attempt to keep Egypt’s elites — and their western foreign backers — in place. These governments will be likewise tossed aside until one emerges that represents the needs of the people.

There is a valid fear that the Muslim Brotherhood will choose to take up arms in Egypt in the same way that the Algerian Islamists triggered a civil war when the military annulled the elections they had won. The Brotherhood may say, “We tried elections and the results were denied to us.”

But revolution is the greatest expression of democracy, and only by extending the revolution can a potential civil war between the Brotherhood and the military be averted. The power of both groups can be undercut by a revolutionary movement that fights for improving the living conditions — with concrete demands — of the majority of Egyptians. The lower ranks of both the army and the Muslim Brotherhood will sympathize with such a movement, allowing for a new direction for the country.

Many revolutionaries in Egypt have learned a thousand political lessons in a few short years; they will not easily allow the army to usurp their power. The Egyptian revolution is the most powerful revolution in decades and has already re-shaped the Middle East. It will continue to do so until the people’s needs are met.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action ( He can be reached at

Chris Stevens’ Murder a Smokescreen for Joint NATO-CIA Exercises in Benghazi?

Alexandra Valiente
Libya 360°

There are a plethora of questions surrounding the alleged attack on US diplomatic staff in Benghazi and the context in which the events supposedly took place.

As more information emerges it is clear that the narratives being circulated by both mainstream and alternative media are rife with irreconcilable contradictions which expose the necessity of a much deeper investigation.

Felicity Arbuthnot highlights some of the most troubling anomalies in her recent article.

One critical fact she draws our attention to is this,

“In a nation which lets its grief hang out as no other, oddly, daily searches find no funeral announcements for Ambassador Stevens or U.S. Air Force veteran Sean Smith, with ten years as an information management officer in what has been since 2009, Hillary Clinton’s State Department.”

Why the silence?

Although I do not concur with reports that the assassination of Ambassador Stevens was the work of the Libyan Resistance, I concede that depending on what actually happened in Benghazi and the surrounding area, the confusion such an attack could elicit, followed by days of protests, would provide excellent cover for Resistance strikes.

Today Bill Van Auken reports ,

“The September 11 attack that claimed the life of the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans disrupted a major CIA operation in the North African country.”

“According to the New York Times, at least half of the nearly two dozen US personnel evacuated from the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi following the fatal attack on the US consulate and a secret “annex” were “CIA operatives and contractors.”

Contrary to the New York Times report, there is no US consulate in Benghazi.

Mark Robertson and Finian Cunningham expose the “US consulate” deception and more…

“Regarding the Benghazi incident, most people refer to “the US consulate,” when in reality the US site in Benghazi was not an embassy or a consulate, or even a “compound”. It was a collection of villas (that is, a gated community) privately owned by one Mohammad Al Bishari, who was leasing the villas to US State Department personnel.” Reports have emphasized that Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues were staying in villas that had no security.”

No security?

Yet according to CNN’s report on the journal entries made by Chris Stevens, he was concerned about the increased presence of Islamic extremists and believed that he was on an al Qaeda hit list.

This report from The Independent raises the question as to why no action was taken to protect staff when the US government had 48 hours warning that an attack was immanent.

Also, the Times report cited in Bill Van Auken’s article is misleading when it asserts that, “the CIA “began building a meaningful but covert presence in Benghazi” within months of the February 2011 revolt in Benghazi that seized the city from forces loyal to the government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.”

The CIA  established a covert presence in Libya immediately following theSeptember 1, 1969 Al Fateh Revolution, when Muammar Gaddafi staged a bloodless coup that toppled King Idris who, subservient to imperialist powers, permitted the nation to languish in abject poverty while colonial empires ravaged Libya’s rich resources.

The CIA conducted ongoing operations in a relentless effort to destabilize the country and obstruct Libya’s transformation from the poorest nation in the world to one that surpassed most Western nations on the United Nations Human Rights and Development Indexes.

It is well known that the CIA made no less than six assassination attempts on the life of Muammar Gaddafi before his brutal murder in October, 2011. (This does not include Operation El Dorado Canyon – 1986 or the eight months of steady aerial bombardments by NATO’s 2011 Operation Odyssey Dawn/Unified Protector Campaign when strategic strikes targeted homes of the Gaddafi family members as well as annihilating over 100,000 Libyans and destroying most of the country’s vital infrastructure.)

The CIA Base Files On Covert Ops In Libya offer some insight into their Libyan operations.

Five years prior to the outbreak of the CIA-backed armed insurrection, there was a marked escalation of covert activity.

One company deployed by the CIA and the US Department of Defense was AECOM, an intelligence front organization specializing in assisting the US DoD in “political transition” projects.

In 2007 AECOM sent 50 employees and their families to Libya. They were stationed in Benghazi where the insurrection began. (More information…)

Benghazi is presently the main military base from which NATO launches offensives against neighboring African nations and designated targets in the Middle East.

How credible is it that they would be vulnerable to attack as we have been led to believe in the media narratives?

The largest shipment of NATO weapons went to Syria from Benghazi immediately after the “September 11 attack”.

Terrorist training camps in Libya prepare militias for combat in Syria.

So is it possible that events in Benghazi were part of a NATO-AFRICOM exercise and the problematic narratives merely a smokescreen for something far more sinister?

Consider SouthlandSouthern Mistrel, or more recently, Mali and Operation Flintlock 2012.

Media reports stated Flintlock 2012 was postponed due to the coup in Mali when a closer analysis suggests the coup was Flintlock 2012 in action.

See herehere and here.

Why the need for the US to suddenly deny their close working relationship with Islamic extremists?

The West Point Document revealed that the “Libyan rebels” were the same terrorists who slaughtered US personnel in Iraq.

The relationship between the US, the CIA, NATO and al Qaeda is decades long and has been mutually advantageous.

As war efforts escalate against Syria, with Iran in the line of sight, Islamist terror cells from every region are converging in Damascus. The Muslim Brotherhood are reaping a rich harvest from the “Arab Spring” orgy of CIA destabilizations. There is every indication that the relationship between the Islamists and the West is irrevocably conjoined.

Whatever the truth may be regarding events in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, I am certain that they were planned in advance, that they were controlled and well coordinated and that they will serve imperialist interests as the war theater continues its advance throughout Africa and the Middle East.

© Copyright 2011-2012 by Libya 360° and Viva Libya!.

This page may be republished for non-commercial purposes as long as reprints include a verbatim copy of the article/page in its entirety, respecting its integrity and cite the author and Libya 360° and Viva Libya! as the source including a live link to the article/page.

Egypt’s Morsi: Globalist Trojan Horse Visits Iran

Morsi is clearly playing the role of figurehead for the latest incarnation of the West’s regime change strategy for Syria.

Dan Glazebrook

Morsi In Tehran: Strategic Realignment or A Safe Pair of Hands?

Egypt’s new President Mohammed Morsi was in China last week, putting in an appearance at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Iran on the way home – all before ever having stepped foot in the US. Several commentators have speculated that his movements herald a strategic realignment for Egypt away from Washington and towards Tehran. The Washington Post hailed the trip as “a major foreign policy shift for the Arab world’s most populous nation, after decades of subservience to Washington”. This seems very unlikely, if not disingenuous, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the importance of foreign visits and their chronology can easily be overstated. Every reactionary from Doha to Downing St goes to China to do business, and China does not demand political allegiance in return; this trip in itself, therefore, signifies nothing about Egypt’s foreign policy. Likewise with Tehran; the Turkish foreign minister and the Emir of Qatar are also attending the summit, yet no one seems to be suggesting that this signifies any “major foreign policy shift” on the part of either of those countries. Neither should it be forgotten that, although Morsi has yet to visit the US, he hosted a visit from Hillary Clinton within a fortnight of coming to power, and his first foreign visit as President was to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia – the West’s number one Arab friend.

Secondly, Morsi’s government looks set to be deepening, not reducing, his country’s economic dependence on the West through a $4.5bn IMF loan currently under negotiation. As has often been discussed in these pages, the IMF do not do free lunches; they demand their pound of flesh in the form of privatisation of industry, the abolition of tariffs and subsidies and other measures to make life easier for foreign capital (and harder for the poor). Not that Morsi’s organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood, have any particular objection to such policies – their economic strategy document al-Nahda (“the renaissance”) is a model of the type of extreme neo-liberalism the IMF so adores. They have already pledged to abolish the £10billion annual food and fuel subsidy that is currently a lifeline for the country’s poor, and are committed to the emasculation of the trade unions which were such a potent force in last year’s uprisings. Opposition to such measures will certainly be blunted if the Brotherhood implement their commitment to end the current reservation of 50% of seats in the Egyptian parliament for workers and farmers. This reform would pave the way to a parliament stacked with corporate-sponsored middle-class career politicians based on the Western model – complete, presumably, with similar levels of subservience to the global neoliberal agenda. Interestingly, the IMF loan currently being negotiated was rejected by Egypt’s military leaders last summer as being politically unwise – in other words, likely to provoke massive popular outrage. In economic terms, the elites of Egypt and the West are definitely singing from the same songsheet.

Finally, Morsi is clearly playing the role of figurehead for the latest incarnation of the West’s regime change strategy for Syria. Long before his outburst against Assad in Tehran this week, Morsi had nailed his colours to the mast, claiming that the Syrian government must “disappear from the scene” because “there is no room for talk about reform”. Now he is proposing a new Contact Group for Syria involving Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran. That this plan was not immediately dismissed by Washington and London – as similar suggestions had been in the past – is indication enough that it has their backing. Morsi’s spokesman Yasser Ali explained that “Part of the mission is in China, part of the mission is in Russia and part of the mission is in Iran”. Presumably there will be some kind attempt to win Russian and Chinese acquiescence to some kind of NATO-imposed ‘no-fly zone’, as suggested this week by US general Martin Dempsey, before delivering an ultimatum to Tehran not to intervene.

Rather than a “strategic shift”, what is more likely to be happening is that Morsi is consciously allowing the idea of a “turn from Washington” to take root – with the backing of sections of the Western media – in order to gain credibility, allowing his Syria plan to be presented as an “independent regional initiative”, and thus undermine Russian and Chinese claims of Western imperialism.

We have been here before. Turkish President Erdogan gained huge prestige across the Arab world three years ago for the supposed ‘anti-Zionism’ he demonstrated walking out of Shimon Peres’ speech at the World Economic Forum, and his grandstanding over the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla the following year. Hw went on to use this prestige, however, to garner support for the West’s ongoing proxy war against Syria, the one Arab state that backs up its supportive words with material support for the Palestinian resistance. In so doing, he effectively placed himself at the vanguard of the Israeli-Western policy agenda for the region.

Morsi’s Egypt remains financially dependent on the US, and now also Saudi Arabia. The US famously provides $1.3billion military aid annually, whilst Saudi Arabia has been the only country to provide loans to Egypt – to the tune of $4billion – since last year’s uprising. Meanwhile, the country has been suffering under the double hammer blows of world recession and the loss of tourism. Egypt’s financial stability depends, in the short term at least, on keeping its two backers happy. In this light, Morsi’s comments this week that his commitment to Western-sponsored regime change in Syria was a “strategic necessity” is quite a candid admission. Morsi’s calculated posturing is an attempt to win credibility by appearing to distance himself from the US, whilst in reality working to win support for US goals both in Egypt – through the pursuance of an extreme neoliberal economic agenda – and in the wider region, by spearheading the latest incarnation of the West’s roadmap to Syrian regime change.

Dan Glazebrook is a political writer and journalist. He writes regularly on international relations and the use of state violence in British domestic and foreign policy.. He can be reached at

Corporate Media Promotes Sectarianism to Divide Syria

Imperialists Side with Non-Syrian Extremists to Collapse a Secular Government

The Brotherhood is promoting a moderate image and claims that the Assad government is responsible for violence, not the opposition. But that isn’t the view of former SNC supporter Kamal Lebwany, who told the New York Times on May 5 that the Brotherhood “monopolises everything – the money, the weapons, the SNC. The SNC has a liberal peel covering a totalitarian, non-democratic core.”

Kenny Coyle

Western media coverage of Syria has made much of the fact that many of its leaders, including the dominant Assad family, belong to the Alawite sect of Islam.

Perhaps it’s a response to the appalling superficiality of coverage of the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq – in light of widespread sectarian violence journalists are more willing to view Islam as a creed with many tendencies.

But this comes at a cost. Now religion is presented as almost the sole factor in conflicts, neatly obscuring the historical and current role of outside imperialist interference.

The mainstream narrative is that the Middle East is destined for incessant sectarian conflict.

Yet religious sectarianism – from Derry to Damascus – has always been used by colonial powers as political cover to divide and rule people who might otherwise unite in defence of their common interests.

Imperialism has often used the mantra of the “failed state,” arguing that a country is too riven by age-old conflicts and tribalism to rule itself. Intervention is then presented as a response to, rather than a cause of, these divisions.

On May 30 the BBC’s Mark Urban wrote on its website: “Reports that hundreds of Sunni jihadists from across the Middle East have joined the fight against Bashar al-Assad’s minority Alawite regime are also causing some in Washington to think long and hard about lining up on the same side as al-Qaida.”

But the Assads have not dominated Syrian politics for 40 years by representing only the Alawites, who comprise perhaps 12 per cent of the population.

Syria is certainly in the throes of a bitter and bloody conflict where sectarian forces are increasingly active.

One effect of the early shift from peaceful protests to armed conflict has been to polarise the country further, fuelling a cycle of revenge killings.

But, as Urban concedes, much of this is being stimulated from outside Syria.

It is the combustible mix of external interference with internal political crisis that threatens Syria with further bloodbaths reminiscent of 1990s Yugoslavia.

But to understand the Syrian crisis we need to place the ethnic and religious divisions in a broader political and social context.

About 25 per cent of the population are non-Sunni Muslims. Alongside the Alawites are the Druze and Isma’ilis, as well as mainstream Shia. There are also Christians of various denominations.

And among the Sunnis there are non-Arab minorities, such as Kurds, Circassians and Turkomans.

Sandwiched between Lebanon to the west and Iraq to the east these communities – whatever their past and current grievances – have plenty of reason to fear the fall of Assad’s authoritarian but essentially secular state.

Nor should we assume that the Sunni population is some homogenous bloc. There are heterodox Sufis, militantly political and anti-regime Salafis and many who follow a secular lifestyle.

Traditionally Alawites were damned by many Sunni theologians as heretics – they don’t worship in mosques, don’t observe the five pillars of Islam, the women don’t wear headscarves or veils and they observe a variety of feasts and holidays from other traditions. Unlike Jews and Christians the Alawite and Druze communities were denied official recognition in Ottoman times and suffered all-round discrimination.

Under French rule Alawites and other minorities were recruited in great numbers by the colonial forces. For Alawites military service offered a means of social advancement, security and status.

After the French left the Alawites continued to dominate the military ranks. US Middle East expert Joshuah Landis estimated that Alawites made up almost 60 per cent of non-commissioned officers in the Syrian army by 1955.

When Bashar al-Assad’s father Hafez came to power in 1970 it was due to his roots in the military wing of the ruling Ba’ath Party rather than an attempt to create an Alawite ruling elite.

Due to their history of persecution and their secretive, unorthodox rites and customs, Syria’s Alawites have generally favoured secular government and have shunned the political Islamic movements common among both Shia and Sunni.

Alawites were therefore especially open to the secular philosophy of Ba’athism and one of the party’s original ideologists Zaki al-Arsuzi was himself an Alawite.

Ba’athists found themselves competing against Islamist groups early on, particularly their arch-rival the Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian wing of which was founded in 1944.

In Syria the Brotherhood has historically been split between two factions – an Aleppo wing, considered more moderate, and a more radical faction with Homs as its base.

It was banned during the Adid al-Shishlaki dictatorship of the early 1950s and remained ineffective during Syria’s brief union with Egypt. In 1964 radicalised Brotherhood supporters launched a jihad in Hama against the newly installed Ba’athist regime. The revolt was bloodily crushed.

During the 1960s and ’70s there was also a growing gap between the Brotherhood’s public commitment to non-violence and the increasing involvement of its members in radical armed groups, the most important of which was known as the Fighting Vanguard and had its origins in the Hama revolt.

In 1973 there were mass protests against Ba’athist moves to advance a secular constitution, leading to a revival of the Brotherhood and the armed groups. By the late ’70s Islamist groups were engaged in a guerilla war against the government.

In June 1979 a Fighting Vanguard unit massacred scores of army cadets in Aleppo military academy. It also organised an assassination attempt on Hafez Assad and orchestrated dozens of shootings and bombings across the country.

Assad’s response was brutal and effective. Membership of the Brotherhood became a capital offence. There were large-scale executions of Islamist prisoners.

In February 1982 the army laid siege to Hama. In scenes chillingly reminiscent of the current crisis it first ordered non-combatants to leave the city and then bombarded the Islamists, who used the cover of the remaining civilian communities.

Fighting lasted nearly three weeks and cost thousands of lives, many civilian.

Despite some attempts at reconciliation during the early part of Bashar al-Assad’s rule the Brotherhood and the Ba’ath Party are again on a collision course. The exiled Syrian National Council (SNC) has a significant Brotherhood presence.

The Brotherhood is promoting a moderate image and claims that the Assad government is responsible for violence, not the opposition. But that isn’t the view of former SNC supporter Kamal Lebwany, who told the New York Times on May 5 that the Brotherhood “monopolises everything – the money, the weapons, the SNC. The SNC has a liberal peel covering a totalitarian, non-democratic core.”

And in addition to Syria’s homegrown Islamists, there is a new breed. Politicised and militarised by Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, hardline jihadist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra have carried out car bombings and other attacks.

But most foreign Islamist fighters are being integrated into the various militias under the umbrella of the Saudi and Qatari-funded Free Syrian Army (FSA).

An interview with a Sunni Lebanese fighter published in Beirut’s Daily Star newspaper mentions Lebanese fighters joining “regular FSA brigades” and even an entirely Lebanese armed unit. It also quotes “militants” saying that other Arab nationals are fighting alongside the Syrian rebels, including “citizens from Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.”

The internationalisation of the Syria conflict is no propaganda ploy of the Assad regime but a dangerous reality.

Muslim Brotherhood: Washington’s Horse in Egypt Presidential Race

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood reassures Washington


Cairo, (Al-Akhbar): “No need to fear us.” That was the Muslim Brotherhood’s message to the US in 2005. Seven years later, they are trying to offer the same reassurance.

After the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) sweeping parliamentary election victory in 2005, Khairat al-Shater wrote an article titled “No Need to Fear Us” in the Guardian.

Al-Shater is now the deputy chairman of the MB and the Freedom and Justice Party’s (FJP) candidate for the Egyptian presidential elections.

The article aimed to ease Western powers’ concerns over the then rising power of the MB, after they had won one-fifth of the parliament for the first time.

In the article, al-Shater said that the MB does not want “more than just a small piece of the parliamentary cake” in spite of the “great confidence” the Egyptian people have in them.

He added that they only ran for 150 seats out of 444 (in the people’s assembly), because they “recognize that the provision of a greater number of candidates will be considered a provocation to the system” and lead it to “falsify the results.”

The 2005 article even committed the MB to “respect the rights of all political and religious groups” and made no mention of the application of Islamic law.

Today, al-Shater is reaping the fruits of his rapprochement with the West, and especially the United States, in his run for Egypt’s top post.

His position in the race is the opposite of that of the Salafi candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail. The latter is facing disqualification because his mother is said to have US citizenship.

The Egyptian electoral law prohibits candidates from having parents with other nationalities. But Abu Ismail’s supporters showed their resentment of the rule by calling for a protest on Friday, raising the slogan of “No to Manipulation [of the election results].”

Abu Ismail also announced that he will be suing the interior ministry for refusing to provide documentation about his mother’s nationality.

One of his supporters, Mostafa Abido, told Al-Akhbar that the US endorses al-Shater against Abu Ismail because the Salafi candidate is committed “to applying sharia and rejects US intervention in Egyptian affairs.”

Earlier this week, Reuters had spoken to Sondos Asim, a member of the FJP’s foreign relations committee and editor of its official English-language website.

At a forum at Georgetown University in Washington, Asim said they were there “to start building bridges of understanding with the United States,” according to Reuters.

“We acknowledge the very important role of the US in the world and we would like our relations with it to be better than before,” he added.

Abdul Mawgoud Dardery, an FJP lawmaker from Luxor, says the party is dedicated to the principle of a “civil state” and the objectives of sharia rather than its specific practice.

This could be the reason behind Abido’s claim that al-Shater is not committed to Islamic law. He says the MB candidate does not aim to apply Sharia and “has announced the opposite to appease the clerics who were present.”

He was referring to al-Shater’s announcement in a meeting Tuesday with the Sharia Council for Rights and Reform. Al-Shater announced then that sharia was and still remains his project and “his first and final objective.”

He said he will form a group of influential personalities to assist the parliament in reaching this goal.

The official spokesperson of the MB Office of Guidance Mahmoud Ghezlan clarified this position to Al-Akhbar. He said that the party’s delegation to Washington “is just to correct the stereotypical image given to us by the former [Egyptian] regime.”

He added that they want to “reassure the West about its interests and our respect of international conventions. But of course we did not ask for the permission of the US or anyone else to nominate Khairat al-Shater.”

“Our decision comes from the Brotherhood’s shura council,” he insists. He added that what applies to international conventions should apply to the Camp David peace accord with Israel.

He emphasized that any final decision will not be made by the MB but “it will be taken by all the Egyptian people.”

In other developments, the US government denied any coordination with the MB on the upcoming presidential elections in Egypt.

Several meetings were held between the group and US senator John McCain and the US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson during the senator’s visit to Egypt last February.

In a press statement released a few days ago in Cairo, the US Embassy claimed there “was no discussion of whether the Muslim Brotherhood would or should run a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections in Egypt.”

“McCain and Patterson were not asked for their support, nor did they offer their support, for such a proposal from the Muslim Brotherhood,” the statement added.

“The question of who will run for office in Egypt is an internal matter that is entirely up to the Egyptian people. The US takes no position on this subject,” it said.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition. 

Tunisia: Islamist Furor over Persepolis

Egypt: Military and Islamists Target Women, Copts, Workers

For a Workers and Peasants Government!

Workers Vanguard

JANUARY 14—As the beginning of parliamentary elections approached in November, almost a year after the overthrow of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, mass protests demanding an end to military rule broke out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and across urban Egypt. Police and the army attacked demonstrators with whips, tasers, truncheons and live ammunition, killing dozens. With more rounds of elections scheduled, it is far from clear that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has any intention of allowing a civilian government to be established. Ominously, Islamists, the largest organized opposition, have swept the polls, with the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood and the even more hardline Salafists winning some 70 percent of the vote between them.

Last winter’s uprising toppled Mubarak’s hated, military-backed regime, only to result in an even more open dictatorship of the armed forces. At the time, the bourgeois media and almost the entire left internationally hailed this as the Egyptian “revolution.” Since taking power, the SCAF has strengthened the police powers of the capitalist state and cracked down on social unrest. This is precisely what we warned about at the time, in opposition to widespread illusions that “the army and the people are one hand.”

The military’s repressive measures have been aimed centrally at the restive working class. Within months of Mubarak’s ouster, the regime banned strikes and demonstrations. In September, the SCAF expanded the hated emergency law to ban damaging state property, disrupting work and blocking roads with demonstrations. Between February and September, at least 12,000 civilians were tried in military courts, more than under Mubarak’s 30-year rule. With the first anniversary of the outbreak of mass protests approaching, the regime postponed the verdict in the trial of Mubarak for ordering the killing of protesters.

The oppressive conditions of life in neocolonial Egypt have generated enormous popular anger. In a country where 40 percent of the population lives on $2 a day or less, many families spend more than half their income on food. In 2008, when the prices of basic foods doubled, riots broke out across the country. Today the military regime is threatening to slash the bread subsidy. Unemployment is pervasive, affecting a quarter of youth and 60 percent of the rural population. The peasantry, more than 30 percent of Egypt’s population, toils in conditions that have scarcely changed from the time of the pharaohs. Malnutrition and anemia are rampant. Most peasants are either smallholders with less than one acre, tenants or migrant rural laborers. The terrible impoverishment continues to be enforced through police-state repression. As one striking worker explained, there are no jobs, no money, no food, and those who complain about it are thrown in prison.

The leadership of last spring’s protests offered nothing to alleviate the material conditions of life for the majority of the population, instead subordinating everything to the question of electoral democracy and preaching the nationalist lie that Egyptians of all classes had common interests. As we emphasized shortly before Mubarak’s ouster, “What is urgently posed in Egypt today is that the powerful proletariat—the only class with the social power to overturn the brutal and decrepit capitalist order—emerge as the leader of all the oppressed masses” (“Egypt: Mass Upheaval Challenges Dictatorship,” WV No. 973, 4 February 2011).

The industrial working class has amply demonstrated its social power and militancy, particularly in the textile industry. Strike waves continue to sweep the country. Bus drivers, textile workers, government employees and others have fought in defense of their unions and their livelihoods. But for the proletariat to emerge as a contender for power in its own right will require a tremendous leap in political consciousness. It must be broken from nationalist illusions and religious reaction and be won to the defense of all those oppressed in capitalist society. This requires the leadership of a vanguard workers party that opposes all bourgeois forces—from the military and the liberal opposition to reactionary political Islam—in the fight for proletarian revolution.

The Military and the Islamists

In the absence of a revolutionary proletarian alternative capable of addressing the felt needs of the mass of the population, the election returns are giving a measure of the grip that politically organized religion has on the downtrodden. The Muslim Brotherhood’s reactionary purpose is expressed in the slogan “the Koran is our constitution.” Promoting itself as a civilian alternative to military rule, it would dominate any government elected today. Its self-proclaimed “tolerance” for Coptic Christians is belied by its long history of organized terror. The Brotherhood’s historic aim of establishing an Islamic state has often brought it into violent conflict with the Egyptian government; nonetheless, successive regimes have encouraged the Islamists in countless ways and used them as a battering ram against workers, leftists, women and minorities.

The military, police and Islamists have all joined in recent attacks on women and on the Coptic Christian minority, which constitutes some 10 percent of the population. On October 9, protesters rallying against the burning of Coptic churches outside the Maspero state television studio in Cairo were attacked by uniformed military forces and Islamist mobs. In collusion with the army and riot police, armed thugs roamed the streets seeking out Christians, including women and children, killing more than 20 and maiming hundreds.

Women were targeted soon after the military takeover. Thugs who were mobilized around slogans such as “the people want women to step down” and “the Koran is our ruler” violently attacked a March 8 International Women’s Day demonstration in Cairo. In an act of calculated humiliation, women arrested at a protest the next day were forced to undergo “virginity” tests. Now, the image of a young woman, some of her clothing torn off, being dragged through the streets by military thugs in a December protest has become symbolic of the public degradation of women. This earned the regime a slap on the wrist from its U.S. patron, with Hillary Clinton commenting that such conduct “dishonors the revolution.”

Dead-End Reformism

In December, the Islamists launched a vicious campaign against the Revolutionary Socialists (RS) that was seized on by state security forces and propagated in much of the bourgeois media. The Muslim Brotherhood’s newspaper ran a front-page article baiting the RS as violent while the Salafist Al-Nour Party accused the organization of “anarchy” and of being funded by the CIA, setting it up for state repression. It is in the interests of the whole working class to defend the RS and to defeat such slanderous attacks, which are meant to send a message to all leftists and the workers movement as a whole.

Along with its cothinkers of the international tendency founded by the late Tony Cliff, the RS countered the attack by organizing a public defense campaign. At the same time, they were taken aback that the Muslim Brotherhood had joined in the witchhunt against them: “The attack on the Revolutionary Socialists by prominent Brotherhood members sparked outrage because the RS played such a central role in defending the Brotherhood at the height of Mubarak’s campaign against the Islamists” (, 26 December). In the mass protests last year, the RS embraced the Brotherhood as allies in the struggle against dictatorship, even posting on the RS Web site a statement by the Brotherhood, complete with the Brotherhood’s emblem of crossed swords cradling the Koran. Even when the RS itself is the target, these inveterate tailists have continued to pursue an alliance with the forces of religious reaction.

In March, the military government issued a law regulating the formation of parties. With the pretense of defending secularism against the Islamists, the law targets organizations of the working class as well as those that seek to represent women and oppressed minorities. It reasserts a reactionary 1977 ban on parties that are based on “religion, class, sect, profession or geography” or are established “on account of gender, language, religion or creed” (“The Main Features of the Amended Law on Political Parties 2011,”

As we wrote last year in a polemic against the RS and its international cothinkers, we reject the “bankrupt reformist framework, which posits that the only two ‘choices’ for the working class in Egypt are to capitulate either to the ‘secular,’ military-backed bourgeois-nationalist regime or to political Islam. In fact, these are alternative ways of propping up capitalist class rule, the system which ensures vast wealth for its rulers and dire poverty for the urban and rural masses” (“Pandering to Reactionary Muslim Brotherhood,” WV No. 974, 18 February 2011).

The three major electoral blocs—those representing the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists and the bourgeois liberals—have all taken aim at the working class in their election campaigns, explicitly condemning strikes. While the widespread strikes and protests of the last year have given leftist organizations an opening to operate more publicly, the situation has also made clear how the reformist organizations act as an obstacle to the fight to build a revolutionary party that champions the working class, poor peasants and all the oppressed.

The Democratic Workers Party (DWP), which is associated with the RS, promotes itself as representing the interests of the working class. Along with other left organizations and prominent figures like feminist author Nawal El-Saadawi, the DWP has called to boycott the elections in protest against the military regime’s brutality. The DWP’s program makes no pretense of socialism, instead demanding “the establishment of a parliamentary republic” (International Socialism, 28 June 2011). This is simply a call for a species of bourgeois government.

In promoting the call for a parliamentary republic, the reformists falsely tie the democratic aspirations of the population to the class rule of the Egyptian bourgeoisie. In Egypt, where successive parliaments have served as fig leaves for military dictatorship, the desires of the masses for political democracy, including freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, are just and deeply felt. However, the burning needs of the Egyptian masses—from fundamental democratic rights to women’s emancipation and eradicating the desperate urban and rural poverty—cannot be addressed except by uprooting the capitalist order and establishing a workers and peasants government. As Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin wrote:

“The dictatorship of the proletariat alone can emancipate humanity from the oppression of capital, from the lies, falsehood and hypocrisy of bourgeois democracy—democracy for the rich—and establish democracy for the poor, that is, make the blessings of democracy really accessible to the workers and poor peasants, whereas now (even in the most democratic—bourgeois—republic) the blessings of democracy are, in fact, inaccessible to the vast majority of working people.

—V.I. Lenin, “‘Democracy’ and Dictatorship” (December 1918)

Imperialism and the Mask of “Human Rights”

The imperialist rulers are past masters at cloaking their bloody depredations in the rhetoric of “human rights” and “democracy.” Bourgeois liberals, the supposedly “non-governmental organizations” (NGOs) and the reformist left have done their bit to embellish this image. In Libya, the imperialists carried out the terror bombing that led to the ouster and assassination of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi under a “humanitarian” banner, with the authorization of the United Nations. Cheerleading for the “Arab revolution” against dictatorship, much of the reformist left internationally fell into line with the imperialists’ campaign, hailing the Libyan “rebels” who were willing tools for the NATO attack. The RS enthused over rebel-controlled “liberated Libya,” where “all the institutions, including the courts, military forces, police and prisons, are under the popular democratic control” (Center for Socialist Studies, 4 March 2011).

The Libyan “rebels” comprised a collection of defectors from the Qaddafi regime, monarchists, Islamic fundamentalists, former CIA assets, tribal chiefs and others. They gave a pretext for the imperialist bombing, acted as the ground troops for the imperialists and carried out pogroms against black African immigrants in the territories they had seized. In a statement issued the day after the imperialist bombing began, the International Communist League put forward a perspective of proletarian internationalism, giving no political support to Qaddafi but calling on “workers around the world to take a stand for military defense of semicolonial Libya.” We added: “From Indochina and the Korean peninsula to the U.S.-led occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan today, the ‘democratic’ imperialist rulers wade in the blood of millions upon millions of their victims” (“Defend Libya Against Imperialist Attack!” WV No. 977, 1 April 2011).

Egypt was and remains a top recipient of U.S. military aid, to the tune of $1.3 billion a year. At the same time, provoking bitter complaints from the SCAF, the imperialists have also cultivated “democratic” opposition groups to give a humanitarian guise to their operations and to influence protest movements. And now that the Islamists are riding high on their electoral victory, the Obama administration has held high-level meetings with the Muslim Brotherhood in an attempt to forge closer ties.

Since Mubarak’s overthrow, the U.S. has given more than $40 million to Egyptian “human rights” groups. In December, Britain announced plans to double the amount of aid it gives to NGOs in the Near East. A major sponsor of NGOs around the world is the United Nations, which itself was set up to give a humanitarian veneer to the depredations of imperialism, particularly American imperialism. The NGOs, sanctioned by and receiving funding from the imperialists, are hardly independent from their bourgeois sponsors.

Showing how little tolerance it has for political activity even when it is backed by its own imperialist patrons, Egypt’s military regime raided the offices of 17 NGOs on December 29. These included the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, linked to German chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic party, as well as the notorious CIA conduit Freedom House. After the U.S. State Department announced it was “deeply concerned” and threatened to cut military aid to Egypt, the regime promised to return all of the seized materials and allow the NGOs to return to normal operations.

A 14 April 2011 article on the “Arab Spring” in the New York Times reported that “the United States’ democracy-building campaigns played a bigger role in fomenting protests than was previously known, with key leaders of the movements having been trained by the Americans.” One vehicle for this is the Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), which has advised “pro-democracy” activists on overthrowing regimes that are in the imperialists’ crosshairs, from Zimbabwe to Iran to Venezuela. In Egypt, the role of organizations such as CANVAS is to steer mass protests in directions acceptable to the imperialists.

CANVAS describes itself in the vaguest of terms, stating that it does not receive funding from any government and that “our agenda is educational, not political” ( But CANVAS’s purpose is amply illustrated by its history. It was founded by Slobodan Djinovic, the head of Serbia’s largest private Internet and phone company, and Srdja Popovic, a former member of parliament. Both were leaders of the Serbian student opposition group Otpor, which received funds from imperialist conduits such as the National Endowment for Democracy, a CIA front, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, another CIA conduit. Otpor spearheaded the protests that toppled Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic in the fall of 2000. These protests amounted to a continuation by other means of the 1999 NATO “human rights” bombing campaign against Serbia, carried out under the pretense of defending the Kosovar Albanians. The April 6 Youth Movement, hailed in the bourgeois media for its role in the Egyptian “revolution,” modeled its logo on Otpor’s and used CANVAS’s materials to train its membership.

April 6 is part of the Revolution Youth Council (RYC), a bloc that formed last winter and claimed to speak on behalf of protesters in Tahrir Square. The RYC also includes representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of “democratic” oppositionist Mohamed ElBaradei. The U.S. International Socialist Organization, former affiliates of the Cliff tendency, hailed them as “Egypt’s young revolutionaries.” Both April 6 and the RYC have demanded that the SCAF hand power to a “national salvation government” headed by ElBaradei, who announced today that he was withdrawing from the presidential race, saying that the military was not about to hand power to elected rulers. ElBaradei has proved his usefulness to the imperialists: While head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, he led the charge to investigate Iraq’s supposed “weapons of mass destruction” in the run-up to the U.S. invasion in 2003.

For Trade Unions Independent of the Capitalist State!

In the decade leading to Mubarak’s ouster, the Egyptian proletariat engaged in a wave of struggle that included over two million workers participating in over 3,000 strikes, sit-ins and other actions. These were carried out in defiance of the corrupt leadership of the state-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), the only legally recognized union body, whose predecessor was established by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1957. For over two decades, it was customary for the federation’s president to serve as the Minister of Labor. Acting as the Egyptian dictatorship’s lieutenants within the labor movement, the ETUF leadership refused to approve strikes, sabotaged workers struggles and informed on militants, setting them up for repression.

Since Mubarak’s fall, a number of new trade unions have flourished. According to historian Joel Beinin, “Some independent unions—like the Cairo Joint Transport Authority union of bus drivers and garage workers and the RETA [Real Estate Tax Authority] workers’ union—are quite large and command the loyalty of a great majority of the potential bargaining unit. Others have only fifty to one hundred members in factories employing hundreds or thousands” (“What Have Workers Gained from Egypt’s Revolution?” Foreign Policy, 20 July 2011). The Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU), founded last January, has been feted by the tops of the AFL-CIO and the British Trades Union Congress, labor bureaucrats who act as the agents of their imperialist ruling classes, as well as by reformist “socialists.”

Although the EFITU is not directly run by the Egyptian state, it is not politically independent from the capitalist rulers. Beinin approvingly reports that the EFITU and other organizations filed a court suit calling on the military regime to dissolve the ETUF and seize its assets, which the military did. This was an open invitation for the bosses’ state to attack not only the ETUF unions but the workers movement more broadly, serving to renew labor’s ties to the state. The development of a new, class-struggle leadership in the unions—one that would fight for strong industrial unions independent of the capitalist state—is a crucial part of the struggle to build the revolutionary workers party that is urgently needed.

Bankrupt Nationalism Breeds Religious Reaction

Born of a history of imperialist subjugation, Egyptian nationalism has long served the country’s capitalist rulers by obscuring the class divide between the tiny layer of filthy rich at the top and the brutally exploited and impoverished working class. Rather than struggling to break the working class from these illusions, left organizations including the RS have bolstered them. Harking back to the 1950s-60s, when the left-nationalist strongman Nasser wielded substantial influence in the Near East, the RS proclaimed, “Revolution must restore Egypt’s independence, dignity and leadership in the region” (see “Egypt: Military Takeover Props Up Capitalist Rule,” WV No. 974, 18 February 2011).

Nasser’s bourgeois regime, which continues to be idealized by the Egyptian left today, came to power in a military coup during a period of mass protests and strikes that followed World War II. Military forces led by Colonel Nasser overthrew the monarchy of King Farouk in 1952, followed shortly afterward by the departure of British troops. While Nasser won wide recognition as an “anti-imperialist,” especially with the nationalization of the Suez Canal, Egypt remained an impoverished country ultimately subordinated to imperialism.

Nasser succeeded in stabilizing the rule of the capitalist class, in part through concessions—such as a partial land redistribution, raising wages and expanding access to health care and education—but most characteristically through brutal repression. To consolidate his rule, Nasser suppressed the Communists, imprisoning, torturing and killing them. But even as he brutalized them, the Stalinist Communist Party continued its class-collaborationist support to Nasser, liquidating into his Arab Socialist Union in 1965. The Soviet Union provided economic and military aid to Nasser’s regime, allowing him a degree of independence from imperialist control that would not be possible today.

The bankruptcy of both secular nationalism and Stalinism, forces that were once dominant among the poor and oppressed in the region, fed the dramatic rise of political Islam. Generously funded by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, the Islamists, even while nominally banned, built a mass base in large part by providing charity and social services to masses of people to whom the bourgeois state has nothing to offer except abject poverty and police repression. American journalist Mary Anne Weaver described her experience in Cairo’s Imbaba slum:

“The Islamists, led by the Brotherhood, had built their own social and welfare system here, rivalling that of the state. [The hardline Islamist] Gama’a-controlled ‘popular’ mosques had set up discount health clinics and schools, day-care centers, and furniture factories to employ the unemployed, and they provided meat, at wholesale prices, to the poor. Despite an aggressive $10 million social program launched by the government at the end of 1994, the Islamists’ institutions remained generally far more efficient and far superior to run-down government facilities.”

A Portrait of Egypt (1999)

Today the Islamists are once again trying to establish a base among the organized working class, where they historically have had little support. In 1946, when they did have a hearing among a layer of industrial workers, they played a strikebreaking role. The Muslim Brotherhood opposed major strikes in the Shubra al-Khayama textile plant while its newspaper spread anti-Communist and anti-Semitic poison. When the strike leaders were arrested during a strike in January of that year, the Brotherhood condemned them, saying they were “members of communist cells headed by Jews.” During a June strike in the same plant, the Brotherhood “informed the police of the names and addresses of the strike committee” (Joel Beinin and Zachary Lockman, Workers on the Nile [1998]).

Cliffites and Islam: Feeding the Hand That Bites Them

The RS and its cothinkers in the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) have gone out of their way to bolster illusions in the Muslim Brotherhood, promoting it as a potential ally of the working class in the fight against imperialism and capitalist oppression. In an article titled “Comrades and Brothers” published in Middle East Report (Spring 2007), RS spokesman Hossam El-Hamalawy boasted that his organization “pushed for close coordination” with the Brotherhood and praised its “brotherly spirit.” Half a year ago, in an article printed in the SWP’s Socialist Review (June 2011) titled “The Islamists and the Egyptian Revolution,” Egyptian Cliffite Sameh Naguib complained about the “state of hysteria” among the left and liberals over the resurgent Islamist movement. Naguib went so far as to denounce those “lured into debates over Article 2 of the constitution, which enshrines Islam as ‘the religion of the state…and Islamic law as the principal source of legislation’.”

Long before that, in the seminal International Socialism (Autumn 1994) article “The Prophet and the Proletariat,” SWP leader Chris Harman went to some lengths to present political Islam favorably for seeking “to transform society, not to conserve it in the old way” and for “anti-imperialist slogans and some anti-imperialist actions which have embarrassed very important national and international capitalist interests.” This was the criminal line taken by the bulk of the left internationally in supporting Ayatollah Khomeini’s forces in the mass upsurge in Iran in the late 1970s against the bloody, U.S.-backed Shah. The result was the beheading of the militant working class, as Communists and other leftists were butchered, women were further enslaved, and national and other minorities were brutally repressed by the new Islamic regime.

While the SWP can fill reams of paper with nonsense about the Brotherhood’s “anti-imperialist stance,” Islamists, including the Brotherhood, have historically been the willing tool of imperialism against Communists, modernizing nationalists and secular liberals. Following World War II, U.S. imperialism promoted and funded the Brotherhood as part of its Cold War drive against Communism. This was one expression of the policy described in 1950 by John Foster Dulles, who would later serve as Eisenhower’s Secretary of State:

“The religions of the East are deeply rooted and have many precious values. Their spiritual beliefs cannot be reconciled with Communist atheism and materialism. That creates a common bond between us, and our task is to find it and develop it.”

The Cliff tendency has a long history of siding with the forces of Islamic reaction, including cheering the mujahedin—anti-Soviet “holy warriors”—in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The imperialists funneled vast quantities of arms and money to these Islamist terrorists in the largest CIA operation in history. The Muslim Brotherhood provided a major contingent of the mujahedin, whose jihad against a Soviet-backed, modernizing nationalist government was sparked when the regime introduced such reforms as lowering the bride price. In the first war in modern history in which the status of women was a central issue, the Soviet Red Army battled Islamic fundamentalists who threw acid in the faces of unveiled women and killed teachers who taught young girls to read.

We hailed the Red Army in Afghanistan. Its presence opened the possibility of extending the gains of the 1917 Russian Revolution to Afghanistan, just as those parts of Central Asia that were incorporated into the Soviet Union progressed centuries beyond the medieval conditions that prevailed in Afghanistan. The withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1988-89 was a betrayal by the Moscow Stalinist bureaucracy that left the country mired in backwardness and internecine bloodletting. The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan was the precursor to the collapse of the Soviet Union itself.

Although deformed by the parasitic rule of a bureaucratic caste, the Soviet Union represented the dictatorship of the working class. When the USSR was destroyed through capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92, the SWP welcomed this, proclaiming “Communism has collapsed” and adding “It is a fact that should have every socialist rejoicing” (Socialist Worker [Britain], 31 August 1991). A grave defeat for working people and the oppressed internationally, the end of the Soviet Union has meant a more dangerous world, where U.S. imperialism has a free hand and forces of religious and social reaction have grown stronger.

Permanent Revolution

The Bolshevik Revolution was a defining event of the 20th century. The working class took state power, leading the peasantry, national minorities and all of the oppressed in overthrowing bourgeois rule, sweeping away as well the tsarist autocracy and the state church. It established the dictatorship of the proletariat, liberating the working people from capitalist exploitation. The Revolution confirmed the theory of permanent revolution developed by Leon Trotsky in 1904-1906. Trotsky had projected that, despite its economic and social backwardness, Russia was already part of a world capitalist economy that was ripe for socialist transformation, requiring proletarian revolution not only in backward countries like Russia but especially in the advanced capitalist states. The workers in Russia, who were small in number but strategically concentrated in large industry, could come to power before the country had undergone an extended period of capitalist development. Moreover, the workers in Russia would have to come to power if Russia was to be liberated from the yoke of its feudal past.

As Trotsky wrote in 1929 in The Permanent Revolution:

“With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses….

“The dictatorship of the proletariat which has risen to power as the leader of the democratic revolution is inevitably and very quickly confronted with tasks, the fulfillment of which is bound up with deep inroads into the rights of bourgeois property.”

In the same work, Trotsky stressed that

“the socialist revolution begins on the national arena, it unfolds on the international arena, and is completed on the world arena. Thus, the socialist revolution becomes a permanent revolution in a newer and broader sense of the word; it attains completion only in the final victory of the new society on our entire planet.”

In articles on the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt a year ago, we raised the call for a revolutionary constituent assembly along with a series of democratic demands while centrally stressing the need for the working class to establish factory committees and other organs of dual power. As a result of subsequent discussion, the ICL rejected on principle the call for a constituent assembly, which can be nothing other than a form of bourgeois state. As we wrote in “Tunisian Elections: Victory for Islamic Reactionaries” (WV No. 993, 6 January): “Our understanding of the reactionary character of the bourgeoisie, in the semicolonial countries as well as the advanced capitalist states, means that there can be no revolutionary bourgeois parliament. The call for a constituent assembly consequently runs counter to the permanent revolution.”

Permanent revolution provides the only program for resolving the fundamental questions posed in Egypt and throughout the Near East today. The region is marked by abject poverty, benighted enslavement of women, the dispossession of the Palestinian people by Israel and the oppression of numerous other national and religious minorities by the Arab-nationalist and Islamist regimes. This legacy of social backwardness and oppression is reinforced by domination by the imperialist powers, whose overriding concern is control of the supply of oil. Egypt, the most populous Arab nation and site of the strategically important Suez Canal, is ruled by a venal bourgeoisie that has been a willing pawn of U.S. imperialism and, since 1979, a stalwart ally of Israel. In recent years, Egypt’s capitalist rulers have aided in the starvation blockade of the Palestinians in Gaza, including by sealing the border in Sinai.

Today, almost 60 years after the withdrawal of the last British colonial troops, Egypt is mired in some $35 billion of foreign debt. Over the past ten years, $24 billion in debt servicing payments has been bled from the country, while its debt burden has increased by 15 percent. Under the “structural adjustment programs” imposed by the International Monetary Fund, Nasser-era state control of industry has been progressively rolled back and factories sold off below cost to Mubarak’s cronies and foreign investors. At the same time, the military has retained extensive holdings, although their extent is kept secret. Journalist Joshua Hammer described them: “The military controls a labyrinth of companies that manufacture everything from medical equipment to laptops to television sets, as well as vast tracts of real estate…with command of as much as 40 percent of the Egyptian economy” (New York Review of Books, 18 August 2011).

The neoliberal “reforms” that led the World Bank to declare Egyptian agriculture a “fully privatized sector” by 2001 have vastly increased the misery of the rural population. Since the mid ’90s, tenant farmers’ rents have shot up from an equivalent of about $4 an acre annually to as high as $60, the equivalent of three months’ earnings. Some five million peasants and their families have been forced into penury after having been evicted because they were unable to pay their rent or because of state-sanctioned land grabs. Dispossessed peasants were driven into the slums and shantytowns of major cities, where they became a fertile recruiting ground for the Islamic reactionaries. Resistance to the land “reform” has continued over the years: peasants have marched in demonstrations, blocked main roads, set landlords’ houses on fire and attacked government offices. The government has responded with severe repression, with police and armed gangs attacking peasants, seizing crops and occupying fields by force.

The end of legal protections on land tenure opened the way for foreign companies to purchase huge tracts. The past two decades saw a tenfold rise in agricultural exports as production shifted away from staples for domestic consumption to high-cash produce for sale in Europe. Once capable of producing enough food to feed its population, Egypt is now the world’s biggest importer of wheat, leaving the impoverished population at the mercy of the world market, which is dominated by U.S. agribusiness.

In a country where more than 90 percent of women, both Muslim and Christian, are subjected to genital mutilation, courts run under Islamic law adjudicate family disputes and “honor killing” runs rampant. For Marxists, the question of women’s liberation cannot be separated from the struggle to emancipate the whole of the working class. Women workers are a vital part of the Egyptian proletariat. They have been prominent in the wave of strikes that has swept Egypt over the past decade, especially in the textile industry. Won to a revolutionary program, they will have a leading role to play in breaking the chains of social backwardness and religious obscurantism. As Trotsky stressed in his 1924 speech “Perspectives and Tasks in the East,” “There will be no better communist in the East, no better fighter for the ideas of the revolution and for the ideas of communism than the awakened woman worker.”

For Proletarian Internationalism!

The liberation of the Egyptian masses requires the overthrow not simply of the military but of the capitalists, landlords, Islamic clergy and imperialists who profit from the grinding oppression of the populace. The power to do this lies in the hands of the working class, whose consciousness must be transformed from that of a class in itself, fighting to improve its status within the framework of capitalism, to a class for itself, realizing its historic potential to lead all the oppressed in a revolutionary struggle against the capitalist system. Crucially, this includes the mobilization of the working class in the imperialist centers to overthrow their “own” exploiters. The capitalist economic crisis that has ravaged the lives and livelihoods of working people from North Africa and the Near East to Europe, North America and Japan only further underscores the necessity for a perspective that is at once revolutionary, proletarian and internationalist.

In Egypt, the struggle of the proletariat must be welded to the defense of the many oppressed layers in the society, including women, youth and Coptic Christians as well as Bedouins, Nubians and other minority groups. A workers and peasants government would expropriate the capitalist class, including the landlords, and establish a planned, collectivized economy. A planned economy on an international scale would open the way to develop industry at the highest level, providing jobs for the impoverished urban masses and applying the most advanced technology to agriculture.

The struggle against imperialist domination and the oppressive rule of the sheiks, kings, colonels, ayatollahs, nationalist and Zionist rulers throughout the region cannot be resolved under capitalism. There will be no end to ethnic and national oppression, no emancipation of women, no end to the exploitation of working people short of a thoroughgoing proletarian revolution that opens the road to the establishment of a socialist federation of the Near East, as part of the struggle for world proletarian revolution. To bring this perspective to the working class requires the construction of a Leninist vanguard party, which will be forged in combat against the reformist “socialists” and others who seek to subordinate the working class to the imperialists, nationalists and forces of Islamic reaction. The International Communist League is dedicated to forging such parties.