Printable version

Storms over the Maghreb and the Middle East

What is going on in Northern Africa and in the Middle East? The shock wave that has taken birth in Tunisia in December last year, and who appears to extend itself to the whole of the region, has actually its epicenter in Egypt (February 2011). What have these coun­tries in common to the extent that a popular movement in one of them engenders protests and revolts likewise in the others?

First and foremost they show a common characteristic: whether they are monarchies or re­publics, they are all authoritarian or dictatorial regimes, corrupted, where nepotism and clanism reign. In spite of this they are not isolated from the world and undergo the domin­ant influences. The generalization of the capitalist mode of production and its social rela­tions play in favor of the dissolution of the archaic bonds from which these regimes have up till today drawn their reasons of existence. The part played by the great powers in the maintenance of these dictatorships and in the tensions that rule their political and econom­ical life have also to be taken into account.

The economic crisis and the sociological mutations

The populations of these countries go through cultural and sociological mutations. These are as much new factors in the causes that set the popular masses in movement, who op­pose the way of social and political functioning in vigor. In the first place these mutations af­fect a youth has had an education at a level almost comparable with that in the west­ern countries. This is an important factor in opening up towards the world and its realities (e.g. the role of Internet in the demonstrations), but also towards its mirages. In the economic competition most of these countries, apart from the oil-rich monarchies, have no other alternative than trying to gain a place as a “workplace” for the rich countries. This has enabled them to maintain a certain level of development (4,5% growth in Tunisia), where­as Europe and the United States fell into recession. But this is insufficient to assure the desirable integration into the labor market of thousands of certificated Tunisi­ans and others. Worse, most of them have no other choice than to go into exile or to become street sellers, subject to the “bakchich” of the policeman. Moreover, a recurrent factor that aggravates the enraged popular revolts is the rising costs of basic foodstuff, a consequence of the crisis. The social mutations are also engendering new contradictions. The popula­tions of these countries are getting more and more urbanized. The traditional relations tend to dissolve in favor of a proletarianization marked by the extension of large su­burbs. The core of the laboring class lives from little jobs of subsistence, petty commerce, small craftsmanship, working in small enterprises, in “workshops” of foreign investors, and of intermittent work in tourism. These conditions are given by the economic and social structure of these countries.

Despite the presence of islamist type oppositions, who dream, in these countries, to substi­tute theocratic dictatorships for the monarchical republics, a large part of the population and of youth have different aspirations who have expressed themselves in the movements and revolts over the past few months. Evidently, the social nature of the protests determines the expressions of the aspirations of the masses in movement. This proletariat of the presumably emerging countries can only elevate itself to demands that directly oppose the injustice that is done to them, according to their perception. It wants: less corruption, an equitable justice, less clientelism, work, in short: the establishment of modern values that assure the freedom of the individual in the context of the market.

The simultaneousness of the protest movements are also to be understood by the wearing out of the established dictatorships, a large part of whom are 30 years old. It is useless to look for revolutionary, anti-capitalist ferments in this elementary process of revolt, that the working class of these countries can base itself upon in order to advance its anti-capitalist demands.

Moreover, one cannot compare these countries with the European ones, neither from the proletarian point of view, from their place in the world economy, nor from the point of view of their importance in the social and political relations of the great powers. It has to be retained that the western proletariat undergoes the effects of the crisis without reacting too much to the slow degradation of the living conditions of a part of the population, neither to the austerity measures who begin to be applied in Europe. The explosions of anger in Greece, or the eight weeks against the pension reforms in France have not resulted in clear perspectives from the point of view of the class struggle, even if a certain critique of the unions has manifested itself by the tenure of General inter-professional Assemblies.

The protest movements in Tunisia and in Egypt with their means put into work: peaceful mass demonstrations at the beginning – apart from some moments of anger against provocations – subsequently attacking and burning down the political symbols of the regimes, bureau’s of the ruling party, testify of a determination and of a deep rejection of the state profiteers. The formation of neighborhood committees, in order to protect certain quarters from the incursion of looters (in Egypt as well as in Tunisia) are protective measures emanation from a popular movement, a form of social solidarity, refusing a destructive disorder. These committees have been immediate responses against the vandals of Ben Ali or Moubarak, seeking to spread disorder to justify the repression of corrupt dictators. Contrary to the illusions of the leftists, these committees have nothing to do with embryo’s of Worker’s Councils. In absence of class struggle, no other expressions of solidarity and of clarification regarding the demonstrations by the youth and the unemployed have been formed and thus expressed themselves.

The imperialist powers and the countries in the region

Taking into account the relations between the great powers and the countries of Northern Africa and the Middle East (for instanced their economic, political and strategic agreements) Europe and the Unites States have become worried about the overturns that may overcome this region. Europe has important interests in the Maghreb where it provides itself with energy. Moreover, it wants to stop, or at least control, the influx of immigrants from the Maghreb and foremost from black Africa. Their principal access routes pass through Morocco (the Gibraltar Street) and the Tunisian costs towards Italy. Customs and policing agreements are in vigor with these countries who appear to respect them. Hence the piling up of these immigrants and the bad treatment that they are subjected to in the filtration camps that reside in Morocco and Tunisia. These other zones without right are the object of no interest whatsoever and from whomever. The USA have extended their zone of geopolitical influence over the Maghreb as a whole, as they have done before in the Middle East, whereas France kept its economic interests in its former colonies. But the Tunisian contagion who touched Egypt risks to catch on to the real strategic area of America’s deployment of influence: the Middle East (Suez canal, relations with Israel...). Obama shows much more circumspection with Moubarak than he has done with Ben Ali. He hesitates to implement the so called “democratic” solution, while he declares himself in favor of peaceful manifestations and free access to the Internet.

Where do we go?

Who will profit from these popular movements? Apart from those who aspire the fall of all these dictatorships, that is their victims. It is remarkable that the movements who have deployed themselves in Tunisia and Egypt without leaders nor political parties at their head. They even have expressed a refusal to see whomever taking up the role of spokesman or representative. This aspect has to be deepened in order to obtain an appreciation closer to reality and understand the nature of these events, that seem to correspond to no pre-established schema. The aspirations of these populations in revolt are certainly not anti-capitalist, and it is unlikely that the future brings them any satisfaction. The only perspective would be that the class struggle in the developed countries makes the junction with the class struggle in the emerging countries (or the other way round), when the global crisis of capitalism will make all its destructive consequences felt on the whole of the planet.

Forum for the Internationalist Communist Left , (revue Controverses), 04 February 2011.