The prospect of a renewed period of linked revolutionary struggles not seen since the 1989 anti-Stalinist movements in Europe, is taking shape in North Africa. Events are shaking not just regimes like Mubarak’s in Egypt but the calculations of Washington and London too.
The major powers have relied heavily on authoritarian governments in the Middle East, fundamentalist as in Saudi Arabia as well as secular as those in Damascus and Cairo, to sustain their own interests in the region. These centre on maintaining the flow of oil and sustaining Israel, regardless of its treatment of the Palestinians.
Washington has turned a blind eye to systematic repression while hypocritically prattling on about “democratic values”. Now that the people themselves in Tunisia and Egypt have taken matters into their own hands in defiant uprisings, the United States and others are urging caution!
Clearly, to talk about democracy is one thing, but to actually fight for it is not acceptable.
The position was summed up by Tony Blair, the New Labour prime minister who introduced the world to “regime change” with the joint US-British illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Middle East “peace envoy”, told the BBC’s Today programme that Egypt
should "evolve and modernise",
He added: “The question is how they evolve and modernise, but do so with stability. The danger is if you open up a vacuum anything can happen. As Hillary Clinton [Obama’s secretary of state] was saying yesterday, the important thing is to engage in this process of modernisation, and improving systems of government, but do it in a way that keeps the order and stability of the country together."
Fortunately, there are moments in history when the thoughts of people like Blair and Clinton count for little and express only their nervousness at the appearance of the masses on the streets.
A new generations is simply not prepared to put up with mass unemployment, rising prices, political corruption and authoritarian rule. Men like Mubarak can no longer – unjustifiably – claim the mantle of previous leaders like Nasser who led the fight against colonial rule and nationalised the Suez canal.
Nor are the people of Egypt buying into the regime’s propaganda that it’s either us or the fundamentalists. That kind of scaremongering is reminiscent of the old Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe who justified their authoritarian regimes by warning of the imperialist enemy at the gates. Fat good it did them in the end.
Blair is right in one sense. No one knows where a revolutionary process will end up. Egypt, with its population of more than 80 million, is key. The struggle of the 1950s for national independence roused the nation’s workers and rural poor. Many lay down their lives to thwart the 1956 invasion by Britain and France.
With the dire intervention of Moscow, the revolutionary movement degenerated and the country became a pawn in the struggle between the major powers. Today, Stalinism is no more and America’s power and influence is clearly waning. The opportunity arises to launch a new stage of a revolution that was distorted and halted by Sadat and then Mubarak.
This time, the aim has to be a transfer of political and economic power into the hands of the masses themselves, with the objective of ending private ownership of industry and land and creating a renewed democracy based on popular people’s assembles. Driving the upsurge in North Africa is the world crisis of capitalism. The same crisis is having a deep impact in Britain, with growing unemployment, exorbitant fuel costs and inflation. We should take our inspiration from those on the streets of Cairo, Suez and Tunis.