The people’s revolution sweeping north Africa and the Middle East has entered a second phase, gathering a momentum of its own in country after country.
In Tunisia, where it all began with the suicide of a stall holder, workers battled in the streets over the weekend and finally ousted prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi. Some died in the streets of Tunis, as police and troops - backed by tanks - use tear gas to disperse hundreds of youths protesting against the caretaker government. The protesters who brought down dictator Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali only weeks ago rightly saw Ghannouchi as part of the dictatorial regime and demanded his removal.
In Egypt hundreds of thousands occupied Tahrir Square once again last Friday as they demanded the resignation of interim prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, a cabinet member under Hosni Mubarak. Military police used stun guns and batons to attack those rallying in the capital. Yesterday, after “apologising” for the violence the ruling generals announced a number of constitutional changes.
In oil-producing sultanate of Oman six protesters were killed over the weekend as they demanded political reforms and better pay. Around 1,000 had blocked the road leading to the main export port and refinery area in a state where strikes are banned.
In nearby Bahrain, crowds today have been chanting “down with the King” and waving flags outside the Ministry of Information in Manama. Others gathered outside the Bahrain Ministry of Education, shouting: “Let the palaces hear, we fear not your prisons." With youth unemployment standing at nearly 20%, Bahrainis have caught the revolutionary fever.
Most dramatic of all, in Libya the anti-Gaddafi movement that began in the east of the country and saw the fall of Benghazi, threatens to become a civil war as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, his family and his followers continue to hold out in Tripoli and Sirte. In Benghazi, local committees have taken over the running of the city after the collapse of Gaddafi’s state structures.
As we have noted, events in Libya have a particular significance in the light of Gaddafi’s earlier role as a supporter of anti-imperialist people’s movements world wide. Until only a few weeks ago, the Gaddafi regime was obsequiously courted by pillars of the “world community”.
Now Gaddafi and his supporters are out-of-control forces standing in the way of the big power exploitation of Libya’s oil and gas. The British government (Blair and Mandelson in particular) and Italian PM Berlusconi, followed closely by Sarkozy of France, the US, Brazil and Germany suddenly forgot their dislike of Gaddafi. The very same world leaders who are now denouncing him and baying for his blood were only too thrilled to welcome him back into the fold of the “world community”.
It makes your hackles rise to hear Hague and Cameron’s oily tones pontificating that "of course, it is time for Gaddafi to go, that is the best hope for Libya”. US secretary of state Clinton has the astonishing arrogance to condemn the murder of innocent civilians in Libya while the US supports Israel’s state terror against Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere. The US, Britain and the EU continue to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The degeneration of the Gaddafi regime over the last 20 years, from anti-imperialist to brutal dictatorship, marks the close of a period of post-colonial history. Now the struggle for democratic and human rights merges with a global crisis of capitalism. The new Arab revolution has only just started and it will have to go beyond fair and free elections to find solutions to the pressing problems of soaring food prices, mass unemployment, poverty and inequality.
A World to Win secretary