The revolutionary process in North Africa and the Middle East: results and prospects
The spark of popular uprising whose tenth anniversary we are marking started in Tunisia and quickly spread to North Africa and the Middle East, then to other countries outside this geographical area, in different contexts and with various triggers: the Spanish state (Indignados movement), the United States (Occupy Wall Street), Iran, Burkina Faso (against rising prices and repression), Turkey and so on.
It has been a mass movement, extraordinary in its dynamic and depth in numerous countries, its determination and its methods of action. It brought about the rapid fall of presidents Ben Ali (Tunisia) and Mubarak (Egypt), and with much greater difficulty brought down Gaddafi (Libya), Saleh (Yemen) and more recently al-Bashir (Sudan) But the uprisings have been savagely repressed, and finally blocked nearly everywhere by the addition of the counter-revolutionary reactions they have faced: the fierce resistance of the old regimes, the offensives of Islamic fundamentalist forces, and the manoeuvres extending to military interventions of the various imperialisms and regional powers.
Yet, since its objective bases are still there and prevent the existing regimes from re-legitimizing themselves, this revolutionary process is producing profound effects, has reached other countries and is liable to resurge. It is all the more important to analyse it with its strengths, contradictions and weaknesses, in order to support it up to a final emancipatory victory for all the peoples concerned.
1. The objective causes of the revolutionary uprising in the region.
This uprising on a regional scale is the result of a combination of the structural crisis of world capitalism and a serious conjunctural crisis in the imperialist centres in 2008. It is a complex and multidimensional crisis (economic, financial, social, environmental, political and so on) and its devastating effects have been felt in many dependent countries, but particularly in this region.
The global economic recession of 2008 in the United States, in Europe and even in China led to a fall in the prices of raw materials (oil, phosphates and so on) in 2009 and a contraction of markets in the western centres. The dependent countries thus experienced a sharp drop in their export earnings and a widening of their structural trade deficits, a trend that has not been reversed with a slow and chaotic recovery in growth since then.
However, the popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are not only an avatar of the global economic crisis of 2008. This only played an accelerating role for specific structural factors of the regional explosion, which arise from the specific modalities of the dominant capitalist mode of production and reproduction in the region: an adventurist, speculative and commercial capitalism characterized by a search for short-term profits. The region’s economy is overly concentrated on the extraction of oil and natural gas, the underdevelopment of the productive sectors, the overdevelopment of the service sectors and fuelling various forms of speculative investment, particularly in real estate.
Patrimonial regimes, neoliberal offensive and unbearable injustices
Whether absolute monarchies, or republican dictatorships, authoritarian political or confessional parliamentary systems, all the regimes and governments in place for decades in the Middle East and North Africa have been generally distinguished by widespread corruption and extreme political despotism. They have blocked the development of their countries by appropriating the state apparatus to plunder wealth and take advantage of neoliberal policies, to extend their monopolies and to dominate all profitable sectors in partnership with foreign capital.
Archaic social structures and categories have been interwoven with a modern type of social stratification. Lacking popular legitimacy, the various regimes and states in the region generally often cultivate tribal, confessional and/or regional clienteles as guarantees against popular uprisings, with a framework of power constituted by an enlarged military and police apparatus. The explanation for the persistence of suchthese factors should certainly not be sought in a kind of Arab or Islamic “exceptionalism” but is linked to the dynamics of the combined and uneven development of the global capitalist system.
The importance of the socio-economic question and its impact on the triggering of revolutionary processes continues to be a dimension largely ignored by the international and regional media, despite its fundamental role. Since the 1980s, all the regimes in the region have participated in the neoliberal economic dynamics encouraged by international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB). Neoliberal measures have been used to dismantle public services and abolish subsidies, notably for essential goods, while accelerating the processes of privatization of goods in the industrial, real estate and finance sectors.
The neoliberal reforms of the MENA regimes have at different rhythms encouraged a policiesy based on attracting foreign direct investments, the development of exports and of services such as tourism and real estate. The rulers have ensured that multinationals have zero or low tax rates, while guaranteeing them very cheap labour. Repressive apparatuses have served as “security officers” for these companies, protecting them from any unrest or social demands. These states have played the role of intermediaries for foreign capital, while guaranteeing the enrichment of a bourgeois class linked to the regime.
The differences in the trajectories of the revolutionary processes are largely explained by the nature of the states of the region: patrimonial states (absolute monarchies or certain so-called republics such as the Syria of the Assads or previously the Libya of the Gaddafis), or neo-patrimonial states (republican dictatorships) and confessional systems with powerful militias acting as defenders of the status quo; by the structure of the societies (more or less heterogeneous) and the place of these states in the international and regional imperialist system. But overall, the development of capitalism in the MENA region in recent decades has resulted in a growing polarization of society:
- on the one hand, a very small fraction of the population, the big bourgeoisie, closely linked to international investors, has benefited from the control of political power and key economic sectors;
- on the other hand, a growing mass of the population, the working class and popular layers, has been impoverished and dispossessed, whether in urban or rural areas, with neoliberal policies leading to increasing privatizations.
The plagues that these neoliberal policies have implied are numerous: a major deterioration of the health and education systems; a high unemployment rate, particularly among young graduates who do not find outlets in an economy now concentrated on jobs with low added value where skilled work is scarce; underemployment and strong growth in the very precarious informal sector, as direct consequences of these measures; the migration of hundreds of thousands of people to urban areas or across borders. Social, economic and regional inequalities have become ever more acute.
The absence of democracy or its extreme restriction and increasing impoverishment, in a climate of growing corruption and growing social inequality, have paved the way for popular insurrection, which thus needed no more than a spark in these societies. These popular uprisings are therefore a mass revolt against neoliberal policies, imposed by authoritarian regimes assisted by international financial institutions. Indeed, the masses of the region have suffered for decades from these policies, hoping for a prosperity that would compensate for their sacrifices. However, the possibility of comparison provided by the media and modern communication tools, and the observation of the growing wealth of a tiny minority in society have revealed the enormous gap between reality and hopes. The uprising was then a means of compensating for this gap.
2. The evolution of the uprising: revolution and counter-revolution in a long-term revolutionary process
The popular uprising that began in late 2010 and early 2011, first in North Africa and soon across the Middle East, was extraordinarily powerful. It overthrew regime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya and opened a new phase in the struggles of the peoples of the region. It released the militant energies of all the social strata that invaded the streets and squares, and especially those of young people and women. It shattered the psychology of fear consecrated by decades of tyranny. Slogans like: “dignity, freedom, social justice” and “the people want the fall of the regime” have spread since then in almost all the countries marked by the Arab language and civilization. New self-organized methods of struggle have been developed and exchanged, using the most modern cultural dimensions and communication tools widely.
But quickly the regimes of the region counter-attacked to stabilise their shaken power, in the name of “the fight against terrorism” which they borrowed from the imperialist powers. Some managed to contain the first demonstrations before they took on an insurrectionary character, as in Morocco or Jordan. Others strangled the uprisings in repression, quickly as in Bahrain or in several stages as in Egypt. In Libya, Syria and Yemen, the regimes waged a real war against their people, who today face appalling conditions. In Libya, Gaddafi was shot dead, the imperialist powers having chosen to support the insurgency when the regime had no outside support. This is the only case where the old regime has really disappeared, but to give way to a chaos that every day buries deeper the hope that was raised. In the Tunisian case, the least compromised forces of the former regime gathered within Nidaa Tounes and allied with the Ennahda movement, inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, to govern between 2014 and 2018.
In Yemen, Saudi Arabia had to oust the dictator Ali Saleh to succeed in stifling the uprising, and substituted for him a civil and regional war still in progress, with the support of the imperialist powers and regional powers in the “Arab Alliance” against the allies of Iran, its chief opponent. The United Arab Emirates, for their part, aim to control the logistical points of maritime transport in the southern Gulf and establish themselves as a global port giant. In Syria, Assad has had to wage a total war against his people for almost 10 years, with the determined help of Putin’s Russia and the Mullahs’ Iran, in order to hope to quell the insurgency at the cost of atrocious destruction of his country and his society. And finally, we see the growing role of the apprentice dictator Erdogan’s Turkey, intervening ever more strongly to quell the aspirations of the Kurdish people, in Turkey itself, in Iraq sometimes and especially in Syria in the regions dominated by the PYD, the Syrian branch of the PKK. Deploying his regional ambitions, he also intervened in Libya to support a government close to the Muslim Brotherhood movement, politically supported by his ally Qatar.
To succeed in their counter-offensives, the oppressive regimes were able to benefit from the support of one power or the other. But the risen peoples had at the same time to face the false alternatives of the various political forces, often armed, of political Islamic fundamentalism.
We are therefore witnessing a regional rise of the different faces of the counter-revolution which are trying to crush the revolution and its achievements. But none of the root causes of these uprisings have been resolved, and never has repression alone succeeded in stabilizing social formations. We have seen it in Syria where regions that have fallen under the yoke of the regime have seen new protests bloom, we have seen it recently in Egypt where anger is raging against the new dictator Sissi. But above all, in 2019 a new wave of revolts saw the light of day, in countries that had initially escaped the uprising, as they were still very marked by the dimensions of recent civil wars: Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan and Algeria
3. The nature of the counter-offensives of the regimes, imperialists and reactionary religious currents
The revolutionary process in the region is a laboratory of great hopes and revolutionary heroism emanating from the depths of the peoples, but it has at the same time become the theatre of intervention of imperialist forces and reactionary regimes at local and regional levels which fuel barbarism and civil wars causing countless victims, refugees and displaced persons.
The current situation is characterized by a regression of the popular revolution and the rise of the various actors of the counter-revolution. But this is only a phase in a long-term revolutionary process in the region.
The old regimes, with their differences, remain the principal and most dangerous actors through their control of the state and institutions. Supported by their security apparatuses, the strengthening of which is justified by an “anti-terrorist” discourse, they are the traditional actors in counter-revolutions. The persistence of the regimes is also explained by the support provided by various international and regional imperialist forces against the popular movements. The counter-revolution applies a neoliberal policy which serves the interests of the local bourgeoisie, multinationals and world imperialism. Likewise, the debt issue has taken on particular importance. In these countries, debt has served and continues to serve as a tool of political submission and a transfer mechanism of incomes from labour to local and above all global capital. In this context, we should note the pernicious role of supposedly democratic political forces prepared to reach a consensus with despotism and imperialism in the name of the search for a “lesser evil”.
The other major force that has distinguished itself as a counter-revolutionary entity on the political scene in the region are the fundamentalist Islamic movements in their various components.
These two forces are united by fierce hostility to the goal of democratic and social emancipation of the peoples of the region, and they are distinguished by their reactionary political alternatives and the deepening of neoliberal policies.
Bourgeois reactionary religious organizations and hostile to all workers’ and popular emancipation
With the emergence of the mass uprising, religious fundamentalist movements with a broad popular base, considerable potential and experience have claimed to be the alternative to the power of the old regimes. None of them represented a class, social and democratic alternative to the existing regimes. They are hostile to individual freedoms and the emancipation of women. They favour a neoliberal conservative political programme which is confessional, sexist, homophobic and hostile to wage earners and poor peasants.
The names, doctrines and specific routes of these religious fundamentalists are varied, but they are united by their defence of the system of private property and their hatred of universal progressive values considered as Western flaws, like feminism or socialism.
The imperialist and regional powers have used Islamic fundamentalists as a political means to increase their regional power, weaken their adversaries, and deflect or suppress democratic social movements from below. Saudi Arabia supported the Muslim Brotherhood before breaking with it in 1991, and then various Salafist movements. Qatar and then Erdogan’s Turkey replaced it as the guardian of these movements (including Ennahda in Tunisia) while funding other Salafist organizations. Iran has supported Hezbollah in Lebanon and Shiite Islamic fundamentalist organizations like al-Da’wa in Iraq.
These are reactionary religious bourgeois parties, although they differ in tactics towards the mass uprising (partial alignment or declared hostility), in their access to governments (The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Ennahda in Tunisia or the Justice and Beneficence party in Morocco), or by their position towards the most extreme and adventurous jihadist movements like Al-Qaeda or Daesh.
The strength of the latter two organizations lies in their emergence as an armed rebellion against the social and political system, challenging the authority of dictatorial regimes, official Islam and the great powers, and extending their network well beyond their initial base. These organizations can momentarily polarize popular discontent in the absence of progressive left-wing alternatives. But their paroxysmal promotion of violence, their policy of terror against civilian populations, in particular women, minorities, culture rank them high among the worst contemporary reactionary forces. The criminal adventure of Daesh/Islamic State in Iraq and in Syria and their confrontation with all the military forces present in the Middle East, have been disastrous for all the peoples fighting for their liberty in the region.
It is a very serious mistake to see present-day fundamentalism as a deviated or diverted expression of anti- imperialism. Fundamentalists have a religious view of the world, including the goal of returning to a mythical “golden age” of Islam as a way of explaining the contemporary world and solving its problems. This vision is purely and simply reactionary and is in total contradiction with anti-imperialist movements of the past. They view imperialism as a conflict between “Satan” and the oppressed faithful, not as nationalists and socialists have traditionally viewed it, as a struggle between the great powers, their capitalist system and the oppressed countries.
The events of recent years and the laboratory of the class struggle have shown that the reactionary bourgeois opposition parties were counter-revolutionary factions. Whatever the complexities of the concrete situation which can lead to practical defensive convergence, these can only be tactics which are very limited in time, completely independent and with great caution. These forces cannot be characterized as reformist or democratic parties, and no political alliance or united front with them can be justified.
Of course, the fundamentalist Islamic movements are traversed by internal social contradictions between their bourgeois and petty bourgeois leadership and their popular base. But this is true for all elite-led political parties, from the main capitalist parties to the right-wing conservative and far-right parties around the world. The existence of class contradictions within parties is not limited to reformist parties.
In reality, the different Islamic fundamentalist forces constitute the second wing of the counter-revolution, the first being the existing regimes. Their ideology, their political program and their practice are reactionary and totally opposed to the objectives of revolutionary emancipation: democracy, social justice and equality. Their policies are deadly for the most conscious groups of workers, young people and oppressed groups such as religious minorities, women, LGBT people and others. At the same time, without building a credible and inclusive mass political alternative, non-confessional and social, defending the interests of all citizens, it is hard to envisage a complete uncoupling between the Islamic fundamentalist movements and their popular base.
Clashes between imperialist powers and regional powers
The United States remains the most significant imperialist power through its military and economic power, the consequences of which we continue to see. We must not forget either the harmful role of the European Union and certain European states such as France and Britain in the region, notably through their military interventions and the imposition of economic agreements on so-called free trade or on the issue of sovereign debts. But the increasingly assertive influence of Russia, notably through its military interventionism, and its rapprochement with many authoritarian states in the region, in particular el-Sisi in Egypt and al-Assad in Syria, is also a growing basis for the counter-revolution suffered by the peoples concerned.
The American strategic failure in Iraq, whose people are still suffering the consequences of its invasion, and the worldwide economic and financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 which dealt a severe blow to the American neo-liberal model on a global level, have caused a relative weakening of its global power, which not only left more space for other world imperialist forces like China and Russia, but also for regional powers with their own interests and the ability to defend them. This is particularly visible in the Middle East, where states such as Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, have played a growing role and intervene in the revolutionary processes through their rivalries by supporting different actors against popular demands for democracy, social justice and equality.
The oil monarchies of the Gulf (led by Saudi Arabia) have mobilized massive funds of billions of dollars in donations to enable the kingdoms of Morocco and Jordan to make concessions to contain popular mobilizations and have generously supported the army in Egypt and Sudan to cope with the revolution. They intervened militarily in Yemen, Libya and Bahrain. Together with the state of Israel, they constitute the spearhead of the counter-revolution at the regional level. They work for maintaining the situation in the service of imperialism (mainly the USA)’s goals for the neo-liberal deepening and restructuring of the economies of the region and their integration into the world market. They have used their huge media machine to influence the uprisings and limit their democratic momentum. It would be difficult to talk about the victory of the revolutionary process in the region without aiming at the heads of the reactionary monarchies in the Gulf. This process should then go beyond the national vision and integrate the regional dimension into its perspectives.
The role of the state of Israel, fundamentally at the service of Western imperialism and the counter-revolution, is also increasingly autonomous. Israel has for decades been the watchdog of Western imperialist interests in the region, but the major difference between Israel and other regional powers is its colonial nature. It is a colonial project of expulsion of the Palestinian population which takes on a very specific character in relation to the regional powers in its counter-revolutionary role.
Be that as it may, these imperialist and regional powers have a common interest in the defeat of popular revolutions in the region, whether in Syria or elsewhere. Their rivalries are not impossible to overcome as long as common interests are at stake, and their interdependent relationships are strong. All these regimes are bourgeois powers which are enemies of popular revolutions, only interested in a stable political context which allows them to accumulate and develop their political and economic capital in defiance of the popular classes.
Furthermore, capitalist states and international financial institutions often seize regime crises as opportunities to restructure and promote economic changes that were previously very difficult or almost impossible by significantly developing the scope of the market economy and neoliberal dynamics. in various economic sectors hitherto largely dominated by state sectors. From this perspective, the orientation of the economic policy of the states of the region should not be seen as technocratic and neutral measures aimed at overcoming the ravages and destruction of war. On the contrary, this policy is a means of transforming and strengthening the general conditions for capital accumulation and strengthening the clientelist business networks close to the regimes in place - in addition, the regimes in the region are the main world importers of arms!
However, the world situation, marked by deep instability and a latent economic crisis, weighs particularly on the states of the region and on the legitimacy of their rulers, as we see from Turkey to Iran and Egypt.
4. An uprising entering into a second wave
Despite the multiple reactionary offensives in countries that experienced uprisings in 2011, a new wave of mass social and popular demonstrations has arisen in several other countries in the region. It coincided with numerous popular mobilizations in several other countries of the world against the consequences of the same neo-liberal policies dictated by the international financial institutions and implemented by the dominant classes that generalize repression.
It began a little earlier in Morocco with the Hirak of the Rif at the end of 2016, which was mainly concerned with social but also political demands. The uprisings in Sudan, Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon in 2019 are fuelling new momentum and hope for freedom from despotism and exploitation throughout the region.
The stubbornness of the huge demonstrations in Algeria and Sudan succeeded in obtaining the end of the rule of presidents Bouteflika and Al-Bashir. In both countries, this reversal was far from enough for the demonstrators. The opposition to the whole functioning of these regimes of a military nature multiplied, in order to obtain real political and socio-economic changes in favour of the popular classes.
The regional and international imperialist powers have watched with fear the development of these popular uprisings, seeing them as a threat to their own interests and to their power. In response, they expressed support either for the leaders of the Sudanese and Algerian armies or for a controlled transition from above without radical change. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have offered aid of $3 billion to the Khartoum regime, which was rejected by the demonstrators. At the same time France has supported the Algerian military hierarchy and the controlled transition by the latter.
Sectors of the Sudanese popular opposition have called for an end to Sudan’s military participation in the war waged by the Saudi kingdom in Yemen and have rejected any intrusion by the despotic Egyptian regime of al-Sissi into the internal affairs of the country. In Algeria, the demonstrators also denounced France’s imperialist role and its support for the Algerian regime. In an attempt to allay popular frustrations, the regimes announce “reforms” to “improve” and “clean up” the system from the inside or so-called “anti-corruption” campaigns targeting former business figures linked to the fallen autocrats.
In Sudan, the army was able to circumvent the movement’s main demands through a political agreement with the Alliance for Freedom and Change (ALC), the spearhead of the protest, based on the formula of “power sharing with civilians” that allowed it to maintain its position of power in the state. While it was able to constitute a massive political force pushing the army into power-sharing, limits nevertheless exist within the ALC, as they do within the Sudanese Communist Party. One of the main ones is the political orientation of their leaders. The latter often seek some form of collaboration and understanding with the ruling elites, rather than basing their power on massive popular mobilization from below.
As for Algeria, popular mobilization was able to thwart the negotiations at the state summit, including preventing the re-election of Bouteflika. The Hirak accentuated the contradictions within the different components of the regime without managing to bring down its edifice. Initiatives at the trade union level to get rid of the pro-military bureaucracy have not been successful so far, but nevertheless they constitute a potential that could have an impact in the future.
In Lebanon and relatively in Iraq, popular protest movements are radically challenging confessional system, explicitly denounced (all parties combined) as responsible for the deterioration of socio-economic conditions. The confessional and neoliberal system in these two countries is, in fact, one of the main instruments used by the ruling parties to strengthen their control over the working classes. Confessionalism must, as such, be understood as a tool of the Lebanese and Iraqi political elites to intervene ideologically in the class struggle, strengthen their control over the popular classes and keep them in a position of subordination in relation to their confessional leaders.
In the past, the ruling elites have succeeded in stopping or crushing protest movements not only by repression but also by playing on community divisions. As the majority of the population plunged into poverty, the dominant confessional parties and various groups of the economic elite used the privatization processes, neoliberal policies, and the control of government ministries to develop powerful patronage, nepotism and corruption networks. In this regard, confessionalism must be seen as a constituent and active part of current forms of state and class power in Lebanon and Iraq. This approach invites us to recognize in it a product of modern times rather than an alleged cultural tradition.
In this sense, the demands of the protest movement for social justice and economic redistribution cannot be dissociated from their opposition to the confessional political system, which guarantees the privileges of the dominant. After the scale of the demonstrations had obtained the resignation of the governments of these two countries, the continuation of the movement for the satisfaction of demands and the fundamental change of regime is an obviously essential stake.
The protest movements in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq, however, face many challenges, most notably the lack of organization and alternative political representations liable to counter the domination of the confessional parties and economic groups in power in Iraq and in Lebanon and the regime in Algeria. However, attempts at structuring remain limited, notably at the level of the trade unions and new social and political alternatives.
The context of the coronavirus crisis
The coronavirus crisis has aggravated the specific structural factors that triggered the revolutionary process in 2011 in the region. The regimes in the region found no other choice than debt and its austerity conditions to solve the financial and economic crisis. The repercussions of the Covid-19 crisis will further impact the populations of middle- and low-income countries, including Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan and Mauritania, not to mention countries in war situations such as Syria, Iraq, occupied Palestine, Yemen and Libya. The measures taken by the regimes are in favour of big business. The incomes of wage earners and the poor sections of the population have fallen drastically and youth and female unemployment has worsened. Public health services are very weak to contain the spread of the virus: the rate of doctors in the region is well below the WHO-recommended threshold of 4.45 doctors, nurses and midwives per 1,000 inhabitants, and even reaches 0.72 in Morocco and 0.79 in Egypt.
The regimes took advantage of the health emergency imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic to halt the second wave of the revolutionary process. They resorted to systematic repressive measures of containment and curfews and the development of surveillance methods. They perfected their tools of repression to cope with a new wave of popular mobilization.
In Tunisia, youth demonstrations have been taking place since mid-January 2021 in several cities under the same slogan of the uprising of 10 years ago: “work, freedom, social dignity”, but also to demand the release of hundreds of protesters arrested by the police. In early February, a protest movement of small very impoverished peasants began in a coastal area in the centre-east of the country against the import of meat and the increase in the price of cattle feed.
In Algeria, thousands of people went onto the streets to mark the second anniversary of the Hirak, relaunching the latter.
At the end of January, starting from the city of Tripoli, one of the poorest in Lebanon, a protest movement spread to other regions of the country.
In early February in Morocco, in a town in the north of the country, thousands of citizens demonstrated to denounce the deterioration of living conditions and demand “dignity and work” following the closure of the border with the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.
These are indeed the warning signs of a new uprising that could set the whole region ablaze.
These protest movements constitute experiences of struggle on the ground and have accumulated gains that can be used in the new post-Covid-19 phase and allow progress towards the realization of demands and political radicalization. The greatest achievement of the revolutionary process in the region since 2011 remains the irruption into the political arena of the masses who no longer have any illusions about the changes coming from above (whether by a leader, state apparatus or parties). Millions of people have taken to the streets and have themselves undergone major transformations in their consciousness, their methods of struggle and organization. The uprisings irreversibly changed the political consciousness of an entire generation. It would be a mistake to judge the results of this process only on the scale of the political changes in the state apparatus. This revolutionary achievement continues to be targeted by the different poles of counter-revolution.
Women played a central role in both phases of the revolutionary process. In particular, they were the target of the counter-revolution, which sought to exclude them from the public sphere and as active participants in the first lines of resistance. Women were subjected to violent persecution throughout this period. Sexual harassment and rape were widespread. Daesh even sold women in open markets. The counter-revolution attacked women because the advances in women’s rights and conditions were a threat to the various counter-revolutionary actors and to the repression of the hopes for emancipation of the peoples of the region. Their advance in this field will open the door to its reactionary theses and to the repression of the hopes of emancipation of the peoples of the region.
The status of women therefore constitutes a major criterion for the advancement of the revolutionary process and of the movements that have emerged to defend women’s rights.
A lesson to be learned is the need to participate in the development of mass progressive and democratic alternative political structures. The experiences of Tunisia and Sudan show that the presence of mass organizations at the trade union level, such as the UGTT and the Sudanese Professionals Association, of popular committees and women’s organizations have enabled these uprisings to win more gains, especially in terms of democratic rights, even if they are still fragile and not guaranteed.
Interventions and rivalries of imperialist and regional powers could undermine these popular uprisings like others in the region. These interventions increase the threat of derailing the popular uprising in Iraq. The assassination of Iranian Pasdaran leader Qassem Soleimani by the United States thus increases the threat of derailment of the popular uprising in Iraq. The threat is not so much that the Iraqi protest movement focuses on opposition to the United States; it has so far clearly opposed all foreign influences, and recent protests in Baghdad and other cities across the country have repeated the slogan “Neither the United States nor Iran!”. However, it could be hijacked by another movement controlled and organized by pro-Iranian militias, which would focus on US withdrawal as the only demand, without challenging the current neoliberal and confessional system. This is the desire of the militias in the pay of Iran and of the leader Moqtada Sadr, who is now trying to stifle the demonstrations by manoeuvres and force and to rally the movement behind the new prime minister.
Faced with these developments, opposition to the continuing interference of US imperialism and threats of war against Iran and Iraq can only be effective if rooted in solidarity with the progressive and revolutionary forces of the Middle East and North Africa, without any concessions to authoritarian regimes and regional powers.
National questions and self-determination of peoples
National questions, particularly the Palestinian and Kurdish ones in the Middle East, and the Amazigh and Sahraoui ones in North Africa and the Amazigh fight to defend their cultural identity in Algeria and Morocco, are essential issues. The Palestinian question remains of paramount importance in regional, but also global, political dynamics. The so-called Middle East peace plan, which was presented in early 2020 by US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the notable absence of the Palestinian side, is a veritable program for a new attempt to liquidate the Palestinian question in violation of all international resolutions passed by the UN and international law.
In this context, we must recall our support for the struggle of the Palestinian people for their emancipation and liberation against the apartheid and colonial state of Israel and the importance of campaigns of solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people, for the liberation of all Palestinian prisoners and the return of refugees. We are focusing on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which continues to be successful worldwide and to be viewed by Israel and its allies as a significant and growing threat. It makes it possible to unmask and denounce the collaboration of Western governments with a state that has violated international law on a daily basis for more than 60 years and of multinationals that take advantage of the occupation to make profits.
In addition, the authoritarian regimes in the region have all tried to suppress, dominate or control the Palestinian national liberation movement. Defending it therefore implies supporting popular revolutions in the region in their fight to overthrow all authoritarian regimes which are complicit in the suffering of the Palestinian people through their direct or indirect collaboration with the state of Israel.
In this same perspective, Kurdish national and autonomist aspirations continue to frighten regional and international states. The bitter failure of the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan in September 2017 ignored by the great powers and suppressed by the Iraqi central state with the help of Iran and Turkey thus recalls the fragility of Kurdish hopes and their above all functional role on the regional political spectrum. Turkey, Syria and Iran, three neighbouring countries with Kurdish minorities, had condemned the referendum and called for the continued unity of Iraq. The majority of international imperialist states, including the United States and Russia, have also opposed the independence of Kurdistan.
Some months later, the Kurdish people, this time in Syria, suffered another disillusionment. In March 2018, the Turkish army, assisted by reactionary Syrian forces, conquered the city of Afrin, in Syria, which was under the control of the Kurdish forces of the YPG (People’s Protection Units), a military branch of the PYD linked to the PKK. The conquest of the city and its occupation took place with the complicity of international powers. In October 2019, the Turkish armed forces with their local auxiliaries again invaded areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a military alliance of Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian fighters dominated by the YPG. This is why we affirm our support for the right to self-determination of the Kurdish people in the region and denounce the foreign regional and international pressures which seek to deny the Kurdish people their right to self-determination.
5. The place of the working class and the tasks of revolutionary Marxists
The current widespread rise of struggles in the region has occurred in the context of the weakness of the organized working class, and within it the revolutionary socialist left. The absence of workers’ alternatives in the face of the erosion of the power of bourgeois regimes under the blows of popular advance was temporarily compensated for by the strength of the masses in the streets and squares before the counter-revolution regained its cohesion.
The mass uprising revealed a great weakness of the working class, both as professional organizations (unions and associations) and as political parties (the marginality of workers’ parties). Tunisia through the UGTT and Sudan more recently with the Sudanese Professionals Association constitute in part exceptions in this framework, even if of course these bodies also have limits in their radicalism. Experiences of independent unions have also taken place, playing a significant role at the start of the popular uprising in Egypt, for example, before being subjected to severe repression.
The workers’ movement did not intervene as a potential central force with an independent class project which would have guided the people towards their effective economic and political emancipation. The intervention of the working class was very fragmented, and the workers intervened as citizens without class identity. In Tunisia, a dynamic was initiated at the base of the main workers’ union (Union générale tunisienne du travail -UGTT) in the majority of sectors and regions (successive general strikes). The role of its leaders was, however, limited to consensus and negotiation in the name of national dialogue to save the country.
Many regimes, in collusion with the union bureaucracies, succeeded in the previous period in neutralizing the working class and moving it away from the rising struggles to obtain a wage increase and satisfy some of its demands (for example Morocco and Algeria). The trade union bureaucracy includes, for example in the case of Morocco, a part of the supposedly bourgeois democratic political forces with liberal and reactionary religious variants.
The radical progressive currents suffer from weakness in terms of both programme and implantation. Taken by surprise by the uprisings, they found themselves in a situation of exhaustion, disorientation, misunderstanding of the transformations inherent in the collapse of the Soviet Union and confusion in the face of the extraordinary rise of reactionary religious forces. They worked out illusory strategies of alliances with one of the components of the counter-revolution (the imperialist powers, reactionary regional powers or liberal political forces). Most nationalist or Stalinist and Mao-Stalinist organizations have adopted a position of campism and betrayal of the revolution of the Syrian people.
Which means revolutionary Marxist currents must make a lot of effort to strengthen themselves, to establish deep roots in the working class and popular sectors, and to contribute to the construction of the independent political instrument of the working class in preparation for the next revolutionary wave. The left should concentrate on the construction of progressive, democratic and independent front which can aid the self-organization of the workers and oppressed. It is only through this process that our camp can consider itself as a class with common interests with other workers, opposed to the capitalists.
Similarly, the left must play a central role in the construction and development of broad alternative political structures. Parallel to this necessity, the left must also develop a political strategy that does not only seek a political revolution as a horizon, but a social revolution in which the structures of society and the modes of production are radically changed.
In addition, ecological demands are becoming increasingly affirmed on the political scene, particularly with regard to the agrarian question and access to water. The countries of the region are affected by the current climatic upheavals and should be the most affected by an increase in temperature. Ecological and social issues are closely linked, because the populations who fight for water and against waste are generally the same people who are affected by and/or fight against unemployment. In addition, ecological struggles are often linked to the questions of oppressed national or cultural groups (Rif, Zagora, Jerrada, in Morocco, Kabylia in Algeria, Nubians expelled from their lands in Egypt and Sudan).
Environmental struggles are however still fragmented and local, and yet they start from the same causes. There is a need to make them converge with other socio-economic causes.
Revolutionary Marxists defend a program that is in a living relationship with existing mass struggles, without seeking opportunistic alliances with capitalist forces. The situation presupposes close coordination between the forces of the revolutionary left in the region, this finds its strong justification in the decades of extreme nationalism adopted by the nationalist and Stalinist left during the second half of the 20th century, which was subordinated to authoritarian regimes simply because they claimed to confront imperialism and Zionism.
Faced with the powerful media machine of tyrannical regimes and imperialism, the masses are deprived of left-wing revolutionary information tools that explain the reality of the uprising and the prospects of the struggle. This calls for strengthening and coordinating the revolutionary Marxist press, proposing joint actions to broaden written discussions.
The deterioration of the situation in countries in civil war - in particular Syria – has led to the exodus of most of the revolutionary youth who formed the backbone of the coordinations of the revolution. This youth still exists for the moment even if it is lost in European capitals or besieged by liberals and reactionaries who negotiate on behalf of the Syrian people at meetings organized by imperialism and its allies. It is necessary to intervene to bring them together and to open a debate on the prospects for the revolution in the event of a sudden change in the balance of power in the region. We know how difficult the situation is, but the reality is changing rapidly. Despite the intensity and barbarism of the counter-revolution, big struggles are emerging. In this approach internationalism is a fundamental point, because no solution can be found within the borders of a state.
Finally, the struggles of the workers alone will not be enough to unite the classes of wage earners. The socialists in these struggles must also defend the liberation of all the oppressed. This requires raising strong demands for the rights of women, religious minorities, LGBT communities and oppressed racial and ethnic groups, and on environmental issues. Any compromise on the explicit commitment to such demands will prevent the radical left from uniting the working class for the radical transformation of society.
Document discussed and adopted at the International Committee of February 2021 ((49 for 1 abstention 6 NV), finalised on 22 March on the basis of discussion.