“Arab Spring, European Summer, American Fall!” So read the huge banner greeting marchers as they returned to New York’s Liberty Plaza, home to Occupy Wall Street, at the end of a 30,000-strong march. This is just the latest example of the constant evocation of the Arab revolution as inspiration by OWS and similar “Occupy” events around the U.S.
And the links go beyond just inspiration from witnessing others’ mass mobilizations. At a meeting to discuss countering the latest revelations of NYPD spying on the city’s Muslim communities, this author made the point that just as police repression of OWS stems from ruling-class hopes to crush any dissent from their domestic rule, so too repression of Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians in the “war on terror” is designed to quash any dissent, at home and abroad, of their new wars to maintain U.S. global economic primacy.
And key to ending those wars is the global intifada, spreading from the Arab world, to the massive general strikes and occupations in Europe, and now into the belly of the beast. In recognition of these linkages, we offer here an update on events in the Middle East uprisings and their meaning for the global struggle.
After months of uncertainty as to whether Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas would go for “statehood” for a Palestinian Bantustan at the UN Security Council or at the General Assembly, Abbas finally opted for the former.
There was much speculation that he might have done so knowing that although this would anger the U.S., his bid would be bottled up in committee for weeks, allowing precious time for Palestinian grassroots hopes and anger to dissipate before the inevitable U.S. veto was cast.
Abbas, not known for being an effective speaker, nonetheless got hearty applause from UN delegates, simply because Israel is increasingly isolated even in the rarefied strata of bourgeois diplomacy. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s speech was a predictable rejection of any Palestinian demands, inside the UN or outside, coupled with an amazingly explicit Islamophobic rant against Iran and any other country challenging Israeli dominance.
Barack Obama’s speech was basically, “Yeah, what he said!” Commentators were shocked at the almost complete lack of effort by Obama to even verbally appease Palestinians. The UN charade was soon followed by moves in Congress to cut off $200 million in aid to the PA—just for daring to ask for a state!
In the weeks immediately before and after the UN discussion, violent attacks by settlers on Palestinians and on their land, homes, mosques, and olive trees, already steadily increasing over the past year, mushroomed.
Anti-Palestinian violence is escalating inside pre-1967 Israel as well, with attacks on mosques, and announcement of a plan to evict 30,000 Bedouins from their homes.
In response to the escalating attacks, Palestinians have formed self-defense committees in some villages and towns, to observe or even counter settler raids. The Economist reported: “‘The age of sumud (stubborn steadfastness) has passed,’ says a local businessman. ‘We must defend ourselves. The whole town is prepared.’ At an evening planning meeting, an 85-year-old landowner encourages his sons to abduct the next settler who chops down trees in his olive groves or slaughters one of his sheep….
“So far the new, more robust tactics of the villagers have worked. On September 16th … a Qusra farmer, Fathallah Abu Rayda, spied a band of settlers near his local well, seemingly intent on destroying or poisoning it, and notified the village network. Within minutes the mosque’s loudspeakers had sounded the alarm, and hundreds had gathered to shoo the intruders away. One fled, said villagers, in his underpants. In the panic Mr. Abu Rayda was shot in the leg, but they have yet to return.”
The article also described a new group called Youth Against Settlements in Hebron, which coordinates 300 volunteers who patrol the area by car, by bicycle, and on foot, watching out for settler raids.
These self-defense committees, should they spread and coordinate their actions, could lead to a revival of the grassroots mobilization of past Palestinian uprisings. Such committees could in turn become the germ of a new power challenging Zionism itself—a road over which a key obstruction is Abbas’s PA, which continues its “security” coordination with Israel’s police and army.
Also in late September, a hunger strike by Palestinian political prisoners was launched against the barbaric conditions under which they are held. It has garnered worldwide support, including from activists organizing support for hunger strikers in California’s prisons who face similar attacks by guards.
Renewed protests in the Gulf
Mass mobilizations have returned to Yemen and Bahrain, and spread even to Saudi Arabia, where protests erupted in early October in the majority-Shia eastern parts of the country. Mass demonstrations, met by regime violence, broke out in Yemen on the return of President Ali Abdullah Saleh to the country after weeks in a hospital in Saudi Arabia.
In late September protests also resumed in Bahrain after a relative period of quiet following the crushing of dissent in March by Saudi troops with U.S. support. Some youth armed only with stones are battling troops in scenes reminiscent of Palestinian Intifadas.
The immediate trigger was the regime’s fraudulent special parliamentary elections, called to fill the seats abandoned by Shiite lawmakers to protest the repression of the movement for democracy, which has also spotlighted the rampant discrimination against Shiites, who represent 70% of all Bahraini citizens.
Washington has stuck by Bahrain’s rulers, who so graciously host the base of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, a key launching pad for wars throughout the region.
The regime has arrested leaders of the movement, often sentencing them to decades in prison. This has included not only leaders of the teachers union but, most notoriously, 20 nurses and doctors, sentenced to terms of five to 15 years by a military court solely for the “crime” of treating protesters wounded in regime assaults on demonstrations.
Outrage from activists and human rights groups around the world forced the regime to temporarily free the health-care workers pending their retrial by a civilian court. But supporters of the workers place little faith in the impartiality of that court and continue to demand dropping of the charges.
One particularly inspiring message of solidarity came from the Medics’ Committee of Occupy Wall Street, who noted that the imprisoned health-care providers “are guilty only of doing exactly what we, the Street Medic Committee, do every day: tend to the health-care needs of peaceful protesters standing up against tyranny, corruption and oppression. We wish to join all the people of Bahrain fighting for their freedom as the people who occupy the street in New York City stand and fight for ours.”
From stalemate to shooting in Syria?
In recent weeks the mainstream media has begun running stories claiming that defecting Syrian officers and soldiers are forming anti-regime units, and that peaceful protests will soon be replaced by civil war. These stories inevitably include supposed calls by opposition figures or organizations for outside intervention.
It is impossible to ascertain the veracity of these stories because of the regime’s banning of foreign correspondents, the wishful-thinking factor on the part of the media, and the fragmentation of the opposition—although the organizations and individuals most central to the mass mobilizations have been strongly against imperialist intervention.
A number of so-called “unified” opposition councils have been announced after meetings in Turkey or elsewhere outside the country. Yet another one was announced in September, this one apparently involving not just disconnected, usually liberal, exiles, but also representatives of the Local Coordination Committees, as well as their most well-known figure, Burhan Ghalioun.
The Asia Times reported that “the new body, the Syrian National Council, has stated that it is resolutely opposed to foreign intervention,” but also claimed that “some opposition voices have called for civilian protection mechanisms, such as no-fly zones in parts of the country to protect activists on the ground.”
Yet to be heard from is any organized representation of the country’s workers, while Syrian capitalists are still standing by their benefactor, President Bashir al-Assad.
Massive strike wave in Egypt
So in the region as a whole we see, underlying individual country variations, a common tableau of popular steadfastness, continued mobilization, and refusal to back down, opposed by regime intransigence manifested in murderous violence and repression.
There is one crucial exception to the regional absence of explicit working-class representation and action in the continued revolts: that of Egypt, home to the region’s most massive and militant working class. A huge strike wave has broken out in the country, in which we can see the elements necessary for moving to the next phase in completing the revolution.
In late-September, doctors, teachers, and public transit workers all launched strikes, and rallied thousands in front of government buildings in support of their demands. Those demands included higher wages for their members, which often meant just living up to the promised countrywide minimum wage increases, but also demands for a higher wage on which families can actually survive; more money for the health-care, education, and transportation services they provide and reform of how those services are provided; and an ouster of the Mubarak regime officials who still dominate their institutions and who couple incompetent provision of services with corruption and anti-worker repression.
Strikes are also spreading in the private sector, most notably at the port of Ain Al Sokhna, run by a Dubai firm.
This strike wave coincides with a recent ruling by an administrative court returning three of the country’s biggest companies, located in the historically key textile town of Mahala, to public ownership. The court found that they had been privatized in a corrupt process that gave new owners assets for pennies on the dollar and stripped workers of their rights. The ruling came not from any sudden accession to wisdom by the jurists, but rather as a result of years of agitation by the area’s textile workers.
This ruling is particularly important, as workers throughout the country have demanded re-nationalization of the bulk of the economy—and the current strike wave shows they have the power to win that if their struggles broaden and become more unified.
In an article in The Atlantic, radical journalist Thanassis Cambanis quoted Kamal Khalil, a leader of the Democratic Workers Party, saying, “The heart of the revolution is the workers.” Khalil described the successes of DWP members and others in organizing independent labor unions, as well as their keenness to maximize the unified power of these new formations. The more simultaneous strikes, a bus driver activist told him, “the greater the pressure on the government and the greater likelihood of success.”
Supporters of the Arab revolution and of other uprisings around the globe must do everything we can to support the efforts of Egypt’s workers and the revolutionaries trying to organize them. This is important not only for the sake of Egypt’s workers but because of the inspiration they provide for upsurges in the Middle East and around the world.
Activists from Greece to Wall Street can learn political lessons from Egypt’s workers: It is only the working class that can, and must, see these uprisings through to their end. And it is the task of revolutionaries to root themselves in working-class organizations involved in the uprisings, and to unify and coordinate struggles for those demands within a given country and internationally.
> The article above was written by Andrew Pollack, and is reprinted from the October 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.