Arab leaders attempt to stem revolutionary crisis in the Middle East

The recent Arab summit (May 22-23) ended with Tunisian President Zain al-Abidin bin announcing that the Arab leaders had adopted a 13-point programme that is to be applied to their countries. Its aim is to promote "political reform". The same plan will be presented to the G8 summit next month, no doubt for their approval.

The Arab leaders say they are determined to pursue and intensify the process of political, economic, social and educational reforms. Why have they suddenly discovered the need for such reforms? We can only understand this if we start from what is happening among the Arab masses. There is a growing radicalisation, which is the product of several factors. The first is the worsening economic scenario, with high levels of unemployment and falling living standards. In the middle of this we have the imperialist intervention in Iraq which has served to focus the attention of the masses.

Therefore this recent Arab summit could not ignore the mood that is building up among the Arab masses. The summit called on the Arab states to promote reform towards more "democratic and liberal rule". In reality these "leaders" are beginning to feel the hot breath of revolution on their necks. Therefore they hope that by loosening up from above they can avoid an explosion from below. Corrupt ruling elites do not normally voluntarily relinquish the powers they have. They prefer to keep a tight control over the masses. The problem is that precisely such repressive risk provoking a situation where they could lose control all together. So in an attempt to avoid this they decide to loosen up from above. Of course, this will not save them from the anger of the masses. The masses do not want a few "democratic" sops thrown to them. They want jobs, housing, clean water, good education, decent wages, etc. This these regimes can never give. Even Saudi Arabia, rich in oil, now has massive levels of unemployment. This in fact explains the growing instability of the Sheiks' regime. The latest events there, with killings of foreigners, bomb attacks, kidnappings, etc., show that the regime is far from stable. It could in fact be the next regime to go. That in part explains the presence of US troops in Iraq! Should Saudi Arabia go, then the idea was that they could fall back on Iraq.

The irony of the situation is that they could be facing an unstable Iraq and an unstable Saudi Arabia. The speculators also understand this and this is reflected in the recent upsurge in the price of oil.

Another important element of the statement that was produced by the Summit was the mild anti-imperialist stance that it takes. There was a specific reference to a rejection of external (i.e. American) interference in the internal political life of Arab countries. Again this is mild anti-imperialist rhetoric aimed at appeasing the masses. The Arab governments feel they cannot be seen to be too cooperative with the USA in particular, a country which is crushing under foot one Arab people, the Iraqis, while it turns a blind eye to what is happening to another Arab people, the Palestinians.

They also called for an end to all forms of terrorism both by Israel and the Palestinians. This also reflects their desire to defuse the situation. They fear that the treatment of the Palestinians could lead to an explosive and uncontrollable situation that could spill over into other Arab countries. So they appeal to both sides for "moderation". It is really a desperate call of a desperate ruling elite. How can the Palestinians show moderation when they have their backs to the wall, when their homes are being destroyed, when there is massive unemployment? And appealing to Sharon is like asking a lion to become a vegetarian. What it amounts to is a plea: please calm down otherwise our own poor masses will rise up against us!

This summit is thus the result of extensive US interference in the Middle East, but also of the growing resentment of the masses and with it the fear of the rulers that find themselves between the pressures of the US on the one hand and the masses on the other.

This contradiction is leading to a split within the ranks of the rulers of the Arab states. For example Egypt's attempt to create a unified framework within the Arab League, through which to conduct dialogue with the United States on the subject of reform failed utterly during the summit.

The US and democracy in the Middle East


To understand the logic of this document we have to go back a few months. On November 6, 2003, Bush delivered a highly publicized speech for the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a political organization that claims to promote the cause of democracy around the world. In this speech he promised to democratise the Middle East. Bush said: "Our commitment to democracy is tested in the Middle East, which is my focus today, and must be a focus of American policy for decades to come… In many nations of the Middle East, democracy has not yet taken root. And the questions arise: Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free." His speech was highly appreciated by his fawning audience.

Bush went further in his state of the union address on January 20, 2004, when he called for the expansion of the NED's budget for 2005, with added funds of $40 million. Reflecting the same worries of the Arab leaders, this extra funding is to be channelled entirely to the Middle East.

On February 19, 2004, the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat published a "leaked" US document known as the Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEI).

Then, on March 1, Powell, after a meeting with top EU officials at the State Department said that the US and the European Union, "see great opportunity and scope for cooperation on a Greater Middle East Initiative in the run-up to the G8, US-EU and NATO summits" to be held in June.

The original document was intended for internal distribution only among designated senior officials of the G8 and was meant to signal a new US plan for "reform" of the Middle East and countries such as Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. However, the US plan is also aimed at other Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh and the central Asian countries of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgizistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

The problem is that the plan was made without any "prior consultation" with the governments concerned. We are surprised that anyone is surprised at that. In the recent period the USA has not only failed to consult its Arab friends, but it has also completely ignored its main "allies", in particular France and Germany, in going to war in Iraq.

The leaked document provoked a rush of complaints and even hostility and rejection on the part of many Arab governments. What else could they do? They couldn't simply be seen to be dictated to by the Americans. The problem for these regimes is that they cannot be seen to be bending to the will of US imperialism – at least not publicly - especially when the masses have already been aroused by the US occupation of Iraq. This was also supposedly to democratise the country.

The governments concerned have suddenly discovered that the US is developing a new initiative with the aim of intensifying strategic control over many Muslim nations. To "suddenly discover" such a thing, again means that they have to feign surprise for local consumption.

However, the plan goes beyond the borders of the Muslim world. Any country where there are significant US military and business interests such as the Central Asian countries are affected by this plan. It involves expanding military bases and gaining control of the new oil resources in these areas.

That these are the plans of imperialism have long been known. But the leaking of the document caused the US administration some embarrassment. Things should be done, but not seen to be done! US Secretary of State Colin Powell attempted to calm the angry Arab leaders by assuring them that the US did not intend to impose political reforms on them. But at the same time he insisted that the Bush administration would continue to move forward in its efforts to bring "reforms", showing that US imperialism has no intention of changing its policies simply because of a leaked document.

What is the NED?

The NED was a body launched in the early 1980s under President Reagan after all the revelations about the CIA in the latter half of the 1970s. This was a remarkable period. The Watergate scandal had opened the floodgates. We saw the Church Committee of the Senate, the Pike Committee of the House and the Rockefeller Commission, created by the president himself, all investigating the CIA. There was a constant flow of revelations about the criminal conduct of the CIA that had been going on for years.

The imperialists understood that such open talk about what had always been done behind close doors was dangerous. Something had to be done. Of course they had no intention of stopping carrying out these crimes. These crimes are part of the political nature of imperialism and are necessary to their domination of the world. They were worried about the effects on public opinion that these revelations might have, so they decided to do something, which in reality amounted to a cover up.

What was done was to set up a "new" organization. They also gave it a nice sounding name, the National Endowment for Democracy.

Thus, in 1983, the NED was set up to "support democratic institutions throughout the world through private, nongovernmental efforts." In fact the NED presents itself as an NGO (non-governmental organisation). However, in reality it is a governmental organisation. Much of its funding comes from the US federal government. This is clearly indicated in the financial statement in each of its annual reports.

The US congress allocated close to$40 million to the NED for 2004. Bush has requested that figure be doubled for 2005. The NED also receives financial contributions from private sources such as a number of major oil companies and defence contractors, indicating quite clearly what interests it really defends.. It is no surprise that among the companies that donated money to the NED in 2001, were the Chevron Corporation, the Exxon Mobil Corporation, the Enron Corporation, and Texaco Incorporated.

In reality, in spite of its name, the NED is just an extension of the CIA. As Allen Weinstein, the man who helped draft the legislation establishing the NED, quite candidly explained in 1991, "A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA."

The Endowment has four principal initial recipients of funds: the International Republican Institute; the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs; an affiliate of the right wing bureaucracy of the AFL-CIO (such as the American Center for International Labor Solidarity); and an affiliate of the Chamber of Commerce (such as the Center for International Private Enterprise).

The NED has meddled – and continues to meddle ‑ in the internal affairs of foreign countries by supplying funds, technical know-how, training, educational materials, computers, fax machines, copiers, vehicles and so on, to selected political groups, "civic organizations", labour unions, dissident movements, student groups, book publishers, newspapers, other media, etc.

Thus NED presents itself as an organisation promoting democratic rights, but in reality its aim is to consolidate US domination. The NED, through the organisations it sponsors, generally pushes the idea that the working class and other layers of the population are best served under a system of free enterprise, class cooperation, collective bargaining, minimal government intervention in the economy and opposition to socialism in any shape or form.

The NED promotes the idea that the "free market economy" is the only way of guaranteeing democracy, reform and growth. The merits of foreign investment are particularly emphasized.

Thus, the hand of the NED is not always clearly visible. But in the past couple of decades "NGOism" has grown on a large scale. Of course, not all NGOs are US-backed. There are the German backed NGOs, the Swedish, and so on. But they all have one thing in common.

Their aim is to divert what initially are sincere labour movement or student activists, into harmless NGO activity. This is made all the easier by providing plenty of funds. So we see NGO offices popping up suddenly, manned by people who previously would have been involved in militant trade union or political activity. The NGO makes them "see sense" and thus they gradually abandon their previous militancy. Thus, where in the past it would have been the brutal hand of a military dictatorship that would put an end to the activities of the militant youth and workers, now they have established a much subtler approach. They corrupt the leading activists, while making them believe that they are still doing something for the downtrodden, the poor and the working class. The common thread is that everything is done within the narrow confines of capitalism. How often have we heard the NGOers asking genuine socialist why they still hold on to their "outdated" Marxist views? The method is different, but the aim is the same: to disarm the working class ideologically and channel protest into harmless charitable type activities.

One important detail shows that the NED is merely an extension of the CIA. In the period 1994-96, the NED awarded 15 grants worth more than $2,500,000 to the American Institute for Free Labour Development, an organization which had been used by the CIA for decades to subvert progressive labour unions, using more or less the same techniques. The Endowment has funded yellow labour organizations to help them oppose those unions which were regarded as being too militant. And it does not limit its operations to the underdeveloped countries. This kind of operation has taken place in France, Portugal and Spain among many others.

In France, during the 1983-4 period, for example, the NED supported a "trade union-like organization for professors and students" to counter "left-wing organizations of professors." To this end it funded a series of seminars and the publication of posters, books and pamphlets such as "Subversion and the Theology of Revolution" and "Neutralism or Liberty". ("Neutralism" here refers to being unaligned in the Cold War.)

In Haiti in the late l990s, NED was providing support to the right wing gangsters who were united in their opposition to the then president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Thus while denying they had anything to do with the so-called "rebels", the US government knew full well what was going on. Eventually they were successful in ousting Aristide, but they presented it as a rebellion against a dictator which they had to support in the name of "democracy".

The NED was involved in the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s, by providing financial support for Oliver North's "Project Democracy", which carried out aspects of US foreign policy that the US administration pretended was not of its doing. It waged war, ran arms and drugs and so on, acting like a shadow government.

NED also promoted a campaign to fight the Communist Party led insurgency in the Philippines in the mid-1980s. Again, it did this by funding many private organizations, including unions and the media.

The Endowment has donated many hundred of thousands of dollars of public money to the Cuban-American National Fund, the ultra-rightist anti-Castro Miami based group. This, in turn, financed the infamous Luis Posada Carriles, one of the most active and ruthless terrorists in recent history. He was involved in the blowing up of a Cuban airplane in 1976, when 73 people were killed. As recently as 1997, he was involved in a series of bomb attacks on Havana hotels.

One of the NED's most important operations is presently being carried out in Venezuela. It is supporting the so-called "opposition", with the undisguised aim of overthrowing Chavez. There is clear evidence that the NED was involved in the April 2002 coup against President Chavez. Last year alone, the NED provided over $1 million to 15 different projects in Venezuela. This is usually presented as backing NGOs, but we know what the real nature of these is.

It is presently involved in the campaign for a recall referendum in Venezuela. Sumate is a Venezuelan "civil organisation" involved in collecting the signatures for this referendum. It received a $53,400 grant from the NED last year!

What kind of reforms?

The fact that the NED is involved in the Middle East gives us a good idea of what kind of reforms are being sought by the US. And the declarations of the Arab leaders show that, although they feign surprise in public, they are thinking along the same lines as the US imperialists.

In Afghanistan we see what kind of democracy the US imperialists have in mind. When the Loya Jirga – which had been called under the auspices of the US - was about to elect Zahir Shah as interim president, the US simply shut down the meeting and forced Shah to resign. The US then informed the Jirga that Hamid Karzai was the man they should "choose" as president!

In Iraq we see the same behaviour. When the Iraqi opposition groups last year in April and May were taking too long over their deliberations, Paul Bremer decided to do without elections and appointed a governing council. He also cancelled local elections in many areas. Even after they had decided on the "transfer of sovereignty", the US's plans envisaged caucuses, appointed assemblies, but no elections.

The US has imposed press censorship in Iraq and come into conflict with Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army.

Roughly 20,000 people have been arrested for purely arbitrary reasons. Some of them have been tortured, brutalised and degraded, as has now become common knowledge.

The US has made its goals and long-term policy in Iraq very clear. They planned to establish four permanent military bases there. They want control over Iraq's oil revenues, and they want the right to buy up the assets of Iraq at knockdown prices. Paul Bremer, last September, passed "laws" which allow 100% foreign ownership of most Iraqi companies. Now the four military bases have become 14! The US will maintain a force of more than 130,000 troops in "sovereign Iraq", and Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez will be the commander of the new Iraqi "army". Thus the "handover" at the end of June will be merely cosmetic.

The new US ambassador is none other than John Negroponte. This does not bode well for the Iraqi masses. He was known as the "proconsul" when he was the ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s. From Honduras he was responsible for running a large part of Reagan's dirty war against the Sandinistas. Negroponte let the cat out of the bag when he told the Senate foreign relations committee that the new "sovereign" government of Iraq would "not need law-making authority". So much for genuine self-rule.

So, far from becoming a genuinely self-governed country, Iraq is to be a huge permanent US military base, at least according to the plans. This part of a wider American network that includes, to one degree or another, much of eastern Europe, central Asia, and the Middle East. How far these plans can be implemented against the will of the people is another question.

The point is that with dwindling US oil reserves and growing demand worldwide, Middle East oil has become too important. It is not just a question of the immediate needs of the US. The US needs to control it in its struggle against the other powers Europe, China and Japan. That is why they cannot allow the Arab countries to have real control over it.

The problem is that these carefully developed plans have not really taken into account the real situation on the ground. The local elites are more than ready to comply with the wishes of imperialism, as long as they get a share of the loot for themselves. But the local elite does not decide everything. There are also the workers in these countries, who have different ideas. They want genuine self-rule. They want real control over the resources of their countries, because they need them to drag themselves out of the dire poverty they are living in.

These workers are beginning to stir right across the whole of the Middle East. So in spite of all the funding on the part of the NED, in spite of the calls for "reform" from the top, the masses are on the move. And the most striking example of this is what happened recently in the Lebanon, with last week's strike over fuel prices which led to clashes with the armed forces and several protestors being killed. But we refer you to an article on this, which we will be publishing shortly. It shows the explosive nature of the situation. Lebanon will not be the last country to be affected by such movements. In reality it is just the beginning.

May 31, 2004



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