'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, June 03, 2011

The Counterrevolution 

Day by day, the US/Israeli/Saudi directed counterrevolution intensifies the violence in North Africa and the Middle East. In Libya, NATO military operations obstensibly launched to prevent a mass slaughter of civilians is now being conducted for the express purpose overthrowing the Gaddafi regime. Predictably, an intervention originally described as one of limited duration has become open-ended, with British military advisors already on the ground. Libya therefore constitutes one form of the colonial manipulation of the democracy movements that have erupted across the Middle East, the incorporation of legitimate demands for social transformation within a broader context of increasing imperial control over the region. Given what has transpired in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, the mission has an urgency that it would otherwise lack, the necessity of containing the liberatory social forces within those countries. Of course, the immediate victims are the people of Libya, caught between a violent, kleptocratic dictator and a rebel movement dependent upon NATO and religious extremists.

If they are not already concerned, the people of Egypt and Tunisia should be alarmed at what is happening nearby. Because of the weakness of the rebellion, the inability of its participants to remove Gaddafi without outside assistance, the door was opened for countries like France, Italy and the US to attempt to reassert a more overt imperial role. Hence, we should not dismiss the possibility that, if social reforms fail in Egypt and Tunisia, resulting in violent conflict, the US, Europe, and, more covertly, Saudi Arabia and Israel, will intervene to render them ungovernable. Such an outcome, analoguous to what transpired in Lebanon in the 1980s and, in a much more extreme case, Algeria in the 1990s, is a more acceptable outcome than the emergence of stable governments capable of charting an independent course. Indeed, it appears that the Saudis are already providing substantial funding to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and there are rumors that the violence between Copts and Muslims is being instigated by outside forces, such as, again, the Saudis. Meanwhile, Obama has publicly announced a carrot for Egypt, a billion dollars in loan guarantees and a billion dollars of debt relief, subject to Egypt's meeting its commitments, a euphemism for continued participation in the effort to crush Palestinian resistance in the occupied territories.

For the occupied territories remain the most vexing problem for the counterrevolutionaries. Despite the efforts of Fatah and Hamas, a Palestinian mass movement has stepped onto the stage in the most spectacular fashion, centered around, horror of horrors, the right of return for people exiled to refugee camps for decades. On Sunday, May 15th, the IDF found itself confronted by thousands of people, insistence upon entering Israel and the Golan Heights to return to the locations where they had once resided. Consistent with past practice when facing large numbers of Palestinians, it fired large ammunition, and, in Gaza, even artilliery shells. 15 died, with many more wounded. As with much lesser episodes of IDF violence, such as, for example, force directed against protests seeking to stop construction of the apartheid wall in the West Bank, there was no condemnation, and, in the US, there was nearly universal political support for Israel's actions. Protests are again planned for this weekend, and the IDF is naturally prepared to respond with force. The protests are an inevitable manifestation of something far more serious, the imposition of social control and surveillance measures throughout the occupied territories by Israel that make it impossible for any peace settlement, other than the creation of a new unitary state throughout all of Palestine, to be implemented. Accordingly, the IDF violence in response to the May 15th protests is a foreshadowing of much greater violence to come, as the segregated society of Palestine, both within and without the occupied territories, can only be perpetuated through the increased application of it.

As a consequence, Syria presents a counterrevolutionary dilemma. Certainly, the US, the Saudis and the Israelis would love to be rid of Assad, particularly because of the relationships that Syria has preserved with Hizbollah and Iran. But there is a serious problem. Assad has maintained control over the Syrian populace when it comes to challenging Israel over its retention of the Golan Heights and its treatment of the Palestinians. On May 15th, Assad either lacked the ability of use force to prevent protesters from attempting to enter the Golan, or had no inclination to do so because of criticism over his repressive measures to retain power. One need only look to Egypt to recognize what the US, the Israelis and the Saudis fear if Assad is removed, a newly assertive populace insistent upon ending collaboration with Israel. With the fall of Mubarak, the situation is so acute that the military is manipulating sentiment against Israel in order to preserve its socioeconomic privileges. A public expression of support for Israel is an act of political suicide, while harsh criticism is received enthusiastically. Thus, there will be no NATO airstrikes upon Syrian targets and the deployment of military advisors to assist the movement. The counterrevolutionary expectation is probably that Assad survives in a much weakened position, but even that is problematic, because Assad would find it much more difficult to impose restrictions upon political activity, as current events demonstrate.

Bahrain is a tragedy, one that will haunt the US much as the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel does. In Bahrain, the US and the Saudis, as discussed here previously, responded to the democracy movement by sectarianizing it, characterizing it as an Iranian inspired Shia scheme to destroy the monarchy. With US and Saudi acquiescene, the Sunni royal family has unleased a sadistic repression, rounding up Shia so that they can be tortured and raped, firing them from their jobs and bulldozing mosques. As stated here previously:

If Salih in Yemen and al-Khalida in Bahrain succeed in suppressing public protest, they will then proceed to impose even more severe authoritarian measures of social control, with the assistance of private contractors recommended by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. As with the current violence, the US will issue public denunciations without adopting any measures to induce Salih and al-Khalida to ameliorate their repressive measures, indeed, as noted, it will instead provide covert aid to intensify them, hidden from public view through the black box of war on terror programs. The poor populace of both of these countries are going to soon find themselves subject to the sort of technological surveillance and violence inflicted upon people in the occupied territories and Afghanistan. The need to economically exploit these people for the benefit of the elites will be the only contraint upon it.

Indeed, the suppression of the Shia has been accompanied by a public relations campaign to assure everyone that all is well, so that people from countries in the developed world will feel comfortable enough to return and enjoy Bahrain as a tourist destination.

The counterrevolutionaires face an inescapable contradiction in Bahrain. In order for Bahrain to be rendered sufficiently stable in order to continue to play a valuable role in the perpetuation of US, Israeli and Saudi hegemony, it must modernize sufficiently to be incorporated into a global neoliberal axis that is hostile to feudalism and sectarian strife. Bahraini modernization therefore requires the creation of a Shia middle and upper middle class that associates their status with the policies of regime. But the Sunni elite cannot retain control of Bahrain without drawing sharp distinctions between Sunni and Shia so as to justify harsh measures against the Shia. In this, Bahrain has disturbing implications for the Saudis themselves. For the US, the problem is a different one. US troops still remain in Iraq, a country with a Shia majority. Opposition to the occupation remains strong, with recent public protests against it. The government does not feel secure enough to enter into an agreement to provide a legal authorization for US troops to continue to be stationed within the country. If they were under any doubt, events in Bahrain reveal what the US really thinks about the social and political empowerment of the Shia. As elsewhere, the counterrevolution is dependent upon the use of military force and repressive measures of social control to prevail, administered to the degree necessary.

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