Tahrir Square. (Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy / flickr)

In order to provide an intelligible understanding and analysis of the current situation in the Middle East, especially regarding Syria, it is important to briefly discuss the current Middle Eastern context within the larger frame of U.S. and European imperialism.

Throughout the last year, people all over the globe – especially on the left, the young and progressives – have been living the excitement of the achievements of the peoples in various parts of the Arab world, especially Tunisia and Egypt.

I am sure that also many of us were cheering for the NATO invasion – at the request of most members in the Arab League – which at the time we thought of as a life-saving intervention!

Well, I hate to state at the very beginning how naive and deceived we all have been, definitely by the whole process of NATO’s invasion of Libya, and also by the “Arab Spring”, which I strongly believe has turned into a Dark Fall if not a nightmare for the peoples of these countries.

Tunisia: Women’s rights pushed back 

We all remember the enthusiasm of the hundreds of thousands of Tunisian women and men who were in the streets demanding a true democratic change in their country: change which bring a new constitution, true and free elections and the betterment of Tunisian women and men.

Less than one year later, we have a government led by none other than the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood), whose internal and external policies are not only neo-liberal but quite conservative and even reactionary. With this new government, while the economic conditions for the majority of workers and the poor has hardly changed, if at all, the condition of women has undoubtedly been dealt a big blow.

We all know the significant social and gender achievements made throughout the years due to the struggle of Tunisian women. The current government is doing its utmost efforts to strip the women of the product of their historical achievements.

The new constitution of Tunisia has yet to be written, and the society seems to be on hold until then. Externally, what was under Ben Ali’s regime somewhat discrete, in terms of the country’s dependent relationship, has become quite public: full dependence on U.S. imperialism and the IMF.

This economic dependency comes with its social austerity measures and political ramifications, including the Tunisian government’s role, position and policies regarding Syria. This position has led the government to be a silent tool used by the U.S. to implement the latter’s new imperialist designs in the Middle East. 

Egypt: The struggle continues for bread, dignity and independence 

The Egyptian case, while more complex, is no less disappointing than that of Tunisia or Libya. Here again, we all recall the three famous slogans which were raised during the revolution: “A’ish” (Bread), “Karama” (Dignity) and “Hurriyya” (Independence).

Well over a year later, the lot of the Egyptian workers, peasants, poor and the middle class has hardly changed. No independence was achieved. Quite to the contrary: the U.S. seems to be holding a tight grip on the both the government and the military. The dignity of the Egyptian people has been stolen away from them.

Equally disappointing in the Egyptian case, which is still to produce a new constitution is the replacement of the Mubarak regime with none other than the Ikhwan again. Egypt has always had a strong political Islam movement, which was forced underground by the Mubarak regime.

The difference now is not only in that the movement became public and in control of the country but also in the emergence of various aspects of Islam(s) from the Salafi movement – very reactionary, anti-women and anti-democratic – to the moderates, the neo-liberals and the rational ones who seem to be silenced. Once again, the implications of such a regime for millions of Egyptian women has been quite devastating.

Still, the worst scenario in the so-called Arab Spring has been the case of Libya. Tens of thousands of Libyans have been killed, cities and communities have been devastated and the whole country left in shambles. It did not take too long for us on the left to realize that the game in Libya was one of a big imperialist design: keep the Libyans fighting their tribal wars (a situation which never existed during the Qaddafi regime), split and divide the country and control the oil.

On dependence and ‘normalization’ with the U.S. and Israel

The movement of the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) has existed throughout the Arab world for many decades before the so-called Arab spring. It has been, at least in rhetoric, anti-Israel and anti-Zionism, declaring itself as the “liberators” of Palestinians and Al-Aqsa. What existed before the “spring” is not what we are witnessing today both in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt.

For example, the Mufti of Egypt made a visit to Israel, and while he was escorted by Israeli military police he declared he did not see a single soldier around the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Of course, his statement outraged many Arabs, Muslims and especially Palestinians, and the Al-Aqsa Mufti called him a liar. The Libyan Abdel-Jaleel government is in a great mess and talking about normalization with Israel.

It is no secret that normalization between Arab countries and Israel has been on the top of the U.S. and Israeli agenda, and has been seen as the most important step in the U.S. control over the Middle East and the imperialist effort to end Arab national and anti-colonial movements.

It is worth noting here that ‘normalization’ is only one of the main imperialist agendas in the Middle East. The other issue worth our attention here is the means by which the U.S. is intervening directly in the internal politics and security of these states, as well as in ensuring full control over the regional and international policies of Arab countries.

For example, at the beginning of this month, the Egyptian Military Council said it had identified a number of CIA spies operating under the coverage of various NGOs in Egypt, especially those dealing with issues of ‘human rights’, ‘democracy’ and ‘development’. The Military Council placed these persons under arrest until their trial, while the U.S. government kept threatening the Council with withdrawing their funding unless these were released (note that the U.S has also reneged on their earlier promise to release the billions of dollars the Mubarak family and friends have invested in U.S. banks.)  Just before the time came to take these alleged spies to court, we learned that they had been freed from their capture and flown back to the U.S.

In Egypt, more ethnic and religious killings (of Copts) has happened since the ‘Spring’ than at any other previous time during the Mubarak regime. And in Libya, more ethnic, tribal and sectarian killings are occurring since the ‘Spring’ than at any time during Qaddafi.

The ‘Spring,’ or rather Fall, Arab people are left with now is characterized by total chaos, divisions, tribal fighting, religious, ethnic and sectarian rivalries.


Later this week, Part II of this article will look at imperialist goals with respect to the situation in Syria. 

Nahla Abdo (Ph.D.) is an Arab feminist, political activist and Professor of Sociology at Carleton University, Ottawa.

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