Arab world waking from 40-year sleep?

The Arab world has been in a state of increasing ossification ever since I started following its affairs closely in 1970. That was the year that King Hussein beat back the Palestinian-radical challenge to his regime in Jordan, and that Egypt’s President Jamal Abdel-Nasser died. Also, the year that Hafez al-Asad’s relatively conservative “Corrective movement” seized power from its more radical Baathist colleagues in Damascus.
1970 was also the year that– in line with the plans announced in the wake of the debacle at Suez 14 years earlier– the British navy finally withdrew from the positions it had long held “East of Suez.”
We can therefore say that 1970 was the year the British handed over the baton of “dominant western power” in the Middle East, to Washington. Washington’s power became considerably strengthened when Nasser’s successor, Anwar al-Sadat, made a strategic shift over from the pro-Soviet to the pro-American camp in 1972. (Kissinger was slow to understand what Sadat was doing. If he had understood, Sadat’s attention-grabbing move of undertaking the 1973 war– with its clearly defined aim of starting peace negotiations with Israel in earnest– could have been avoided.)
So now, let’s go to Liberation Square in downtown Cairo. Right now! With this livestreamed filming of what’s happening there.
This has to be a short blog post. But I want to list the many places in the long US-dominated Middle east in which US power is right now eroding:

    In Egypt, the long-entrenched, US-backed-to-the-repressive-hilt Mubarak regime is facing one of the most serious challenges yet to its control.
    In Tunisia, the long-entrenched, strongly US-backed Ben Ali regime is history, and citizens on the streets and in their gathering places are right now determining how their country will governed in the future.
    In Lebanon, Hizbullah and its allies– who span all the country’s different religious groups– today succeeded in having their candidate, Najib Mikati, named as the next Prime Minister. The pundits at the NYT might huff and puff (and the news editors give massive amounts of space to reporting on how Israel views matters in Lebanon– much more, I think, than they have ever given to how Lebanese people view matter in Israel!) But this is what has happened. And though notable Israeli securocrat Giora Eiland warned yesterday that “Now all of Lebanon looks like Hizbullah, and could therefore be a legitimate target for Israeli attack”– Well, Israel and whose political support is going to undertake such an attack? (The ambitious young US military analyst Andrew Exum parroted Eland’s argument today. Quite without thinking through the many changes in the M.E. region between Israel’s last attack on Lebanon in 2006, and today. Also, back in 2006, did Hizbullah’s much greater distance from the halls of power in Beirut’s Serail save the country from massive devastation by the Israeli air force? It did not.)
    In Palestine, Abu Mazen and his long-entrenched, strongly US-backed “PA” regime are buckling under the facts of its complete failure in its pursuit of diplomacy with Israel and its failure to protect East Jerusalem and other occupied Palestinian land from the depradations of Israel’s continuing colonial juggernaut– as well as under the clear revelation of those facts through the most recent “Palestine Papers” distribution.

Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, and other Arab countries have also been seeing some significant popular unrest… However, one other player in the Middle East is currently notable because it is “the dog that isn’t barking” (pardon the metaphor, which is derived from Sherlock Holmes.) This is Saudi Arabia, which throughout these past 41 years– and most particularly since the killing (assassination?) of King Faisal in 1975– has been a central bulwark of U.S. policy both within the Middle East and far beyond.
In Lebanon, it was the Saudi monarch’s stalwart support of Saad Hariri, and his equally stalwart opposition to the government in Damascus, that sustained (financially and in other ways) the whole anti-Syria, anti-Hizbullah, and “March 14” phenomenon from 2004 until the Doha summit in 2008. And this time around, when Hariri desperately sought the support of King Abdullah in New York, instead of giving him what he sought, Abdullah checked out of playing any continuing active role in the negotiations over Lebanon. So when I say Saudi Arabia is the “dog that isn’t barking” this is not a comment on the absence of popular protest in Saudi Arabia (which may or may not be happening; but it isn’t being reported at this point.) It’s a comment on the fact that Saudi diplomacy is playing no discernible role these days in trying to prop up the pro-U.S. order of which it has for so long been a key pillar.
The Saudi princes are, anyway, locked (as Ben Ali, Mubarak, and so many of the Arab world’s other fairly ossified, US-backed leaders have been) into the long, slow dance of a succession struggle. Quite likely, as the 40-plus princely lines that descended from King Abdul-Aziz negotiate with each other over how the succession (and all those fabulous bennies from ruling Saudi Arabia!) will be decided once the present, very aged King and Crown Prince both totter from the stage, they have little mental bandwidth to pay much attention to anything else outside Riyadh. But I suspect other factors are at play, too; not least, a deep disgust with the effect that 40 years of U.S. domination of the laughably misnamed “peace process” has now so evidently had on the situation in their beloved Jerusalem, and therefore, a mounting disgust with U.S. diplomacy itself.
Well, I shan’t spend too much time here trying to read the motivations of the Saudi princes. Too much of great interest is happening in the Middle East today.
Of course there is no clear picture of where all the present developments will lead. They may or may not topple additional regimes, in addition to those in Tunis and Beirut. We still have no idea how Israel and a long deeply Israel-influenced regime in Washington will react. With or without Israeli or U.S. intervention, we still have no idea at all of the future directions that any “post-American” regimes in the region may take.
But something big is stirring in the Arab world. Thus far, it has been overwhelmingly peaceable, and overwhelmingly based on mass civilian organizing. Those two features of the movement need to be guarded closely.

19 thoughts on “Arab world waking from 40-year sleep?”

  1. Nice Helena. The “Arab world” [good formulation] awakes from a “40-year sleep”; ignoring the 1st Intifada as well as the democratic elections that brought Hamas to power, ignoring the emergence of Hezbollah as thus-far successful and socially rooted movement resisting Israeli power; doubtless there’s much else. But this is what happens when you look only at the top: you get such formulations.

  2. And yet, Max, Helena draws attention to several very important trends suggesting that, though it has long been awake, of course, and though there has lomng been struggle against the region’s many tyrants, the extent and coincidence of the current struggles is noteworthy.
    From the point of view of the American people this growing tide threatens to unseat the capstone of international tyranny: the bi-partisan corporatist elites gathered around a Foreign Policy which justifies and feeds off a Military-Industrial-Congressional complex which dominates US political, social and economic policies.
    Without Mubarak, the ibn Sauds, the Hashemites and their dance partners in Tel Aviv, the permanent war economy becomes an obvious affront to the long suffering and dumb taxpayer.

  3. Dear Max, in my writings I have never ignored the popular movements, including all the ones you mention. You perhaps have not read my writings in the past on the importance of the Palestinian intifada, or the Hamas victory in the 2006 elections and its roots, or the degree to which Hizbullah’s strength is rooted in its decades-long focus on mass civilian organizing?
    But state power is also important. This current post on the blogdeals with that.

  4. When will the Americans, the French, etc. wake up? After all, who is dominating whom in this world?
    Helena, you did block Max Ajl’s and my comments on “Chas Freeman’s somber look at U.S. Middle East policy” ( for -at least- MANY days and then -FINALLY- let them through, with no explanation. This looks like an opaque tactic to hide the truth from your readers.

  5. And when will the USA wake from ITS 40-year sleep? OK, power went to out head and so forth.
    But today? I’ve asked President Obama to instruct his spokesman, Mr. Crowley, to say he MIS-SPOKE when on Jan 10 he praised the Turkel Report (Israeli) and (long ago) dissed the Goldstone Report (UN).

  6. Indeed, its a perfect time to celebrate the energy of these brave activists, as well as the apparently abundant evidence (irony alert) which presently exists revealing what bunk that pervasive myth is – long entrenched in the west – that holds the people of the so-called Arab world simply do not value democracy! Viva the instability of the ‘sign’!

  7. “But I suspect other factors are at play, too; not least, a deep disgust with the effect that 40 years of U.S. domination of the laughably misnamed “peace process” has now so evidently had on the situation in their beloved Jerusalem, and therefore, a mounting disgust with U.S. diplomacy itself.”
    I certainly agree. The Palestine Papers are concerned with the Annapolis negotiations and their follow-up under Obama. Annapolis was what the Saudi’s wanted from the Americans to help make acceptable to their public the formation of an anti-Iran front consisting of Israel and ‘moderate’ Arab states. Now that everyone can see how biased this process was, lining up with the Americans will be a very hard sell. And everyone can also see that it’s no better under Obama (worse actually).

  8. It’s vital to note how different the reporting on these mass uprisings in US-backed authoritarian states are to the media reporting on the ‘green revolution’ in Iran. The current uprisings, which appear to be far more massive and unanimous and NOT rigged by the US, are depicted as violent and dangerous. The authoritarian regimes they challenge are described as ‘tight rule’, and using other creative, friendlier sounding euphemisms for brutal police states.

  9. There has been no indication of any Islamist ideological influence behind the popular protests going on in the many Middle Eastern states. Why then try to make any ties between these protests and religious fundamentalist groups like Hezbollah or Hamas? Why not instead compare these protests against the entrenched regimes with, for instance, the recent pro-Hariri protests in Lebanon, or the protests against the Iranian government over questionable election results? I think bevin and epppie are grafting on these protests their personal ideologies of “international tyranny” and “US rigging” bogeymen. I find these catchphrases as biased as other euphemisms like “tight rule”.

  10. Helena
    You need to add to your Iraq also have boiling points in this matter.
    Today what it called Iraqi army surrounded Shualla Area which west north Baghdad as Iraqi protesting against the security and Green Zone government…
    Those who don’t now Iraq ….Shualla its purlly Shiites Area which most people poor ….
    I surprised that you did not mentioned those “Islamist ideological influence” with Iraqi parties who primarily very “Islamist ideological influence”?
    Is that because they working with US not with there citizen make you ignore their “Islamist ideological influence”?
    قوات الجيش تطوق منطقة الشعلة وتحاول التفاوض مع وجهائها على خلفية الاشتباكات المسلحة
    شتباكات بين مسلحين والجيش العراقي على خلفية تفجير الشعلة

  11. Inkan you are quite right. I don’t know about eppie but I certainly see these events in the perspective of US domination of the region.
    I think that you will find that the pro-Hariri rioting was very different from the movements elsewhere. But maybe I am wrong and throughout the Arab lands there is a yearning to be ruled by US puppets with their curious taste for violent Zionism and Wahabbi bigotry.

  12. Bevin, who are you referring to as U.S. puppets? I did not say that people want to live under authoritarian rulers such as Mubarak and Saleh.

  13. Well, Inkan, I think Bevin is saying that the Hariri dynasty is the paid puppet of Saudi Arabia, which is certainly not a democracy.
    So if a fatcat Uncle Tom sellout capitalist pig “color revolution” bourgeoise is protesting against the revolutionary movement of the poor Shiites in one country, is that really the same thing as the poor victims of the IMF and neo-liberalism protesting against a pro-US dictator in another country?
    Or are these two different fronts in a global class war, where you, personally, must choose whether you are on the side of the poor or the rich regardless of local ideological variations because democracy is worthless when wealth is now so ridiculously polarized?

  14. Super390, bevin will answer me. I reject your “poor or the rich” dichotomy that you try to oblige me to choose. I take inspiration from the popular strength behind both the “color” revolutions of Rose, Orange, Cedar and the popular revolts against entrenched U.S. clients in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen. I don’t see indulging in cartoonish caricatures like “Uncle Tom” or “bourgeoisie” or “capitalist pig” to be any less deranged than indulging in the right-wing lunacies of your oil company colleagues.

  15. Inkan,
    The lunacies of my oil company colleagues are now the official lunacies of the Republican Party and the House of Representatives. They are financed by the capitalists and will deliver trillions in tax cuts to them at the cost of everything else in America. Isn’t this exactly what Marx said would happen in the latter days of capitalism? Am I unfair to paint all the other bourgeoisies in Israel and the imperium who kiss American ass as being headed down this same road of lunacy? I mean, they’re murdering gay people already in Uganda, a country infested with US-funded Pentecostal mullahs preaching the “Gospel of Prosperity”, to wit, dressing and acting like a white American teabagger will magically lead to wealth. Conservative leader Sarah Palin was ordained by Kenyan witchhunter Thomas Muthee at a church in her hometown as a great leader.
    Is the idea of class warfare really crazier than ideas now popular on the US right, like “Obama is the Antichrist” (1/5 of Republicans agreed in a recent survey) or “Obama stole the 2008 election” (1/3 of Republicans) or “Martin Luther King was a Republican” or “the Nazis were liberal socialists”? They use their overwhelming media dominance to indoctrinate the poor with these lies every day.
    These insanities are the rallying cry for the capitalists to hold onto power, and America’s nuclear arsenal, by any means necessary.

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