The choice is imperialist war or class war
The North African and Middle Eastern countries, hard-hit by the effects of the world economic crisis, were also shaken throughout 2011 by social unrest. The social events that followed the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi have still not been fully extinguished even today. Following these events, the governments and even the regimes of many Southern Mediterranean countries were compelled to change or step down.
These movements which went into history as the ‘Arab Spring’ are changing the entire political structure of North Africa and the Middle East. The global or regional bourgeoisies are trying to reestablish the political balance.
Evaluating the situation in Egypt and Syria, two countries where the social unrest and clashes aren't at an end yet, is important because there is a need for a correct analysis, especially given the recent exacerbation of the Egyptian streets following the football provocation in the town of Port Said and the protests against the Muslim Brotherhood regime, and the increasing importance of the war in Syria with the escalating regional imperialist conflict in the background. This will necessarily mean we will have to also deal with other conflicts in this region of ever-heated imperialist tensions, which rivals the economic crisis in the US and the EU for the spotlight of the world's attention. Thus in order to explain the meaning of what is going on in the Middle East, we will try to explain the aggressive foreign policy of Iran in the region, as well as Turkey's efforts to become a regional actor and the side it took in the Syrian war by supporting the opposition, as well as the attitudes of other countries.
We think it is necessary to be careful regarding certain points while evaluating the events. The most basic point is obviously to situate the events in world politics by looking at them from an internationalist perspective and determining more accurate and coherent positions on the basis of the class struggle. Another point is to define a general framework to show that the events taking place in the region were not revolutions, by determining the role of the working class in the events and its significance for the development of class struggle on an international level. We hope to resolve certain confusions about the events while doing this. Since the question of the revolution requires further clarification than can be attempted this article, however, we will not go into this topic in detail.
To begin with, it would be beneficial to state this: when the events erupting in Tunisia expanded to Egypt, we can say the workers took part in the events, as limited as this participation was. The ICC’s Turkish section published an article in the period the events were taking place. In this article we evaluated how much and to what extent the workers took part in this movement. As we all know, the working class hasn't been able to gather these events around its own axis and develop a total struggle with its own demands.
On the other hand, en-Nahda (the Renaissance Party) led by Rashid al-Ghannushi won the National Constituent Assembly elections held on October 23rd 2011 in Tunisia. This party has roots in the same tradition as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Following the events which started in January 2011, all that really changed for the working class of Tunisia ended up being the party in government, and the exploitation of wage-labor continues for the workers. We can now see a similar process taking place in Egypt under the Morsi government..
To be able to look at the events closer and understand their background, it is necessary to analyze the positions of the more powerful imperialist states as well as the regional ones. Countries such as Iran, Turkey and Israel can be characterized as the main regional powers; the stronger imperialist states that need to be considered, aside from the US obviously, are China and Russia, especially with regard to their relationship with Syria and the events in Egypt.
The Imperialist Tendencies of Iran and Turkey
Iran is asserting itself as a regional power in the Middle East and shapes its foreign policy accordingly. The most basic reason for this is its concern to be the strongest opponent of Israel in the region. For Israel is, without a doubt, the leading military power of the region. Iran builds all the relationships it develops on this basis. In order to strengthen its claims, it makes efforts to create a political, economic, and even military unity based on Shiite identity. One of the most important developments regarding this Shiite unity is the fact that the Shiite Maliki is the Prime Minister in Iraq, and the largest power faction in post-Saddam Iraq is made up of the Shia. The others are the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Nosairi-dominated Baath Party which has been ruling Syria since 1963. Iran intends to use this sectarian unity led by itself against Israel as well as the US.
The Iranian economy is based on petrol and natural gas, and the state owns 80% of the economic investments. Iran owns 10% of the world’s oil reserves, and 17% of the world’s natural gas reserves. Having such large oil reserves gives Iran the capability of maneuvering more easily compared to other developing economies of the region.
The internal contradictions inside the Iranian regime remain unresolved and no solution appears to be on the horizon. The most fundamental reason for this is the increased economic and political pressures the Iranian bourgeoisie has imposed on the working class in the pursuit of its imperialist aims. The movement taking place following the 2009 Iranian elections can well be described as the beginning of the social events making up the so-called Arab Spring. While there was an effort to portray those who took to the streets and filled Valiasr Square as the followers of Mir-Hossein Moussavi, it was the workers and unemployed youth who clashed with the bourgeoisie's forces of repression (the Revolutionary Guard) in the streets of Tehran. The events taking place following the 10th Presidential Elections might have started because of the claims that Ahmedinejad had rigged the elections, but the discontent was based on different issues and ran much deeper, and soon started developing an antagonistic, class quality. Afterwards, when Moussavi, a bourgeois reformist, made a call to stay away from the streets, his efforts weren't taken seriously by the masses and was even answered with slogans such as “Death to compromisers!”. The greatest weakness of this spontaneous movement was that it lacked class demands and that the workers participated in the movement mostly as individuals. The workers filling the streets as such didn't have the organs which would shape their class identity and enable them to express themselves politically. There was only a single strike, which was limited to a single factory. This movement still has an important potential in Iran nevertheless, and can reappear in a period of instability or harsher economic conditions. The experience of the workers’ councils in 1979 in Iran when the Shah was overthrown still carries important lessons for the Iranian working class.
It is also necessary to go into Iran's relationship to world capitalism, and the role it assumes within it. We can say that Iran's closest partner is Russia. A strategic partnership, based primarily on arms and nuclear energy, exists between the two countries. Unlike China, Russia is an energy producer and would benefit, up to a point, from tension in the Middle East that caused oil prices to rise. The construction of nuclear plants in Iran brought to the minds of many the possibility of the regime making nuclear weapons rather than merely producing energy. While this has meant that Russia has had to take a certain distance from Iran on the issue of nuclear energy, Iran remains the most important arms customer and strategic partner for Russia. Iran has signed a twenty-year energy agreement with its other partner, China. The relationship between these two countries has an entirely economic basis. China buys 22% of Iranian oil. Buying Iranian oil for cheaper prices compared to the world market, China supplies its economy with strategic energy products. This situation has a very significant role to play in the Chinese economy which is based on cheap production costs.
The nuclear investments, the efforts to create its own arms technology and recent military drills in the Straits of Hormuz all show that Iran wants to couple its economic strength in the region with military power. This means being ready for a regional or an international war and having a say in the Middle East thanks to its military strength. The drill in the Straits of Hormuz can be regarded as an exercise in self-assertion against the US, Israel and other Arab countries, demonstrating Iran's military might in the strategically important Straits of Hormuz through which passes 40% of the world’s oil. Despite the sanctions of the US and the EU against Iranian petroleum, Iran further roused inter-imperialist tensions by threatening to close down the Straits altogether. The oil that passes through the Straits is an alternative to Iranian and Russian petroleum, in other words a rival. Such a tactic also increases the strategic importance of the Russian oil pipelines north of the Black Sea. This race for power built on oil transfer plays a key role in developments in the Middle East.
The fact that Iran has significant oil reserves and the potential to dominate the Strait of Hormuz enables it to find partners internationally. That said, while it appears to be a state which is strengthening its influence, Iran’s internal class dynamics are giving its ruling class sleepless nights and will continue to do so.
Turkey said nothing when these social movements first appeared in the Arab world. However, it is necessary to point out from the start that it was Turkey that managed to make most profit out of the period of instability created by the North African events.
An examination of the relationship between Turkey and Syria and the phases it went through will help us see the background of the position it is adopting today. With its policy of zero conflict in foreign policy initiated in 2005, Turkey aimed to increase its political and economic influence in the region and in this framework it tried to improve its relations with Syria, which traditionally had been poor. These two bourgeois states which had chronic problems previously took steps to resolve them during the last ten years. The issues of the past began with the question of Hatay, continued with the water problems of Syria due to the dams built on the rivers Tigris and Euphrates and the fact that the PKK had its military camps in Syria for a long time.
The US occupation of first Afghanistan and then Iraq changed all the politics of the region. As the US wantedTurkey to be more active in the region, a series of steps were taken to improve relations with Syria. State visits were organised, one of which occurred immediately after the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, an opponent of Syria. The Turkish bourgeoisie was to be the first to give international support to the Baath regime, which was isolated and in trouble regionally following the assassination. Evaluating the situation as an opportunity to increase its influence in the region, the Turkish bourgeoisie aided the Assad regime in its days of hardship. Afterwards, relations were further improved with a series of diplomatic visits and gestures. This period was to witness the highest amount of diplomatic traffic between the two countries. Afterwards the “High Level Strategic Cooperation Council”, founded in 2009, included a series of economic, political and military joint investments and agreements. This council, which saw the abolition of visa requirements between the two countries, joint military exercises, the application of a customs union and free trade, constituted a historic peak in the relations between Syria and Turkey. These agreements, creating the possibility of opening up into the Arab world, also gave Syria the possibility of opening up into Europe. Syria, an old enemy for Turkey, was a now a friend. This rapprochement was supposed to be based on a “Common history, common religion and common destiny”. This relationship lasted till the rebellion against Assad started. It was at this point that the Turkish bourgeoisie suddenly turned its back on Assad.
As the events in the Arab world spread to Syria, the Sunni Arab union against Assad came into being. Supporting this movement directly, Turkey left behind the happy days when the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and Assad spent their family holidays together. The formation of the Syrian National Council in Istanbul and the military officers that formed the Free Syrian Army taking refuge in Turkey were both developments which clearly showed that Assad’s opponents were being openly supported by Turkey. The reason for the new policy was Turkey’s intention to maintain its position as a power with a say in the region by supporting the dissidents, who it seemed would certainly come to power, in order to maintain the level of relations achieved in the Assad era. Yet it soon turned out that with Russia and China openly defending the Syrian regime, Assad wasn't going to be removed easily. Turkey therefore changed course and started trying to increase international pressure rather than making statements directly targeting the Assad regime. In order to pave the way for a possible NATO operation, Turkey became an active participant of the Friends of Syria Conference and acted together with the Arab League. All these developments demonstrate that while Turkey generally tends to pursue a foreign policy suiting an ally of the United States in the Middle East, it is capable of acting on its own from time to time and having a say in regional power politics.
Besides, we can say that by strengthening its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, which makes up a large part of the opposition to Assad, as part of its plans regarding the future of Syria, Turkey also intends to strengthen its hand with the parties with roots in the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia, which are certainly part of the same web.
As for the relationship between Turkey and Egypt: following Mubarak's fall from power, Turkey has made efforts to improve its relations with Egypt. We can say these relations have two aspects. The first one involves the imperialist tendencies of the Turkish bourgeoisie. The second is its effort to fill a role in the shaping of the new regime. Wanting to export its regime as well as its capital, the Turkish bourgeoisie is attempting to build ties to the Justice and Freedom Party formed by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt through the ruling Justice and Development Party in Turkey. When the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan took up an anti-Israel attitude over the “One Minute” crisis and the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship which was part of a flotilla carrying aid to Gaza, he gained a certain popularity in the Arab world. After these populist policies, Erdogan toured Egypt, Tunisia and Libya with seven ministers and three hundred businessmen. These visits were built on the basis of the Justice and Development Party's secular Islamic model and Tayyip Erdogan's most prominent message both in Egypt and in Tunisia was that of secular Islam, or a Muslim but secular state. And the world press following this visit served up Erdogan's model as an alternative to Saudi Wahhabism and the Iranian Shiite regime. This of course was no coincidence. Tayyip Erdogan had stressed secular Islam in his speech in Tunisia, saying “A person isn't secular, a state is”. And the US had specifically stated that a Muslim country such as Turkey had a regime which was both secular and also parliamentarian. We have evaluated this phenomenon in the past. It is necessary to stress again though that Turkey is indeed trying to strengthen its hand in the Middle East and in Egypt by exporting its own regime against Saudi Wahhabism and the Iranian Shiite regime.
At the same time, Western imperialist powers want the region to gain stability as soon as possible and they want the formation of regimes fully coherent with liberal capitalism which would keep the regions markets open to them, and the most appropriate example at hand is the Turkish model.
Syria on the Road to Civil War
Commentators thought that when the social events in Tunisia spread to Egypt, it was going to be difficult for Baath-type regimes to stand against such movements. Syria was included in the countries to be hit next. Assad was expected to stand down faced with the opposition. This did not happen however. Assad attempted to suppress the demonstrations which erupted in the town of Dera and expanded to cities such as Hama and Humus, shed a river of blood and still keeps doing so. The events which begun on March 15th, 2011 are still going on and no matter how long Assad is expected to last, how and when these events will end remains uncertain.
In order to understand the events in Syria more clearly, we need a better understanding of the ethnic and religious groups in the country, since those who defend the Assad regime as well as those who oppose it define themselves by their ethnic or religious identities. 55% of the Syrian population is made up of Sunni Muslim Arabs, while the Alawi Shiite Arabs make up 15% of the population and Christian Arabs make up another 15%. 10% of the population is made up of Sunni Kurds and the remaining 5% is made up of Druze, Circassians and Yezidi. There are also over two million Palestinian and Iraqi refuges living in Syria.
The greater part of the opposition to the Assad regime is made up of Sunni Arabs. As for the Kurds who are in a key position with regards to the political balance in Syria, some of them support Assad while some are part of the anti-Assad Syrian National Council. The other ethnic groups support the current regime because they fear for their future under a different regime. The Nosairi Arabs, another important stratum, is the ethnic group which has dominated the Baath regime in Syria for years.
The first initiative against the Baath regime gathered under the name of the Syrian National Council. This organization, formed in Istanbul on August 23rd 2011, contains all the opponents of the Assad regime aside from a fraction of the Kurds. Following the split among the Kurds who are in the most strategic region of Syria in regard to Turkey, Iran and Southern Kurdistan, some of the Kurds have joined this council. The main body of the council is made up of Sunni Arabs, who as we said make up the largest portion of the opposition to Assad. If we remember the fact that Syria is the country where the Muslim Brotherhood is strongest after Egypt, we can say that it is they who are leading the movement at the moment. Actually, this is not the first Sunni Arab uprising against the regime. In 1982, the Muslim Brotherhood rose up against Hafez el-Assad (Bashar el-Assad’s father) in a rebellion which was bloodily suppressed: between seventeen and forty thousand people were killed. It is highly probable that this organization, which forms the crux of opposition to the Baath regime, will come to power following Assad’s overthrow. What makes this the strongest possibility is the fact that parties formed by the same organization in Tunisia and Egypt won the elections.
The General Secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, Mohammad Riad al-Shafka, stated in an interview that they could cooperate with global and regional forces in the framework of mutual interests, explaining the opinion of his organization about what they might do following the fall of Assad. In the same interview, al-Shafka states that they can't compromise with Assad under any conditions and there is a need to overthrow the regime, demonstrating that the war will continue to become more and more violent.
The Baath regime is supported by a non-negligible degree of ethnic and religious groups compared to the opposition groups. The largest of these is the Nosairi. The Assad regime is socially made up of this sect. The entire elite stratum, military structure and bureaucracy of the regime consists of Nosairi Arabs. In this sense, the Nosairi are in a privileged position in Syria. This privilege is both political and economic. An end to the Baath regime will put the Nosairi in a difficult situation: since members of this sect have had political power for so long and have maintained it using totalitarian methods, this has created deep enmities and will result in a hunt for revenge. For this reason, they will want to prevent Assad from standing down, even if he wants to do so himself. As for the Christians, the Druze, the Circassians and the Yezidi, they supported the Baath regime out of fear of the Islamic fundamentalism of the most likely candidates to replace Assad. However this situation could change overnight.
The Kurds are in a different position, and this position is a trump card of the Assad regime in the current reality. Until last May, the Syrian Kurds were forced to live in such conditions that they did not even have official medical clinics and their political representatives were imprisoned by the Baath regime. Although they had rebelled against the regime from time to time, these movements had either been suppressed or died down. An example of this was the events in the Kurdish town of Qamislo in 2004. At the same time, different imperialist powers tried to use the Kurds against the Baath regime from time to time. Following the beginning of the events, Assad changed his attitude towards the Kurds and released Kurdish political prisoners. He even declared that an autonomous Kurdish government was to be founded in the North. There are two reasons why Assad became so important for the Kurds. The first is that eleven Kurdish parties formed the Kurdish National Assembly of Syria with the support of Massoud Barzani. This pushed Assad to reaching an agreement with the Kurds, but also pushed some Kurds towards integrating into the Sunni Arab opposition. In response to this, Assad gave an amnesty to the leader of the Kurdish nationalist Democratic Unity Party (PYD) , Salih Muslim, enabling him to organize and speak at pro-government demonstrations. In short, Assad attempted to gain an influence over the Kurds and divide the opposition, and he partially succeeded.
However, the Democratic Unity Party (PYD) decided to boycott the elections on February 26th and announced that there was nothing for the Kurds in the new constitution. It can be said that through the direct or indirect representatives of the Syrian Kurdish bourgeoisie outside Syria, the KDP and the PKK are pushing to gain ground in the Kurdish region of Syria which is in a key location. Barzani wants to dominate the Syrian Kurds through the Syrian Kurdish National Assembly. And the PKK is determining the politics of the Syrian Kurds through its relationship with the PYD, and is at the same time gaining strategic ground both against the Turkish bourgeoisie and its own Kurdish rivals, in particular Barzani.. It seems like the Kurds who had been oppressed by the Baath regime for years and years will have a role in determining its eventual future.
It is also necessary to mention Syria-Israel relations. The first point is regarding the Golan Heights. The second is regarding the military presence and the political influence of Syria in Lebanon. These two bourgeois states have been at war over these two issues for years. Yet the beginning of the events in Syria complicated the relationship between Israel and Syria, since it is now said that the Israelis are negotiating with the Baath regime they were fighting against before, out of fear of the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power. Israel is extremely uncomfortable with Islamic regimes gaining power in the Middle East, and its attitude to the Assad regime has been significantly affected by this situation.
It is also necessary to look at how and to what extent the working class participated in the events in Syria. Of course, the working class did make up a significant portion of the masses in the streets. Yet the problem is that the Syrian workers did not even manage to put forward a reaction such as the one expressed by the workers in Tunisia or Egypt. Tragically, the Syrian workers expressed themselves through their ethnic or sectarian identities within the events. This puts in perspective what the events in Syria were based on. On the day the observers of the Arab League were to arrive in Syria, the opposition made a call for a general strike and later, aside from this call which was largely ignored, there actually was a one day general strike, yet again under the influence of the opposition. This was described as an act of civil disobedience: those who wanted the Assad regime gone did not have any class based demands. Other than that, pointing out that the participation of the employers and the shopkeepers in the strike was as great as that of the workers, if not more, should demonstrate clearly enough the nature of this strike. Aside from this the Syrian workers lacked any collective presence in the events whatsoever and sided either with Assad or with the opposition as individuals.
Although Bashar el-Assad declared there were to be reforms and elections, the new constitutional referendum was boycotted by the opposition, which shows that either the Baath regime will go down or the opposition will be suppressed following a bloody war. For there seems to be no room for reconciliation between the two bourgeois fractions. On the other hand, the Russian and Chinese support which Assad enjoys seems to have blocked a possible UN intervention. The fact that Russia, with its military base and arms market, and China with its energy investments, protect Syria on the international level is obviously related to the interests of these two states. Taking these relationships into consideration, we can say that Assad's departure won't be like that of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. Although it was thought that with similar regimes going down one by one faced with mass demonstrations, Assad's regime would soon be torn into pieces, now it seems clear that in line with the desires of the Nosairi elite, Assad won't go down easily and the intensity of the civil war will escalate.
Egypt: A Market for Cheap Labor
Following the departure of Mubarak, it was announced that a new era had begun for Egypt. Yet Egypt, home to one of the most populous working classes of North Africa and the Middle East, remains unstable. The identity crisis of the bourgeoisie remains unresolved in Egypt and has heated up following the Port Said provocation and the more recent protests against Morsi.
The most important reason the North African events spread to Egypt was that the unemployment rate and the numbers of the population living under the poverty line were very high, as they were in Tunisia. 20% of Egypt's population lives in poverty, more than 10% of the population is unemployed according to the official figures, and more than 90% of the unemployed are young people. The official figures do not exactly reflect the truth, and the real rates are higher given wide-spread unofficial employment in countries like Egypt. The Egyptian economy already had some basic accumulation problems and has been further weakened by the deepening of the world economic crisis, so that growing unemployment and poverty rates paved the way for the downfall of Mubarak. The Egyptian bourgeoisie had tried to solve these structural problems previously with the Open Door Policy it adopted in 1974. By doing this, it took the road of closing the deficits created by its own capital with foreign investments. Yet due to political instability, it has not been able to improve matters much. Today, foreign capital investments remain as low as 6% of Egypt's GNP. By worsening unemployment and poverty, the Egyptian economy has further increased the burdens on the back of the working class and this resulted in the revolt of 2011. Nevertheless this situation didn't result in a generalized class movement.
The working class of Egypt is the most massive in the region. The existence of this mass of workers with such an important potential for struggle created an exceptional situation when they entered the movement, but the workers didn't take to the streets saying we will overthrow the bourgeoisie. This movement was limited to strikes of about fifty thousand workers and did not manage to decisively mark the Tahrir demonstrations with the seal of the working class. Nor did they manage to escape from the axis of limited economic demands coupled with pro-democratic bourgeois demands. Of course there was no communist political intervention in the events. Obviously, even if there had been it is hard to say the result would be different; however it could have made a contribution towards the generalization of demonstrations and strikes.
What will the economic policies of the post-Mubarak era be based on? Without a doubt the Egyptian bourgeoisie promises the working class another paradise of exploitation. As we have stated above, the Egyptian economy suffers from structural problems in the accumulation of capital. For a full integration into the world economy, only one thing is necessary: the extraction of surplus value. The process of shifting from agricultural to industrial production which begun in the Mubarak era will without a doubt continue when the new balance of forces within the bourgeoisie is established. Thanks to its cheap labor potential, the bourgeoisie will base the Egyptian economy on the intense exploitation of labour. The chances of the Egyptian economy to attract investments will increase if it offers cheap labor to the world labour market.
Another point which needs to be covered is the political competition among the bourgeois forces in Egypt. When the opponents of the Mubarak regime took over Tahrir Square, most of the bourgeois movements of today did not exist. These elements started appearing only after Mubarak's position was weakened. The greatest political structure in post-Mubarak Egypt is undoubtedly the Muslim Brotherhood. Another significant force is the radical Islamist Salafi movement with its increasing influence. It has to be said that the army still remains a major power in Egypt’s political life. In the first elections after Mubarak’s downfall, the Justice and Freedom Party formed by the Muslim Brotherhood got one third of the votes,,followed by the Salafiyyah who managed to get 25%. The Salafi are the more radical of the two Islamist organizations and a great majority of their votes came from the countryside. The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, is more moderate and pragmatic politically and economically. They even formed alliances with some secular parties in the elections. This shows that a bourgeois political force ready to serve untamed capitalism in foreign policy and internally alike in every way imaginable will be determining the lives of the Egyptian workers.
Workers ambiguously and irregularly raise their heads in the tides of Egyptian politics. One such incident was the recent events in Port Said. The provocation made during a football game resulted in the deaths of seventy four people. Pitting the fans of the two teams against each other - even letting men armed with sticks and knives into the stadium and then locking the gates - the police wanted to take revenge on the fan group Ultras Ahlawy. Many scenarios were talked about in the wake of the provocation, and all the bourgeois forces tried to make use of the situation for their own interests. Voices saying the army should give power to the civilians were raised following the events. Yet it would be naïve to miss the fact that the real motive behind the provocation was the fight for power. Although the slogan of the Ultras Ahlawy who led the clashes against what happened - “A crime has been committed against the revolution and the revolutionaries. This crime will neither stop nor intimidate the revolutionaries!” - sounds very much anti-system, the demands of the movement were limited and did not meet with a full-fledged echo in other parts of the working class. There were calls for a general strike against the brutal repression of the demonstration at the hands of the army and among the demands raised in this call for a strike were “the Military Council to step down and justice for the martyrs of Egypt”. This situation, also reflected in the slogans in the streets, showed that nothing had changed for the working class.
In the aftermath of the demonstrations against Morsi’s assumption of special powers, we can say that this movement seems to have ended in a similarly confused way. The initial protests against Morsi, centred in Cairo in late 2012, certainly reflected very widespread social discontent as well as deepening distrust in the solutions offered by the new Muslim Brotherhood government. But the protest movement seems to have been dominated by the secular opposition, raising the spectre of the working class being caught up in a clash between rival bourgeois factions. The situation was further complicated by reports of strikes in the textile centre of Mahalla and of a mass meeting which declared the ‘independence’ of Mahalla from the Muslim Brotherhood regime. Some reports even talked about the “Mahalla Soviet”. But here again the influence of the bourgeois democratic opposition could be seen in the singing of the national anthem at the end of the meeting, while the call for a symbolic ‘independence’ reflects a lack of perspective: workers who are fighting for their own demands need above all to generalize their struggle to workers across the rest of the country, not cut themselves off behind the walls of localism. Nevertheless, the working class in Egypt retains a huge potential for struggle and has not suffered any major defeat at the hands of its class enemy. It is very far from having spoken its last words in the situation.
Although we said at the beginning that we won't go into this question in depth, we nonetheless feel it necessary to make a few comments on the question of the revolution. The social transformation we call the revolution is not merely a change of current governments or regimes; the revolution means the entire economic structure, the means of production tied to the relations of production and the form of property completely changing in every respect; it means the working class declaring its power in the form of the workers’ councils. Yet such a transformation has not taken place following the events in North Africa. Thus, referring to these movements as revolutions means either that there is no understanding of what the struggle of the proletariat is, or it betrays an ideologically bourgeois approach to the matter.
This is not to say that these movements were without value for the proletarian struggle. The events in North Africa inspired hundreds of thousands of proletarians in all parts of the world, from Spain to the United States, from Israel to Russia and from China to France. Besides, despite all its shortcomings, the experience of the struggle has been immensely important for the working classes of Tunisia and Egypt.
One of the most significant developments of the last year has been the development of social conflicts inside Israel and Palestine. The massive street demonstrations in Israel in the summer of 2011 were provoked by social questions such as housing, as the demands of both the war economy and the economic crisis are making daily life increasingly difficult for the majority of the Israeli population. The protests explicitly identified themselves with the movements in the Arab world, raising slogans like “Mubarak, Assad, Netanyahu are all the same” and calling for affordable housing for both Jews and Arabs. Despite difficulties in posing the thorny questions of the war and the occupation, this movement clearly contained the embryo of internationalism. And it has been echoed more recently by the demonstrations and strikes against the rising cost of living on the West Bank, where Palestinian workers, unemployed, pupils and students ruthlessly criticised the Palestinian authorities and clashed with the Palestinian police. For all their weaknesses, these movements have reaffirmed that struggling around social and class issues is the premise for the unification of the proletariat across and against national, imperialist conflicts.
But this is more a promise for the future: the weight of nationalism remains extremely strong and will have been reinforced among both Israeli and Palestinian populations by the recent military attacks on Gaza. So while the inspiration and the experience coming from these struggles are in themselves victories of sorts , the practical and the immediate situation for the proletariat of North Africa and the Middle East can be described as nothing less than grim.
On both sides of the conflict between the regime and the opposition in Syria are the local bourgeois powers, but also the regional and global bourgeois powers with their political relations and interests. The current reality pushes the US, EU, Israel and Turkey into one camp while Russia and China seem to be taking positions with Iran and Shiite Iraq. And while this is the general perspective, all the forces aside from Iran and Israel might change attitudes if their interests demand it. Besides, Israel's overtures towards the Syrian government show that even these states are flexible to an extent.
This picture shows that the regional and global powers are preparing for a ruthless imperialist conflict. In Syria today, proletarians are tearing each others’ guts out by their division into sects and ethnicities. There is no doubt that this is the characteristic that all wars in this region will assume. On the other hand, the formation of a regime with strong Islamic tendencies is highly possible in Egypt and this can further inflame the situation in the region and yet another shift of the conflicting bourgeois forces might happen again. Nevertheless, while all these conflicts taking place or to take place in the future represent destruction for the working class, the potential for the destruction of this parasitic system feeding on the exploitation of wage-labor remains intact. The working class needs international struggle. And this is precisely where we've tried to express ourselves and attempted to contribute to the class struggle.
 Also known as Alawites, Alawi Shiites and Ansaris, a somewhat unorthodox sect deriving from Shia Islam. Shia or Shiites refers to the Arabic followers of Ali, the prophet Mohamed's cousin and son-in-law and the Fourth Caliph of Islam. The main division in Islam is between the followers of Ali (the Shia) and the Muslim majority following Muawiyah (the Sunni), the first Caliph of the Ummayad Dynasty.
 The Arab Socialist Baath Party, the ruling party of Syria, has numerous sections in different regions of the Arab world and has its roots in the 1966 split in the Baath movement which was divided in two, one faction being led by Syria and the other being led by Iraq.
 As of 2011 Iranian oil accounts for about 11% of Chinese energy needs – not an insignificant amount (moreover, it also accounts for 9% of Japan's energy needs; South Korea and Europe are, or were, also major importers). See http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2012-01-19/sanctioning-iranian-oil-save-tomorrow
 Turkey annexed the Hatay province including the cities of Antakya (Antioch) and Iskenderun (Alexandretta) in 1938-39 from Syria as a result of a series of manouvers.
 Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan or the Kurdistan Workers Party, a former-Stalinist Kurdish nationalist organization mainly active in Turkey but also operating in Iraqi and Iranian Kurdistan.
 The dynastic rulers of the Syrian Baath regime, the Assad family, have been ruling Syria since 1970. Hafez Assad remained in power until his death in 2000, when he was succeeded by his son Bashar Assad who is still the ruler of Syria.
 A pro-Syrian opposition gathering held in Tunisia.
 One of the world's oldest and largest Sunni Islamist political movements, the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 as a fascist party. Today, the Muslim Brotherhood is on the moderate and liberal side of the Islamic movement and is banned neither in the United States nor in the United Kingdom. The organization has been very popular with its mixture of charity with political activism, and exists in the entire Arab world as well as several other African and Western countries.
 A center-right populist “Muslim-democratic” party comparable to the Christian Democratic parties of Europe
 Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan left the Davos summit in 2009 after interrupting the moderator by repeatedly saying “One Minute” in order to speak against the Israeli Shimon Peres.
 In March 2004, during a chaotic soccer match, a riot started when some people started raising separatist Kurdish flags, hailing Barzani and Talabani, turning the match into a political conflict. The riot expanded out of the stadium and weapons were used against police and civilians of non-Kurdish background. In the aftermath, at least 30 Kurds were killed as the security services re-took the city.
 The President of the Kurdistan Region Government in Iraq, Massoud Barzani, is the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the son of the leader of the Kurdish nationalist peshmerga guerillas and previous chairman of the KDP, Mullah Mistefa Barzani.
 Partiya Yekitîya Demokrat, or the Democratic Unity Party, is a Syrian Kurdish political party affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK.
 While internationally recognized as Syrian territory, the Golan Heights have been occupied and administered by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
 Ultras Ahalwy are a fan group of the Cairo football team Al Ahly who have been very active in the movement leading up to the downfall of Mubarak and afterwards.