GEORGE BUSH and Tony Blair are terrified that the US and Britain’s pummelling of Afghanistan will lead to upheaval across the Middle East. That is what is behind all their talk of ‘losing the media war’.
‘Some governments, including those of Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf sheikhdoms fear that further American actions could inflame their populations and destabilise their governments,’ reported the Observer on Sunday. Only Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has spoken in favour of the bombing. US officials are dismayed that this is the only vocal support they can drum up for their bombing campaign. But even Mubarak, a repressive dictator, has to worry about revolt from below.
‘Mubarak has a problem that many of his people find it impossible to back anything that the US is behind,’ said one Egyptian journalist last week. The US and Britain are especially worried about what happens in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two key allies in the region.
The attack on Afghanistan is increasing bitterness against both these regimes. ‘An increasing number of Arabs are airing their anti-American views publicly and shedding their fear of the local secret police, identifying themselves,’ wrote Dilip Hiro, an expert on Middle East affairs, last weekend.
‘The Americans say their target is Bin Laden, and then they strike at innocent people in Afghanistan who have nothing to do with terrorism,’ said Samar al-Naji, a bank clerk in Saudi Arabia. ‘They strike Muslims while ignoring the acts of Israel-a terrorist state-which is demolishing Palestinian homes, and killing women and children.’
The Saudi Arabian regime had to tell Blair to stay away from the country last week because of fears of the response of the population to his visit. Even the Oman military, traditionally a close ally of the British government, has expressed concern at the military action.
‘I have a lot of Omani military friends here,’ said a senior British commander in the country.
Although they broadly agree with the end of what is trying to be achieved, what they disagree with is the means. ‘The cynical view is that Bush has been given a bloody nose, and now Bush wants to give Afghanistan a bloody nose back. Bush said that he wasn’t interested in firing $2 million missiles to blow up $10 tents or blow a camel up the arse. But they think that’s what he is doing.’
There are growing splits amongst the US establishment about the effects that the bombing of Afghanistan is having in the Middle East. One section around US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfield wants to go on and target ‘rogue states’ like Iraq and Syria. But another section around Secretary of State Colin Powell is terrified that is a recipe for instability, or even revolution.
THE ARAB regimes have no mechanisms by which the mass of people can freely express their feeling either about the local regime or its Western allies. This means that when opposition emerges it does so suddenly and violently. The biggest challenge the Egyptian regime has faced in recent years was in January 1977. An increase in the price of bread led to a sudden outbreak of strikes, demonstrations and riots in all its 13 main cities.
The movement that arose a year later in Iran and culminated in the overthrow of the Shah of Iran-one of the great pillars of US power in the region-was equally unexpected.
What we can say with certainty is that all the regimes in the region are frightened that the US and Britain are stirring up forces they may not be able to keep under control. Reports from Saudi Arabia suggest that much of the university educated middle class is sympathetic to Bin Laden’s talk of confronting the US and Israel, with videotapes of him circulating widely.
Dilip Hiro goes so far as to write, ‘The current battle in Afghanistan is about the future of Saudi Arabia.’ The most visible forms of opposition to the existing regimes come from various Islamic political groups.
This is because they are sometimes able to use the mosques to express their views.
It is also because the non-religious forces that led the nationalist movements of the 1950s and 1960s are often seen as identifing with the privileged Westernised elite. But the Islamic political groups themselves come mainly from a layer of the middle class that is cut off from the mass of impoverished workers and peasants.
They do not lead mass strikes or peasant resistance. Indeed, in both Egypt and Algeria they have resolutely opposed these things when they have broken out. Even when it comes to organising student protests, the initiative often comes from the non-religious left.
Meanwhile the Islamic political groups look either to infiltrating the existing state or to acts of individual terrorism. In some cases they have acted with the state against those who oppose it in the interests of the masses.
This has been especially true of the two Islamic parties in Pakistan, which were working with the country’s secret police until the government decided it had to support George Bush’s bombing of Afghanistan. None of this, however, alters the basic fact. Wars have often ignited revolutions.
George Bush and Tony Blair are terrified this can happen right across the Middle East. When we demonstrate in Britain against the war we are part of a global movement against imperialist slaughter. Our protests are an important act of solidarity.
TONY BLAIR met Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in London this week in an effort to reassure millions of people across the Middle East that the US and Britain want to secure a just peace for the Palestinians.
Blair told Arafat that he supports the creation of a Palestinian state. George Bush recently stated that ‘the idea of a Palestinian state has always been part of a vision.’ This is part of our cynical attempt to shore up Bush and Blair’s so called ‘coalition against terror’.
Palestinians have been promised their own state before. Bill Clinton, then president of the US, launched the Oslo peace process in 1993. This agreement between the US, Israel and Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organisation was supposed to create a Palestine state in the Occupied Territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Israel would retain control over vast areas of the territories that they have illegally occupied since 1967. Under the plan there would be small cantons in these areas under Palestinian control. Israeli troops would control the roads and the surrounding areas.
Israel would continue to control much of the water resources. Very few of the hundreds of Israeli settlements, inhabited by violent right wing fundamentalists, would be disbanded. There are 400,000 settlers living in the territories. Their numbers have increased during the Oslo process. Jerusalem, an Arab city for centuries, would continue to be controlled by the Israelis.
The 3.5 million Palestinian refugees scattered across the world would not be allowed to return to their homes in Israel. For the vast majority of Palestinians things have got worse since 1993. Unemployment and poverty have increased.
It was this state of affairs that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are revolting against in the new intifada. Now Bush and Blair want to return to the Oslo ‘vision’-a weak Palestinian state militarily and economically dominated by its neighbour and key US ally, Israel. Israel is continuing its policy of assassinating Palestinian activists despite the present ‘ceasefire’.
Just hours before Yasser Arafat came to Britain, Israel killed Abed Rahman Hamad, the thirtieth Palestinian to be specifically targeted and assassinated since last November.
Powerful protests keep up the pressure
Wilders gained from the nomalisation of racism
Musheir El-Farra escaped Gaza just last week