Notes on the new Arab Revolutions
Algeria, Tunisia and Sudan are massively mobilizing. They smell like a new Spring.
The process of the Arab Spring that took place between 2011 and 2013 was a revolution that began in Tunisia and quickly spread to Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria. With different intensities and rhythms, it covered 14 countries of North Africa and Middle East. It was the first wave of rebellion of the Arab world in the 21st century.
The demands for food, work and a way out of poverty were synced with the need to overthrow dictatorial governments and regimes, entrenched in the power for decades. The situation became unbearable for the majorities.
In Tunisia Ben Ali fell, in Egypt Hosni Mubarak, and in other countries there were changes and limited concessions. However, in most cases, the wave didn’t end with the generalized fall of governments and regimes, the conquest of democratic liberties and social rights. It also left lessons and a demonstration of the unstoppable strength of the mass movement, of the enormous difficulty of the powerful to definitely defeat those who fight.
The governments and regimes that didn’t fall with the popular pressures have taken the initiative once again. They repressed the people in general and the minorities in particular. They exploit and impoverish the people with the support of the great powers. There are humanitarian dramas of massive migration and refugees, as in the Syrian war under the government of the brutal dictator Bashar al Assad.
The images of the will for change of the Arab people traveled across the world as an example of struggle. However, they found a qualitative limit: the absence of coherent revolutionary leaderships to lead the process, which has, once again, revealed the gigantic contradiction in the existence of heroic movements that obtain limited results.
At the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019 the people of Algeria, Tunisia and Sudan have massively mobilized, there’s a political crisis in Egypt, the regimes in other countries are being socially challenged and the economic situation is unbearable for millions of people. There is a social and political cocktail that is heating up once again.
Faced with this reality, we must wonder, is this a new moment for the Arab Spring in which the people attack again? Or are we in the presence of a new process? Let us go over the current situation in some countries to give an opinion on current affairs and their perspective.
Algeria, against “eternal power”
In 1999, after the end of the Liamine Zeroual government, Abdel Aziz Bouteflika was an independent candidate in the presidential elections. He had a program of national reconciliation with the Islamists and had the support of the FLN, winning with over 75,9% of the votes.
Over time, Bouteflika took advantage of his popular support, acting as if he could do anything. He reformed the Constitution to perpetuate himself in the power, cut down democratic liberties with repression and imprisonment. Under his wing, the most privileged took complete control of the country’s resources to loot them waste them. Evident governmental corruption became common, the mafia in power and the mandates of the IMF wrecked havoc on working people. A criteria of “quickly enriching yourself and ruling for a long time” predominated in the institutions. Public funds were destroyed and the people mistreated, mainly since the third mandate of Bouteflika.
After twenty years in government, satiety and mobilizations emerged. While Bouteflika, 82 years old, was hospitalized at the Geneva University Hospital, thousands and thousands of people, mostly students, took over the streets and called for a general strike, causing cracks among the allies of the government. The regime is weaker than ever before.
For now, the government hasn’t fallen, but, recognizing the blow that the mobilization dealt it, it announced that the president will not seek a fifth mandate. This measure is full of tricks to maintain him in the power. He promised to call for a national “inclusive and independent” conference in charge of starting the “transformation process” with the project of a new constitution, but the elections of April 18 were delayed without a new date and with the formation of a government composed by members of that national conference.
The struggle continues, even having an impact in France, that old imperialist master, where Macron intends to become Bouteflika´s nurse, calling for a “transition of reasonable length” while the Algerian people demand that “Bouteflika must go now!”
We have published two articles about Algeria on the Anticapitalistas en Red website: “When a country rises” and “The mass movement in Algeria, the question of the program”.
On December 17, 2010, the young Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself on fire, bonzo style, after the police confiscated his fruit cart with which he supported his family, leaving him in the most extreme poverty. This was the beginning of the fall of the tyrant Zin el Abidin Ben Ali and the Arab Spring.
In December of 2018, this drama was repeated when 32 year old Abderrazak Zorgui, a journalist in a precarious situation, lit himself on fire. He previously wrote on social media: “I’m sick of broken promises, the are people that have absolutely nothing. There are regions where there isn’t a dime. There are people that are dead, even if they are alive. I’ll protest on my own, I will light myself on fire and if someone finds a job thanks to me, I’ll be pleased… maybe the State will react”.
This expressed the situation of a generation of young people that do not have a future. Until November of 2018, there were 434 suicides or attempts, of men between 26 and 35 years old. “This is a protest suicide, without the attention or support of the government, the political parties or the unions, a lot of young people feel completely helpless and consider that their body is their only resource for protesting”, said the sociologist Abdesattar Sahbani. Poverty and unemployment are structural cancers of capitalism.
It is not casual that the drama of the suicide has repeated once again and that protests have regained intensity. After the events of 2011, a “democratic transition” begun, seeing seven different presidents in power. Yet nothing has changed regarding the unsatisfied basic needs of Tunisians, the unemployed youth in particular. Example of this are the diplomés chomeûrs (graduates on strike), who spend years unemployed or with precarious jobs.
This can also be seen in the reiterated protests of lawyers, teachers, carriers, state workers and other social sectors that have surrounded the government of Joussef Chahed, amid a deep political and social crisis. There are manifestations for gender equality and in defense of the LGBT community, because Article 230 of the Penal Code charges homosexuality with up to three years in jail.
Since 2012, the purchasing power of workers has been lowering year after year, wage raises have always lagged behind inflation. The wage of a teacher is between 900 and 1300 dinars (between 265 and 380 euros). Polarization can be seen in the education environment, were parents stood against teachers’ mobilizations and strikes.
In 2016, the IMF gave Tunisia a loan of almost 2.500 million euros, under the demand of reducing the public deficit, meaning the salary mass destined to state workers. So the government froze contracting and applied wage reductions. The people most affected were 3000 interim workers, whose wage is barely over 250 dinars per month (around 75 euros). For permanent workers, wages reach 265 to 380 euros, frozen in the last years, with an inflation rate close to 8% and the devaluation of the Tunisian dollar. In 2010, the Fund hardened its conditions, aggravating the basic needs of the people. The international loan sharks are the protagonists of many of the social dramas that different peoples around the world have suffered.
The UGTT union, with over a million members, is the most powerful in the Arab world and has turned into the government´s main opponent, calling mobilizations and strikes.
Faced with the absence of a strong alternative of the revolutionary left, the union is also politically postulating itself and is seen as the main advocate of the working class. Although the UGTT spent months demanding the resignation of the government, it now demands a change in the economic path and plans on participating in the new elections. Its leaders openly support the Syrian president Bashar al Assad. This union´s power is an important factor of the current situation.
The economic problems and the poverty of the majorities are worsening in the framework of capitalism and the austerity plans ordered by the international loan sharks.
The government represses the workers and severely limits democratic and gender liberties. There are more than enough reasons for a new Tunisian Arab Spring to begin.
Sudan, bread and freedom
Sudan suffers an inflation rate of 70% and extreme poverty. It went from exporting agricultural products to suffer from a great external dependence. In 2011 it lost three quarters of its oil reserves after the independence of South Sudan.
In the context of a terrible situation for the survival of the Sudanese came the drop that overflowed the glass. For several weeks there was a shortage of bread and on December 18 the government of Omar al Bashir decided to raise the price: from one to three Sudanese pounds (6 cents of euro). The day after the announcement of the decree, a new wave of manifestations began against the poverty and for the resignation of the leader who has been in power for over 30 years, since he headed a coup. To be able to eat and have democracy, basic needs, we must make great rebellions.
The uprising started in Port Sudan and Atbara, and spread like wildfire to Omdurman, Jatum, Al-Gadaref, Dongola and other cities, where the protesters burned the offices of the National Congress Party. It even reached Darfur, where a great conflict has caused over 300.000 deaths and 2,4 million exiled.
In 2013, with the Arab Spring as a background, great manifestations had taken place, led by the student movement. Currently, students and young people take an active part, but the spotlight is now on the Sudanese Professionals Association, integrated by doctors, engineers, teachers and technicians that were joined by a part of the opposition persecuted by the government repression.
The government declared a curfew in the affected cities, deployed the army and the police. In the first 24 hours, the repression caused the deaths of eight people. The government recognizes at least 30 deaths and 381 detained; while the opposition denounces more than 50 deaths and 800 detained. The repression is so brutal that Al Bashir himself cynically asked agents to moderate the use of force.
It is worth recalling that he’s accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur conflict. At the international level, the regime is moderately criticized by the imperialist bloc of the European Union and has Russia, China, Syria, Qatar and Egypt, among others, as allies.
The repression has tricky complements. The president has repeatedly affirmed that he won’t leave power, harshly criticizing the movement that he considers a new Arab spring. To maintain himself in power, he clings to the support of the Armed Forces and political deceits of aperture and dialogue.
In a pre-made speech in the middle of February he said: “I announce the imposition of a state of emergency across the country for a year and the dissolution of the government of the National Consensus and the dissolution of the government of the states”. He proposed the formation of a new government, with a “dialogue process” but without a date and that the Parliament postpone the constitutional amendments that would allow him to be candidate in April 2020.
What is true is that, so far, he hasn’t been able to stop the new Spring wave through repression or deceit. The Sudanese Professionals Association answered: “we’re not interested in the speech of Al Bashir. This is the moment of salvation. Our sole objective is the fall of the regime and immediate transfer of authority to a national government”. The association highlighted that they will not abandon the streets “until their demands are met”, first the “resignation of Omar al Bashir and his regime without conditions”. And called to return to continue the street protests because “the regime is collapsing”.
The opposition has elaborated a transition plan of four years that “starts with the resignation of Al Bashir and the beginning of a government of national unity with the objective of reconciliation and the signing of a peace agreement with the different armed groups that confront the regime of Al Bashir. Such a transition must lead to a reform of the Constitution and the celebration of free and transparent elections”.
March 5 began with a general strike of 24 hours as part of the “pacific resistance” to the government. As is customary when the people protest, the power accuses the protests of being the job of “malign” foreign powers and has sworn to stop them. But the struggle continues.
For now, the mobilization surge has spread to three of the 14 countries that took part in the Arab Spring of 2011, so we will see how far it goes. In the meanwhile, it is valid to make some observations that may help elaborate a revolutionary policy.
Relation. Between the 2011 mobilizations and the current ones, there are common points related to the extreme poverty that capitalism and its governments impose on people, submitted to the orders of the IMF and the policies of the great world powers. And there’s also a correlation in the tyrannies and the deeply severed democratic liberties and human rights.
From prehistory. Aside from the working and poor people, women and LGBT people are also targets. Their gender rights are extremely vulnerable, victims of an institutional violence with archaic legislation based on religious precepts.
The stick and the carrot. In most cases, there are dictatorial governments and regimes, no matter if they took power through elections or coups. They try to perpetuate themselves in power through force or modifying the Constitution to be “re-elected”, with the support of the Armed Forces, proscriptions and persecutions that impede transparent and democratic elections.
The last word hasn’t been said. The struggles in Sudan, Tunisia and Algeria are still ongoing and the results are not determined beforehand. We will see if this reawakening spreads or not, knowing that the social and political malaise exceeds the mentioned countries, so we cannot rule out a contagious effect. It is essential to support the revolting countries with international campaigns against the tyrants and their political and economic allies.
Decaying imperialism. Africa is still victim to the looting of imperialist world powers, of their plans of expansion and political influence, of internal wars and foreign interference. The IMF wrecks havoc on the people, ordering brutal austerity plans and inventing usurer debts. The imperialist bloc of the European Union also acts. The looting of resources and the exploitation is joined by the inhuman actions towards immigrants.
Immigrants. Thousands and thousands of African Arabs, among them many children on their own, women and elderly people, risk their lives and die trying to cross the Mediterranean sea in improvised boats. Although they escape from hunger, misery, repression and war, they are not allowed to enter Europe, are returned to their home countries or allowed to enter one by one in awful conditions to be exploited as cheap handwork. This is how the “advanced democracies” act with their right-wing governments and policies.
What is changing. The experiences of the Arab societies are diverse, according to the social classes and tensions in the struggle. In the governments and regimes a spectrum of realities appears: monarchies, caliphates, tyrannies, Islamic governments (government of divine laws over society) and fake democracies in which pre-authorized options can be voted. There are social and political situations that aren’t dominant in the “nation state”.
Black and white. Apart from the relative issues, there is the permanent presence of the capitalist state. This expresses the problem humanity faces that is expressed in the declaration published by the Anticapitalist Network and the Turkish SEP: “The capitalist system is constantly proving that it is not capable of overcoming the economic crisis, imperialist wars and the escalated class struggle. The imperialist system attacks workers’ rights, stirs up ethnic and religious bloodshed all over the world, carries out invasions, strengthens fascist parties, puts democratic rights aside, advances in the environmental destruction of the planet, and brings sexist, homophobic, nationalist and religiously authoritarian capitalist leaders to power to try to overcome its crisis and current deadlock.”
With the method of the Transition Program. The strategy of making governments of the workers and the people, with regimes of workers democracy and free federations among different peoples. On that path, the method of the Transition Program is a great tool when it comes to formulating revolutionary socialist answers. There are unavoidable points to defend: stop the repression, imprisonments and deaths. Liberation of political prisoners, punishment to the political culprits and the armed forces. Stop of the austerity plan, hunger and poverty. Out with the IMF, the loan sharks and exploiters. Down with the dictatorial regimes and governments, out with the foreign imperialist powers. Stop the war between brother nations. Constituent processes can be important so long as they are imposed by the masses, with great popular participation to democratically debate and decide, not as a power trap to make partial changes that do not change anything and have the sole objective of hanging on to power.
Against the counter-revolutionary brutality of the governments and imperialist powers, there are social sectors that choose to support the Islamic State. It is a false option that intends to establish political institutions based on religious precepts. The terrorists methods of IS go against the freedom that say they seek.
The desire for change of the mass movement still hasn’t found an alternative, a new leadership that goes for a radical solution. This is a repeated component and intensifies the need of building anti-capitalist and leftist political alternatives, and revolutionary socialist parties with mass influence, at a national and international level. These are the great tasks we assume in the Anticapitalist Network and the Turkish SEP in the path of founding a new international organization.