THE ANGRY ARAB: How to Bring Down a Regime in the Arab World

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Protesters in the Sudan and Algeria have learned from the counter-revolutions and know it is not enough to oust a single tyrant, writes As`ad AbuKhalil.

Leaders May Fall But US Maintains Tyrannies 

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

The persistence of protests in the Sudan and Algeria reveals a change in the tactics of demonstrators and protesters since the beginning of the era of Arab uprisings in 2011.

Those early uprising had a simple but basic slogan: “The people want the downfall of the regime.” But the people soon discovered that while it is difficult to overthrow an individual ruler — given that the tyrannical system in the Arab region is sponsored and protected by Western governments and Israel — it is much harder to overthrow the whole regime.

Within months of the Arab uprisings’ launch, counter-revolutionary forces mounted their assault to restore the tyrannical order: in Egypt by installing military dictator General Abdel el- Sisi; in Yemen by replacing `Ali `Abdullah Saleh with his deputy; in Bahrain by sending Saudi troops in to preserve the regime by force; and in Tunisia by interfering in an election to maintain the regime, while putting new and old faces in the facade.

The Arab counter-revolution is a movement sponsored by the U.S. comprised of two branches: the Saudi-UAE branch and the Qatari branch.  The first branch wishes to maintain the old regime system while the Qatari branch (aided by Turkey) wishes to install the Muslim Brotherhood or its affiliates.  In Libya, the civil war is a manifestation of the conflict between the two branches. The Saudi-UAE is backing the army of Khalifah Hifter, while Qatar is supporting the government, which is recognized by the UN.

Overall, the counter-revolution wants to reverse the tide of popular uprising while guaranteeing the longevity of the regional state system — with the exception of those regimes not aligned with the U.S. and Israel.

Complicated Picture

Because the regimes were so closely associated with the face of the tyrant, Arab protesters wrongly assumed that the ouster of the leader would easily institute the formation of a new regime.  Yet, the picture has proven to be more complicated.  While Arab regimes are led by tyrants, they don’t rule on their own, but with a social-class alliance of beneficiaries.  Furthermore, the U.S. and Western governments in general fund and/or arm Arab regimes to guarantee longevity of rule.  When Western governments speak about the stability of the Middle East they merely mean the stability of their economic and political interests — and the political and military interests of their ally, Israel.

The U.S. has built a complex network of local clients whose survival are not tied entirely to the despot. The U.S. now has organic links with the entire top brass of Arab militaries and with the leaders of the intelligence services.  Those prove valuable to the U.S., and to Israeli occupation and the aim of peace between it Arab countries.

When Mohammad Morsi, who collapsed and died June 17 during a session in court, became the first freely elected president in the entire history of Egypt in 2012, he was not really in charge of Egyptian foreign policy and defense. That remained in the hands of the military command and the intelligence services.  For that, the relationship between Egypt and Israel remained unchanged during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood — partly because the Brotherhood cared more about political power than its own agenda, and partly because the military-intelligence apparatus insisted on preserving control over the national security and foreign policy files of the country.  The U.S. continued to work closely with the apparatus throughout the uprising and forced the Egyptian army to send its special forces to help protect the Israeli occupation embassy after it was set ablaze by angry Egyptian protesters.

US Military Pervades Region

The U.S. Central Command deploys troops throughout the Middle East region (in known and unknown military bases — even, according to Israeli and Saudi media, in Lebanon, which is ostensibly under the control of Hizbullah).

In the name of “the war on terrorism,” the U.S. supervises the training and arming of most Middle East armies and either sells arms to the regimes (like in the Gulf) or donates useless military equipment and antiquated weapons to countries such as Lebanon to appease the local military command, while preserving Lebanese military weakness vis-à-vis Israel.  Similarly, the U.S. also has close relations with the regional intelligence services. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who steadfastly refused to respond to the popular demand to oust Hosni Mubarak in 2011 — famously suggested that the head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleyman, succeed Mubarak (of course the Egyptian people did not fall for the ploy).

The U.S. has invested heavily in the Middle East and would not countenance the swift downfall of its client regimes. It maintains a complicated network of spies and military advisers to protect the tyrants.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that the U.S. represents the biggest impediment to democracy and (real) free elections in the region.

Upper Class Social Interests 

But the regimes also represent upper class social interests.  The U.S. is tied to capitalist regimes in the Middle East which are under constant neoliberal pressures (from the U.S., World Bank and IMF) to engage in more privatization, and to dismantle the public sector and decrease social programs. Those policies (from Egypt to Tunisia) have produced a class of millionaires and billionaires who are closely tied to the fortunes of the ruling regimes and often control the media.

You know it is not a revolution when the ruling social classes have stayed in their places after the uprisings in various Arab states.

Protesters in Sudan and Algeria have learned from the lessons of the Arab uprisings and know full well that getting rid of the tyrant is not enough.  They are now pushing for the full transfer of power into the political hands of civilians, and are calling for a delay in elections (which Saudi Arabia is seeking because it can manufacture the results).

Elections should be the last priority for Arab activists for change: elections serve as a golden opportunity for Gulf regimes and Western governments to influence outcomes through direct funding of candidates and parties and through massive propaganda campaigns for the preservation of the regime.  The last Tunisian election was largely a Western-Gulf counter-revolution intended to save the regime from the tide of the uprising.  It succeeded in installing as president a leftover from the Ancien Régime whose hands are soiled with previous bloody repression.

To have meaningful free elections in the Arab world one needs to control the banking and financial system and monitor the flow of foreign money and interference by Gulf regimes and by Western governments.  You need to end foreign Western hegemony before you can have free elections. Furthermore, in the capitalist economies of the Middle East, elections are increasingly an opportunity for billionaires to ascend to political power.  In the North Lebanon region alone, four billionaires have reached the Lebanese parliament through their wealth in the last two decades.

For the process of the dismantlement of the regime to be completed, there has to be a complete change in the military leadership and the leadership of all intelligence services. Protesters should also insist on putting them on trial because they all have served as instruments of the regime for the purposes of repression and surveillance.  This has not happened in any of the countries that  underwent the so-called Arab uprisings.  There has to be accountability and trials for all members of existing regime, if one is to achieve a full break from the past.

The Arab world has not had a revolution in many decades. Egypt had a real revolution in 1952 but it did not happen overnight.  It took Gamal Abdel Nasser many decades to initiate a thorough-going overthrow of the existing regime and the ruling class. His revolution against the ruling class was logically accompanied by a campaign against all Western foreign influence in Egypt.  Egypt was changed over a decade-long period, during which the average Egyptian worker’s income rose by 44 percent.

We have not had that kind of change in any Arab country since. The West and Gulf regimes don’t want that to happen.  If the Algerians and the Sudanese keep pushing for real liberation, they could shake the power system in their own countries and in the region as a whole. But the counter-revolutionary forces are not sitting idly by.  The U.S. has just appointed a special envoy for Sudan.

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil.

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