Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Egypt: disturbing trends above, contradictory trends below

28 March 2011. A World to Win News Service. Recent events in Egypt indicate attempts by the US-backed military regime to restabilize the situation on a basis that goes against the aspirations and expectations of many of the youth and others who toppled Hosni Mubarak. The attacks on women demonstrators in Cairo 8 March were a weather vane. There is a rising cold wind representing a convergence between the regime, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists as a force standing against basic social change, and what must be frankly seen as the force of tradition and backwardness that is contending with the people's deep longing for liberation. What was called for as a "Million Woman March" on International Women's Day, in a reference to one of the final demonstrations before Mubarak was forced out, did not reach its goals. The crowd in Tahrir Square numbered only a few hundred or a thousand at most, according to news reports. But it was extremely important in two ways. First, the radicality and relevance of its demands for equal rights for women can be seen in the viciousness with which it was attacked. Second, it brought together a broad section of women, especially but not only young, including women wearing hijab (head scarves) and those whose heads were defiantly uncovered. Some men came out with them as well. These are brave forces with broad roots who are determined to keep the movement going forward. The protest was surrounded by a far larger crowd of men, who heckled them and chanted that women's place is in the home. There was a long period of shouting and debate. Some men argued that this demonstration, held in honour of the martyrs of the anti-Mubarak movement as well as demanding rights for women, was an insult to men. They were incensed by the women's demand that women be allowed to run for the presidency, since, they said, women shouldn't be involved in politics at all. The women persisted in the face of verbal and physical abuse and danger. Many argued vigorously with their accusers. Groups of women and men fought to free women who were being grabbed at and abused. Army security forces in the square did not intervene, except to fire shots in the air at the end as the demonstrators were finally forced to withdraw. Women participants have described the men's behaviour as similar to the crowds of pro-regime thugs who violently attacked the anti-Mubarak protests earlier. This is a complicated question, since at least some of the crowd of men seen in video footage are clearly Islamists, who ended up supporting the anti-Mubarak movement. Interviews and participants' accounts give little reason to believe that it was hard to get together a mob of the same kind of ordinary men who routinely harass and sometimes abuse ordinary women on Cairo's streets, whether wearing hijab or not. (Four out of five women report having been subjected to this, and two out of three men admit having subjected them to it, according to a survey taken in 2008 by the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights widely believed to be accurate.) The following day the army did intervene in Tahrir Square – to clear it of the remaining demonstrators and finally tear down their tents. Although the protest camp was far smaller than in the days leading up to Mubarak's ouster, it was a symbol and rallying point for those who feel that far more change is still required. More than 190 people were arrested. The army targeted the women for some of the most vicious treatment. According to an Amnesty International report based on interviews with women protesters, at least 18 were held in a military detention centre in a Cairo Museum annex near the square. They were handcuffed, beaten with sticks and hoses, and subjected to electric shocks in the chest and legs. Forced to strip naked, their pictures were taken and they were told that the photos could be used against them in the future. Officers demanded to know whether or not they were virgins and submitted them to degrading "virginity checks". They were told that those who were not virgins would be charged with prostitution. All of the women were brought before a military court. Several received suspended one-year prison sentences. They were all released 13 March. Women were at the forefront of the anti-Mubarak movement, and the general atmosphere in Tahrir Square was mainly supportive of their presence. For weeks, up until the day when Mubarak fell and men sexually attacked an American woman reporter, women reported little or no harassment. Several told reporters that for women daily life in the protest camp was like paradise compared to the humiliation they faced on the streets. For millions of Egyptians, Tahrir Square represented the possibility of a different kind of society. The military's behaviour on 9 March basically put their stamp of approval on the mob attacks on the women's rights demonstration the day before. Bad as this is, it is part of an even worse larger picture coming into view. This became fairly plain in the referendum the military held 19 March, meant to clear the way for parliamentary elections within a few months. The military chose a panel to decide what issues to put to a vote and the date. The panel's instructions were, "Get this over with quickly." The referendum was to approve changes to the 1971 constitution. One proposal was to eliminate the changes Mubarak had made to allow him to stay in office indefinitely – which of course the people themselves had already overruled. There was also a proposal to allow candidates to run as independents. This would allow the Muslim Brotherhood to run for parliament as long as they did not officially represent their party, which cannot run in its own name because the constitution bars parties constituted along religious lines. The new parliament could change that. Symbolically, at least, the most important item on the referendum was the addition of a clause forbidding an Egyptian president to have a "foreign" wife. This item combined male chauvinism, national chauvinism and religious intolerance (a popular current of opinion blamed Egypt's woes on alleged female influence on its presidents – Mubarak and his predecessor Anwar Sadat were married to women with English Christian mothers). The mob that attacked the 8 March demonstration had also objected to the presence of foreign women among the protesters. The junta has tried to send some conciliatory messages to the protest movement. The former Interior Minister and other Mubarak regime figures now face trial for killing demonstrators – after protesters led by former political prisoners in Cairo and Alexandria stormed the Amn Dawla (State Security Investigation Service) headquarters and brought out incriminating documents that overworked paper shredders had not yet had time to destroy. The new Interior Minister announced that the SSIS, the secret police whose agents reputedly number in the hundreds of thousands, would be dissolved and replaced with a new organization. A major protest demand was met when Ahmed Shafik, a military man Mubarak, in one of his last acts, had made Prime Minister, stepped down and was replaced by Issam Sharaf, Mubarak's ex-Transportation Minister who came to Tahrir Square to express solidarity with the protesters. However, the decades-old state of emergency is still in force and being viciously wielded. It authorises the military to arrest people and hold them without charges or bring civilians before a military tribunal. Not all of Mubarak's political prisoners have been released, and perhaps a thousand people arrested since Mubarak's fall are still being held. Some have already been sentenced to five years in prison. Currently the ruling military council is considering legislation to make demonstrations and sit-ins illegal. The military's focus on the referendum and early parliamentary elections, then, is not driven by a desire to let the people speak freely, become informed and make decisions but to channel and silence the protest movement and establish a new legitimacy for the rule of the same classes and many of the same men who have long ruled Egypt. Holding parliamentary elections soon, observers agree, would short-circuit the long period of ferment and political and social debate that the military clearly wants to avoid, and favour two parties: Mubarak's National Democratic Party, whose extensive patronage network brought it millions of members, and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Mubarak regime's relations with the Brotherhood were contradictory. Men associated with the Brotherhood served as high officials in part of his government. Mubarak, like Sadat, modified the once secular constitution to declare that Sharia (Islamic religious law) is the source of Egypt's civil law. While for a long time the Brotherhood was allowed to operate semi-openly despite its supposed illegality, in later years Mubarak also manoeuvred to cut down their influence and exclude them from parliament. The secret police jailed and tortured their rank and file members by the thousands. The Brotherhood at first boycotted the movement to get rid of Mubarak, then joined it when it seemed to have a real chance to win. "There is evidence the Brotherhood struck some kind of a deal with the military early on," Elijah Zarwan, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group told The New York Times. The ICG is an authoritative source because as a think tank working out future Western policy it is supported by former heads of state and officials of imperialist powers. "It makes sense to the military: You want stability and people off the street. The Brotherhood is one address where you can go to get 100,000 people off the street." The Brotherhood can do more for the military than get its own members off the street. In recent days Islamist forces have been scuffling with secular people who want to conduct street protests themselves. There are somewhat different trends within the Brotherhood, and outside its ranks is a widespread Salafist movement whose declared aim, unlike the Brotherhood, is strictly religious rule. But there seems to be a trend for Islamic forces in general to oppose attempts by secular forces to continue the protest movement. When the new "pro-revolution" Prime Minister Sharaf came to address a crowd in Tahrir Square, the prominent Brotherhood figure Mohamed al-Beltagi was standing beside him. The referendum seems to have represented the implementation of this new unholy alliance. Although almost two-thirds of the country's eligible voters didn't bother to cast a ballot, all the constitutional changes the military had allowed to be put up to a vote were overwhelmingly approved. To judge by reports from Cairo, Brotherhood officials and members brought people to the polls, queued them up and told them how to vote (and chased away people suspected of being a "no" influence.) At first Brotherhood leaflets pronounced that it was a religious duty to vote for the amendments and that the object of the referendum was to confirm Islam as the regulator of political and social life. Later, when this was widely criticised, they said that a vote for the amendments was a vote for stability. No one can doubt that this is true – a certain kind of stability, the kind that suffocated Egyptians for so long until the rebellion. It is no surprise that millions are still asleep, many wilfully. Now the question is whether or not the millions who have awakened to political life and dared struggle for big changes in their lives, their society and their world are going to be silenced. In this situation, the International Women's Day demonstration, objectively and in the minds of a great many people, both those who supported it and especially those who hated it, embodies a central element characterizing the two roads Egypt faces. The demand for equal rights for women on all levels of law and in practice defies one of the most deeply rooted and extensive features of this society. As in other countries, in Egypt the patriarchal subjugation of women is a basic part of the glue holding together a whole network of relations of exploitation and domination. It is essential to the rule of those classes that both represent these relations and have become junior partners to imperialist monopoly capital and foreign political domination. Further, even in the imperialist (monopoly capitalist) countries where women have won formal (legal) equality through struggle, the logic of the capitalist system has not met and cannot meet the deeper demands for the liberation of women from the powerful persistence of patriarchal domination and old and new chains of inequality and oppression – or in other words, the yearnings that motivated most of the women who demonstrated in Tahrir Square 8 March. How relations will work out between between Egypt's US-trained, financed, armed and lauded military and the variety of Islamic forces is still to be seen. But it has become clear that whether women should go home or keep marching has already become a political dividing line between those who are overjoyed to have thrown out Mubarak but are still unsatisfied, and the most ferocious opponents of social change, those who feel that things have gone far enough or too far already, and want to bring the social upheaval and effervescence to a halt.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

CEDP Speaking Tour to End the Death Penalty

CEDP's National Speaking Tour 2010-2011

Lethal Injustice: Standing against the death penalty and harsh punishment.

A speaking tour to look at what’s behind our massive prison build-up, why so many people of color are locked up and what we can do about it.

Coming tour dates include April 7 - University of Texas-Austin, April 13 - New York City, April 15 - University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, April - University of Chicago, Chicago, April - De Paul University, Chicago

From death rows to super-maxes, over 2.3 million men and women sit behind bars today. "Lethal Injustice" speakers are organizing on the front-lines of the fight against criminal injustice, taking a stand against the racist, prison build-up and harsh sentencing.

Book a Tour stop today! Bring Tour speakers to your campus or community : Email for more info.

This national speaking tour will be featuring panelists including, exonerated prisoners, family members, activists, lawyers and scholars.

Mark Clements - former police torture victim, sentenced to life without parole as a juvenile

Martina Correia – sister of Georgia death row prisoner Troy Davis

Jordan Flaherty - journalist and community organizer; author, Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six

Lawrence Hayes - former Black Panther and New York death row prisoner

Victoria Law - author, Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women

Anthony Papa - Rockefeller drug law survivor; author, 15 to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom

Marvin Reeves - exonerated police torture victim, released in 2009 after serving 21 years

Yusef Salaam – exonerated in the Central Park jogger case

Paul Wright – editor, Prison Legal News

Past Dates Include:

February 17 - Wilmington, Del.

February 18 - Rowan College, Glassboro, N.J.

March 9 - University of Southern California, Los Angeles

March 19-20 - Left Forum Conference, New York City (pending)

March - Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Mich.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Rahim Rostami deported from Norway to Iran in danger of torture or death at Tehran’s Evin prison

An Iranian-Kurdish asylum seeker extradited from Norway to Iran is in danger of torture, ill-treatment or death at Tehran’s Evin prison

Wednesday 23 March 2011

[English] [فارسى]

Iran Human Rights, March 23: According to reports that reliable sources have given to Iran Human Rights (IHR), an Iranian Kurdish asylum seeker who was extradited from Norway to Iran on February 9th 2011, is in danger of torture, ill-treatment or even death at Tehran’s Evin prison.

Rahim Rostami (19 years old) whose asylum application had been rejected by the Norwegian authorities was arrested by the Norwegian police on February 8th and extradited to Tehran, accompanied by two Norwegian policemen, on February 9th. After being handed over to the Iranian authorities he has been taken to interrogation and later to the notorious Evin prison where he is being held now. According to sources IHR has been in contact with, Rahim has spent many days in solitary confinement.

Iranian authorities have refused releasing him on bail.

Rahim Rostami sought asylum in Norway in 2008, when he was a minor. Norwegian authorities rejected his asylum application and decided to send him back to Iran. In the rejection letter the Norwegian authorities have stated that " We have no reason to believe the asylum seeker (Rahim) will be subjected to persecution, ill-treatment or imprisonment upon his return to Iran".

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the spokesperson of Iran Human Rights urged the Norwegian authorities to do whatever they can do in order to save Rahim’s life. He said: "Norwegian authorities must take their share of the responsibility for Rahim’s imprisonment in one of the world’s most notorious prisons". He added: "It is not clear what charges are raised against Rahim, but the fact that the Iranian authorities have refused to release him on bail indicates that his case is very serious and that his life could be in danger". Amiry-Moghaddam also urged the human rights organizations, the civil society and Rahim’s friends in Norway to start a worldwide campaign to save Rahim Rostami’s life.

On extradition of Iranian asylum seekers to Iran, Amiry-Moghaddam said: " Iranian authorities have recently signalized that Iranians who have sought asylum abroad should be charged for "dissemination of false propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran" and punished for that. This means that seeking asylum by itself could be a reason for the Iranian authorities to subject the asylum seekers who are extradited to Iran, to persecution, imprisonment and ill-treatment.

Amiry-Moghaddam urged the authorities of Norway and all other Western countries to immediately stop extradition of Iranian asylum seekers to Iran.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Egyptian women protesters forced to take 'virginity tests'

23 March 2011

Amnesty International has today called on the Egyptian authorities to investigate serious allegations of torture, including forced 'virginity tests', inflicted by the army on women protesters arrested in Tahrir Square earlier this month.

After army officers violently cleared the square of protesters on 9 March, at least 18 women were held in military detention. Amnesty International has been told by women protesters that they were beaten, given electric shocks, subjected to strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers, then forced to submit to â??virginity checks' and threatened with prostitution charges.

'Virginity tests' are a form of torture when they are forced or coerced.

"Forcing women to have 'virginity tests' is utterly unacceptable. Its purpose is to degrade women because they are women," said Amnesty International. "All members of the medical profession must refuse to take part in such so-called 'tests'."

20-year-old Salwa Hosseini told Amnesty International that after she was arrested and taken to a military prison in Heikstep, she was made, with the other women, to take off all her clothes to be searched by a female prison guard, in a room with two open doors and a window. During the strip search, Salwa Hosseini said male soldiers were looking into the room and taking pictures of the naked women.

The women were then subjected to 'virginity tests' in a different room by a man in a white coat. They were threatened that "those not found to be virgins" would be charged with prostitution.

According to information received by Amnesty International, one woman who said she was a virgin but whose test supposedly proved otherwise was beaten and given electric shocks.

â??Women and girls must be able to express their views on the future of Egypt and protest against the government without being detained, tortured, or subjected to profoundly degrading and discriminatory treatment,â?? said Amnesty International.

"The army officers tried to further humiliate the women by allowing men to watch and photograph what was happening, with the implicit threat that the women could be at further risk of harm if the photographs were made public."

Journalist Rasha Azeb was also detained in Tahrir Square and told Amnesty International that she was handcuffed, beaten and insulted.

Following their arrest, the 18 women were initially taken to a Cairo Museum annex where they were reportedly handcuffed, beaten with sticks and hoses, given electric shocks in the chest and legs, and called 'prostitutes'.

Rasha Azeb could see and hear the other detained women being tortured by being given electric shocks throughout their detention at the museum. She was released several hours later with four other men who were also journalists, but 17 other women were transferred to the military prison in Heikstep

Testimonies of other women detained at the same time collected by the El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence are consistent with Rasha Azeb and Salwa Hosseini's accounts of beatings, electrocution and 'virginity tests'.

â??The Egyptian authorities must halt the shocking and degrading treatment of women protesters. Women fully participated in bringing change in Egypt and should not be punished for their activism,â?? said Amnesty International.

"All security and army forces must be clearly instructed that torture and other ill-treatment, including forced 'virginity tests', will no longer be tolerated, and will be fully investigated. Those found responsible for such acts must be brought to justice and the courageous women who denounced such abuses be protected from reprisals."

All 17 women detained in the military prison were brought before a military court on 11 March and released on 13 March. Several received one-year suspended prison sentences.

Salwa Hosseini was convicted of disorderly conduct, destroying private and public property, obstructing traffic and carrying weapons.

Amnesty International opposes the trial of civilians before military courts in Egypt, which have a track record of unfair trials and where the right to appeal is severely restricted.

Western powers grab for Libya

21 March 2010. A World to Win News Service.

The Western powers now bombarding Libya like to pretend that their so-called humanitarian intervention is something new in the world. It would be something new and amazing if the US and Europe were fighting to liberate an oppressed people, but that's not what's happening.

What has now been rebranded as ''humanitarian intervention'' is just as old as what apologists for nineteenth-century colonialism called the ''white man's burden''. And it is no more new than the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, similarly touted as acts taken to rid the people of tyrants, which in fact just brought those peoples even more misery and on top of that foreign occupation.

Our indictment of the Western powers rests on two main arguments based on evidence whose truth would be difficult to deny: what these powers have done in the past, from the late nineteenth century through now, and why they have decided to respond to the Arab spring by singling out Libya for attack. Taken together, an examination of these two questions demonstrates that the West's current actions represent not a break with their colonial past but a continuity.

To start out with the present, without upholding Gaddafi in any way, what has he done to Libyans that other Arab rulers have not done to their own people?
The repression in Bahrain is at least as vicious as in Libya. We are talking, after all, about a movement that initially demanded nothing but legal reforms and not the dismantlement of a regime. Yet Bahrain's security forces have responded with a viciousness rarely seen anywhere else, opening fire on crowds with pistols, rifles and .50 caliber machine guns. Their speciality has been the use of shotguns firing bird shot pellets, so that the number of seriously wounded people is enormous.

People everywhere were rightly outraged when Gaddafi's forces drove up to a Tripoli demonstration in an ambulance and then jumped out shooting. The same thing has happened on an even larger scale in Manama, Bahrain. The security forces there surrounded and burst into the main hospital complex, beating and shooting patients, threatening and beating medical staff, and even arresting a surgeon as he operated on a wounded patient. They are still occupying that hospital and preventing anyone from entering or leaving.
What kind of ''humanitarian intervention'' did the world witness in Bahrain? Troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates poured across the border in tanks and armoured vehicles to support the beleaguered monarchy.

US President Obama rang up the Saudi and Bahraini monarchs and gave them some personal advice. What he told them is not known publicly, but we do know what his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: she called for both sides in Bahrain to abstain from violence and when asked, specifically refused to oppose the Saudi invasion. While she called for ''dialogue'', she refused to criticize the regime for arresting the leadership of what used to be the legal opposition, or for banning demonstrations and any other political activity. She didn't even threaten to cut off US military aid to Bahrain.

Why? Because of Bahrain's strategic importance at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the dependability of its rulers from the point of view of Western interests, and especially the importance of Saudi Arabia in keeping the region backward and American-dominated.
The very fact that the Bahraini royal family represents a privileged Sunni elite ruling over and against a Shia majority makes this regime extremely dependent on US and British support and therefore pliable to their wishes. This kind of ethnic politics in the interests of empire is much like what the British did in South Asia and Africa.

Even the Western media gives the Bahraini rulers the kind of free pass it never gives Gaddafi. Parroting the US and UK official narrative, the Shia movement for their rights is presented as a ''sectarian conflict'', completely ignoring the question of justice. This is not very different than portraying the Sri Lanka Tamil struggle against being crushed by the Sinhalese rulers or the Black South African struggle against white apartheid as simply unfortunate ethnic rivalries.
The West's pretext is that if they didn't support this absolute monarchy where all major government posts are in the hands of the royal family and there isn't even a parliament, then the majority might be susceptible to Iranian influence, which would be a threat to the Saudi royal family (eastern Saudi Arabia, where the oil is concentrated, is largely Shia) and therefore American and Western interests.

Why is it right for the US and the UK to dominate Bahrain and wrong for Iran to do so (if that were the only alternative, which it isn't)?

The main reason why Bahrain exists as an independent country in the first place is because Britain took it from Iran and allied with the clan that has ruled it for more than two centuries.

And exactly how ''independent'' is a country that is little more than a parking lot for the US Fifth Fleet? What is that fleet even doing there in the first place? It's not "containing" Iranian ambitions since it was put there when Iran was still run by a US client regime. How independent is a place where the Saudis explicitly have the last word, a place whose separate existence seems to be useful above all because it provides an environment where the religious fanatics of the Saudi elite, like their counterparts in Iran and the US, can enjoy the prostitution that is the inevitable accompaniment of their imprisonment of women in their homes, and the alcohol that helps make military service tolerable for American sailors?
And why, exactly, does Saudi Arabia exist, if not because Britain found it useful to bring into existence and because it has been of such service to the UK and US? And why is the rule of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia by god's earthly representatives any better than the same kind of rule in Iran?

In short, for the West, right and wrong are defined by interests – imperialist interests.
Regimes like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are not necessarily what the US and UK would like to have. Clinton said she was "alarmed" by Bahrain events, and that's probably true, not because of the loss of life but because they make for unwelcome political instability and come at an inconvenient time for the West.

In fact, as seen in Libya, not necessarily every US-friendly despot of today will necessarily be around tomorrow. To paraphrase a nineteenth-century British politician, the imperialists have no permanent allies, only permanent interests.

But what kind of society does the US & Co seek to perpetuate throughout the Middle East, including Libya?

Clinton said she was "thrilled" to be in Cairo's Tahrir Square during the referendum held by the military, which doesn't mind letting people get distracted by the choice of making minor adjustments to the legal order. Most of the clauses in question had to do with limits on a president's term in office, largely irrelevant now that history has vetoed Mubarak's bid to be president for life. The military also added to the constitution a ban on any president marrying a non-Egyptian woman. This is a stinking expression of male chauvinism (it means that a woman president is unthinkable) and religious intolerance, as if what was wrong with Mubarak and his predecessor Anwar Sadat was that they were married to women whose mothers were English Christians. One thing the military did not put up to a vote is the constitutional clause defining Sharia as the main basis for Egyptian law.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the military's choices for this referendum gave its seal of approval for the vile male attacks on women who gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square to celebrate International Women's Day and call for women's rights a week before Clinton's visit. Is this what "thrilled" Clinton? Or was it the fact that the junta hasn't dropped the generations-old state of emergency or released all political prisoners?

Who is claiming to "liberate" Libya?
To look at the other leg of our indictment, look at just who it is that is bombing Libya.
The attack leader was France, which already had its warplanes in the air when the Western nations met to consider a course of action. They started bombing even before the 19 March meeting was finished.

France immediately ignored the stated aim of the UN Security Council resolution authorizing the establishment of a no-fly zone and instead attacked Gaddafi's armoured vehicles. Complaints by some Arab League members, Russia, China and others that this wasn't what they voted to authorize are not to be taken seriously, since France said openly that this is what it planned to do when it called for that resolution.

France previously demonstrated its regard for humanitarian values when its aircraft and troops killed as many as a million Algerians during its war to prevent Algerian independence only 50 years ago. While piously proclaiming the need for "international intervention" in Libya today, France vigorously opposed that independence movement's calls for UN intervention to stop French bombardments of Algerians.

In today's France, only the most ignorant or wilfully blind would argue that President Nicolas Sarkozy has any respect for the lives and rights of Arabs in Libya when he has deliberately expressed flagrant contempt for those of Arab and African immigrants or their children in France.

Some youth in Paris's heavily-immigrant suburbs compare Sarkozy's undisguised lust for blood in Libya to his infamous threat to "clean out the scum with a power hose" in the country's ghettoized housing estates where the hopelessness produced by French society is most ruthlessly enforced by the police. Sarkozy's declaration of war against immigrant youth helped spark the 2005 ghetto rebellion. For all the confusion that reigns among these youth today, there is a stark truth in the connection they see between what the French rulers are doing to them and what they are trying to achieve in the Arab world.

If Sarkozy is so anxious to take the lead in Libya, it is at least partly because France has been weakened in its former colonies and neocolonies in Africa and the Middle East.

The same logic applies to the UK, much of whose empire has been absorbed by the US, despite a record of violence against the world's peoples whose extent and length in Asia and Africa has no parallel in human history.

This relationship with the US has both allowed the UK to retain more of the benefits of empire than might have otherwise been the case, and also made it have to settle for less than what it might otherwise want. Libya is a particularly promising morsel for Britain, whose leading enterprise, BP (formerly known as British Petroleum), purchased the rights to extensive offshore exploration and drilling from Gaddafi. Having a strong hand in deciding what kind of regime will be set up next in Libya is of great importance to the UK, even while it is also paying much attention to regaining political influence in neighbouring Egypt.

While Sarkozy has talked the loudest, UK British leaders have been the most active in visiting Egypt and the Persian Gulf to pick up the threads of British influence that have been somewhat frayed by American domination of these countries. While France had the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia in its pocket, backed the Moroccan monarchy and had a strong hand in Algeria, and the US had Mubarak, the UK was reduced to competing with Italy for Gaddafi. Britain's three governmental parties may disagree on how to handle the treatment of various sectors of society at home, but they all agree that Britain's particular part of the world financial crisis requires deeper and more extensive exploitation of the third world.

As for the US, its slightly ambivalent position reflects its complicated interests in today's Middle East and its already overextended involvement in two wars. While American politicians and pundits (especially during the Bush government) have recognised that most of the regimes the US's regional domination depends on are unsustainable in the long run, Washington has become wary that big changes, especially in the context of today's popular upheaval, may be unfavourable to its interests, both in its conflict with Islamic fundamentalism and in allowing the European powers – who are both allies and rivals – to advance at the expense of a weakening American empire.

Further, as we have analysed previously, the US has its own broader interests in the region and in the world, and its logical, reactionary reasons for wanting to avoid being seen even more than ever as the invader and occupier it really is, especially because of a country it does not consider strategic. This explains the US formulation that the US will be the "leading edge" of the attack on Libya – asserting the leadership that comes from the fact that no other country or even group of countries can match its military strength – while also trying to avoid being at the centre and differing with the UK and even more France about both the publicly admissible and real aims of this war.

Given the complexity of US interests, the relative unity among the American ruling class is just as remarkable as that in the UK. Regardless of what they might prefer, they mostly seem to agree that the worst scenario, from the point of view of the empire, is one which might see further instability and challenges to US domination in the region and the world.

In a word, what the West wants in Libya is control. The interests the monopoly capitalist rulers of all of these powers are pursing have nothing to do with those of the Libyan and other Arab peoples or the world's people – or the most basic and long-term interests of the people in the "homelands". Just the opposite: the aims of this war are the same ones that have motivated European and American policy and actions in the Middle East and elsewhere since the late nineteenth century: the establishment of spheres of influence to monopolize the exploitation of the peoples and their resources, and the establishment or defence of pliant regimes representing exploiting classes whose interests accord with their countries' economic and political domination.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Libya: Popular Uprising, Civilian War, or Military Attack?

[This interview took place before the imperialist invasion of Libya, but it provides a requisite background to understanding why this invasion is taking place. -- Eds]

Over the last three weeks there have been confrontations between troops loyal to Colonel Gaddafi and opposition forces based in the east of the country. After Ben Ali and Mubarak, will Gaddafi be the next dictator to fall? Can what is happening in Libya be compared to the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt? What can be made of the antics and u-turns we have seen from the Colonel? Why is NATO preparing for war? How do you tell the difference between a good Arab and a bad Arab? Mohammed Hassan replies to questions from Investig’Action.

Grégoire Lalieu & Michel Collon: After Tunisia and Egypt, has the Arab revolution reached Libya?

Mohammed Hassan: What is happening at the moment in Libya is different. In Tunisia and Egypt, the lack of freedom was flagrant.However, it was the appalling social conditions which really drove young people to rebel.The Tunisians and Egyptians had no hope for the future.

In Libya, Muammar Gadaffi’s regime is corrupt, monopolises a large part of the country’s wealth and has always severely repressed any opposition. But the social conditions of Libyan people are better than in neighbouring countries. Life expectancy in Libya is higher than in the rest of Africa.The health and education systems are good.Libya, moreover, is one of the first African countries to have eradicated malaria.While there are major inequalities in the distribution of wealth, GDP per inhabitant is about $11,000 – one of the highest in the Arab world.You will not therefore find in Libya the same objective conditions that led to the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

GL&MC: How then do you explain what is happening in Libya?

MH: In order to understand current events properly, we should place them in their historic context. Libya was formerly an Ottoman province. In 1835 France took over Algeria. Meanwhile Mohamed Ali, the Egyptian governor under the Ottoman Empire, was implementing ever more independent policies. With the French installed in Algeria on the one hand, and Mohamed Ali in Egypt on the other hand, the Ottomans were fearful of losing control of the region. They sent their troops to Libya.

At the time the Senoussis Brotherhood was highly influential in the country. It had been founded by Sayid Mohammed Ibn Ali as Senoussi, an Algerian who, after studying in his own country and in Morocco, went to preach his version of Islam in Tunisia and Libya. At the start of the 19th century, Senoussie began to attract numerous followers, but he was not much appreciated by certain of the Ottoman religious authorities who criticised him in their sermons.After spending some time in Egypt and in Mecca, Sennoussi decided to exile himself permanently in Cyrenaica, in the east of Libya.

His Brotherhood grew there and organised life in the región, levying taxes, resolving disputes between tribes, etc. It even had its own army and offered its services escorting merchants’ caravans passing through the area. Finally his Senoussis Brotherhood became the de facto government of Cyrenaica, expanding its influence even as far as northern Chad. But then the European colonial powers installed themselves in Africa, dividing the sub-Saharan part of the continent. That had a negative impact on the Senoussis.Libya’s invasion by Italy also seriously undermined the Brotherhood’s regional hegemony.

GL&MC: In 2008 Italy paid compensation to Libya for the crimes of the colonialists.Was colonisation as terrible as all that?Or did Berlusconi want to be seen in a good light in order to be able to conclude commercial contracts with Gaddafi?

MH: The colonisation of Libya was dreadful. At the beginning of the 20th century, a fascist government began spreading propaganda claiming that Italy, which had been defeated by the Ethiopian army at the battle of Adoua in 1896, needed to re-establish the supremacy of the white man over the black continent. It was necessary to cleanse the great civilised nation of the affront inflicted on it by the barbarians. This propaganda claimed that Libya was a country of savages, inhabited by a few backward nomads and it would be good for Italians to install themselves in this pleasant region with its picture postcard beauty.

The invasion of Libya arose out of the Italian-Turkish war of 1911 – a particularly bloody conflict which ended in victory for Italy a year later. Nevertheless, the European power only gained control of the Tripoli region and met with fierce resistance in the rest of the country, especially in Cyrenaica.The Sennousi clan supported Omar al-Mokhtar who led a remarkable guerrilla struggle in the forests, caves and mountains. He inflicted serious losses on the Italian army, although the latter was much better equipped and numerically superior.

Finally, at the beginning of the 1930s, Mussolini took radical measures to wipe out the resistance.Repression became extremely brutal and one of the main butchers, General Rodolfo Graziani, worte:“Italian soldiers were convinced that hey had been entrusted with a noble and civilising mission … They owed it to themselves to fulfil this humane duty at whatever cost … If the Libyans cannot be convinced of the fundamental benefits of what has been proposed to them, then Italians must wage a continual struggle against them and can destroy the entire Libyan population in order to bring peace, the peace of the cemetery …”

In 2008, Silvio Berlusconi paid compensation to Libya for these colonial crimes. Of course it was based on ulterior motives. Berlusconi wanted to get himself into Gaddafi’s good books in order to facilitate economic partnerships. Nevertheless, one can say that the Libyan people suffered terribly under colonialism. It would be no exaggeration to speak in terms of genocide.

GL&MC: How did Libya win its Independence?

MH: While the Italian colonists were suppressing the resistance in Cyrenaica, the Senoussis leader, Idriss, exiled himself in Egypt in order to negotiate with the British.After the Second World War, the European colonial empire was gradually dismantled and Libya became independent in 1951.Supported by Britain, Idriss took power. However, part of the Libyan bourgeoisie, under the influence of Arab nationalism that was developing in Cairo, wanted Libya to become part of Egypt. But the imperialists did not want to see a great Arab nation formed.They therefore supported the independence of Libya by putting their puppet, Idriss into power.

GL&MC: Did King Idriss go along with all this?

MH: Absolutely. At independence, the three regions that made up Libya – Tripolitana, Fezzan and Cyrenaica – found themselves united in a federal system. But it should be borne in mind that Libya is three times larger than France.Because of a lack of infrastructure, the borders of this territory could not be clearly defined until after the aeroplane had been invented.And in 1951, the country only had 1 million inhabitants. Furthermore, the three regions that had just been united had a very different culture and history. Finally, the country lacked roads linking the regions to facilitate communication. Libya was in fact at a very backward stage, and it was not a true nation.

GL&MC: Can you explain this concept?

MH: The nation state is a concept linked to the appearance of the bourgeoisie and of capitalism. In Europe in the middle ages, the capitalist bourgeoisie desired to spread its business interests on as wide a scale as possible, but was impeded in by all the constraints of the feudal system.Territories were divided up into numerous tiny entities which imposed on merchants a large number of taxes if they wanted to transport merchandise from one place to another. And this is without taking into account the various obligations they had to perform for the feudal lords.All these obstacles were removed by the capitalist bourgeois revolutions which allowed them to create nation-states, and big national markets, without obstacles.

But the Libyan nation was created at a time when it was still at a pre-capitalist stage. It lacked the infrastructure; a large part of the population was nomadic and impossible to control; divisions within society were very strong; slavery was still practised. Furthermore King Idriss had no plan for developing the country. He was entirely dependent on US and British aid.

GL&MC: Why did he receive the support of the US and Britain? Was it to do with oil?

MH: In 1951 Libyan oil had not yet been discovered. But the Anglo-Saxons had military bases in the country because it occupies a strategic position from the point of view of control of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.

It was only in 1954 that a rich Texan, Nelson Bunker Hunt, discovered Libyan oil. At the time Arab oil was being sold at around 90c a barrel. But Libyan oil was bought for 30c because the country was so backward. It was perhaps the poorest in Africa.

GL&MC: But money was nevertheless coming in thanks to oil.What was it used for?

MH: King Idriss and his Senoussis clan enriched themselves personally. They also distributed part of the oil revenues to the heads of other tribes in order to pacify tensions. A small élite developed thanks to the oil trade and some infrastructure was built, principally along the Mediterranean coast, the area of greatest importance for external trade.But the rural areas in the heart of the country remained very poor and large numbers of the poor began to flood into slums around the cities.This continued until 1969 when three officers overthrew the king, one of whom was Gaddafi.

GL&MC: How come the revolution was carried out by army officers?

MH: In a country deeply rent by tribal divisions, the army was in fact the only national institution. Libya as such did not exist except through its army. Alongside this, King Idriss’s Senoussis had their own militia. But in the national army, Libyans from the different regions could get to know each other.

Gaddafi had at first developed as part of a Nasserite group, but then came to understand that this organisation would not be able to overthrow the monarchy, so he joined the army. The three officers who overthrew King Idriss were very much influenced by Nasser. Gamal Abdel Nasser was himself an officer in the Egyptian army that overthrew King Farouk. Inspired by socialism, Nasser was opposed to the interference of foreign neo-colonialism and preached the unity of the Arab world.Moreover he nationalised the Suez Canal, which had until then been managed by France and the UK, which attracted the hostility of the West and bombing in 1956.

The revolutionary pan-Arabism of Nasser was a major influence in Libya, especially in the army and over Gaddafi.The Libyan officers who carried out the coup d’état in 1969 were following the same agenda as Nasser.

GL&MC: What were the effects of the revolution on Libya?

MH: Gaddafi had two options. Either he could leave Libyan oil in the hands of western companies, as King Idriss had done – with Libya becoming like one of the oil monarchies of the Gulf where slavery is still practised, women have no rights and European architects can indulge themselves in building all kinds of bizarre constructions with astronomical budgets supplied at the end of the day from the wealth of the Arab peoples. Or he could follow the road of independence from the neo-colonial powers. Gaddafi chose the second option. He nationalised Libyan oil, greatly angering the imperialists.

In the 1950s a joke went round the White House at the time of the Eisenhower administration, which under Reagan was turned into an actual political theory. How do you tell good Arabs from bad Arabs? A good Arab does was the US tells him. In return he gets aeroplanes, is permitted to deposit his money in Switzerland, is invited to Washington, etc. These are the people Eisenhower and Reagan called good Arabs – the Kinds of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, the Sheikhs and Emirs of Kuwait and the Gulf, the Shah of Iran, the King of Morocco and, of course, King Idris of Libya. The bad Arabs? Those were the ones who did not obey Washington: Nasser, Gaddafi and later Saddam …

GL&MC: All the same, Gadaffi is not very …

MH: Gaddafi is not a bad Arab because he ordered the crowd to be fired on.The same thing was done in Saudi Arabia or in Bahrain and the leaders of those countries still receive all the honours the West can confer. Gaddafi is a bad Arab because he nationalised Libyan oil, which the western companies believed – until the 1969 revolution, to be their own. By doing this, Gaddafi brought about positive changes in Libya in what concerns infrastructure, education, health, the position of women, etc.

>GL&MC: Well, Gaddafi overthrew the monarchy, nationalised oil, opposed the imperial powers and brought about positive changes in Libya. Nevertheless, 40 years later, he is a corrupt dictator which suppresses all opposition and who is once again opening his country to western companies. How do you explain that change?

MH: From the start, Gaddafi was opposed to the great colonial powers and generously supported various liberation movements throughout the world. I think he was very good for that reason. But to give the full picture, it is also necessary to mention that the Colonel was an anti-communist. In 1971, for example, he sent back to Sudan an aeroplane which was carrying Sudanese communist dissidents who were immediately executed by President Nimeiri.

The truth is that Gaddafi has never been a great visionary. His revolution was a bourgeois national revolution and what he established in Libya was state capitalism. To understand how his regime lost its way, we must analyse the context – which has gone against it – and also the personal mistakes made by Gaddafi.

First of all, we have seen that Gaddafi had to start from scratch in Libya. The country was very backward.There were no educated people at his disposal or strong working class to support the revolution. Most of the people who had received education were members of the élite who had bartered Libya’s wealth to the neo-colonial powers. Obviously these people weren’t going to support the revolution and most of them left the country in order to organise opposition from abroad.

Besides, the Libyan officers who overthrew King Idriss were much influenced by Nasser. Egypt and Libya sought to tie up a strategic partnership. But when Nasser died in 1970, this project was dead in the water and Egypt became a counter-revolutionary country aligned with the West. The new Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, allied himself with the US, progressively liberalised the country’s economy and entered into an alliance with Israel. A brief conflict even broke out with Libya in 1977. Imagine the situation in which Gaddafi found himself: the country which had inspired him and with which he had been hoping to set up an important alliance had suddenly become an enemy!

Another element of the situation worked against the Libyan revolution: the major fall in oil revenues during the 1980s. In 1973, at the time of the Israeli-Arab war, the oil-producing countries decided to impose an embargo that caused the price of a barrel of oil to shoot up. This embargo brought about the first great transfer of wealth from the North in the direction of the South. But during the 1980s there also took place what one could call an oil counter-revolution orchestrated by Reagan and the Saudis. Saudi Arabia increased its production considerably and flooded the market, causing a massive drop in prices. The barrel went down from $35 to $8.

GL&MC: Wasn’t Saudi Arabia shooting itself in the foot?

MH: Of course this had a negative impact on the Saudi economy. But oil is not the most important thing for Saudi Arabia. Its relationship with the US matters most, because it is the support of Washington that allows the Saudi dynasty to stay in power.

This tidal wave affecting the oil price proved catastrophic for several petrol-producing countries who fell into debt. All this happened only 10 years after Gaddafi came to power. The Libyan leader, who came from nothing, was seeing the only means he had to build anything disappear like molten snow as the oil money dwindled.

It should also be borne in mind that this oil counter revolution also accelerated the collapse of the USSR which at the time was bogged down in Afghanistan. With the disappearance of the Soviet bloc, Libya lost its major source of political support and found itself isolated on the international scene, and moreover featured on the Reagan administration’s list of terrorist states and was subjected to a whole series of sanctions.

GL&MC: What were Gaddafi’s mistakes?

MH: As I have said, he wasn’t a great visionary.The theory developed in connection with his Green Book is a mix of anti-imperialism, Islamism, nationalism, state capitalism and other things. Besides his lack of political vision, Gaddafi made a serious mistake in attacking Chad in the 1970s. Chad is Africa’s 5th largest country and the Colonel, no doubt feeling Libya was too small to accommodate his megalomanic ambitions, annexed the Aozou Strip. It is true that historically the Senoussis Brotherhood had exercised its influence on this region. And in 1945 the French Foreign Minister, Pierre Laval, wanted to buy off Mussolini by offering him the Aozou Strip.1 But in the end Mussolini drew close to Hitler and the deal remained a dead letter.

Gaddafi nevertheless wanted to annex this territory and engaged in a struggle against Paris for influence over this former French colony. In the end, the US, France, Egypt, Sudan and other reactionary forces in the region supported the Chadian army which defeated the Libyan troops. Thousands of soldiers and large quantities of arms were captured. The President of Chad, Hissène Habré, sold these soldiers on to the Reagan administration; and the CIA used them as mercenaries in Kenya and Latin America.

But the Libyan revolution’s biggest mistake was to have bet too heavily on its oil. It is human resources that are a country’s greatest wealth. You cannot succeed in a revolution if you do not develop national harmony, social justice and a fair distribution of wealth.

However, the Colonel never eliminated the discriminatory practices that had long been a tradition in Libya. How can you mobilise the population if you do not prove to the Libyans that whatever their ethnic or tribal backgrounds, all are equal and can work together for the good of the nation? The majority of the Libyan population is Arab, speaks the same language and shares the same religion. Ethnic diversity is not very important. It would have been possible to abolish all discrimination in order to mobilise the population.

Gadaffi was also incapable of educating the Libyan people in revolutionary matters. He did not raise the level of political consciousness of citizens and did not build a party to support the revolution.

GL&MC: Nevertheless, in accordance with his 1975 Green Book, he did set up people’s committees, a kind of direct democracy.

MH: This attempt at direct democracy was influenced by Marxist-Leninist concepts. But these people’s committees in Libya were not based on any political analysis, or any clear ideology.They failed. Neither did Gaddafi build a political party to support his revolution. In the end, he cut himself off from the people. The Libyan revolution became a one-man project. Everything revolved around this charismatic leader divorced from reality.And while a gulf opened up between the leader and his people, force and repression step in to fill the void. Excess began to follow excess, corruption expanded and tribal differences crystallised.

Today these divisions have come to the forefront in the Libyan crisis. There is of course a part of Libyan youth that is tired of the dictatorship and has been influenced by events in Tunisia and Egypt. But these popular sentiments are being taken advantage of by the opposition in the east of the country which is after its share of the cake, the distribution of wealth having been very unequal under the Gaddafi regime. It will not belong before the real contradictions see the light of day.

Moreover we don’t know a great deal about this opposition movement.Who are they? What is their programme? If they really wanted to wage a democratic revolution, why have they resorted to he flags of King Idriss, symbols of the time when Cyrenaica was the country’s dominant province? If you are part of a country’s opposition, and as a patriot you want to overthrow your government, you must try to do this correctly. You do not cause a civil war in your own country and you do not put it at risk of balkanisation.

GL&MC: In your view, it is no longer just a question of a civil war resulting from contradictions between different Libyan clans?

MH: It’s worse, I think.There have already been inter-tribal contradictions but they have never been so widespread. Here the US is fanning the flames of these tensions in order to be able to intervene militarily in Libya. From the very first days of the insurrection, the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was suggesting arming the opposition. From early on the opposition organised by the National Council refused all foreign interference on the part of foreign powers because they knew that any such interference would discredit their movement.But today some of the opposition are calling for armed intervention.

Since this conflict broke out, President Obama has called for all possible options to be considered and the US Senate is calling on the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Libyan territory, which would be a real act of war. Moreover the nuclear aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise, which was stationed in the Gulf of Aden to counter piracy, has travelled up to the Libyan coast. Two amphibian ships, USS Kearsage and USS Ponce, with several thousands of marines and fleets of combat helicopters aboard, have also been stationed in the Mediterranean.

Last week, Louis Michel, former EU Development and Humanitarian Aid commissioner, forcefully raised the question in a TV studio as to which government would have courage to make the case to its parliament for the necessity of military intervention in Libya. But Louis Michel never demanded any such intervention in Egypt or Bahrain.Why was that?

GL&MC: Is the repression not more violent in Libya?

MH: The repression was very violent in Egypt but NATO never sent warships to the Egyptian coast to threaten Mubarak. There was merely an appeal to find a democratic solution.

In the case of Libya, it is necessary to be very careful with the information that reaches us. One day there is talk of 2,000 deaths, and the next day the count is revised to 300. It was also being said from the very start of the crisis that Gaddafi was bombing his own people, but the Russian army, which is observing the situation by satellite, has officially given lie to that information. If NATO is preparing to intervene militarily in Libya, we can be sure that the dominant information media are going to spread their usual war propaganda.

In fact the same thing happened in Romania with Ceausescu. On Christmas Eve, 1989, the Belgian prime minister, Wilfred Martiens, made a speech on television.He claimed that Ceaucescu’s security forces had just killed 12,000 people.It was untrue.The images of the famous Timosoara massacre also did the rounds all over the world.They were aimed at proving the mindless violence of the Romanian president.But it was proved later on that it was all staged. Bodies had been pulled out of morgues and placed in trenches in order to impress journalists. It was also said that the communists had poisoned the water, that Syrian and Palestinian mercenaries were present in Romania, or even that Ceaucescu had trained orphans as killing machines.It was all pure propaganda aimed at destabilising the regime.

In the end Ceaucescu and his wife were killed after a kangaroo court trial lasting 55 minutes. Of course, the Romanian president, like Gaddafi, was no choir boy. But what has happened since? Romania has become a European semi-colony. Its cheap labour power is exploited. Numerous services have been privatised for the benefit of western companies, and they are financially out of reach for a large part of the population. And now every year there is no shortage of Romanians who go to weep on Ceaucescu’s tomb. The dictatorship was a terrible thing, but after the country was destroyed economically, it’s even worse.

GL&MC: Why did the US want to overthrow Gaddafi? For the last ten years or so, the Colonel has been quite amenable to the West and privatised a large party of the Libyan economy, benefitting western companies in the process.

MH: One must analyse all these events in the light of the new balance of forces in the world. The imperialist powers are in decline, while other forces are on the rise. Recently China offered to buy the Portuguese debt! In Greece, the population is more and more hostile to this European Union that it perceives as a cover for German imperialism. Similar feelings are growing in the countries of the East. Furthermore, the US attacked Iraq in order to get control of its oil, but in the end only one US company is benefiting; the rest of the oil is being exploited by Malaysian and Chinese companies.In short, imperialism is in crisis.

In addition, the Tunisian revolution really took the West by surprise. The fall of Mubarak even more so. Washington is attempting to regain its influence over these popular movements but its control is slipping away. In Tunisia, prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, a straightforward product of the Ben Ali dictatorship, was meant to control the transition, creating the illusion of change. But the people’s determination forced him to resign. In Egypt, the US was relying on the army to keep an acceptable system in place. But I have received information confirming that in very many military barracks around the country, young officers are organising themselves in revolutionary committees in support of the Egyptian people. They have even arrested certain officers associated with the Mubarak regime.

The region could well escape US control. Intervention in Libya would allow Washington to smash this revolutionary movement and stop it spreading to the rest of the Arab world and to Africa. Since last week, the young have been rising in Burkina Faso but the media are quiet about this. As they are about the demonstrations taking place in Iraq.

Another danger for the US is the possible emergence of anti-imperialist governments in Tunisia and Egypt. Should this happen, Gaddafi would no longer be isolated and could renege on the agreements concluded with the West. Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia could unite to form an anti-imperialist bloc. With all the resources they have at their disposal, especially Gaddafi’s large foreign reserves, the three of them could become a major regional power – probably more important than Turkey.

GL&MC: Yet Gaddafi supported Ben Ali when the Tunisian people rebelled.

MH: That goes to show to what extent he is weak, isolated and out of touch with reality. But the changing balance of forces in the region could change matters. Gaddafi could shift his rifle to the other shoulder – it wouldn’t be for the first time.

GL&MC: How could the situation in Libya pan out?

MH: The western powers and the so-called opposition movement have rejected Chavez’s offer of mediation. This means that they are not interested in a peaceful solution to the conflict. But the effects of a NATO intervention would be disastrous.We have seen what that did to Kosovo or Afghanistan.

Moreover, military aggression could encourage Islamic groups to enter Libya who might be able to seize major arms caches there. Al Qaeda could infiltrate and turn Libya into a second Iraq. Besides, there are already armed groups in Niger that nobody has been able to control. Their influence could extend to Libya, Chad, Mali and Algeria.By preparing for military intervention, imperialism is in the process of opening the gates of Hell.

To conclude, the Libyan people deserve better than this opposition movement that is plunging the country into chaos. They need a real democratic movement to replace the Gaddafi regime and bring about social justice. In any case, the Libyans do not deserve military aggression. The retreating imperialist forces seem nevertheless to be preparing a counter-revolutionary offensive in the Arab World. Attacking Libya is their emergency solution. But they will be shooting themselves in the feet.

  1. This area is rich in uranium. []

10 Reasons to say no to western intervention in Libya

By Andrew Murray, National Chair, Stop the War Coalition
14 March 2011

The political campaign to launch a military intervention in Libya – ostensibly on humanitarian grounds but with patently political ends in sight – is gathering steam among the NATO powers. A “no-fly zone” has now been urged by the Arab League – for the most part a collection of frightened despots desperate to get the US military still more deeply involved in the region. That would be the start of a journey down slippery slope.

Here are ten reasons to resist the siren calls for intervention:
  1. Intervention will violate Libya’s sovereignty. This is not just a legalistic point – although the importance of observing international law should not be discounted if the big powers in the world are not to be given the green light run amok. As soon as NATO starts to intervene, the Libyan people will start to lose control of their own country and future.
  2. Intervention can only prolong, not end the civil war. “No-fly zones” will not be able to halt the conflict and will lead to more bloodshed, not less.
  3. Intervention will lead to escalation. Because the measures being advocated today cannot bring an end to the civil war, the next demand will be for a full-scale armed presence in Libya, as in Iraq – and meeting the same continuing resistance. That way lies decades of conflict.
  4. This is not Spain in 1936, when non-intervention meant helping the fascist side which, if victorious in the conflict, would only encourage the instigators of a wider war – as it did. Here, the powers clamouring for military action are the ones already fighting a wider war across the Middle East and looking to preserve their power even as they lose their autocratic allies. Respecting Libya’s sovereignty is the cause of peace, not is enemy.
  5. It is more like Iraq in the 1990s, after the First Gulf War. Then, the US, Britain and France imposed no-fly zones which did not lead to peace – the two parties in protected Iraqi Kurdistan fought a bitter civil war under the protection of the no-fly zone – and did prepare the ground for the invasion of 2003. Intervention may partition Libya and institutionalise conflict for decades.
  6. Or it is more like the situation in Kosovo and Bosnia. NATO interference has not lead to peace, reconciliation or genuine freedom in the Balkans, just to endless corrupt occupations.
  7. Yes, it is about oil. Why the talk of intervening in Libya, but not the Congo, for example? Ask BP.
  8. It is also about pressure on Egyptian revolution – the biggest threat to imperial interests in the region. A NATO garrison next door would be a base for pressure at least, and intervention at worst, if Egyptian freedom flowers to the point where it challenges western interests in the region.
  9. The hypocrisy gives the game away. When the people of Bahrain rose against their US-backed monarchy and were cut down in the streets, there was no talk of action, even though the US sixth fleet is based there and could doubtless have imposed a solution in short order. As top US republican Senator Lindsey Graham observed last month “there are regimes we want to change, and those we don’t”. NATO will only ever intervene to strangle genuine social revolution, never to support it.
  10. Military aggression in Libya – to give it the righty name – will be used to revive the blood-soaked policy of ‘liberal interventionism’. That beast cannot be allowed to rise from the graves of Iraq and Afghanistan.