Revolution in the Arab world the key to Palestinian liberation

The solidarity for Palestine across the Middle East needs to feed into a revolt to bring down the corrupt regimes that collaborate with imperialism, writes James Supple

The massacres in Gaza have sparked rage across the Arab world. Iraq has seen mass protests of hundreds of thousands, while tens of thousands have marched in Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

Recent years have seen continual waves of revolt across the Middle East. Last year saw the most widespread protests in Iran since the revolution of 1979, continuing despite fierce repression for almost six months.

In 2019 hundreds of thousands in Lebanon called for revolution, in protests sparked by austerity measures and economic collapse. The same month mass protests took to the streets of Iraq against corruption and poverty.

The horror in Palestine has the potential to trigger a new wave of rebellion all across the region.

The Palestinians have never stopped resisting Israeli occupation.

But the odds against them are enormous.

Israel is a major military power that has humiliated all of the nearby Arab states in a series of wars.

It has the full backing of US imperialism, which acts to ensure its military supremacy through supplying it with the most high tech weapons available.

The Palestinians have every right to resist Israeli terror. But on its own Palestinian armed resistance can never hope to defeat Israel.

This is a fundamentally unequal conflict. Israel is an occupying power in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that dominates and controls Palestinian lives. Israeli soldiers and settlers terrorise the Palestinian population with virtual impunity as they slowly steal more land.

The Palestinians desperately need allies with the power to stand up to Israel and dismantle the system of imperialist dominance on which it depends.

The surrounding Arab regimes play a key role in enforcing Palestinian oppression. Overthrowing them is the key to winning Palestinian liberation.

Working with imperialism

Egyptian dictator Abdelfattah al-Sisi has held shut the border with Gaza at the Rafah crossing, working with Israel to enforce its brutal siege. Since it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 Egypt has also received huge amounts of US aid, accepting Western imperialism’s aims in the Middle East.

Jordan’s ruler King Abdullah II also collaborates with Israel and the US, hosting 3000 US troops and accepting billions in economic aid.

The Saudi monarchy with its vast oil wealth also plays a key role in propping up the other Arab regimes and ensuring they accept the existing situation.

Historically the Palestinian movement has sought alliances with the Arab regimes to win support for armed struggle against Israel. This has proved disastrous.

In the 1970s Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) were at the head of the Palestinian resistance. They pledged never to interfere with any Arab regime.

Palestinian guerillas operated from Jordan as a base to launch guerilla attacks on Israel. But when the PLO’s popularity and military strength in Jordan began to pose a challenge to his regime, King Hussein sent in his army in 1970 to crush them, killing thousands of Palestinians in an event known as “Black September”.

The PLO moved to Lebanon but was finally dislodged following an Israeli invasion in 1982.

Hamas has also sought to appeal to Arab leaders, pleading with Egypt and Saudi Arabia to pressure Israel to end its savage assault on civilians.

Regimes that are hostile to the US, like Syria and Iran, give Hamas some funding and support.

The bulk of Hamas’ funding, however, comes from taxes and levies imposed on business activities in Gaza, according even to US counter-terrorism experts like Matthew Levitt.

And neither Iran nor the Hezbollah resistance movement in Lebanon have been willing to take serious action to stop the genocide unfolding in Gaza. The main concern of Iran’s rulers is maintaining their own power and wealth. A major regional war between Iran and Israel threatens that.

The Iranian regime’s brutal repression of its own population, seen in the 450 protesters killed during last year’s protests, also means it is no reliable ally for the Palestinians. When Hamas criticised the Syrian dictatorship of Bashar Al-Assad during the uprising against his regime in 2012, Iran cut its support to the group.

Struggle from below

The real hope for the Palestinians lies in mass struggle by workers and the poor all across the Middle East.

The mass of the Arab population remains deeply committed to the Palestinian struggle.

Solidarity with Palestine has the potential to ignite movements that target the corrupt Arab regimes—as the recent wave of protests show.

In Egypt the Sisi government called its own pro-regime protest opposing the talk of expelling Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt. But as an Egyptian revolutionary explained opposition activists organised a separate rally so that there “were two protests” and:

“The opposition one ended in Tahrir Square, the historic centre of the 2011 revolutionary uprising.”

“The main difference between the two is the tone in the chants directed to the regime. One is answering to the regime and celebrating Sisi’s stand.

“The other took more of a critical stand saying you should cut all ties with Israel, open the borders and that we are with Palestinians’ right to resist the occupation. There were even some pro-Hamas chants.

“The protests criticising Sisi were definitely smaller in size than the state-backed ones. But also it was the first protest in Tahrir in ten years so very significant in terms of breaking the idea that this would never be allowed to happen.”

In Jordan too demonstrations for Palestine that attempted to march to the border with the West Bank have been attacked by regime security forces.

Fusing the anger about Palestine with the power of the Arab working class is the key to overthrowing these corrupt regimes.

The wave of Arab revolutions in 2011 and 2012 showed how this is possible—and the working class was a key element.

Workers’ strike action has the power to disrupt the whole operation of society. Workers’ ability to shut down everything from oil production to transport, electricity, manufacturing and government offices is a power that can bring down governments and force radical change.

Arab revolutions

In 2011 rage at poverty and inequality saw revolution sweep across the Arab world, beginning with the fall of the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, before revolt spread to Libya, Bahrain and Yemen.

Decades of neoliberal policies have produced falling wages, cuts to the welfare state and privatisation, while a tiny elite have become staggeringly rich. All this is enforced by brutal dictatorships.

The most significant of the revolutions was in Egypt, a country with a population of 110 million that has always played a leading role in Arab politics.

The Egyptian revolution did not spring out of nowhere. Opposition movements had been growing for the previous decade. They began with Palestine solidarity protests in 2000 that the dictatorship had to allow, winning a small space to organise and demonstrate.

Opposition to the regime encouraged workers’ resistance. In 2006 there was a major rebellion in the textile mills in Mahalla, where thousands went on strike and won pay rises. This spread to other sectors, and had to allow independent unions for the first time.

The revolution in Egypt in 2011 came after 18 days of mass protests in Tahrir square in Cairo that toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak.

But according to Egyptian revolutionary Hossam el-Hamalawy, “Despite the heroism in the squares, however, it was largely the factories that brought down the dictator.” Workers walked out of work to join demonstrations in defence of the protests in Tahrir square and strikes began to spread across the country.

The military removed Mubarak from power in an effort to save the regime behind him from total collapse.

The strike wave continued as tens of thousands walked out of government offices, factories, textile mills, ports, hospitals, schools and universities. Workers demanded the removal of managers linked to Hosni Mubarak’s party, wage rises and independent trade unions.

But there was not a sufficiently large revolutionary socialist party able to organise the working class as an independent force within the revolutionary events.

The largest opposition group was the Muslim Brotherhood. The military allowed them to form government in the hope they could end the continuing strikes and protests. When they failed the military looked for a way to take back power directly.

They gained the support of secular political forces who were hostile to the Islamist politics of the Muslim Brotherhood and cheered on a military coup in 2013.

The army used their support as cover to massacre Muslim Brotherhood members, before turning its fire on the rest of the political opposition. The result was the return of a savage dictatorship.

Egypt’s generals profit from the deals with the US and Israel and are committed to Egyptian capitalism. The revolution needed to break the power of the army in order to succeed.

Focusing on building the power of the mass movement, and workers’ strike action in particular, is the power that can break the military.

Future eruptions of struggle and revolution both in Egypt and across the Arab world are inevitable. The poverty and inequality that fuelled the revolt and the demands for “Bread, freedom and social justice” are as sharp as ever.

In 2019 around 60 per cent of Egyptians were living near or below the poverty line—and surging inflation has now pushed many more underneath it.

Yet the top 10 per cent of the population receive half of national income. There are more than 16,000 millionaires.

Freedom for Palestine requires bringing down all the corrupt Arab regimes to upend the imperialist order right across the Middle East.

This can only succeed if we build socialist organisations focused on workers’ struggle and an unrelenting opposition to imperialism—both here and across the world.


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