“The Death of the Nation – and the Future of the Arab Revolution,” by Vijay Prashad, 2016.
Prashad is a leftist historian and journalist closely linked to Marxist ideas. This book is a reportorial journey through the recent bloody history of Egypt, Syria, Libya and Turkey. The sorry events in Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, Chad, Tunisia, Somalia, Sudan & Afghanistan hover on the edges. Its focus is on the aftermath of the “Arab Spring,” which has been defeated by the forces of reaction in the Middle East and their imperial backers.
What is most noted after reading this is the key role of Saudi Arabia & Qatar in destroying the left and even Arab nationalists in the Middle East, and their subsequent building of a sectarian religious politics rooted in Wahabbist-Salafist doctrines. This is the same policy followed by the U.S. government - its own version of ‘identity politics.' Prashad’s basic thesis in this book is that Arab nationalism, strong under Nasser and various other 3rd world leaders like Qaddafi, is now completely shattered. States have been destroyed, to be replaced by various versions of Sunni or Shia sectarian dictators or warlords. All of this masks the rule of the oil kingdoms in the Gulf and their block with the U.S. and Europe. Prashad says the book is about ‘…the slow political death of Arab nationalism in the fires of sectarian war.” He further states: “…it is a counterrevolution funded by petrodollars.”
The political logic here is that even a return to nationalism would be a step forward. However nationalism and ‘anti-imperialism’ have already failed if you consider that the present is the result of their replacement. Or that some of the nations ‘formed’ might not even be real nations at all. Like Samir Amin, Prashad 'might' hanker after a return to ‘Bandung style anti-imperialism - but he does not embrace that. He does not define what should be the content of the new Arab revolution. Perhaps Arab nationalism itself has come up short in an increasingly totalitarianizing, neo-liberal and imperialist world. Nor is it clear in the book that the destruction of these states is intentional. But given the track record, you can only conclude that it has been beneficial to international capital. Yes, it wasn't about stupidity or militarism run amok, though those certainly play a role. The term for it is 'managed chaos.'
I will cite some facts in the book that are illuminating or that we should not forget:
1. Daesh (Prashad calls it ISIS throughout the book) is a product of the U.S. war on Iraq. Daesh = Blowback. Prashad: “The ‘war on terror’ did not erase the terrorists; it manufactured them.”
2. In his reading of the successful overthrow of the Tunisian dictator, it was the Tunisian working class through their unions that provided the anchor upon which the political revolution and its aftermath became successful.
3. The World Muslim League was founded in 1962, with complete U.S. support. The WML worked to oppose secularism, Arab nationalism and socialism, seeing them as ‘anti-Islamic.’
4. The Muslim Brotherhood became an asset to Western intelligence in the fight with Arab nationalism and socialism. A section of the Brotherhood in Egypt later split to form one of the roots of Al Qaeda. The links between Islamic political organizations and the U.S. is long.
5. The rebellion in Egypt was sparked by youth, organized labor and the precariat in the slums. One key organization was the 6 April Youth Movement, which joined with striking textile workers on 6 April 2008. This was an example of a ‘worker-student’ alliance. Prior to that, 2 million workers went on strike in 2006 in Egypt and there were later strikes in 2007. In Tunisia, the initial cadre of the rebellion were the Gafsa phosphate workers, who went on strike in 2008 – mostly young men. These proletarian roots are ignored by the bourgeois press.
6. Youth form the recruits for many movements in the Arab world, given the high levels of unemployment in all kinds of occupations. This is the economic cause of many of the conflicts – an economic, not a religious detail that cannot be overlooked.
7. Liberals, as shown in Libya and Egypt, cannot handle either military dictators or Islamist radicals, and must lean on dictators or the West. They have no consequential independent forces in Arab countries.
8. The leader of the Islamic revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini: “Economics is for donkeys.” Actually, the mullahs were backed by businessmen in Iran.
9. At one point in the 1970s-1980s, Communist Parties had strong roles in many Arab countries. In the Sudan, the CP was the largest in Africa. As Prashad points out, even the nationalists imprisoned and sometimes killed them.
10. A Pakistani governor, Babar, was one of the key players in the creation of the “mujahedeen’ in Afghanistan. As Prashad says: “The line between Babar’s creation – with Saudi and U.S. assistance – to the mayhem in Iraq, Syria and Libya is unbroken.” Thank you, Jimmy Carter.
11. The conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia – disguised as a religious one – is really over who shall dominate the Middle East and its oil and gas.
12. In 2014, the Iraqi government under al-Maliki overturned Law No. 188, which “gave Iraqi women the greatest freedom in the Arab world.”
13. “Syria, where the educational systems had once been the pride of the Arab world, now sees children oscillating between trauma and illiteracy.”
14. In Syria, “There is no longer any reliable force that carries the ‘moderate’ banner for the West.”
15. Prashad has good things to say about the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). 40% of the PKK-allied Peoples Protection Units (YPG) are made up of women fighters.
16. The Russians and various journalists tracked Turkish support for Daesh, Al Nusra (the Al Qaeda section in Syria) and other Saudi/Qatari backed units fighting in Syria, including involvement of Erdogan’s son, Bilal. Airplanes, oil transfers, weapons, food, ammunition and fighters found easy transit across the Turkish border. As a Kurdish PKK leader said” “Turkey is to Syria what Pakistan was to Afghanistan.”
17. Qaddafi was trying to organize an African currency union in 2012, which threatened French imperial investments in their former African colonies. NATO pounded Libya with 10,000 sorties, destroying the Libyan state and much of its infrastructure. Hillary Clinton was the main U.S. mover behind this crime and the resulting takeover of a good chunk of Libya by Al Qaeda and Daesh. THIS should have been the focus of the ‘Benghazi’ hearings.
18. As an example, 30,000 black people that ‘might’ have been supporters of Qaddafi in the city of Tawergha were expelled from the city by Arab Islamist militias, with no peep on ‘ethnic cleansing’ by NATO. Liberals believing in women’s rights in Libya are also killed, also with no mention.
19. All prior attempts at negotiations re Libya by the African Union, Brazil’s president de Silva, Latin American states and even the Arab League were ignored by NATO.
20. Erdogan was briefly jailed in Turkey in 1998 for ‘inciting hatred based on religious differences.” Turkey’s application to join the EU was a cover to insulate his political party from a coup by the secularist Turkish military. It succeeded.
21. The Turkish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is similar to Podemos or Syriza, combining many different left and pro-Kurdish views. This was the party that Erdogan has basically outlawed. The Turkish CP, formed in 2014, stands apart from the HDP.
The book reads easily, is detailed, reflecting a large breadth of knowledge on the forces, figures and events that have shaped the region since 2011. A good round-up of the vicious conflicts in the Arab world, even for those who are familiar with it already.
Reviews and commentaries of similar interest, below: “Rojava,” “Female Genital Mutilation,” “What is the War on Terror?”, “Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire,” “Charlie Hebdo,” “Dirty Wars,” “The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism” and “Russia and the Long Transition From Capitalism to Socialism.”
And I bought it at Mayday Books!
March 19, 2017