By Emre Güntekin
In Iraq and Lebanon, Middle Eastern countries full of contradictions, laborers and the youth have been on the streets for over a month despite facing death and the possibility of a civil war every day; especially in Lebanon, due to the country´s sensitive ethnic and religious balances. Both countries have a similar history: Iraq lived under Saddam Hussein’s bloody tyranny for decades and then an imperialist occupation which was even worse than the dictatorship regime. Lebanon, on the other hand, lost decades and hundreds of thousands of lives in a bloody civil war. All these years, there was not even hope for the slightest change in the lives of both countries, until the actions that started last month. Millions of people find no escape from the social conditions into which they are pushed in almost every region, from Chile to Iraq, except to rebel against those who force them into misery while they themselves live in wealth. If there is a glimmer of hope for the future, it is the wave of rebellion that has developed from Latin America to the Middle East.
About nine years ago, the Arab geography witnessed a wave of rebellion against decades-old oppressive regimes, corruption, and the grave problems caused by neoliberal policies. Following the immolation of Mohammed Buazizi, who was an unemployed university graduate, Tunisian laborers rebelled against Zeynel Abidin Bin Ali, who had ruled the country with an iron fist for 23 years, and succeeded in overthrowing him. This rebellion quickly spread to other North African countries, which were almost identical copies in terms of their social conditions.
The overthrow of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in January 2011, showed that decades of reigns in the region were actually ending. However, in the following days, imperialist interventions in the just rebellions of the peoples of the region were carried out in Libya and then in Syria. This led to a rapid manipulation of the protest wave, using identity conflicts that sparked endless wars. First, the radical Islamist gangs, which had previously been active in Libya´s bloody civil wars, were placed on the battlefield. Then, Gaddafi was overthrown by NATO´s intervention. Afterwards, the Syrian Civil War started, which affected almost the entire Middle East in one way or another.
Because of the harsh competition between imperialist forces, such as the US, Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Sunni Gulf regimes, this war turned into a death sentence for millions of Syrians. The multi-identity demographic structure of Syria has been rapidly manipulated. After completing their mission in Libya, radical Islamist jihadist gangs, supported by countries of the region, like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, were sent to Syria to fight for a regime change, just as they had in Libya. In short, the wave of rebellion that began with great hopes for the Arab peoples, turned into a bloody civil war centered around the rivalries of imperialist forces in Syria. It has paved the way for a process that would not be repaired in the region for decades.
The rebellions in Lebanon and Iraq have already been affected by imperialist rivalries. The working classes bear the burden of the political pains created by the US-Iran rivalry, just as it has been for years in Syria. As societies are polarized on the basis of religious and ethnic identities, the cornerstones of bourgeois politics are captured by ultra-rich families and paramilitary armed forces.
Despite all the distinctions and hostilities in their past, the current mass actions that succeeded in bringing together all identities around economic and social demands, have cracked the status quo, which is based on sharing the political sphere. In such a position, the struggle between bourgeois sectors for the reconstruction of the collapsed status quo is inevitable. But one thing is certain: no one cares about the problems and demands of Lebanese and Iraqi laborers!
The Mullah regime in Iran has been skeptical of the protests in the region from the beginning. In an October 31 statement, Iranian religious leader Ali Khamenei said that the actions in Iraq and Lebanon were provoked by US and Western intelligence services, and that those forces wanted to create chaos in the region. The same day, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “The Lebanese people want an efficient and effective government, and an economic reform to end the widespread corruption” (1) How friendly they are!
The issue, of course, was not limited to the demagogies of both powers. The Mullah regime does not want to lose its decades-long political, economic and military investments in both countries. They passed their experience in repression on to their proxy governments to suppress the laborers.
In Iraq, Iranian-backed forces (especially snipers from the paramilitary Hashd al-Shabi) intervened violently in Baghdad and in the Shiite cities in the South of the country, causing numerous casualties. Last week, Muqtada al-Sadr went to the streets in Najaf to support the protests, hoping to control them, but the people´s actions did not wither away. The fact that the protesters burn Iranian flags and Khamenei posters shows that the their action will not easily settle. In response to these actions, journalist Husein Sheriatmadari, one of Khamenei’s advisors, issued a statement calling on Iraqi and Lebanese workers to attack the embassies of Saudi Arabia and the US. (2) The masses have already accumulated anger against such political approaches that attempt to make them passive and exclude them.
Iraq has been the scene of many rebellions over the years (the most important ones took place in 2011, 2015 and 2018). These rebellions have generally developed under the control of Shiite political subjects. However, the most important point that attracts attention this time is the overcoming of divisions based on sectarian identities. As Fehim Taştekin quoted from a young Iraqi rebel: “We are not Sadrists, we are not Sistians. We are not Sunni or Shiite. We are Iraqis. Why are you shooting at us? I can only earn $ 8 a day to live.”(3) Taştekin says that, despite Shiite Abdulmehdi´s rule in Iraq, the escalation of the protests in the main Shiite cities like Basra, Karbala and Najaf, and, to a lesser degree, in Sunni cities, show that the protest wave has a social reality beyond “the Western conspiracy” discourse.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah and the Shiite Amal Movement continue to defend the current status quo. At the beginning of the protests, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah, described them as “a transparent, honest, supra-sectarian popular movement whose roots are not in a party or an embassy” (4). However, when a rapid radicalization and the anger, also targeting Shiite politicians, became apparent on the streets, Hezbollah turned its back on the masses.
Although Hezbollah forces did not directly target the protests, some attacks by its militants against protesters were shared on social media. For now, the Iranian and Lebanese allies are separating their Shiite grassroots from the protests. Nasrallah has already called on his supporters to not attend the mobilizations to dismantle the movement. The reason for their fear is that their supporters could shift to the left by being affected by the rebellions, and move away from their hegemony.
Yes, the peoples are threatening the imperialist forces and their local collaborators that have made their lives hell. But this anger is not only directed at Iran. If you read the international media, it is possible to read that Iraqi and Lebanese laborers point at Iran as the only reason for their anger. But, against this manipulative approach, Lebanese working people put forward a good slogan: “All of them, means all of them“. Following the resignation of the country’s Sunni and Saudi-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri on October 29, Lebanese laborers raised slogans voicing their unwillingness to support Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah or Nebil Beriri, who is the leader of the Amal Movement. Activists responded by shouting “Leave, leave, leave! You are not our father!” (5) Similar slogans echo in the streets of Iraq. The hashtag I want a nation (6) became a trending topic on Twitter on those days.
How can the revolts in Iraq and Lebanon succeed?
In the Middle East, no political force attached to the imperialist capitalist system can solve the urgent problems of the working classes. On the other hand, the imperialist interventions always shadow the legitimacy of the masses´ just rebellions and strengthen bourgeois leaderships like Hezbollah and Sadr, who are enemies of laborers. Likewise, Iran’s rotten Mullah Regime uses the imperialist repression and international sanctions as an excuse to criminalize and suppress opposition in the country. Moreover, Iran applies this policy not only in internal politics, but also in Iraq and Lebanon, where Iran fights for its hegemony against the US and its allies. They have a reason for this: What scares the Mullah regime the most is that the wave of rebellion could reach Iran in some way.
Western imperialist powers are hypocritical about the wave of rebellion. They attempt to use the struggle of the Iraqi people as a tool against Iranian hegemony, as if it were not the United States and its Western accomplices, who destroyed the people with their 2003 invasion of Iraq. However, it is clear that workers in both countries are on the streets against all the elites of the status quo.
Laborers and the youth, who have been pushed into poverty and misery and have witnessed the corrupt enrichment of a handful of elites for long years, want change now. The fact that they did not abandon the streets and have rejected sectarian divisions is an indication of this desire. However, the mobilization alone cannot guarantee the success of the rebellions, particularly in the Middle East, where imperialist manipulation on mass movements is very common and the organized class struggle is weak.
The bourgeois political order has already gone bankrupt, both in Iraq and Lebanon. These power-sharing regimes cannot give the working classes anything they need. Even if the ruling classes manage to repel the current rebellions, this fact will not change. As long as neoliberal attacks, heavy taxes, unemployment and corruption continue, the people will return to the streets again and again, like they did in 2011, in 2015 and in 2018. However, the street mobilizations are not enough to achieve a real success and to change the future. At the same time, the masses should turn to the left and to socialism. The success of Iraqi and Lebanese working people can only be achieved through an organized class struggle led by a socialist organization. One of the historical tasks of the International Socialist League (ISL) is to build this vanguard force that will bring the peoples of the Middle East together in a “Socialist Middle East Federation”.