The year 2011 will no doubt be remembered for the Arab spring, which started in Tunisia and soon engulfed the whole of North Africa. The sight of huge numbers of people on the streets of Cairo signalled the potency of people power and threatened to topple all the old regimes.
Stepping in on the side of the people (allegedly) the old imperialist powers intervened in Libya. After months of NATO bombing and civil war, the regime of Gaddafi was finally beaten and the old man was put to death by a mob (but not before being buggered by a stick wielding sadist).
The first two paragraphs tell a story of hope and despair. Hope because the toppling of regimes by the masses is precisely what is required on a world scale, but despair at the ugly side of civil war asymmetrically twisted by the latest weaponry wielded from above, along with related and highly significant unanswered questions about where this is all going.
By contrast, the uprising in Bahrain was put down ruthlessly and the horror of a very bloody civil war in Syria continues. Syria is not Libya and the imperialists know that to intervene there would be costly and carries a significant risk of mushrooming out of control. The Syrian situation has the additional complication of at least two mutually hostile groups fighting the regime.
Tunisia is witnessing a “war of demonstrations” among various political and ideological forces according to the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi who said editorially this week: “Barely two days after a demonstration by the country’s liberals, a counter-demonstration was organised by the Salafists who, in their thousands, hit Habib Bourguiba Street in the heart of the capital, calling for the application of Islamic Sharia”.
Egypt is still in turmoil and according to the Financial Times this week: “A power struggle between Egypt’s ruling military and the Muslim Brotherhood has erupted into public view with the country’s two biggest political forces battling openly over who controls the government just weeks before presidential elections”. The situation in Libya is far from stable with far too many machine guns on the streets and too many old scores to settle.
Meanwhile the world moves on towards catastrophic climate change and no solid international framework exists to even mitigate this problem. In Europe, Greece teeters on the brink of revolution or military coup with much of southern Europe poised to follow suit. In Ireland the austerity measures are biting hard and opposition is growing to the new Household Tax.
The warning from history is that it’s not always the progressive ideas that come to the fore when a system is in crisis. Instead, the costumes of glory are often borrowed from the past. This is the means by which the head of the French Republic was crowned Emperor.
Amidst all this chaos, what goes missing from the world stage is a united socialist platform with mass appeal. This is the urgent task for the period ahead.