Fear of the masses
There is one thing that unites Israel, Hamas and Fatah, writes Tony Greenstein - opposition to the Egyptian revolution
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the wave of unrest sweeping the Arab world lies in the contortions and discomfort of imperialism's mouthpieces. No longer do we hear the US rhetoric about spreading democracy in the Middle East. Even the word 'freedom' has been laid to one side. Instead the buzz word is 'stability', that favourite excuse for fascism through the ages.
No sooner had Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali been driven into exile by his people than the Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak, was facing the wrath of his. But, whereas the Tunisian dictator was a minor imperialist client, Mubarak was one of the lynchpins of US interests in the Middle East, second only to Israel.
Egypt has the largest population and working class in the region. It receives the highest amount of US aid after Israel itself - approximately $2.5 billion a year. Egypt is situated in a critically important strategic position, astride the Suez Canal. In former years, its importance lay in its situation on the route to India; now it is its proximity to the oil fields of Arabia.
It is therefore understandable that Obama and the US regime should appear like rabbits trapped in the headlights. What was originally a localised disturbance in a small north African country has rapidly spread to Egypt, and further afield to Jordan and Yemen. It is instructive to witness the contortions and obfuscation of imperialism and its allies.
One of the main arguments of its propagandists is that Israel is the Middle East's 'only democracy'. You could have been excused for thinking that the revolts against Mubarak would have caused the 'democrats' of Tel Aviv uncontained pleasure. After all they have repeatedly contrasted their own 'Jewish' democracy with the reign of terror of Arab tyrants. Someone who was unacquainted with Israel and Zionism, other than via its rhetoric, might have been forgiven for thinking that the least Israel's knesset could do was to pass by acclamation a resolution supporting the Egyptian demonstrators.
Of course, the reaction of the Israeli government was nothing of the kind. As prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu explained, "Our efforts have been intended to continue to preserve stability and security in our region … the peace between Israel and Egypt has lasted for over three decades."
The Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, reported that the Israeli foreign ministry had issued a directive to embassies telling them to stress to their host countries the importance of Egypt's stability. But the reality has been that the 1978 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt allowed Israel to turn its attention to the northern border with Lebanon and to concentrate on settlement on the West Bank and repressing the Palestinians.
President Shimon Peres, former Labour prime minister and 'dove', was even more fulsome in support of Mubarak: "Egypt's embattled leader, Hosni Mubarak, will always be remembered for preserving three decades of peace between the two nations … Peres delivered an impassioned defence of Mubarak, crediting him with saving both Arab and Israeli lives by preventing war in the Middle East."
Indeed the stance of Netanyahu and the Zionist leadership, and its failure to offer so much as word of support to the Egyptian protesters, has become positively embarrassing. Even the Jerusalem Post, a paper of the Zionist right, and its columnist, Shmuley Boteach, bemoaned how "Israel is missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to support Arab freedom. While others cheer Hosni Mubarak's fall, Israel grows apprehensive." According to the aforementioned logic, "Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and it ought be the region's foremost champion of human rights ... To now see Israel squander an historic opportunity to publicly champion Arab freedom out of fear for radicals like the Muslim Brotherhood or a repeat of Hamas's election in Gaza is deeply regrettable and counterproductive."
This, of course, is the official pretext. If Mubarak and his torture chambers and murderous police state go, then the Muslim Brotherhood may come to power and the peace treaty will be in jeopardy. In other words, because democracy means that most Arabs reject the abject humiliation of the Camp David accords, in which Egypt regained the Sinai desert, conquered in 1967, in return for an Israeli carte blanche in dealing with the Palestinians, it is essential to form an alliance with the brutal dictatorship of Mubarak. This the price of a peace agreement based on an acceptance of the dispossession and confiscation of Palestinian land.
But the gap between Israel's self-justificatory prose and reality has never been so marked. Because if Israel really was the Middle East's only democracy then it would have welcomed the Egyptian revolution. Instead there are rumours that Israel has offered to help the Egyptian police in their task of repression - no doubt using some of the chemical weapons that Israel has tested to perfection on the Palestinians. For the first time in 30 years Israel has allowed Egyptian troops into the Sinai.
But Israel is not the only power to face such dilemmas. This is true of the west's reaction as a whole. This is no orange revolution; nor is it an east European uprising against a Stalinist tyrant. As The Observer's parliamentary correspondent, Andrew Rawnsley, noted, "The west should cheer, not fear, this cry for freedom in Egypt." Not that Rawnsley is a man unversed in the subtleties of imperial foreign policy.
The position of the US has been particularly interesting. Caught on the horns of a dilemma, it could hardly condemn the protesters openly; nor, however, could it dissociate itself from a regime that has faithfully done its bidding. So Obama has been forced to support Mubarak remaining for the transition, whilst making it clear to him privately that it was necessary to replace him in order to guarantee a continuation of his regime. Vice-president Biden could not understand what Egyptians were protesting about! Hillary Clinton was left flustering. So US policy has been to back Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's appointed deputy and central to Egypt's relationship with the CIA. A man with responsibility for the secret police and torture.
But, for all its fake outrage over political Islam, it is interesting to see how Israeli leaders are at one with Hamas and the quisling Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. In Gaza and Ramallah, the respective regimes are united in their hostility to the protests against Mubarak. Hamas leaders have long reached a tacit understanding on the tunnels under the border with Egypt, with all the resulting corruption involved. As for the Palestinian Authority and Abbas, they have had a close relationship with Mubarak - their partner, along with Israel, in enforcing the blockade on Gaza and attempting to replace Hamas with their own quisling brand of politics. Whereas Hamas has been unable to prevent demonstrations against Mubarak, the Palestinian Authority has gone out of its way to do so, threatening its organisers with torture.
The reaction of the Palestinian bourgeoisie, in both its secular and Islamic guises (Hamas and Fatah), is instructive. Both fear the Arab masses more than imperialism and Zionism. Whilst Abbas is an open collaborator and quisling, his forces trained by the US lieutenant general Keith Dayton in Jordan, Hamas too seeks a place in the sun. It wants to come in from the cold and reach a deal with imperialism. Unfortunately imperialism has no use for Hamas at present. It is noteworthy in this context how the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has also been lukewarm over the protests.
Socialists and anti-Zionists by contrast are clear. Without the liberation of the Arab east from the local allies of imperialism, without taking the oil resources of the region under democratic workers' control, there is no hope for the Palestinian masses in their struggle with Zionism. Both Hamas and Fatah fear this above all, which is why they fear the loss of Mubarak.
But we also have to cut through the 'people power' phraseology. The protesters in Egypt include both working class forces and bourgeois elements opposed to Mubarak but not Mubarakism. The present stalemate in Egypt cannot continue indefinitely and can go either of two ways. It can lead to a reinforcement of the regime under Suleiman, or its destruction. Only the second possibility can open the way to liberation, not just in Egypt, but regionally. For that to happen, the power of the Egyptian state needs to be broken and, with it, illusions in the Egyptian army. The army top brass are part of the problem, not the solution. They are the corrupt supporters of the Mubarak regime and its alliance with Israel, funded by US 'aid'. They have every interest in preserving the regime. Their hesitation to set the army on the masses is not due to their 'patriotic' role, but because they fear that the rank and file soldier will not obey orders.
The key element today is the organisation of working class forces and the creation of working class and opposition militias, plus an open call on the army to join the revolution and turn its guns on its officers. There is no other way to achieve the liberation of the Arab masses than through the destruction of the Egyptian regime. This is the fear of Obama, Netanyahu, Abbas and Hamas. As the 30-year-old political stalemate in the Arab world, under the pressure of the world economic crisis, begins to unfreeze, the determination of imperialism to replace one tyrant with another should be firmly resisted.
It is little wonder that Gabi Ashkenazi, Israel's chief of staff, darkly warns that, as a results of the upsurge in Egypt, Israel must be prepared for a new war.