People in the U.S. and around the world have broad sympathy for the popular demonstrations taking place in the Middle East. All the uprisings, however, are not necessarily the same.
Protests against Western client regimes, such as those in Egypt and Tunisia that have so severely squeezed the workers, have the potential to liberate the people from crushing poverty and repression. However, the situations in Libya and Syria are somewhat different.
These governments, though certainly flawed, have been targets of U.S. destabilization efforts for decades because they have taken positions independent from Washington. The Western powers, led by the U.S., are trying to take advantage of the wave of protests in the region to intervene in Libya and Syria in order to make these countries captives of Western colonialism and reduce the workers there to day laborers for imperialism.
Contrast this to Bahrain and Yemen, both ruled by U.S. client regimes long alienated from the workers who live and work there. These regimes have fired upon, arrested and tortured demonstrators. Yet neither country has been declared a no-fly zone, and neither government has been the object of sanctions. In Libya, however, the West’s “humanitarian intervention” to “protect civilians” has meant six weeks of bombing that has destroyed much of the country’s civilian infrastructure.
Now the same Western powers bombing Libya are threatening Syria, the sole remaining independent secular state in the Arab world. Both the U.S. and the Economic Union have imposed sanctions on Syrian government officials. Why?
For one thing, Washington is trying to break up the strategic progressive alliance between Syria and Iran. It is also trying to stop the crucial support Syria gives to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas on the West Bank. To do this, U.S. finance capital seeks to destabilize Syria, destroy its sovereignty and bring it back into the imperialist orbit.
Who is protesting in Syria?
Demonstrations are taking place against the Bashir Assad government in Syria, which has responded with force, at least on some occasions. But the actual character of these demonstrations remains unclear. To what extent are they true popular outpourings? What has been the governing Syrian Socialist Arab Baath Party’s actual response?
Very clear is the fact that U.S. imperialism is trying to use these protests to its own advantage. This has nothing to do with any demands raised by Syrian workers, who are suffering from an austerity plan imposed by the International Monetary Fund in 2006. Michel Chossudovsky wrote on May 3 that among the protests is “an organized insurrection composed of armed gangs” that entered the Syrian town of Dara’a from Jordan. (GlobalResearch.ca) Dara’a is where the protests began.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government-run media is not saying much, while the Western corporate media as well as Al Jazeera have been accused of exaggerating both the protests and the Syrian government repression. Russia Today on April 30 quotes a travel agent living in Syria who says pro-Assad rallies were called “anti-Assad” by Al Jazeera; anti-government protests reported by Al Jazeera and Reuters did not take place; and protest footage from other countries has been attributed to Syria.
While front-page articles give the impression that most of Syria has taken to the streets against Assad, most establishment Middle East pundits admit that the Syrian government, at this point, is supported by most Syrians.
Marxist political perspective needed
World finance capital and its media mouthpieces appear to be “setting up” the Syrian government. But imperialism is not all-powerful. It can be fought and defeated. What could the Syrian government and people have done, and still do, to avoid leaving an opening for the U.S. to intervene? What can close this opening now? Marxism provides the tools to answer these questions.
The Marxist term for the kind of government that exists in Syria is “bourgeois nationalist.” This is also true of Libya, Iran and Iraq before the U.S. invasion. They are nationalist because they seek to develop their countries free from imperialist domination. They are bourgeois because they are ruled by an exploiting class of capitalists.
Marxists support these governments against imperialism because they are manifestations of self-determination of the oppressed. This does not mean that Marxists support every policy of these governments.
Marxists also recognize that these regimes have a dual character. Bourgeois nationalists seek to push out the imperialists so they can better exploit their workers. But they have a common interest with the workers when imperialism threatens the country’s sovereignty. These governments cannot consistently fight imperialism, however; only the working class can.
On the front line with Israel
How has this worked in Syria?
Syria has been ruled since 1966 by a secular government dominated by the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party. The current head of state is Bashir Assad. Syria is a “front-line state,” having a border with Israel. This fact affects every aspect of Syria’s history and has made it an object of constant imperialist and Zionist pressure, which links the fate of the Syrian people to the Palestinian struggle.
Syria’s nationalization of a U.S. oil pipeline precipitated the 1967 war, when Israel attacked and occupied Syria’s Golan Heights, the Palestinian West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The Golan Heights has since been annexed by Israel.
While Syria plays a regionally progressive role right now, this was not always the case. In 1976 the Syrian government intervened on the side of Lebanon’s fascists, who were armed by Israel, in Lebanon’s civil war against a revolutionary Palestinian-Lebanese alliance. The Syrian capitalists feared that a revolutionary Lebanon might lead to their overthrow by Syrian workers.
Relentless pressure from the U.S. and Israel, however, and the refusal to return the Golan Heights have turned Syria’s rulers back toward an anti-imperialist stance. The role they play today as an ally of Iran, of Hezbollah in Lebanon and of Hamas in Gaza is crucial to holding back U.S. and Israeli aggression in the region.
Capitalist downturn destabilizes independent states
Like other bourgeois nationalist governments, Syria has not broken with the capitalist world market, nor does it have the perspective to do so. Instead, it seeks a better deal in this market, which is completely dominated by Western banks. During economic downturns, nationalist governments like in Syria are forced by Wall Street to make economic concessions that attack the workers and stimulate the growth of a pro-imperialist elite, the “comprador bourgeoisie.” This undermines the government’s independence from imperialism while isolating it from the workers.
In 2006 Syria adopted an IMF plan calling for austerity measures, a wage freeze, opening the economy to foreign banks, and privatizing government-run industries. For working people this has meant unemployment, inflation and deteriorating social conditions. The imperialists know this.
“The Syrian state once brought electricity to every town, but ... can no longer afford the social contract of taking care of people’s needs,” wrote the New York Times on April 30.
“Critics of the regime say economic liberalization has benefited a group of élite businessmen, such as Rami Makhlouf, Mr. Assad’s maternal first cousin who controls a significant amount of the economy, including SyriaTel, the country’s mobile network operator.” (Financial Times, April 26) According to the New York Times report, Makhlouf, a focus of dissent, has become a symbol of “crony capitalism, making the poor poorer and the connected rich fantastically wealthy.”
The Syrian government could protect itself from imperialist destabilization by reversing this economic attack on the workers, whose support constitutes Syria’s best strength. Measures could include reversing the liberalization of the economy by barring the penetration of foreign capital; reinstating state ownership of electricity, communications and other key industries; prioritizing food production; and restoring subsidies. This would win back those elements of the population who are protesting, restore their faith in the government, and make sure there is no fertile soil for imperialist destabilization.
At the same time, workers and progressives here must oppose U.S. intervention in Syria in every way possible. For the imperialists to regain total control would be the worst thing for all the oppressed people in the Middle East and for the working class and oppressed people here at home as well.
Articles copyright 1995-2011 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.
When U.S. imperialism engages in an attack on any government or movement, it is cowardly to be neutral and rank betrayal to stand on the same side as the imperialist octopus, which seeks to dominate the world. This has been an ABC for workers’ movements through 150 years of class-conscious struggles. It is the very basis of Marxism.
A social explosion is shaking the Arab world. U.S. imperialism and all the old regimes tied to it in the region are trying desperately to manage and contain this still unfolding mass upheaval into channels that do not threaten imperialist domination of the region.
The U.S. and its collaborators are also trying to divide and undermine the two wings of the resistance — the Islamic forces and the secular nationalist forces — which together overthrew the U.S.-backed dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia. There is now a concerted U.S. effort to turn these same political forces against two regimes in the region that have opposed U.S. domination in the past — Libya and Syria.
Both Libya and Syria have their own development problems, which are exacerbated by the general global capitalist crisis and decades of compromise imposed on them as they tried to survive in a hostile environment of unrelenting attacks — political, sometimes military and including economic sanctions.
The U.S./NATO bombing of Libya has clarified where imperialism stands regarding that country. Syria is also targeted by imperialism — because of its refusal to recognize the Zionist occupation, its assistance to Hezbollah in their struggle to end the Israeli occupation of Lebanon and its strategic alliance with Iran.
Syria’s internal situation may be difficult to understand, but in this unfolding struggle clear statements of support for the Syrian government and against U.S. destabilization efforts have come from Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Hezbollah Secretary General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon and several exiled leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian organization that was elected by the people of Gaza. These political leaders have experienced first-hand U.S. destabilization campaigns that used corporate media fabrications, externally financed opposition groups, targeted assassinations, “special operations” sabotage and well-trained Internet operatives.
On the side of the supposedly “democratic opposition” are such reactionaries as Sen. Joseph Lieberman, chair of the powerful Senate Homeland Security Committee, who called on the U.S. to bomb Syria next, after Libya. Outspoken supporters of the opposition in Syria include James Woolsey, former CIA director and adviser to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign.
Wikileaks exposes U.S. role
An article entitled “U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups” in the April 18 Washington Post described the Wikileaks report on U.S. diplomatic cables. The article summarizes what these State Department cables reveal about the secret funding of Syrian political opposition groups, including the beaming of anti-government programming into the country via satellite television.
The article describes the U.S.-funded efforts as part of a “long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad,” which began under President George W. Bush and continued under President Barack Obama, even though Obama claimed to be rebuilding relations with Syria and posted an ambassador to Damascus for the first time in six years.
According to an April 2009 cable signed by the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Damascus at the time, Syrian authorities “would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change.” The Post article describes the links between the U.S.-funded opposition Barada TV and the role of Malik al-Abdeh, who is on its board and distributes videos and protest updates. Al-Abdeh is also on the board of the Movement for Justice and Democracy, which his brother, Anas Al-Abdeh, chairs. The secret cables “report persistent fears among U.S. diplomats that Syrian state security agents had uncovered the money trail from Washington.”
Role of Al-Jazeera
Perhaps the most revealing challenge to and exposé of the destabilization campaign in Syria came with the resignation of Ghassan Ben Jeddo, the best-known journalist with Al-Jazeera’s television news programs and chief of its Beirut bureau. Ben Jeddo resigned in protest of Al-Jazeera’s biased coverage, especially noting a “smear campaign against the Syrian government” that has turned Al-Jazeera into a “propaganda outlet.”
Al-Jazeera favorably covered the unstoppable mass upsurge of millions in Egypt and Tunisia. However, this satellite news channel has also extensively reported every claim and political charge, regardless of how unsubstantiated, made by the political opposition in both Syria and Libya. It called for U.S. “humanitarian” intervention, no-fly zones and the bombing of Libya. It is important to understand Al-Jazeera’s position as a news corporation, especially when it claims to speak for the oppressed.
Al-Jazeera, which is based in Qatar, never reports that 94 percent of the workforce in Qatar is made up of immigrants who have absolutely no rights at all and exist in conditions of near slavery. Al-Jazerra gives little coverage to the brutal repression of the mass movement in the absolute monarchy of Bahrain, which is just next door to Qatar and is now occupied by Saudi troops.
Is this censorship because Al-Jazeera TV News is funded by the absolute monarch of Qatar, the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani? Al-Jazeera never mentions the huge U.S. Central Command military air base right there in Qatar. Drones on secret missions throughout the region regularly take off from this base. Qatar has also sent planes to participate in the U.S./NATO bombing of Libya, and it works closely with the U.S. State Department in supporting U.S. intervention in the area.
Facebook and counterrevolution
The CIA and the National Endowment for Democracy have become expert at utilizing a barrage of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to overwhelm targeted governments with millions of fabricated messages, wild rumors and images.
Fabricated alerts about struggles and splits among rival factions in Syria’s military leading to resignations turned out to be false. For example, Major Gen. al-Rifai (Ret.) denied as baseless news broadcasts over satellite television that he was leading a split in the military. He added that he had retired 10 years ago.
Izzat al-Rashek of the Hamas Politburo and Ali Baraka, Hamas representative in Lebanon, denied published claims that the leadership of this Palestinian resistance organization was relocating to Qatar from Damascus. Ali Baraka explained that this was a U.S. fabrication to pressure Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and obstruct Palestinian reconciliation while raising conflict between resistance movements and Syria.
The Syrian government has charged that snipers fired into demonstrations, shooting army and police in an effort to have police open fire on demonstrators.
Rumors, anonymous Internet postings and satellite television reports aimed at heightening sectarian differences are part of the destabilization campaign.
Dual character of Syria
It is not difficult to see why U.S. imperialism and its pawns in the region, including Israel and the corrupt dependent monarchies of Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, would want to see “regime change’ in Syria.
Syria is one of the few Arab states that have no relations with Israel. Several Palestinian resistance organizations have offices-in-exile in Syria, including Hamas. Syria is allied closely with Iran and with the Hezbollah organization in Lebanon.
Syria today is not socialist nor a revolutionary country. Capitalism with its resulting inequality has not been overturned. There is a capitalist class in Syria. Many within it have benefited from “reforms” that sold formerly state-owned industries to private capital. Thus, the Syrian state represents contradictory forces.
Years of U.S. sanctions and past destabilization efforts have also had a cumulative effect. The state apparatus, ever fearful of continuing outside intervention, has become fearful of change.
Impact of Iraq war
The massive U.S. invasion and destruction of neighboring Iraq, the Bush-Blair discussion of a similar attack on Syria in 2003, and the harsh new sanctions on Syria have added intense pressure.
But the most dislocating factor is never discussed in the corporate media: To escape the last eight years of U.S. occupation, more than 1.5 million Iraqis have flooded into Syria, whose population in 2006 was 18 million. According to a 2007 report by the office of the U.S. High Commissioner for Refugees, this influx impacted all facets of life in Syria, particularly the services offered by the state to all citizens and refugees.
The unexpected arrival of these Iraqi refugees has strained Syria’s infrastructure, including guaranteed free elementary and high schools, free health care, housing availability and other areas of the economy and has increased costs across the board. The prices of foodstuffs and basic goods have gone up by 30 percent, property prices by 40 percent and housing rentals by 150 percent.
Iraqi refugees also benefited from Syrian state subsidies in gasoline, food, water and other essential goods provided to everyone. Such a large mass of unemployed people led to the lowering of wages and increased competition for jobs. The impact of the global economic downturn during this difficult period added to the problems. (Middle East Institute, Dec. 10, 2010, report on Refugee Cooperation)
In its recent public statements, the Syrian government has recognized the importance of making internal reforms while maintaining national unity in an extremely diverse country that has historic differences in religion, tribes and regions and now contains almost 2 million refugees.
The diverse nationalities, religions and cultural groupings in Syria have every right to be part of this process. But what they need most is an end to constant, unrelenting U.S. intervention. U.S. hands off!
Articles copyright 1995-2011 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.