Middle East: Mubarak and King Abdullah feel the ground shaking

Egypt’s president Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah are feeling the ground shaking under them. They are both completely economically dependent on the US, while workers and poor people are heavily against the US war plans in both these countries.

So far small demonstrations in Egypt’s capital Cairo – from hundreds up to a thousand – has been met with massive repression. Riot police have outnumbered the protesters and those involved have been arrested before and after the protests. Organisations behind the demos, for example different socialist or Arab-nationalist groups, are technically illegal according to the emergency laws which are still in place since the murder of President Sadat in 1981.

The protests are in reality only the tip of the iceberg. In opinions polls in Egypt, only 6 per cent have a "favorable attitude" of the US. All reports say this position has hardened lately, particularly since Bush’s support for Sharon’s war policy against the Palestinians. The sanctions against Iraq and the ’war against terrorism’ are further factors behind growing moods of anti-US imperialism. At present, thousands assemble at the mosques on Fridays for spontaneous protests; a number which commentators say could grow to hundreds of thousands or even millions. The question is how long the threat of repression can frighten people.

Egypt is one of the most important Arab countries, with 70 million inhabitants. The discontent with the regime over social issues is widespread. In one trade union protest recently the regime was described as "cowards and agents of the US and Israel". Egypt receives $2 billion in aid every year from the US – only Israel gets more.

In Jordan, two US officials have been shot dead since last December. The King has responded by widespread arrests and warned both trade unions and other opposition groups. Repression is now harsher than previously. The extreme Islamic groups are growing, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. The mass discontent is further strengthened by the fact that over half of the population is Palestinian.

For these reasons, Mubarak and Abdullah in words try to sound almost neutral on the Iraq issue. They advocate "more inspectors" and "more time" to postpone an American assault. But in practice both regimes are so far adapting to US pressure. Egypt recenlty gave the green light for US warships to pass through the Suez Canal. In Jordan, US soldiers will operate anti-missile batteries and some US troops and helicopters will be based in the desert on the border with Iraq. None of this has been madepublic in the Jordanian media. The Jordanian army is already trained and equipped by the US, which also is about to surpass Iraq as the country’s main trading partner.

An explosive situation is developing in both Egypt and Jordan, as well as in other countries in the Middle East. Last year, several reports warned that the regime in Saudi Arabia could be threatened with a revolutionary movement similar to Iran in 1979, when the Shah was overthrown. In addition to mass anger over a war against Iraq, the economic situation will worsen in the whole region because of the war. Jordan for example is importing all of its oil from Iraq.

The hawks of US imperialism are dreaming of creating a ’new’ Middle East. Some of them even fantasise about Iraq becoming a model democratic country. But the massive bombing planned will instead create a new and deeper crisis, chaos and the risk of new terror attacks. At the same time, new political and social movements will develop. The key to stop both US imperialism and ending the dictatorships in the region is in building socialist mass organisations, led by the working class, for a socialist confederation in the Middle East.

The following article was first published in Offensiv, newspaper of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) in February 2003

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February 2003