Posts Tagged ‘Arabs’

A Resource for Contemporary Arab Politics: A Brutal Friendship by Said Aburish

October 4, 2013

London: Indigo 1998.

Aburish Cover

Although this book was published over fifteen years ago, it is still highly relevant for providing the historical background to the Arab Spring and contemporary events in the Arab world. Aburish’s book traces the history of the bloody relationship between the Western powers and their client regimes in the Middle East. The book describes how the conquering British and French in the 19th and 20th century carved up the Middle East into its present mosaic of state and supported various political movements and politicians in these countries in order to maintain their control and overlordship. This continued even after former decolonisation. Leadership of the free world then passed from Britain to America, who manipulated the Middle East during the Cold War in order to check Russian influence. Oil also played a major part in the political economy of the Middle East, with Britain and America supporting some highly repressive and deeply authoritarian regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, in order to keep the oil flowing. Arab leaders, who revolted against their neo-colonial overlords were ousted, frequently through coups and assassinations. Among the various assassinations arranged by the Western powers was a plot in the 1950s to kill Iraq’s anti-Western leaders. The assassin was sponsored by the CIA, and, although the plot failed, was able to escape to Syria. The assassin? Saddam Hussein.

Aburish shows how the new political divisions and regimes created and imposed by the Western imperialists were often deeply resented by the indigenous peoples, and responsible for further hatred and violence within those nations. The Prime Minister of Iraq in the early 1950s was described in glowing terms by Western politicians and the press. He was, however, so hated by the Iraqi people that not only was he literally torn apart by a mob during a revolution, but they also ran over the pieces in a car. The atrocities committed by the Maronite Phalange in Lebanon during that nation’s Civil War in the 1980s also have their roots in Western diplomacy. When the British and French divided the Middle East during the Mandate, they enlarged the area under Maronite jurisdiction far beyond that people’s traditional homeland. When Lebanon was created, the Maronites were the largest single religious group in Lebanon, and so were given a leading position in that nation’s complex political structure. Demographic changes between the ’20s and the 80’s saw the Maronite population reduce in comparison with the Muslim sects. Fearing losing control of their nation and their expanded heartland, the Maronites reacted with appalling savagery. Aburish describes the notorious massacres they committed on the Muslim inmates of the refugee camps.

He also describes the Orientalist prejudices of the Western, particularly British, explorers and diplomats, who created the modern Near East. These, such as the great, pioneering British lady explorer, Gertrude Bell, preferred Bedouine nomads and tribal warriors to modern, educated middle class Arabs. They saw the desert warriors as representing the true, noble Arabs, while reviling what they saw as the corruption of urban society, like Beirut and its fleshpots. I can believe this. One contributor to Lobster was a colonial civil servant, who believed he had seen serious electoral fraud in Nigeria in the run-up to the Biafran War. He was bitterly critical of the aristocratic British colonial officers, whom he states were looked up as ‘polo-playing pr*cks’ by their subordinates. These had far more affection for the feudal Fulani than for the settled, agricultural Nigerian peoples. During the War, Britain secretly supplied arms to the Muslim Fulani against Christian Nigerians in order to keep the oil supplies flowing. I can believe that the British officer class were closer to the Fulani than the other Nigerian peoples. The Fulani were pastoralists with a feudal social structure. The officer class of the British army has also largely been drawn from the aristocracy, and with the same love of equestrianism and horsemanship the British army and the Fulani emirs and their warriors shared similar social classes and outlook.

In the last chapter, Aburish criticises the attitude of Arab expatriates in London ‘the Beiru-on-Thames syndrome’. He objects to the way they have taken over Western attitudes towards their peoples and society, and considers that they form a new slave class.

The anti-Islam blogs have frequently criticised liberal, pro-Arab journalists, such as the Independent’s Robert Fisk, for their support of the Arab Spring, and the deeply illiberal Salafi regimes that have arisen from it. Although it was written over fifteen years ago, this book shows why so many liberals did have such high hopes of the liberal movements that ousted the previous secular dictatorships: these regimes were so horrific, and did little but enrich themselves while serving the West. Western friends of the Arabs, like Fisk, therefore hoped and expected that these regimes would be removed by a new class of politicians, who would truly lead their people to dignity and independence. Unfortunately, this hasn’t occurred, and the Middle East still remains a bloody battle ground.

If you want to know more about the Middle East, and the background to the current events and bloodshed, then I recommend this book.

Shirin Ebadi and the Regime’s Oppression of Working-Class Iranians

June 1, 2013

It’s the centenary this week of the death of the British Suffragette, Emily Davidson. Davidson protested against the exclusion of women from the franchise by jumping in front of the King’s Horse at the Derby. More recent historical research has suggested that she actually hadn’t wanted to commit suicide, and fell, rather than deliberately jumped. Regardless of her precise actions, her death has become one of the most notorious events associated with the campaign for votes for women. The BBC and a number of other media have been running features commemorating the event and the Suffragette campaign over the past week or so.

Shirin Ebadi and the New Suffragettes

The Independent newspaper has been running a series, ‘The New Suffragettes’, on contemporary women campaigning for women’s rights. Yesterday’s (Friday, 31st May) edition featured the Iranian judge and social campaigner, Shirin Ebadi. Ebadi was the country’s first female, appointed by the Shah. She lost that position following Khomeini’s Revolution in 1979. She was also dismissed from her position on another prominent legal organisation because it was considered that her gender was unsuitable for such a position of authority. She has campaigned for divorced women in Iran to gain custody of their sons, as well as their daughters, and has set up a number of NGOs to improve conditions for women and the poor in Iran. She has particularly campaigned against the persecution of Iranian dissidents. She also campaigned for the release of the Canadian Iranian young woman, who was brutally imprisoned in Iran a few years ago. She has lived in exile in London after attempts on her life, sponsored by the Regime, and the savage beating of her husband. In the article she described her shock when reading transcripts of a recorded meeting between members of the Iranian secret police. Reading the report, she came across a statement there was a piece where one of the government thugs said, ‘And the next one’s Ebadi’. It made it all too clear that she was one of those marked for death.

Despite this, she is still very much a Muslim. She stated in the interview that the low position of women in Middle Eastern society was not due to Islam, but to these nation’s traditional patriarchal culture. The Independent noted that despite official hostility, she is a real heroine to many Iranians and has been greeted by cheering mobs when she has appeared to speak to them.

Ebadi and Swedish Journalistic Colleague on Right-Wing Oppression in Iran

A year or so ago I came across a book written by her and a Swedish journalist in one of the bargain bookshops in my home town. It was written from a left-wing, Social Democratic perspective. I seem to recall that her co-writer belonged to one of the unions or other left-wing organisations in Sweden. The book was an attempted to describe the regime’s oppression of the Iranian working class. It also attempted to argue that the Iranian regime was not attempting to buid nuclear weapons, and that there should therefore be no military action taken against the country. The first point was made abundantly clear by her descriptions of thuggery, arrest and violence against Iranian factory workers, truckers, busmen and trade unionists. The second argument I found much less convincing. Her point was that in Iran much, if not most of the oil revenue is exported to gain foreign currency. The Iranian regime is trying to develop nuclear power to lower domestic oil consumption, so that more can be sold abroad. The Iranian government is, however, aggressively anti-Semitic and has made a number of vicious threats against Israel, America and their European allies. It also has developed missiles with capable of reaching Vienna. Even if the primary purpose of Iran’s nuclear programme is to provide electricity, the possibility is all too real that it could be diverted to military purposes.

Ebadi and her co-writer were critical of contemporary Western writers on Iran, who glowingly described the life-style and attitudes of the westernised middle class. If I recall correctly, they viewed this as extremely condescending and culturally imperialist. They also attacked such attitudes for excluding the mass of the Iranians, the ordinary Iranian working class, who were not westernised.

Suppression of Worker’s Organisations by Revolutionary Regime

In the first half of the book she described how the fragmented Iranian radical left, which at one time consisted of 74 different organisations and groups, was suppressed by Khomeini and his followers after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Their members were rounded up, imprisoned, tortured and killed, or forced into exile. As I mentioned, Ebadi herself is still a devout Muslim, and denounced this as un-Islamic. She is critical of the radical Marxist Iranian group, the MEK, as it is militantly atheist and deliberately broadcasts and publishes blasphemous material in order to offend Muslims. Trade unions and other working class political organisations are banned. Their members are harrassed and imprisoned under trumped-up charges of colonialism or collaboration with imperialism. Wages for Agha and Begum Average Iranian are kept appallingly low, and working conditions are horrendous. The only working-class organisations that are permitted are factory shuras (councils). These deliberately include both employees and employers, and exist to promote the regime’s version of Islam in the workplace. Ebadi and her fellow author state that these councils have been compared with the DAF (Deutsche Arbeitsfront), the labour organisation the Nazis introduced to replace trade unions and control the German workforce. In the last days of the Shah, according to Ebadi, the regime was so terrified of armed revolution that soldiers were stationed in the factories to prevent the workers from rising up. The contemporary Revolutionary regime has done exactly the same.

The ‘Millionaire Mullahs’

She describes the close alliance between the merchants of the Tehran Bazaar and the governing ulema. This has produced a new class of ‘millionaire mullahs’. This is the English translation of a Farsi term, which literally means ‘the son of a mullah who becomes a prince’. Although private property is sanctioned and protected in Iranian Revolutionary law, the country’s economy is dominated by the bonyads, Islamic charities that own large sectors of Iranian industry, including oil. The largest of these is the ‘Foundation for the Poor’, part of whose remit is to provide subsidized housing. As a result, there is massive corruption, with the mullahs exploiting their control of these bonyads and their industries to enrich themselves.

Working-Class Protest Action

As a result of this, there is massive discontent among ordinary, working class Iranians. Strikes and industrial action are brutally suppressed. In one case, Tehran’s busmen attempted to form a union and were arrested and imprisoned. Nevertheless, some concessions have been wrung out of the authorities when members of a particular factory or industry have had all they can take. These then organise mass protests, sometimes numbering thousands. These then force their way into the management’s offices, or those of the officials in charge of that particular industry.

Poor Conditions and Violence Towards Women

Women have particularly suffered under the Revolutionary regime. They are paid less than men, and in addition to working long hours are also expected to cook the meals and do the housework at home. There is also high male unemployment. This has resulted in a rise in domestic violence as unemployed men take out their frustrations on their wives.

Ahmadinejad’s Attempts at Reform Blocked by Regime

Ebadi recognises that Ahmadinejad himself comes from a poor background, and was serious about improving conditions for the Iranian working class. He made a speech during his election campaign in which he promised that he would put more on the sofiyeh, the cloth spread on the grounds on which Iranians place their food, like the dinner table in Europe. His attempts at reform have been stifled, and will continue to be thwarted, by the structure of the Iranian state and its component institutions. The Pasdaran – The Revolutionary Guards – and the Regime’s theocratic governing bodies are directly involved and profitting from the exploitation of the working class. As a result they have more than once block Ahmadinejad’s attempts to improve matters, and arrested or removed from office his allies.

Corruption and Exploitation by Liberal Politicians

Ebadi is critical of the apparently liberal politicians and members of the ulema, including the former president Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani is a pistachio merchant, and notoriously corrupt. He and the other liberals are, according to the book, interested solely in pursuing their own commercial profit and careers. She recalls the outrage felt when the regime agreed to meet with striking workers in one of the nation’s football stadiums. The politicians promised political and economic improvements – raised wages, better conditions. In the event, when the meeting finally occurred the workers found instead that it was being staged as a propaganda event to promote Rafsanjani’s political career.

Dispossession and Oppression of Ethnic Minorities

The regime has also worked to oppress and dispossess the country’s numerous ethnic minorities. The Farsi-speaking population accounts for only about 51 per cent of the population. Other ethnic groups include Kurds, Luris, Baluchis, Turkic-speaking peoples, including nomads, and Arabs in Khuzestan. These people’s have seen their homelands seized and settled by Farsi Iranians. Some of these areas, such as Resht in the north, and Khuzestan in the west, are rich in natural resources. The industries in these areas are run by Farsis, and frequently employ only Farsis, so the indigenous peoples are excluded from enjoying the benefits of their own homelands. A similarly policy has been pursued in China in Sinjiang, so that Han Chinese have settled and dominated industry in the homeland of the Muslim Uighurs. It is this policy that is responsible for the discontent and jihadist violence amongst the Uighurs.

Exploitation in the Oil Industry

Khuzestan possesses considerable oil reserves, and a result is one of the major centres of the Iranian oil industry. Working conditions are appalling, with migrant workers housed in camps surrounded by armed guards. Wages are slightly higher than in the rest of the country, but are still insuffient to support the workers. Many have become heavily in debt to support themselves, and drugs are widely used. The Regime and the Pasdaran, the Revolutionary Guards, are heavily involved in this trade. The book includes a statement by an oil worker that while there, he saw the column bringing the drugs flanked by guards from the Pasdaran.

Iranian Fascist, Question of Support by Leftists like George Galloway

The picture of the regime presented by the book is one of a brutal suppression. It is a regime that would be denounced as Fascist, as well as racist and colonialist if it occurred in a western country in the Americas or Europe. Ebadi herself and her Swedish co-writer come across very much as very left-wing. They are pro-Iranian, and definitely anti-racist. The book raises an important question, notably the support the Regime has enjoyed from members of the European far Left. The most prominent Left-wing politician in this regard is George Galloway, the former Labour MP and one of the founders of the Respect Party. Galloway now has a job as a presenter on Iranian Press TV. He previously supported Saddam Hussein, and there’s a clip of him hailing the deceased dictator for, amongst other qualities, his indefatiguability. It would seem from Ebadi’s and her colleague’s book that Galloway abandoned his socialist principles a long time ago to support an oppressive regime that attacks the Iranian working class and brutalises and dispossesses its ethnic minorities.