Samir Amin: Arab revolts changing everything

August 20, 2011
Anti-government protests in Syria, March.

Egyptian scholar and researcher Samir Amin spoke with Hassane Zerrouky on the Arab revolts that have broken out this year, for L'Humanite. The interview was translated by Yoshie Furuhashi for . Abridged version appears below.

What's happening in the Arab world six months after the fall of dictator Ben Ali in Tunisia?

Nothing will be the same as before — that is certain. That is because the uprising isn't only about toppling reigning dictators, but is an enduring protest movement challenging various dimensions of the internal social order, especially glaring inequalities, and the international order — the place of Arab countries in the global economic order.

In other words, it is seeking an end to their submission to neoliberalism and US and NATO diktats.

This movement, whose ambition is also to democratise society, demands social justice and a new national and anti-imperialist social and economic policy, and will therefore last for years.

It will have its ups and downs, advances and retreats — it won't be able to find its own solution in a matter months.

Are you surprised the uprisings have been driven by new players, particularly young people?

No. It's very positive. New generations have been really politicised again.

In Egypt, for example, the youth are very politicised. The youth have their own way, outside the traditional opposition parties that, in Egypt, are parties belonging to the Marxist tradition.

But their political awakening is not against those parties. I can tell you that, right now, there is deep, spontaneous sympathy between young people and the parties that come from the socialist and communist tradition.
You say that this is an enduring movement, but, if we take Egypt for example, isn't there a risk the revolution will be hijacked by conservative forces?

There are many risks, including, in the short-to-medium term, the risk that a reactionary, Islamist alternative may prevail.

That, by the way, is the US plan, backed by Europe, at least as far as Egypt is concerned. The plan is to establish an alliance between the reactionary Egyptian forces and the Muslim Brotherhood.

That is an alliance supported by Washington's allies in the region, led by Saudi Arabia — supported by even Israel.

Will it succeed? It is possible that it will work in the medium term, but it won't provide any solution to the Egyptian people's problems.

So, the protest movement, the struggle, will continue and magnify.

What do you think of what's happening in Syria, first of all, where the regime of Bashar al-Assad has just authorised a multi-party system, hoping to restore calm?

The Syrian situation is extremely complex.

The Ba'ath regime, which enjoyed legitimacy for a long time, is no longer what it was at all. It has become more and more autocratic, increasingly a police state. At the same time, it has made a gigantic concession to economic liberalism.

I don't believe this regime can transform itself into a democratic regime.

It is being forced to make concessions, which is a good thing since a foreign intervention like what is done in Libya — fortunately not possible in the case of Syria — would be another catastrophe.

What about Yemen, a US ally?

The United States supports the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh. The reason is its fear of the Yemeni people, especially in southern Yemen.

Southern Yemen once had a progressive Marxist regime, enjoying legitimacy and powerful popular support — forces now actively involved in the protest movement.

Washington and its allies fear a breakup of the country leading to the reestablishment of a progressive regime in south Yemen.

That is why the Yemeni regime, with US approval, is letting Al-Qaeda occupy cities in the south, wishing to strike fear in the hearts of the progressive social strata to make them accept Saleh's hold on power.

Regarding the situation in Libya, where lies the risk of implosion?

The situation is tragic, very different from those of Egypt and Tunisia. Neither side in Libya is better than the other.

The president of the Transitional National Council (TNC) — Mustafa Abdel-Jalil — is a very curious democrat: he was the judge who sentenced Bulgarian nurses to death before being promoted to the Minister of Justice by Gaddafi. The TNC is a bloc of ultra-reactionary forces.

As for the United States, it's not oil that they are after — they already have that. Their goal is to put Libya under their tutelage to establish Africom (US military command for Africa) — which is now based in Stuttgart in Germany, since African countries have rejected its establishment in Africa — in the country.

Concerning the risk of partition of Libya into two or three states, Washington may very well opt for the Iraqi formula — maintaining formal unity under Western military protection.

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