Editorial: The Arab Spring is ongoing

November 4, 2019

From the November-December 2019 issue of News & Letters

In an inspiring show of bravery and defiance, thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in September to protest the corrupt, authoritarian regime of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Having taken power through the military hijacking of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 that overthrew longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak, Sisi cemented his rule through the murder of thousands of protesters in 2013.

Massive protest in Baghdad, Iraq, Oct. 26, 2019.

The regime has branded all dissenters as “terrorists,” including those who protested a rise in subway fares last year. Egyptian prisons currently hold over 60,000 political prisoners, many subject to torture. Yet in the face of this, new protests erupted in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, in smaller towns in the south, and in the textile center of Mahalla al-Kubra.

The Sisi regime—supported by the U.S., UK, France, and Saudi Arabia—responded with guns, tear gas, and at least 2,000 more arrests. Those arrested included human rights lawyer Mahienour el-Massry, journalist Khaled Dawoud, and political scientist Hassan Nafea.

Over one-third of Egyptians live below the poverty line. The country is undergoing harsh austerity measures and cuts to subsidies on electricity and gas. Sisi’s brutal regime, while temporarily containing social revolution, has solved none of society’s problems.


In Iraq, mass protests erupted Oct. 1 in Baghdad and other cities. Protesters decried unemployment—which stands at over 10%, and over 30% among youth—political corruption, crumbling infrastructure, and shortages of electricity and clean water. As in Egypt, the state security apparatus, supported by the U.S. and Iran, responded with extreme brutality.

Thousands were shot, with over one hundred protesters killed and over 6,000 injured. Hundreds were arrested. Journalists, broadcast outlets, and the internet were also targeted in an effort to stop news of this brutality from reaching the outside world.

Most of the protests occurred in Shi’a districts. Despite this, snipers from Iranian-run Shi’a militias were used to fire on the crowds from Baghdad rooftops. The call for justice quickly escalated to a non-sectarian call for social revolution.


Later in October, the Lebanese government’s plan to tax a popular messaging app sparked nationwide protests against corruption, unemployment, inflation and public debt. As in Egypt and Iraq, the class basis of these protests was clear. The poor, whether Shi’a, Sunni, or Christian, rose up against their own “leaders.” Shi’a protesters openly criticized Hezbollah leader Hasran Nasrallah.

Significantly, support was expressed for Syrian refugees threatened by the government with deportation back to the genocidal clutches of the Bashar al-Assad regime and its Russian, Iranian, and Hezbollah backers.

In return, Free Syrians in Idlib expressed solidarity with the Lebanese demonstrations, as well as those in Iraq and Egypt.

These protests continue to develop. At the same time, as if to symbolize the state of the nation, wildfires made worse through climate change and government neglect have been consuming the legendary forests of Lebanon, whose flag bears the central image of the cedar tree.


Part of the protest near the army headquarters in Khartoum, Sudan,
April 7, 2019. Photo: M. Saleh via Wikipedia.

Together with ongoing revolutionary uprisings in Sudan and Algeria, and even recent free elections in Tunisia, this moment gives the lie to the bourgeoisie’s illusions and reveals the widespread desire, shared across the region, for a new, human society.

The rulers’ fear that this passion from below could coalesce around a thought, a philosophy of revolution, drives them to double down on nationalistic, militaristic and religious-reactionary ideology and their illusions: that the existing order of exploitation and injustice could retreat behind its fortress walls of prisons and concentration camps; its bloated militaries; its armed borders; its surveillance cams and police databases; its mythologies of racism and religious bigotry. That every human impulse to solidarity and freedom could be melted down in this inferno and reminted into one endlessly repeated stamp of the commodity form.

In response to al-Thawra, the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011, the bourgeois world order gambled on violence, even genocidal violence, to drown the masses’ humanism in blood and nightmare. They have now clearly lost that terrible gamble.

Washington and Moscow, Beijing, London, and Paris, with all their clients, allies, and surrogates, have only succeeded in passing the final verdict on themselves and their brutal, hypocritical order.

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