Revolts shake Libya, Syria

September 16, 2011


While the world’s attention focused on the long-expected fall of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi, the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad has conducted a Ramadan massacre that ranks as one of the greatest atrocities of the counter-revolutionary reaction to the Arab Spring. The Syrian masses will certainly take heart at Qaddafi’s defeat, however he might manage to protract it with his military and financial resources. He and Assad are one in their hatred and contempt for their own peoples.

Qaddafi’s influence has been reduced to Sirte, the center of his tribe, and a few other places. The basis of his rule was, in the end, as narrow as that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The most that he can hope for now, if his “resistance” continues, is to produce a mindless terrorism similar to Saddam’s. It is simply the other side of his rule, the terror without the state power.


Like Assad’s brutality, which is directed at one of the most sustained, inspiring and non-violent mass movements that the modern world has witnessed–a movement which should make any one of us proud to be human–Qaddafi’s madness incarnates all the contempt with which the masses of the Middle East have been viewed, a cynical, old attitude which the Arab Spring has destroyed utterly.

At the same time, it is important to see the difference between the situations in Libya and Syria. In Syria the Arab Spring has brought us back to the most basic of all understandings: the opposite of war is revolution. This is as profound a question as any that has been opened in this year of revolutions.

Qaddafi had a certain symbolic importance, limited by his eccentricity and absolute lack of principle. History will not forgive this “revolutionary” for attacking the first true revolution he encountered, inviting NATO’s intervention in the Arab Spring. The Libyan people are right to celebrate his downfall.

In Syria the masses now confront the entire logic of the oppressive state system that has developed into a regional Cold War between Iran and Israel (and their various patrons and allies of convenience) and has attempted to co-opt the legitimate freedom struggles of Palestinians, Lebanese Shi’a, Kurds and others. This Syrian movement can’t be separated from the new stirrings of Palestinian youth in the West Bank and Gaza.

This stage of the Arab Spring sets out as critical a challenge to the existing world order as Tahrir Square. It presents a great opportunity for revolutionary thought. The Arab Spring has had a profound effect in regard to the question of Palestine and Israel. When terrorists murdered seven Israeli civilians on Aug. 18, the Israeli government’s response was far more limited than would previously have been the case. The reactionaries in power there now have to take account of public opinion–of Egyptians, especially.


The Gaza leaders of Hamas are also walking a fine line. They have been pressed to take the pressure off Assad by attacking Israel and inviting retaliation which Israel’s reactionary rulers would usually be happy to provide. But the Arab Spring has also changed their equation.

Thus, the Aug. 18 terrorist attacks were conducted, not by Hamas, but by the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), an armed group with ties to Hezbollah in Lebanon and through them to Iran. Meanwhile, Iran’s government cut subsidies to Hamas in retaliation for their reluctance to launch attacks on Israel which could distract world attention from Assad’s brutal crackdown.

The division between the local Hamas political leadership and their military leadership in Syria that became clear during the 2008 Gaza war is clearly still operative. Palestinians have no more wish to be bombed in support of Assad’s murderous dictatorship than do the Lebanese people. In this light, the speed and accuracy of the Israeli Air Force’s targeting of the PRC’s top command personnel is also very telling, and the murderous shelling of Palestinian refugees in Latakia, as part of Assad’s Ramadan massacre, was lost on nobody.

Arab Spring has also impacted the hundreds of thousands of Israelis demonstrating for economic reform determined to “walk like Egyptians,” in their own words. (See “Israel: ‘Egypt is here‘”)

These new openings in thought and reality are real, are what the world has long hungered for. We revolutionaries bear a huge responsibility. New paths are opening. We say we are about the new–here it is.

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