By Deirdre Griswold
Published Mar 17, 2011 9:34 PM
March 15 — Events continue to unfold rapidly in North Africa and the Gulf states.
On March 14 Saudi Arabia sent tanks and 2,000 troops into the kingdom of Bahrain to protect the Al Khalifa royal family there from mass protests demanding an end to the monopoly of political power in the hands of the king.
The next day police shot dead two protesters in a crowd of at least 10,000 who had marched to the Saudi Embassy in Bahrain with signs reading “Stop Saudi invasion.”
The tiny island territory of Bahrain was once a British colony and a base in the Persian Gulf for the Royal Navy, but today it is used by the U.S. Fifth Fleet. It has become a major financial center for the oil-rich Gulf states. The majority of people are Shiite but the royal family is Sunni and close to the Saudi rulers. The Shiites are discriminated against and not allowed by law to belong to Bahrain’s army.
Rebels pushed back in Libya
At the same time, in North Africa, the Libyan military has been able to push back armed rebel forces that in recent weeks had gained control of several cities both east and west of the capital, Tripoli. Now the only city of any size remaining in rebel hands is Benghazi, strategically located astride the roads and pipelines leading to 80 percent of Libya’s oil.
The leaders of the Libyan rebels had counted on support from the U.S. and European imperialists and have been calling for their military intervention. However, the imperialists have responded only with covert military aid to the rebels so far and have not been able to agree on setting up a “no-fly zone” over Libya — which Britain and France have campaigned for in both the U.N. and NATO.
All the imperialists would prefer a loyal Western puppet over Moammar Gadhafi, who came to power in 1969 through a progressive nationalist military coup. He nationalized the country’s oil, which provided the funds for a dramatic improvement of the people’s standard of living. Decades later, however, in the period after the U.S. “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq, Gadhafi agreed to open Libya up again to foreign investment.
WikiLeaks cable makes things clear
However, a cable from U.S. Ambassador Gene Kretz to the State Department on June 4, 2009, made public by WikiLeaks, shows that more recently Libya was able to force foreign oil firms, especially France’s Total, to agree to take a much smaller percentage of the oil and gas yielded from their wells, under threat of renationalization.
Kretz wrote, referring to Libya’s National Oil Corporation: “The renegotiation of Total’s contract is of a piece with the NOC’s effort to renegotiate existing contracts to increase Libya´s share of crude oil production. ... Each consortium will take 27 percent of oil production, down from the 50 percent take they had under the previous agreement. For gas, the consortium will take a 40 percent share (down from 50 percent), which will be reduced in the future to 30 percent. For the Mabruk field, which is located in the Sirte basin and produces some 20,000 barrels of oil per day, the new production share is 73 percent for the NOC, 20.25 percent for Total and 6.75 percent for StatoilHydro.” (“06.04.2009: French Total-led consortiums accept lower production shares in Libya” — WikiLeaks document published in Aftenposten)
As the U.S. ambassador well understood, this effort by the Libyan government to get more control over its most valuable resource would antagonize the imperialist oil companies and their rich capitalist owners. No wonder that France was the first country to recognize the rebel regime in Benghazi!
Thus two very different struggles are taking place simultaneously in the region.
In Bahrain, the masses are coming out in mass protests against a regime solidly supported by the imperialists and reactionary Arab forces like the Saudis.
In Libya, it is the armed rebel groups that have imperialist support. The heads of state in the U.S., Britain and France have all called for the downfall of the Libyan government, headed by Col. Moammar Gadhafi. And they continue to threaten to intervene unless Gadhafi is overthrown — which appears increasingly unlikely.
End of an era
Ruling groups like those in Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain that have stayed in power for decades because they tied their fortunes to the interests of U.S. and European imperialist powers can no longer count on stability.
Some have ruled through state structures that are outright political dictatorships headed by kings, emirs or military strongmen. Others have allowed parliaments, prime ministers and presidents to exist as long as the interests of the ruling class and its imperial patrons were served.
It all seemed stable. The imperialists took out enormous wealth — in natural resources and in products created by the super-exploitation of the workers. They allowed the kings, presidents and their political and business cohorts to live the good life while the masses of people sank from poverty to squalor.
The imperialists grew super-super-rich on profits from oil and other investments. In order to keep these regimes in power, they taxed the workers at home in order to send their puppets abroad the latest weapons and train their officers in how to repress the unhappy people. If that wasn’t enough, they sent in their warships and planes in a show of brute strength.
Just a few months ago, it all still seemed to work. The stock exchanges were functioning well, funneling the wealth to those who already had too much, while unemployment, malnutrition and the million daily burdens that come with poverty kept the people down.
But then came a turning point: the mass movements that began demanding better conditions for the people as well as the exit of the foreign-appointed “leaders” who had oppressed them. They swelled from thousands to millions, and they wouldn’t go home at the end of the day. Suddenly the vulnerabilities of these regimes were laid bare. Suddenly it was clear that they relied on imperialism to stay in power.
Imperialism’s dilemma deepens
What do the imperialists do now? That is what is being discussed every day behind closed doors in Washington and on Wall Street, in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin and the other imperialist capitals.
This doesn’t come at a good time for them. They have growing problems at home, too. The costs of empire — and the deepening divide between rich and poor — are arousing the masses at home as well. How can the imperialist states divert even more money into ever bigger military adventures without further enraging the workers at home — who more and more are protesting the painful cuts being made to their wages, their services, public education, health care and everything else people need to have a decent life?
The thin veneer of capitalist democracy meant to cover up dictatorship by the big banks and corporations is wearing thin. With an intractable crisis of mass unemployment, an anti-union offensive and the balancing of government budgets on the backs of the workers, even as profits are again inflating the bank accounts of the very rich, it is hard for capitalist politicians of any stripe to stir up public support for yet another military adventure to protect the oil companies’ buddies in the Middle East.
Whether it’s to protect the rebels in Libya or the regime in Bahrain, imperialist intervention will only deepen the crisis of a system that is becoming more hated with each passing day.