Imperialism and Struggles for Democracy in West Asia


The history of the West Asia for over a century is one long history of how colonial and imperialist powers, both old and new, have arrogantly plundered, looted, dismembered, manipulated and raped a region for their unbridled self interests.  It is a history of total disregard and callous disrespect for the peoples of this oil rich region.  These policies are still in place in spite of the rhetoric, so it must be kept in mind, that the US, UK, France and others are part of the problem in West Asia and not part of the solution.

In this month of June we are witnessing many developments in West Asia.  On June 4 Obama gave his speech trying to placate the Muslim world at the university in Cairo promising, among other things, a separate Palestinian state.  Then on June 7 Lebanon went to the polls in a neck to neck struggle between the March 14 pro-West coalition and the March 8 Hezbollah-led coalition.  The imperialist nations poured in money etc. and breathed a huge sigh of relief when the pro-West coalition got more seats and were able to form the new government although the Hezbollah coalition polled 53% of the votes.  The West had one more chess piece in place!

But their triumph was short-lived as on June 12 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected, against all Western expectations and predictions, for a second term in Iran with a thumping 63% victory.  He is, of course, anathema to the West for his stand defending Iran’s nuclear programme, his anti-Israel stand and his frequent declarations against American and Zionist policies.  He staunchly maintains that Israel is an ‘uninvited guest in the Middle East’, that the Jewish holocaust has been grossly exaggerated, that the Palestinians are having to pay for the atrocities committed by the Germans and, worst of all, he proceeds to develop Iran’s civilian nuclear capability despite threats, pressures and sanctions from the West.  He is also under attack for his economic policies, which have won approval among Iran’s working poor because they distributing some portion of oil profits in the form of better wages and pensions.  There is no doubt that outside some urban pockets he has an enormous following in the countryside.

On June 14 Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu made a much-awaited reply to Obama’s call for peace between Israel and Palestine which satisfied the US administration by subscribing to the two-nation theory but, at the same time, made a total mockery of it by insisting the Palestinian state must be demilitarized, have no army, no right to their air-space nor any diplomatic relations with either Hezbollah, Syria or Iran!  He made his right-wing supporters even happier by refusing to dismantle or pull back the illegal Jewish settlements and reiterated their god-given right to exist.  Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery remarked that such conditions would effectively turn Palestine “into a kind of giant Gaza Strip.”  Avnery spoke of the long and infamous strategy of Israeli leaders speaking of “peace” while imposing conditions that the Palestinians would be bound to refuse — thereby creating a situation where the “world saw Israel as a peace-loving country, while the Arabs looked like serial peace-killers.”  He suggested that Netanyahu was adopting the same strategy — being deliberately overbearing and humiliating while nominally saying “yes” to the two-state solution, in the hope that it would be the Palestinians who would say “no.”

In Iran, Ahmedinejad’s victory has been followed by massive street protests led by opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, claiming the elections were rigged.  Initially the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ayatullah Ali Khamenei upheld Ahmedinejad’s victory saying that the 11 million victory margin could not be rigged and warned protesters against continuing with the protests.  Subsequently, he has agreed for a partial recount, but the protestors are not satisfied, and are demanding a re-election.  But matters do not end there as what is being slowly revealed is that there is a big power struggle going on among the top clergy; Ahmadinejad and Mousavi represent the two main clerical factions.  In other words, Mousavi, unlike the Western media claims, is no liberal leader of democratic revolution against the theocracy.

The imperialist countries are delighted at the prospect of Iran “imploding” and serious cracks emerging in its edifice.  Its media has gone ballistic in the aftermath of the Iranian elections and are totally on the side of Mousavi and his followers in calling the election a total fraud even though they have not been shown any concrete evidence of vote-rigging.  The West is hoping that it will eventually lead to the destabilisation and to the overthrow of the Ahmedinejad regime in Iran and is pushing this for all its worth.  Western journalists in Iran have now been banned from covering events and are dependent on the hundreds of blogs and twitters that are coming out of Teheran.  But this also means that most world news is having to admit that their news is based on protesters who are substantially from the posh North Teheran area, English-speaking, educated, middle and upper-middle class.

It is worth bearing in mind that over 65% of Iran is under 30 years of age.  They were all born after the Islamic revolution, have not experienced life under the Shah’s regime and all the young are educated — one of the successes of the theocracy was its education system.  In the last election in 2004, the youth showed political indifference and apathy.  But in the past 5 years this has changed completely and the high 85% turnout for voting this time is a reflection of their awakening.  It is also the years when this highly suppressed society have started using mobiles and the internet to not only link on to the rest of the world from which they are totally cut off, but to channelise and communicate their hopes, ambitions, dreams and frustrations with each other.  There were serious student uprisings in 1999 and 2003 which were crushed by the regime.  There is also resentment among women about the theocratic regime’s repressive dress and moral codes.

The clamour about vote-rigging in Iran has not eclipsed the memory of the fact that the US has its own history of vote-rigging.  After all it was not so long ago that George Bush was elected (in 2000) for the second time with rigged voter lists, with the open connivance of his brother who was governor of Florida and with the blessings of the US Supreme Court which declared the fraud legal thus depriving Al Gore of his legitimate presidency!  That was an electoral fraud which the now hysterical American media conveniently shut its eyes to.  It is quite obvious that the West and its media is trying its utmost to fish in troubled waters and are hoping that the rallies in Teheran coupled with their mutual use of cyberspace will lead to a more pro-western ‘regime change’.

Obama also referred in his Cairo speech to the mutual ‘mistrust’ between the US and Iran.  But this mistrust is all the making of the Imperialist powers.  It is not easy for Iran to forget that it was once a colony under the British empire.  Nor can they forget that the US through its CIA in 1953 along with Britain overthrew, by a sponsored coup, the democratically elected government in Iran of Mohammad Mossadegh.  In his place they installed their puppet Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on the throne who through his brutal secret service, Savak, slaughtered, jailed and exiled thousands upon thousands of democratic, anti-imperialist and left workers, peasants and intelligentsia.  One of the main agenda of Mossadegh’s parliament was to nationalise the oil which was controlled by British oil companies and he had to be stopped at all costs!

There seem to be at least three major trends among the opposition protesters.  The first is the Rafsanjani-Mousavi group who want to keep the Islamic Republic but want a change of guard at the top by overthrowing the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad group.  They don’t want to overthrow the Islamic Republic hence Mousavi and his wife (in her address to the university students a few days ago) are trying hard to rein in the forces they have unleashed and limit the protests to just the question of electoral fraud while still remaining loyal to the theocracy, keeping it ‘green’ and raising uncontroversial slogans like “Allah ho Akbar”.  The bourgeoisie behind Mousavi are also fed up with Ahmadinejad’s hostility towards the West which has invited retaliatory sanctions and a halt to foreign investments which means that oil refineries, Iran’s biggest wealth, cannot be upgraded and there are signs of industrial stagnation.

The second section is made up of liberals who want more individual freedom on the lines of western bourgeois democracy and form the bulk of ‘bloggers and twitterers’.  A third section that have joined the protests, as can be seen from their placards and slogans, seems to be made up of radical students and intelligentsia who want more than just electoral reform and want to use this opportunity to start the overthrow of the dictatorship of the present theocratic system.

There is no denying that the US and the imperialist countries are eagerly hoping for a ‘Colour Revolution’ in Iran, on the lines of those fuelled by it in Ukraine and Georgia, and attempted (unsuccessfully) even in Venezuela.  While condemning repression of street protests in Iran, every attempt at imperialist meddling — overt and covert — in Iran’s politics must be exposed and condemned.  The struggle for democracy within Iran cannot be divorced from the struggle against the imperialist game plan — in Iran as well as in West Asia and the rest of the world.

Srilata Swaminathan is the national president of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA).  This article was first published in the July 2009 issue of Liberation, the journal of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), under the title “Developments in West Asia”; it is reproduced here for educational purposes.