THE ANGRY ARAB: How to Bring Down a Regime in the Arab World

Protesters in the Sudan and Algeria have learned from the counter-revolutions and know it is not enough to oust a single tyrant, writes As`ad AbuKhalil.

Leaders May Fall But US Maintains Tyrannies 

Algerian protesters in Blida, March 2019. (Fethi Hamlati, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

The persistence of protests in the Sudan and Algeria reveals a change in the tactics of demonstrators and protesters since the beginning of the era of Arab uprisings in 2011. 

Those early uprising had a simple but basic slogan: “The people want the downfall of the regime.” But the people soon discovered that while it is difficult to overthrow an individual ruler — given that the tyrannical system in the Arab region is sponsored and protected by Western governments and Israel — it is much harder to overthrow the whole regime. 

Within months of the Arab uprisings’ launch, counter-revolutionary forces mounted their assault to restore the tyrannical order: in Egypt by installing military dictator General Abdel el- Sisi; in Yemen by replacing `Ali `Abdullah Saleh with his deputy; in Bahrain by sending Saudi troops in to preserve the regime by force; and in Tunisia by interfering in an election to maintain the regime, while putting new and old faces in the facade. 

The Arab counter-revolution is a movement sponsored by the U.S. comprised of two branches: the Saudi-UAE branch and the Qatari branch.  The first branch wishes to maintain the old regime system while the Qatari branch (aided by Turkey) wishes to install the Muslim Brotherhood or its affiliates.  In Libya, the civil war is a manifestation of the conflict between the two branches. The Saudi-UAE is backing the army of Khalifah Hifter, while Qatar is supporting the government, which is recognized by the UN.

Overall, the counter-revolution wants to reverse the tide of popular uprising while guaranteeing the longevity of the regional state system — with the exception of those regimes not aligned with the U.S. and Israel.

Celebrations in Tahrir Square after news of Mubarak’s resignation, Feb. 11, 2011.
(Jonathan Rashad, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Complicated Picture

Because the regimes were so closely associated with the face of the tyrant, Arab protesters wrongly assumed that the ouster of the leader would easily institute the formation of a new regime.  Yet, the picture has proven to be more complicated.  While Arab regimes are led by tyrants, they don’t rule on their own, but with a social-class alliance of beneficiaries.  Furthermore, the U.S. and Western governments in general fund and/or arm Arab regimes to guarantee longevity of rule.  When Western governments speak about the stability of the Middle East they merely mean the stability of their economic and political interests — and the political and military interests of their ally, Israel. 

The U.S. has built a complex network of local clients whose survival are not tied entirely to the despot. The U.S. now has organic links with the entire top brass of Arab militaries and with the leaders of the intelligence services.  Those prove valuable to the U.S., and to Israeli occupation and the aim of peace between it Arab countries. 

Morsi in 2012, shortly after winning election. (Jonathan Rashad via Flickr)

When Mohammad Morsi, who collapsed and died June 17 during a session in court, became the first freely elected president in the entire history of Egypt in 2012, he was not really in charge of Egyptian foreign policy and defense. That remained in the hands of the military command and the intelligence services.  For that, the relationship between Egypt and Israel remained unchanged during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood — partly because the Brotherhood cared more about political power than its own agenda, and partly because the military-intelligence apparatus insisted on preserving control over the national security and foreign policy files of the country.  The U.S. continued to work closely with the apparatus throughout the uprising and forced the Egyptian army to send its special forces to help protect the Israeli occupation embassy after it was set ablaze by angry Egyptian protesters.

US Military Pervades Region

The U.S. Central Command deploys troops throughout the Middle East region (in known and unknown military bases — even, according to Israeli and Saudi media, in Lebanon, which is ostensibly under the control of Hizbullah). 

In the name of “the war on terrorism,” the U.S. supervises the training and arming of most Middle East armies and either sells arms to the regimes (like in the Gulf) or donates useless military equipment and antiquated weapons to countries such as Lebanon to appease the local military command, while preserving Lebanese military weakness vis-à-vis Israel.  Similarly, the U.S. also has close relations with the regional intelligence services. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who steadfastly refused to respond to the popular demand to oust Hosni Mubarak in 2011 — famously suggested that the head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleyman, succeed Mubarak (of course the Egyptian people did not fall for the ploy). 

The U.S. has invested heavily in the Middle East and would not countenance the swift downfall of its client regimes. It maintains a complicated network of spies and military advisers to protect the tyrants.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that the U.S. represents the biggest impediment to democracy and (real) free elections in the region.

Upper Class Social Interests 

But the regimes also represent upper class social interests.  The U.S. is tied to capitalist regimes in the Middle East which are under constant neoliberal pressures (from the U.S., World Bank and IMF) to engage in more privatization, and to dismantle the public sector and decrease social programs. Those policies (from Egypt to Tunisia) have produced a class of millionaires and billionaires who are closely tied to the fortunes of the ruling regimes and often control the media. 

You know it is not a revolution when the ruling social classes have stayed in their places after the uprisings in various Arab states.

Protesters in Sudan and Algeria have learned from the lessons of the Arab uprisings and know full well that getting rid of the tyrant is not enough.  They are now pushing for the full transfer of power into the political hands of civilians, and are calling for a delay in elections (which Saudi Arabia is seeking because it can manufacture the results). 

Sudanese protestors near the army HQ in Khartoum, April 2019. (M.Saleh, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Elections should be the last priority for Arab activists for change: elections serve as a golden opportunity for Gulf regimes and Western governments to influence outcomes through direct funding of candidates and parties and through massive propaganda campaigns for the preservation of the regime.  The last Tunisian election was largely a Western-Gulf counter-revolution intended to save the regime from the tide of the uprising.  It succeeded in installing as president a leftover from the Ancien Régime whose hands are soiled with previous bloody repression. 

To have meaningful free elections in the Arab world one needs to control the banking and financial system and monitor the flow of foreign money and interference by Gulf regimes and by Western governments.  You need to end foreign Western hegemony before you can have free elections. Furthermore, in the capitalist economies of the Middle East, elections are increasingly an opportunity for billionaires to ascend to political power.  In the North Lebanon region alone, four billionaires have reached the Lebanese parliament through their wealth in the last two decades.

For the process of the dismantlement of the regime to be completed, there has to be a complete change in the military leadership and the leadership of all intelligence services. Protesters should also insist on putting them on trial because they all have served as instruments of the regime for the purposes of repression and surveillance.  This has not happened in any of the countries that  underwent the so-called Arab uprisings.  There has to be accountability and trials for all members of existing regime, if one is to achieve a full break from the past.

The Arab world has not had a revolution in many decades. Egypt had a real revolution in 1952 but it did not happen overnight.  It took Gamal Abdel Nasser many decades to initiate a thorough-going overthrow of the existing regime and the ruling class. His revolution against the ruling class was logically accompanied by a campaign against all Western foreign influence in Egypt.  Egypt was changed over a decade-long period, during which the average Egyptian worker’s income rose by 44 percent.

We have not had that kind of change in any Arab country since. The West and Gulf regimes don’t want that to happen.  If the Algerians and the Sudanese keep pushing for real liberation, they could shake the power system in their own countries and in the region as a whole. But the counter-revolutionary forces are not sitting idly by.  The U.S. has just appointed a special envoy for Sudan. 

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil.

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15 comments for “THE ANGRY ARAB: How to Bring Down a Regime in the Arab World

  1. Northern Observer
    June 20, 2019 at 10:43

    Nasser was a disaster for Egypt, the origin of today’s bureaucratic state.
    Morsi let the Islamist butcher whoever they wanted to.
    I am not sure what we are to expect from the protest and the pressure.
    Sometimes change for change sake is good but as Erdowan shows often it is trading one master for another.

    • rosemerry
      June 20, 2019 at 16:38

      Your name explains your prejudice.

  2. Abe
    June 19, 2019 at 20:43

    “[Sudanese President Omar] Bashir’s ouster and subsequent replacement with a military council was an outcome sought by top U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel.

    “There were a variety of reasons for this. In the months prior to his overthrow, Bashir began to switch from a years-long alliance with Saudi Arabia and the UAE to an alliance with Qatar and Iran, while also opposing the Saudi-led effort to dominate the mineral wealth of the Red Sea, from which it had excluded Sudan. Not only that, but Bashir had begun reevaluating the country’s role in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, where Sudanese mercenary forces play a crucial role and where withdrawal of those forces could compel the Saudi-led Coalition to end the genocidal conflict.

    “In addition, there is clear evidence that Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, was involved in the April overthrow of Omar Bashir: Salah Gosh, then-chief of Sudanese intelligence, and Yossi Cohen, head of the Mossad, had met on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference as part of a plan led by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Israel to oust Bashir. After Bashir was overthrown, Gosh was one of the interim leaders of the military council currently controlling Sudan.

    “Israel sought Bashir’s ouster chiefly because he was one of the only Saudi-aligned leaders who opposed normalizing relations with Israel. In fact, Bashir openly stated in January, several weeks after the protests that would eventually oust him had begun, that he had been advised that he could ensure the stability of his rule were he to agree to normalize relations with Israel, suggesting that foreign interests eager to see those ties materialize were involved in Sudan’s protests. Days after that statement, Bashir rejected an offer to fly to Tel Aviv and publicly declared his strong opposition to ‘any possibility’ of forging ties with Israel. Bashir had long held a reputation as an advocate for Palestinian causes and as a strong critic of Zionism.

    “Furthermore, the main reasons for Israel and Saudi Arabia’s interests in pushing for Bashir’s overthrow — reducing Sudanese support for Palestinian rights and preventing a Sudanese withdrawal from the war in Yemen, respectively — are objectives openly supported by the Trump administration. Thus, the Trump administration is likely uninterested in seeing Sudan’s military council transfer power to a civilian government if it feels that such a transfer would interfere with these key Israel and Saud interests in Sudan — especially since Bashir’s overthrow is also a long-time U.S. objective in its own right.

    “Given that, in the pursuit of similar interests, Israel and the Saudis have backed authoritarian regimes elsewhere in Africa — such as in Egypt and Libya — the Trump administration is likely to do only the bare minimum in order to manage international outrage at the growing list of atrocities committed by Sudanese security forces. Trump’s clear goal is to ensure that power in Sudan stays firmly in the hands of those who will serve the interests of the U.S.’ top regional allies, even if it means scuttling all hopes of a future, democratic Sudan.”

    Amid Sudan’s Brutal Crackdown, Trump Admin Appoints Envoy Who Helped Worsen War in South Sudan
    By Whitney Webb

  3. Hide Behind
    June 19, 2019 at 15:41

    Of all the worlds military enforced Revolutions the most successful one has been that of US; and any military style insurectios attempts against its central government since its founding, as in Civil Insurection by its southernmost states, were mercilessly crushed.
    The national character that was put in place at end of that conflict has not changed, Although the Central powers means of exerting and then extending itself upon the rest of world have changed, evolved, that predatory and exploitive national character that coalesced at its founding has never
    The second world war found almost all Europeans not just monetarily bankrupt their national identities were as well and it was US and Britain in their half of conquered europe, Russia had other half, set in place the governments and industrial- financial systems still found to this day.
    There is but to this date one other successfuly imposed example of a militarily installed government, China and its’ Communist Revolution
    The differences between US and China to this day are based upon the National character of its peoples from each their own founding.
    The US powers after defeating British Royalty found no power on earth to resist their predatory nature; while at Birth of China’s Communist rule found only one power that posed a threat, US/ British who were at that time were militarily to weak to invade found and began in a different non expansionist way to protect itself from its enemies.
    Nuff said for now!

  4. dean 1000
    June 19, 2019 at 14:01

    I was really happy to see Mubarak go. Naively, I thought Morsi might be able to put Egypt on the road to genuine independence which would include agricultural independence. The Egyptian Military should give up its big farms to real farmers who know how to increase yields enough to feed the entire population.

    The people of Algeria and Sudan have learned the lesson. Other interested parties are getting it from articles like this one. Less than a hundred years ago the people of India ejected foreigners who had robbed and pillaged them for two hundred years. They did it with very little violence, just a steady, persistent pressure.

  5. Sam F
    June 19, 2019 at 12:38

    Yes, dismantlement of regimes requires “complete change” in the leadership of military and intelligence services, with “accountability and trials” as well as new institutions of democracy protected from economic power. The same is true everywhere including the US, where the tools of democracy (elections, mass media, and judiciary) are completely controlled by economic oligarchy.

    But that means that the transition cannot use those tools, and history suggests that the options for the future are:
    1. Conquest by an external power (often a worse power, and not likely for superpowers);
    2. Revolution by the most oppressed domestic groups (probably not feasible in our totalitarian surveillance state).
    3. Disaffection of a majority by extended foreign embargoes, widespread poverty, and domestic oppression.

    The last option appears to be the only path to restoration of democracy in the US. But the the US has plenty of domestic resources and propaganda technology to deceive and appease the majority regardless of foreign defeats and embargoes. It has no public morality, social contract, or culture of honesty on which to found responsible dissent, action, or improved institutions.
    The US may have achieved the first perfectly stable corrupt and aristocratic government, burying the Enlightenment forever.

  6. Edward
    June 19, 2019 at 07:34

    The country that has had successful regime change is Turkey, where Islamists replaced the military dictatorship.

  7. Abe
    June 18, 2019 at 22:16

    “When Western governments speak about the stability of the Middle East they merely mean the stability of their economic and political interests — and the political and military interests of their ally, Israel.”

    When pro-Israel Lobby groups, pro-Israel foreign policy think tanks, and politicians financed by the pro-Israel Lobby speak about “the stability of the Middle East” they merely mean maintaining Israel’s “security” and “qualitative military edge”

    Interestingly, support for Israel’s military edge includes major arms sales to regional Arab regimes, a cycle which perpetuates ever more lavish military aid to Israel.

    In the United States, elections serve as a golden opportunity for the pro-Israel Lobby to influence outcomes through direct funding of candidates and parties, and through massive propaganda campaigns, all designed to perpetuate massive support to Israel from the US.

    The pro-Israel Lobby agenda demands the installation and preservation of compliant regional Arab regimes, no matter how oppressive their domestic military-intelligence apparatuses, and the demonization and destabilization of designated “enemies” of Israel.

  8. Tom Kath
    June 18, 2019 at 21:57

    It is indeed interesting to understand the difficulty of grasping the more fundamental CAUSES of “systems”, when the pressing issues seem to be the CURRENT more obvious manifestations, as described by Craig Murray in the previous article on “The Ugly View of Western Democracy”.
    Very useful to get both perspectives so masterfully presented.

  9. Linda Jansen
    June 18, 2019 at 18:48

    “For the process of the dismantlement of the regime to be completed, there has to be a complete change in the military leadership and the leadership of all intelligence services.” huh? “change” in leadership of the military & intelligence??? to a kinder, gentler military & intelligence??? come on, As’ad.

    • Asad Abukhalil
      June 18, 2019 at 21:39

      I mean, removed and put under the control of the new revolutionary regime, or dismantled altogether.

      • LindaJ
        June 19, 2019 at 19:12

        sounds better!

  10. Mark Thomason
    June 18, 2019 at 17:42

    If the Saudi royal family were swept away, much of the rest of the Arab world would soon go with it. That royal family is only about 5,000 individuals, many of whom are utterly useless and incompetent to save themselves. That tiny elite is vulnerable, and sits upon a vast wealth that invites attack. It is really a question of who will take them down.

    That is the center of balance of the Arab regimes. It is the schwerepunkt, as the Germans put it.

  11. Jeff Harrison
    June 18, 2019 at 16:51

    Indeed. Cuba is a model. After Castro came to power, the members of the ancien regime either fled or were shot. Problem solved.

    • geeyp
      June 19, 2019 at 00:31

      Jeff – Would you happen to have a source for this? Thanks.

Comments are closed.