Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, speaking on Press TV News Analysis program on the political situation in the North African state of Egypt. Azikiwe is a frequent guest on satellite television and internet radio., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
2011 in Africa: Year of Mass Upheaval and Imperialist Interventions
From Tunisia and Egypt to Morocco and Libya the continent is shaken by the world economic crisis
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
December 17 marks the first anniversary of the beginning of a year of uprisings, strikes government resignations and regime change on the African continent. Africa has experienced numerous mass demonstrations, general strikes, rebellions and full-scale military assaults as part of a heightening global class struggle for control of the economic and political future of this resource-rich and strategically located geo-political region.
In the North African state of Tunisia on December 17 of last year, 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after his vending business was shut down by the authorities in the city of Sidi Bouzid purportedly because he did not have a license to sell on the street. This act of self-immolation led to mass demonstrations in the western-backed North African state that eventually engulfed large sections of the country which is a tourist haven for Europeans.
Demonstrations in Tunisia led to the resignation of longtime political leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14. President Ben Ali, who had headed the state for 24 years under the Rally for Constitutional Democracy (RCD) ruling party, fled the country and is reported to have taken refuge in Saudi Arabia.
After continuing demonstrations and political debate, an election was held in late October which resulted in the majority of the votes going to the moderate Islamic party Ennahda that is headed by Rashid Ghannouchi. Ghannouchi had lived in exile for many years and is considered a leading Islamic scholar in the region.
A December 2 deadline has been set for the formation of a new government in Tunisia. The majority of the new ministries will come from members of the Ennahda, and the secular center-left Congress for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakatol parties. It is anticipated that the Ennahda Secretary-General Hamadi Jebali will be the next Prime Minister.
According to Tunisia-live.net, “The key Ministries, namely those of Interior, Foreign Affairs, and that of Justice, are expected to be taken charge of by members of Ennahda. The moderate Islamic party actually insists that the Prime Minister be chosen among members of the party that disposes of the biggest number of seats—a request that has met vivid opposition among CPR and Ettakatol commissions.” (November 27)
Left parties in Tunisia have participated in the new political situation by emerging as organizations that are allowed to operate openly. Most of the left organizations had been forced underground since the 1980s when the Tunisian Communist Worker’s Party (PCOT) was formed.
At least a dozen other left formations have attempted to organize inside the country and some of the groups have merged and formed coalitions to strengthen their ranks. The Revolutionary Communist Organization (OCR) has reorganized itself as the Left Workers League (Ligue Ouvriere de Gauche).
Also two Maoist groups, the Party of the Patriotic Democrats and the Movement of Patriotic Democrats held a unification conference in April after the fall of Ben Ali. Nonetheless, PCOT is perhaps the most well-known of the left parties in Tunisia whose leader, Hamma Hammami spent years in prison under the RCD government of deposed President Ben Ali. The PCOT did win 3 seats in the new Constituent Assembly.
A center-left formation, the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) that is led by the only significant woman in Tunisian politics, Maya Jribi, was expected to come in second in the national elections but instead landed in fourth place. Jribi said that the PDP would continue as an opposition party.
Tunisia’s trade union federation, the UGTT, played a significant role in the demonstrations that led to the fall of Ben Ali. However, its role in the future political dispensation of the country still remains to be seen.
Egypt Erupts on the Eve of National Elections
On November 19, thousands of youth entered Tahrir Square to protest the desire of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to remain in charge of the political transition process in Egypt. Tahrir Square was the center of nationwide demonstrations that began in the North African state on January 25 which resulted in the resignation of longtime United States-backed dictator President Hosni Mubarak.
Since the collapse of the Mubarak government there have been consistent demonstrations on the part of the revolutionary democratic forces claiming that the struggle was being subverted by the role of the Supreme Military Council headed by Field Marshal General Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. Also the character of Egyptian foreign policy as it relates to the peace treaty with the State of Israel has been major source of anger and frustration among broad sectors of the populations.
Elections for parliamentary seats began on November 28 with long lines in the capital of Cairo where voters complained of delays of up to four hours. The SCAF insisted that the elections go forward despite the mass demonstrations that preceded the elections for eight days and resulted in the deaths of over 40 people.
Most political analysts predict that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) would win the majority of seats in the new parliament. The Brotherhood was split over participation in the recent demonstrations where the youth members did play a leading role despite the official absence of the parent body.
The New York Times reported that “At some polling places, teams of Brotherhood members wearing the insignia of the Freedom and Justice Party were on hand to help maintain security, and they could be seen performing services like escorting elderly women to specially designated lines.” Although the large sections of the population appear to have gravitated to the election process amid mass demonstrations demanding the liquidation of ultimate political control by the SCAF, Field Marshal Tantawi declared on November 27 that ‘the position of the armed forces will remain as it is—it will not change in any new constitution.” (New York Times, November 28)
Morocco’s Moderate Islamists to Form New Government
Another North African state that experienced mass demonstrations over the last year, Morocco, recently held a nationwide election in which a moderate Islamist Party came out victoriously. The Justice and Development Party (PJD) won 107 seats out of 395, gaining twice as many positions as the second place finisher, the Istiqlal Party which won 60 seats as a decades-long opponent of the monarchy.
The Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) had formed an alliance with the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS) and consequently won 30 seats in the new parliament. The King Mohammed VI therefore must select the next Prime Minister from the ranks of the PJD.
Economic Crisis Underlines Political Turmoil in North Africa
These political developments in North Africa are not taking place in a vacuum. The uprisings which began in Tunisia are a response to massive unemployment and poverty. In Tunisia and Egypt unemployment is extremely high and the neo-colonialist relationship with the imperialist states in both countries has failed to provide any benefits for the majority of the populations in these states.
In Morocco the situation is quite similar and it will in all likelihood continue in the face of the failure of the left to win a dominant position within the new political arrangements. At the same time, the role of the United States military in Egypt and Morocco will continue to be an impediment to the social development of the region.
With the overthrow of the Muammar Gaddafi government in Libya, the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has been emboldened and the stage is set for greater exploitation of the resources of the region. Despite these changes, the situation will remain unstable and volatile.
Recently the Tunisian government was forced to cancel flights to Libya due to threats posed by the armed rebel groups that were sponsored by the U.S. and NATO in the toppling of the government in Tripoli. The capture and killing of Gaddafi and four of his sons will ensure the continuation of conflict inside of Libya, which has Africa largest know oil reserves.
Even the Wall Street Journal admitted in relationship to Egypt that “The turbulent protests that ousted President Hosni Mubarak scared off tourists and foreign investors alike. And the new military leadership, which reversed many of the economic liberalization gains in favor of populist policies intended to boost social stability, did little to instill new confidence.” (Wall Street Journal, November 28)
The worsening of the economic crisis in numerous European countries and the U.S. will continue to send shockwaves into North Africa and the Middle East. Only the popular organization of the masses of workers, youth and farmers and the formation of governments in their own interests can provide the possibility of an economic reversal of the current pessimism and foster genuine security, stability and development.