Wednesday, May 25, 2016

United States Imperialism and the Role of Israel and Saudi Arabia in the North Africa, Middle East Region
A century of western interventions and domination have led to ongoing political and social crises

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Note: This paper was presented in part at the Left Forum held at John Jay College of Criminal Justice which is part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system in New York City. Other panelists during this session were Nancy Mansour of Existence is Resistance, Kazim Azin of Solidarity Iran and Bill Dores of the International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS), United States Chapter. The Left Forum is an annual convergence of anti-capitalist organizations and scholars who discuss and analyze various aspects of the world system and solutions to the present crisis.
May 19 represented the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, officially known as the Asia Minor Agreement, of 1916 between Britain, France and the Russian monarchy. This deal was the product of at least one year of negotiations among these imperialist states aimed at capturing and partitioning the territories then under the control of the Ottoman Empire.

Mark Sykes was born into an upper class family in Britain and later served in the military services during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) when London fought descendants of the Dutch settlers in South Africa who were later incorporated into the Union of South Africa in 1910. He was elected to the British parliament prior to the war as a Conservative MP.

At the beginning of World War I Sykes served as a military officer with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel after taking an interest in the history and affairs of the Arab people and the Turks. He spent an enormous amount of time working with the War Office dealing with broader strategic affairs of the British Empire.

He wrote several books prior to the war amid his travels throughout the Middle Eastern regions dominated by Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities. He became a confidant of Secretary of War Lord Kitchener was assigned to various military and political projects aimed at enhancing British influence throughout the territories controlled by the Ottoman Empire.

Sykes during this period sought to mobilize Arab sentiment against the Turks even sponsoring rebellions against Ottoman authority. He is credited with designing a flag of the Arab Revolt which represented variations on the modern-day flags of several Middle Eastern states such as Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Kuwait, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Palestine.

François Marie Denis Georges-Picot (Paris, 21 December 1870 – Paris, 20 June 1951) represented French interests in the negotiations over Asia Minor Agreement. He was trained as a lawyer and served on the appeals court of France beginning in 1893.

Picot later went into the diplomatic service where he was appointed as the Secretary to the Ambassador in Copenhagen.  In later years he was deployed to Beijing before being assigned to the Consul-General of France in Beirut on the eve of the First World War.

In the early stages of the war he traveled to Cairo, Egypt where he established cordial relations with the Maronites of Lebanon. Nonetheless, by the spring of 1915 Picot was recalled to Paris by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development.

As a member of the French Colonial Party he was a proponent of the notion of a French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon within the context of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. These notions were desirous of an "integral Syria" from Alexandretta in present-day Turkey to Sinai in Egypt and from Mosul to the Mediterranean coast.

Negotiations and decisions related to the future of this vast territory extending from modern day Palestine through the Arabian Peninsula, the Gulf region and Turkey were carried out in secret amid the raging battles of the First World War which began during the middle months of 1914. Russia participated in the discussions and was party to the agreement but only as a junior partner.

After the conclusion of the negotiations website said “France and Britain divided up the Arab territories of the former Ottoman Empire into spheres of influence. In its designated sphere, it was agreed, each country shall be allowed to establish such direct or indirect administration or control as they desire and as they may think fit to arrange with the Arab State or Confederation of Arab States. Under Sykes-Picot, the Syrian coast and much of modern-day Lebanon went to France; Britain would take direct control over central and southern Mesopotamia, around the Baghdad and Basra provinces. Palestine would have an international administration, as other Christian powers, namely Russia, held an interest in this region. The rest of the territory in question—a huge area including modern-day Syria, Mosul in northern Iraq, and Jordan—would have local Arab chiefs under French supervision in the north and British in the south. Also, Britain and France would retain free passage and trade in the other’s zone of influence.”

A similar gathering of European powers and the U.S. had made similar moves in 1884-85 at the Berlin Conference. Africa was divided up into spheres of influence where the so-called Belgian Congo was controlled by a monarch King Leopold II who extracted rubber from the areas brutally exploiting indigenous labor and inflicting terror.

It has been estimated that up to 8-10 million Africans died in Congo between 1876 and 1908 when the Belgian state took control of the territory after a massive international outcry. Even after 1908 the colonial suppression of the masses continued through the time of independence in 1960. The entire independence process was undermined when the first elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was overthrown in a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Belgian and British coordinated coup. Lumumba was later brutally assassinated after being kidnapped with complicity of the U.S. State Department, MI6 and Belgium.

In specific reference to the Asia Minor Agreement, the actual documents were published after the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917. Leader Vladimir Lenin of the first socialist revolution in history reputed imperialism which had broken with the Second International after the failure of other social democratic parties to oppose World War I.

According to a historical website based in Britain, “After the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917, the Communists, led by Vladimir Lenin, found a copy of the agreement in the Russian government’s archives. Russia, in the agreement, was to have influence in Turkish Armenia and northern Kurdistan – hence why the pre-communist government had a copy of the agreement. The Russian Communists released the contents of the agreement into the public domain – thus explaining why numerous Arab groups knew about it.” (

The Balfour Declaration

A year following the Asia Minor Agreement, the British sought to make good on their promise to create a Jewish state in Palestine headed by the World Zionist Movement acting on behalf of imperialism. The architects of the Zionist movement appealed to British colonial designs saying they would represent a western outpost among the Arabs and Muslim peoples of the region.

Former British Prime Minister Lord Balfour, who doing World War I served as Foreign Secretary, drafted and sent a letter on November 2, 1917 calling for the creation of a Zionist state in Palestine. This facilitated the growing tide of migration of European Jews to this Middle Eastern region on the border with Egypt.

In a description posted on it notes: “Britain’s public acknowledgement and support of the Zionist movement emerged from its growing concern surrounding the direction of the First World War. By mid-1917, Britain and France were mired in a virtual stalemate with Germany on the Western Front, while efforts to defeat Turkey on the Gallipoli Peninsula had failed spectacularly. On the Eastern Front, the fate of one Ally, Russia, was uncertain: revolution in March had toppled Czar Nicholas II, and the provisional government was struggling against widespread opposition to maintain the country’s disintegrating war effort against Germany and Austria-Hungary. Although the United States had just entered the war on the Allied side, a sizeable infusion of American troops was not scheduled to arrive on the continent until the following year.”

After the conclusion of World War I a series of rebellions erupted across the colonial and semi-colonial territories. The Egyptian Revolution of 1919 brought millions into the streets to demonstrate against British and French imperialism.

A small group of Africans and African descendants gathered in Paris to hold a Pan-African Congress led by African American scholar Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois. This gathering took place at the same time as the Paris talks which negotiated the Treaty of Versailles.

Race riots erupted across the U.S. where in Chicago African American veterans organized self-defense units to protect their communities against marauding white mobs bent on arson, robbery, rape and murder. The 1920s witnessed an explosion in national democratic movements throughout the world along with an expanding and militant industrialized working class.

This same source goes on to emphasize in relationship to the Balfour Declaration and its impact that “the influence of the Balfour Declaration on the course of post-war events was immediate: According to the ‘mandate’ system created by the Versailles Treaty of 1919, Britain was entrusted with the temporary administration of Palestine, with the understanding that it would work on behalf of both its Jewish and Arab inhabitants. Many Arabs, in Palestine and elsewhere, were angered by their failure to receive the nationhood and self-government they had been led to expect in return for their participation in the war against Turkey. In the years after the war, the Jewish population in Palestine increased dramatically, along with the instances of Jewish-Arab violence. The area’s instability led Britain to delay making a decision on Palestine’s future. In the aftermath of World War II and the terrors of the Holocaust, however, growing international support for Zionism led to the official declaration in 1948 of the State of Israel.”

The growing international support for Zionism was from the imperialists themselves. Money, military hardware, intelligence sharing, preferential trade and diplomatic cover were utilized by the colonial powers to facilitate the strengthening of the Zionist state.

The Balfour Declaration by not suggesting the need for an Arab state in Palestine set the stage for another century of imperialist domination and perennial warfare. Large scale oil deposits found in Western Asia proved to be the necessary economic incentive for imperialist domination.

The Treaty of Lausanne

In 1923 the final agreement of the post-World War I period was decided which set the course for the future of Turkey within the world imperialist system. The European power dropped any promise to the Kurdish people for a homeland of their own.

Encyclopedia Britannica stressed in a description of the accord saying it “was signed by representatives of Turkey (successor to the Ottoman Empire) on one side and by Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania, and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (Yugoslavia) on the other. The treaty was signed at Lausanne, Switz., on July 24, 1923, after a seven-month conference. The treaty recognized the boundaries of the modern state of Turkey. Turkey made no claim to its former Arab provinces and recognized British possession of Cyprus and Italian possession of the Dodecanese. The Allies dropped their demands of autonomy for Turkish Kurdistan and Turkish cession of territory to Armenia, abandoned claims to spheres of influence in Turkey, and imposed no controls over Turkey’s finances or armed forces. The Turkish straits between the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea were declared open to all shipping.”

These three documents Sykes-Picot, the Balfour Declaration and the Treaty of Lausanne did much to shape the character of the struggle for national liberation and sovereignty in the region. Nonetheless, a new upsurge in popular movements would emerge beginning in the 1930s and escalating during and in the aftermath of World War II.

The Post World War II Period

In reference to the beginning of World War II as far as Africa is concerned we must look at the impact of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935. An independent monarchy in Ethiopia had fought and contained the Italian colonialists in 1896 at the Battle of Adwa. Italy nonetheless, took control of Eritrea on the coast of the Red Sea as well as taking territories in Somalia.

Haile Selassie I eventually fled to Britain and garnered resources to carry out the war against Italy under Mussolini. Although the year 1939 has been cited by European scholars as the beginning of the second imperialist world war, in fact it was the intervention by the fascist government in Rome against the African people that would characterize the future course of military aggression, forced removals and genocide.

One anti-fascist writer who fled from Mussolini during his reign published a book in 1953 suggesting this thesis. Gaetano Salvemini documented the horrors of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia which collapsed amid the expansionist aims of the fascists in other areas of North Africa.

A recent book published in 2014 edited by G. Bruce Strang entitled “Collision of Empires:
Italy’s Invasion of Ethiopia and its International Impact”, acknowledges Salvemini work whose “focus was the Italian invasion of Ethiopia that began on October 3rd, 1935 and culminated in the fall of Addis Ababa on May 5th, 1936; the Emperor Haile Selassie had fled abroad three days earlier. This conflict was an imperial grab for Africa and a rude dismissal of the ambitions of the League of Nations to achieve permanent peace and justice through collective security. In retrospect it would seem – and Salvemini proclaimed it – that Ethiopia experienced the first Nazi-Fascist aggression in what became the bloody cascade into the Second World War.” (

Later fighting would expand with Italy’s efforts to seize control of territory in North Africa claimed by the British and French. In June 1940 Italy officially entered World War II and later in September, Marshall Graziani’s forces initiated a ground offensive against Britain.

The Italian troops outnumber the British winning Rome’s preliminary successes. Mussolini’s forces seized the port of Sidi el-Barrini constructing a series of fortified military outposts. The British army counterattacked in December led by General Wavell rapidly defeating the Italians.

British colonial supply routes for armaments expanded quickly while Italian supplies of equipment were brought to standstill. Italian military units fled absent of an effective command structure and the enormous numbers of retreating soldiers even obstructed the Allied advances, consequently making tanks movements difficult.  Italian military positions crumbled as Hitler, stunned by the Italian defeat, deployed the German Afrika Korps – directed by General Erwin Rommel.

A renewed series of battles erupted when Rommel embarked upon his first offensive against the Allies in February 1941 as the British forces were taken by surprise carrying out a triple strike on the Sollum-Halfaya line at the border with Egypt. The Hitlerite forces occupied the strategic port of Benghazi and later besieged the other major port of Cyrenaica at Tobruk.

Four months later in June 1941, Operation Battleaxe, the British effort to retake Tobruk was halted as a result of the German well-prepared defenses. In November, with General Auchinleck having replaced Wavell for the British, the Allies initiated Operation Crusader, utilizing the element of surprise against Rommel’s troops.

Even though the German 88mm guns did considerable damage to the British ranks, Axis forces suffering tremendous losses were compelled to flee to El Agheila where they had begun in March. By the conclusion of 1941, Tobruk and Benghazi were returned to British control.

The complete isolation of the fascists came in November 1942 with the launching of Operation Torch, an American-led deployment to Algiers, Oran and Casablanca. After skirmishes with the Vichy French units, the British and U.S. forces took over the Moroccan and Algerian coasts. The defeated fascist army was encircled and by May 1943 over 230,000 fascist troops surrendered to the Allies in Tunisia representing the conclusion of this phase of the war in North Africa.

The U.S. in conjunction with the British established an airbase in Libya during this period known as Wheelus. Built by the Italians during their colonial occupation in 1923, it was turned over to Washington in the aftermath of World War II and would become the largest of such facilities outside the U.S.

At its peak, Wheelus had a 20 square mile base near the coastal city of Tripoli. The base encompassed a Beach Club, the largest military hospital outside the U.S., along with a multiplex movie house, a Bowling Alley and a secondary school attended by 500 students. Wheelus also had a radio and TV station as well as a shopping mall and restaurants. During the apex of Pentagon involvement the outpost housed in excess of 15,000 troops and other military personnel with many of their dependents residing on the base.

Liberation struggles erupted throughout North Africa and the Middle East beginning in the 1940s and extending through the 1960s. In Egypt the country had gained formal independence under a monarchy during the 1930s. Later in the aftermath of World War II and uprising in 1952 led to the seizure of power by the Free Officer’s Movement ousting the monarchy. Eventually Gamal Abdel Nasser became the dominant force in the country moving Egypt toward a form of Pan-Arab and Pan-African internationalism.

The nationalization of the Suez Canal by Nasser in 1956 prompted an invasion by France, Britain and Israel. Washington viewed the intervention as a means to reassert European colonial influence in North Africa forcing the British to retreat from the aggression.

Developments in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon resulted in the establishment of secular governments by the conclusion of the 1950s. The Pentagon under Eisenhower deployed U.S. troops to Lebanon in 1958 to prevent the spread and consolidation of revolutionary democratic movements which had taken control in Iraq and Egypt.

Meanwhile the monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Jordan remained in varying degrees within the sphere of western imperialist influence. The flow of oil to the industrialized states and the competition of influence with the Soviet Union created the necessity of the U.S. to maintain de facto control over the regions of North Africa and the Middle East.

In the more secular states of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, South Yemen and Sudan, various efforts were undertaken to move towards socialist orientation beginning in the late 1950s and 1960s extending through the renewed U.S. and British invasions and occupations in the early 1990s culminating with the destruction of the Arab Baath Socialist Party (ABSP) government under President Saddam Hussein ushering in wars of regime change which were launched against Libya under Gaddafi and Syria under the rival faction of the ABSP in Damascus.

By the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, Sudan had been partitioned at the aegis of the U.S. and Israel weakening the emerging oil-producing country eventually pushing it away from the Islamic Republic of Iran and towards Saudi Arabia. Iraq was destroyed and further driven into sectarian violence due to the occupation of the country by the U.S. and Britain from 2003-2011. Even today, there are U.S. troops still operating in Iraq under the guise of fighting the Islamic State and other “terrorist organizations” which were created directly or indirectly by Washington.

During the same period as the massive bombing of Libya and the Pentagon-CIA coordinated ground operation led by Islamist rebels against the Jamahiriya system under Col. Muammar Gaddafi, the U.S. along with its allies in Turkey and the Gulf monarchies orchestrated a war of destruction and regime-change crippling the once prosperous state of Syria in an assault aimed at removing all anti-imperialist secular governments in the region along with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

A Saudi and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) alliance waged a war of destruction and dislocation against the people of Yemen in 2015-16. Since March of 2015, the Saudi-GCC alliance encompassing countries as far away as Egypt and Sudan, reigning bombs down on Yemen to prevent the consolidation of power by the Ansurallah Movement, often referred to as the Houthis. The Ansurallah Movement is considered a variant in the Shiite Islamic faith as is politically aligned with Iran. Hezbollah of Lebanon, the Assad government of Syria and Tehran has provided critical support in efforts to maintain the current political system in Damascus.

Russian and Syrian military relations emerged during the era of the Soviet Union which politically and militarily supported various states in Africa and the Middle East. Russian air strikes against the armed opposition groups in Syria have provided logistical support to President Assad strengthening the diplomatic status of Damascus amid unprecedented efforts by imperialism to destroy all remnants of a secular anti-imperialist system.

Despite these interventions by the U.S. over the last quarter century, the workers, youth and farmers of these various states throughout the Middle East and Africa distrust and dislike Washington and its foreign policy imperatives throughout the areas. All of these imperialist military acts of aggression have resulted in the further oppression, exploitation and repression of the Palestinian people and their national aspirations towards full independence and sovereignty. Palestinians remains largely scattered across the region and abroad. They are no closer to a negotiated settlement of the total occupation by Zionism and its imperialist backers in Washington and on Wall Street.

Palestinian uprisings and the resistance shown by Hamas in the Gaza Strip illustrate clearly the willingness of these oppressed people to continue their struggle against occupation and tyranny. International solidarity and political support for the Palestinian cause remains at an all-time high irrespective of the hostility inherent in western imperialist foreign policy in support of Israel and the continued subjugation of the Palestinian people.

U.S. imperialist foreign policy is the underlying cause of the stalemate in Palestine; the war seeking to topple the Syrian government; the continuing chaos in Iraq; and the failure to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan. The so-called Arab Spring absent of a political vanguard force of organization, mobilization and ideological orientation could not lead to the advancements needed within the broader anti-imperialist and national democratic struggles.

Moreover, the lack of a clear-cut anti-imperialist orientation opened up the way for the maintenance of the status quo and even the further weakening of North African and Middle Eastern societies. In Tunisia, the cradle of the uprising launched in December 2010 which the following month resulted in the toppling of western-backed President Abidine Zen Ben Ali, has witnessed the return of the same leadership grouping which surrounded Ben Ali prior to January 2011.

In Egypt, the opening up of the political landscape after the forced removal of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 when millions of people took to the streets demanding change eventually devolved into the election of the Muslim Brotherhood and their subsequent removal in a military coup, dubbed a second revolution in July 2013. U.S. imperialist support for Egypt remains in force and civilian opposition figures are routinely arrested, beaten and killed for speaking out against the al-Sisi regime.

Recently the Egyptian government faced growing internal criticism when they ceded the administrative control of two strategic islands to the Saudi monarchy. Egypt under al-Sisi has become reliant upon assistance from Riyadh influencing its willingness to participate in the war against Yemen.

Even the Israeli daily newspaper Hareetz wrote on April 12 that “The maritime border demarcation agreement signed two days ago between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, authorizing the return of Tiran and Sanafir islands to the kingdom, aroused — as expected — a political storm in Egypt and concern in Israel. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi’s rivals, among them the Muslim Brotherhood, the April 6 protest movement and leftist representatives, assert that he lacks constitutional authority to cede any Egyptian territory, and if he does want to do so, he has to submit a request for parliamentary approval. Sissi and his government reject this claim, explaining that the two islands are sovereign Saudi territory and that they were leased to Egypt in 1950 to ‘strengthen the defense of Egypt and Saudi Arabia from Zionist aggression.’”

This same above-mentioned article goes on to discuss the price Egypt will pay for this transferal of authority over the two Red Sea Islands of Sanafir and Tiran. Hareetz notes “Although formally there is no concession of Egyptian territory, the agreement was received in Egypt as political payment for the enormous investments and unprecedented aid that Saudi Arabia has provided to the country over the past two years, and for the aid it promised to provide for the coming five years. The kingdom and Saudi firms are expected, among other things, to invest over $20 billion in Egypt. The Saudis will also provide about $1.5 billion for developing northern Sinai. They will fund a causeway connecting Sharm el-Sheikh and Saudi Arabia, and supply Egypt’s energy needs with a long-term loan with 2 percent interest. Saudi Arabia also expects that Egypt will fall in line with Saudi policy on the war in Syria and Yemen, where it is unclear how long the current cease-fire will last. Egypt apparently made an excellent deal: It receives an outstanding economic lifeline in exchange for territories that it does not own. At the same time, this rescue line is also a knotted rope that turns Egypt into a Saudi satellite state.”

Whether Egypt or Saudi Arabia owns the two islands remains an unsettled matter within international law. The acquisition and administration of the Sanafir and Tiran is related to the efforts by President Nasser leading up to the 1967 war to regain a degree of sovereignty and political independence lost during the period of the creation Israel in 1948 and the expansion of the Zionist state through successive wars of aggression against the Palestinians, Jordanian, Lebanese, Egyptians and Syrians.

Overall it concedes more political and military authority to the imperialists and their principle allies in North Africa and the Middle East. Such actions reinforce the growing influence of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) which was created under the former administration of President George W. Bush and strengthened and enhanced by the Obama White House.

Current Challenges for the Anti-Imperialist and Anti-War Movements in the West

With 2016 being an election year the absence of serious debate and discussion over the future of U.S. foreign policy in Africa and the Middle East is striking. The presumptive nominee of the Republican Party Donald Trump has engaged in rhetorical tirades about “destroying ISIS” as the non-existent basis for U.S. foreign policy in the regions.

Former Secretary of State, New York senator and first lady of Bill Clinton, Hillary, was the public face of the CIA-Pentagon-NATO destruction of Libya, once the most prosperous and stable states in Africa. Clinton nor Obama have been held politically accountable for their militarist policies towards Africa and the Middle East.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has not said much either about what U.S. foreign policy would look like under his administration. He did challenge Clinton over the political posture towards the Palestinians and the State of Israel during the debate leading up to the New York primary in April.

Consequently the anti-Imperialist forces in Western Europe and North America must step up its propaganda efforts designed to not only express solidarity with the people of the Middle East and Africa, but to also highlight the need for the removal of all Pentagon bases in the regions and to halt all assistance to the State of Israel, the Gulf monarchies and Turkey.

The movement against war and imperialist occupation must point to and condemn the role of Saudi Arabia and Turkey in the funding and supplying of ISIS and other armed opposition groups operating in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq. These political forces should categorically oppose the expansion of U.S. military forces and operations throughout Africa from Egypt and Libya in the North, to Somalia in the East and efforts aimed at the destabilization and overthrow of the governments of Zimbabwe and South Africa in the sub-continent.

Finally we must bring the war home to the enemy of the world peoples, the capitalist state and ruling class of the U.S. Until this leading imperialist state and ruling class is uprooted, there will be no genuine peace and stability throughout the globe.    

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