The Region: The Arab Left

The Western Left has sided with the reactionaries because they hate their own countries’ systems more. This is a mistake and their compatriots will pay for it in blood.

Free Syria Army_390 (photo credit: Reuters)
Free Syria Army_390
(photo credit: Reuters)
A decent but leftist British Middle East expert once described for me his experience in Iran in 1979. As a leftist, prior to the revolution he had discounted any idea that Islamists might take over the country, dismissing them as insignificant. But then he supported the revolution against the “reactionary, pro-Western” shah.
He had many friends among Iranian leftists. Quickly, he went to Teheran and scheduled meetings at the leftist newspaper established after the revolution. The newspaper was named with the Persian word for dawn, recalling – intentionally or not – the words of another revolutionary romantic quoted above.
As he arrived, however, a cordon of revolutionary Islamist police held him back. The supporters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini were busy closing down the newspaper, ransacking the office and dragging the journalists away to prison. The enthusiastic supporters of revolution, betrayed by their allies (Wordsworth’s “auxiliars,”) were discovering that it wasn’t their revolution at all. The “meager, stale, forbidding” laws and customs were coming back with a vengeance.
The Left may believe itself to be “strong in love” but the Islamists have got the guns, money, organization, and the willingness (even eagerness) to kill for power. This was not the first time such a thing had happened, and now with the “Arab Spring,” we know it wasn’t the last, either.
THE LEFTIST forces in the Arabic-speaking world are seen as relatively weak but can be disproportionately significant, especially in Egypt, Syria and Tunisia. While Arab liberals have often been implicitly secular-oriented, it has been the leftists, Marxists to some degree, who have been militantly outspoken.
In recent years, though, the Arab Left has also hitched its star to the far more powerful Islamists, reasoning that they, too, were against the regime and the West. “After Hitler, us,” over-optimistic German Communists proclaimed in 1932. In a sense they were right, since after the Third Reich’s fall the Soviets would make the survivors the puppet rulers of East Germany. But that’s not the scenario they had in mind.
Now Arab leftists are repeating that pattern. In Egypt, the Left provided a youthful, pseudo-democratic cover at the revolution’s beginning that fooled the Western governments, journalists, and “experts.” Now the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t need them anymore.
Here’s a small example: The Egyptian leftist newspaper is al- Tahrir and its editor is Ibrahim Issa.
He is now being investigated by the government prosecutor on charges of ridiculing the Koran and Sharia law as well as mocking Islam. Soon, people are going to be shot by Salafist terrorists on the basis of such accusations. For now, they just face trials and possible jail time.
What is worth noting is that just about anyone – in this case, as usual, it was an Islamist lawyer – can urge that charges be made against people who say something that offends the Islamists.
I WAS fascinated by one of the statements that got Issa in trouble. It was a very typical leftist theme the equivalent of which is used about every five minutes in the United States, and of late almost daily by Obama administration officials. Issa sarcastically remarked that if someone steals a wallet Sharia mandates that their hand be cut off, but for stealing millions the punishment is far less harsh.
Issa certainly has guts. He was once sentenced to death under the Mubarak regime, and then pardoned by that dictator. But now there has been a supposed democratic revolution.
If the opposition cannot make such non-theological points, how can it criticize Sharia and Islamist rule at all? And while Issa may be defiant, most will be deterred from speaking out or acting by fear of punishment. A common mistake is to think that repression is aimed at silencing courageous critics. Not really. It purpose – usually successful – is to get a far larger number of bystanders to shut up.
There has been a major failure on the part of the Western Left. Can’t they imagine themselves living in such places and being punished for saying or doing all the things they take for granted? Once upon a time they would have shown solidarity with their murdered, imprisoned and repressed counterparts. They would have been outspoken about what’s going on, for instance, in Tunisia where the level of crackdown is gradually increasing and at least one leftist party leader has been murdered by Islamists. They would be jumping up and down to protest the withdrawal of women’s rights. And the Marxists would be throwing around the phrase “clerical fascists.”
Sure, they were long apologists for repression carried out by leftist regimes, but not for repression carried out against leftists. Now things have changed. The Western Left has sided with the reactionaries because they hate their own countries’ systems more. This is a mistake and their compatriots will pay for it in blood.
The author is the director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center.