In the very first line in chapter 1 of the book Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx wrote “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”
Sparked by the dreadful natural disasters from freak weather around the world, at the end of 2010 and start of 2011 UN Food Price Index reach its record high, surpassing even the peaks of 2008 global food crisis. Analysts warned that food riots, geopolitical tensions, global inflation and increasing hunger for the planet’s poorest are the likely effects. And it didn’t take long for a chaos to take place.
What began as a protest over food price rise and unemployment in Algeria and Tunisia, the protest soon started to escalate in Tunisia into a bigger protest: people’s long-kept dissatisfaction towards their corrupt and totalitarian leader, along with his cronies. As more people broke their fear barrier towards the government (something unheard of in the Arab World) the protest began to boil up.
Similar incident occurred in my country Indonesia in 1998, when a currency peg to the US dollar began to backfire in South East Asian countries, triggering a currency sellout that began in 1997, with the value of our currency plummeting from Rp.2000/USD to as low as Rp.16,800/USD. The currency crisis soon escalated into students’ protest over dissatisfaction towards President Soeharto’s 32 years dictatorship, with a firing incident by the police that killed few students became the trigger that sparked a riot. In a matter of days, Soeharto, a CIA-installed president, ended his regime.
The riot in Indonesia 1998 could not be anymore similar than the riot we have in Tunisia, which derived from frustration over class struggle, between the corrupt regime and the ordinary people. In Tunisia, the boiling anger of the protesters was finally burst when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, after years of frustration on the corrupt and unfair system finally gets the best in him. Bouazizi’s death became the trigger for larger nationwide protest, which became more violent with clashes with the police, with the 23 years dictatorship of Ben Ali finally collapse in 22 January 2011.
As Ben Ali fled from Tunisia, the people of the rest of the Middle East awakened, and the other Arab World dictators are getting anxious. It seems that a Pandora’s Box has been opened.
The case with the Soviet Union
Class struggle created by long-serving dictatorship is a typical case for the Arab World, just like it was typical for the former Soviet Union member countries. And with Tunisia as the trigger, the Arab World might undergo a revolution that would completely change the blue print of global politics once more, like the one we experienced through the collapse of the Soviet Union.
When Karl Marx’s book “Communist Manifesto” was published in 1848 Europe was filled with monarchic countries, with class struggles exist between the people and the rulling monarchs, making Marxism a romantic dream for the citizens especially the working class. But it is not until the early 20th century that the dream started to become reality, when Lenin (with the help of Young Stalin, among others) engineered the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 Russia. The revolution was brutal but effective, and as the last monarchy in Russia fell to the ground, Marx’s ideology of communism started to come to life.
In the next few decades, communism spread like a domino effect, which, among others, spread through the establishment of Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) that covered Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Transcaucasia (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan); and through the Nonagression Pact with Germany that made possible of the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and Eastern Poland.
In its core, the very ideals of communism consist of a fair Utopian dream: classless and stateless society built on common ownership of the means of production and resources, for the good of all. But as in the case of the other extreme, Milton Friedman’s version of extreme free-market ideology, any Utopian ideology will never work in its fullest in real world, because it failed to take account of human irrationalities.
In reality, during the leadership of USSR corruption was rampant, environmental damage was common and it is estimated that the total of 94 million people were killed to justify its totalitarian rule. Needless to say, just like the story in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the communist party had produce the same kind of struggle and inequality to their people as much as the monarchies they overthrew. Hence, another wave of revolution was inevitable.
By the 1980s almost all the economies of the Eastern Bloc had stagnated, in which during the period of 1982-1987 inflation was 1500% in the Soviet State of Poland and more than 60% of its population lived in poverty. In the middle of this economic chaos, labour turmoil started to occur in Poland, which over time the formation of the independent labour union called “Solidarity” became a political force.
At the same time, similar uprising was boiling across the Eastern Bloc, and USSR’s decision to invade Afghanistan made the regime deeply unpopular, and sparked more anti-communist sentiments. The backfiring effects of the Afghan war made it increasingly impractical for the Soviet Union to dictate its will to its state countries.
Bow to the pressure, in the late 1989 USSR government abolished the Brezhnev Doctrine and produced a new doctrine, or a new policy, to allow Warsaw Pact countries (Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East German, Hungary, Poland, Romania and USSR) to finally determine their own internal affairs. The new policy added fuel to the already burning fire, and became the trigger, or the tipping point, of the fall of USSR.
The new policy was dubbed The Sinatra Doctrine.
The Sinatra Doctrine
Inspired by Frank Sinatra’s song “my way”, the informal term Sinatra Doctrine was coined by USSR Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov on a US talk show. In effect, the Warsaw Pact countries became a satellite countries for USSR, thus was allowed to run their country “their way.” That opened the pathway for the fall of communism in those countries.
After being outlawed for several years and became an underground movement, a nationwide protest finally forced the government of Poland to legalized “Solidarity” movement and allow them to participate in parliamentary election, in which they won 99 out of the available 100 seats. This practically ended the Polish communist regime.
One by one, the fall of Communist regime that began in Poland soon spread like a domino effect to Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania; and it inspired the courageous Tiananmen Square protest in China that sadly ended in massacre. By the end of 1991, however, the Berlin Wall fell and destroyed and became the symbol of the fall of communism, and in the same year USSR was dissolved to 15 countries: Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
The domino effect took its toll in Albania and Yugoslavia, with Yugoslavia splitting into 5 countries by 1992: Slovenia, Croatia, Republic of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). Communism was pronounced dead. And along with the death of the ideology, the global political blue print that dominated the Cold War era began to change, as the majority of the world embrace the free-market ideology.
The Awakening of the Arab World
The history of USSR in one way or another has a degree of resemblance with the history of modern Middle East. Just like the Soviet Union member countries, most of the Arab countries have similar characteristics and similar political landscape among several groups of countries, which was derived from their shared history.
In the Middle East, the grouping of the countries occurred when Ottoman Empire was defeated in 1918, as the British and French governments created the Sykes-picot Agreement to divide the Middle East between them. Syria and Lebanon became French protectorate, joining Tunisia and Algeria; and British mandate territories consist of Iraq and Palestine, joining Egypt, South Yemen and Qatar.
After relatively short colonial ruling period, in the 1920s-1950s anti-colonial movements rose and secured independence in these countries. And over the next decades one dictatorial coup after another, the establishment of Israel and the discovery of oil in Western-Ally Saudi Arabia in 1937 that brought the destructive US Foreign Policy to the region (which are massive stand alone topics) dominates the colour of the Middle East politics.
Like their communist counterparts, over time, these dictatorship regimes amassed huge sums of wealth while a bunch of its citizens live in poverty. Like the communist countries, corruption and nepotism are widespread, unemployment rates are high, media are controlled and unjustified executions are not uncommon. The divisions between the ruling class and its citizens are apparent, and the presence of US Foreign Policy to secure its “US Interests” in the region ensures that their dictator allies remain in control. Needless to say, people are oppressed, tired and angry.
As with the case of the fall of communism in USSR that started in Poland then spread to other Warsaw Pact countries, soon after the fall of dictatorship in Tunisia, a wave of awakening rise up in the Arab World, with protests starting to occur in Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Bahrain, Algeria, Libya and most notably Egypt.
As few weeks have passed since the first Tunisian domino fell, as things currently stand, Jordan King Abdullah has abolished his government and elected new government, and Yemen long-serving dictator has vowed not to participate in the next election. And of course there’s Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who has taken some desperate moves from vowing not to participate in election next September, to appointing a new Prime Minister and Vice President for the first time in 30 years; all of which defy what the protesters want, for him and his entire regime to step down.
As I continue writing this, the scene on Al Jazeera English in front of me is showing the Tahrir Square of Cairo in an euphoric atmosphere, anxiously and eagerly waiting for Hosni Mubarak’s statement on national TV for his resignation, as rumour spread that earlier in the day the military has stepped up and intervened on Mubarak’s secret power-succession plan to his US-Israel-Saudi?-Approved Vice President Omar Suleiman. The truth, however, remains to be seen.
If history is any indicator, Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship will eventually end based on the inevitable change of situation that has tipped, just like the inevitable separation of the Warsaw Pact countries from USSR. If history is repeating itself, if Mubarak steps down the second domino of Egypt (the most populated Arab country and a vital key US ally for Arab-Israel “peace” agreement) might become Arab World’s version of Sinatra Doctrine, further spreading the end of dictatorship regimes in the Middle East, just like Sinatra Doctrine spread the end of the communist regimes in USSR. And maybe, just maybe, if history is any benchmark, if Mubarak fall the political balance in the Middle East could and would change, most significantly in the position of Israel and US interests in the region, and in time could lead to many other political chain reactions across the globe. This is not chaos in the Middle East, my friend, this is history in the making!