Three Things You Need to Know About the Background for Events in the Middle East and North Africa

From Revolution Newspaper

Mass protests and attacks on U.S. embassies took place in more than 20 countries across the Middle East and North Africa last week, including in Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, and Palestine. In Libya, the U.S. ambassador and three other State Department employees were killed. These outbreaks coincided with the distribution of a clip of a film that, as described in media reports, appeared designed to grotesquely and gratuitously offend Muslims.

The actual relationship between the distribution of this video and the range of protests and other incidents is not clear at this point, and circumstances surrounding who or what is behind this video and their motives are murky. But to analyze and understand these rapidly unfolding events, it’s crucial to start not with whatever specific incident triggered these events, but at the beginning of this story with some basic facts and history.


“The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism. What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism.”

BAsics 1:3 by Bob Avakian

This is as true in the Middle East as anywhere in the world. For thirty years, the U.S.-backed Hosni Mubarak regime oversaw the interests of U.S. imperialism in Egypt, with torture and “disappearance” directed at any form of protest. The religious fundamentalist, absolutist Saudi monarchy—a model of the vaunted “freedom and democracy” the U.S. brings to the world—prohibits women from public activity, including driving, and recently sent troops into neighboring Bahrain to shore up another torture-based, oppressive pro-U.S. regime. And the U.S. backs Israel, on the land of the dispossessed Palestinian people, as regional (and global) “enforcer.”

All this barely scratches the surface. Newspapers and books could be filled with exposure of the crimes of the United States as well as other imperialist powers like Britain, Germany, France, Russia, etc. Do some online research, and challenge your friends, fellow students, and colleagues to do so as well: Pick any country in the region and check into its history. You’ll find the bloody tracks of “imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism” all over the histories—and present lives—of billions of people in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. (Suggested readings are at the end of this editorial.)


 The clash of two reactionary forces.

The people of the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia have a long history of courageous resistance to imperialism. But serious setbacks of genuine revolutionary forces over the past several decades—especially the defeat of socialism in China and the coup there that re-imposed capitalism, in 1976—have had a terrible impact on the global political terrain. This remains true even as a new stage of communist revolution is fighting to emerge in the world.

In the Middle East and North Africa, the acceleration of capitalist globalization has displaced tens of millions of peasants and eroded traditional social structures and relations. These traditional structures were rooted in the countryside and in a way of life where peasants were subjected to the exploitation of landowners, ignorance was widespread and enforced, and women were the most downpressed of all—including by the males of the oppressed. In these conditions, both as a somewhat “spontaneous” development along with—in many cases—direct U.S. sponsorship, reactionary Islamic fundamentalist forces have achieved significant influence in these oppressed nations.

These forces appeal to those uprooted and displaced by imperialism, and those who acutely feel the oppression of the nations of the Middle East, South Asia, and elsewhere, with a program of going back to an idealized version of the past, in the form of Islamic rule. They posture against imperialism, but only in order to establish a place for themselves in the imperial order; they have neither the program nor the desire to rupture with the entire unjust and destructive order imposed by the great powers.

These Islamic fundamentalist forces do not represent the interests of the masses; those interests lie in the emancipation of all humanity and can only be achieved through revolution against imperialism. Instead, they represent the interests of those classes that aspire to power within the relations of imperialism, and use the masses as battering rams to achieve that aim. This is what is meant when we say that they represent “outmoded strata”—they represent classes and groups whose time has fundamentally passed and who can only look backward. Representing outmoded strata within these countries, their program centers on imposing religious rule and social strictures—all within the imperialist shaped and dominated setup. Where these forces come to power, as in Iran today, they impose their own form of hell-on-earth, including brutal oppression of women, severe repression of critical thinking and expression, and of people overall. And their tactics, as do those of the U.S. imperialists, reflect their fundamental disdain for the masses of people.

For all their anti-U.S. rhetoric, the Islamic fundamentalist forces that rule Iran were initially backed by the U.S. as a lesser evil (from their perspective) compared with more radical and revolutionary forces involved in toppling the murderous U.S.-backed Shah of Iran (as well as those representing other imperial powers of the time). The Islamic Republic of Iran was consolidated in part through the murder of thousands of revolutionaries and the imposition of severe and heartless restrictions on women. The Taliban in Afghanistan and other such forces have their origins in funding from the U.S. when they were fighting the former Soviet Union. It was only as changes came in the imperialist world order, and in how these imperialists saw their interests, that the Islamic fundamentalists came into opposition to the U.S.

Now we are in a dynamic where each U.S. invasion, every drone assassination by the U.S. that wipes out a family, each incident of degrading violence, drives more people into the arms of the Islamic fundamentalists. And each reactionary fundamentalist attack, obscurantist proclamation or oppressive act builds support for imperialism and reinforces its fundamental grip on the planet.

In BAsics 1:28, Bob Avakian puts it this way:

What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these “outmodeds,” you end up strengthening both.

While this is a very important formulation and is crucial to understanding much of the dynamics driving things in the world in this period, at the same time we do have to be clear about which of these “historically outmodeds” has done the greater damage and poses the greater threat to humanity: It is the historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system, and in particular the U.S. imperialists.


The Urgency of Bringing Forward Another Way.

The heroic uprisings against U.S.-backed regimes last year in Tunisia, Egypt, and other countries exposed that the current oppressive world order is not set in stone. They inspired freedom-loving people around the world. But they haven’t yet led to thoroughgoing revolutions that uprooted this entire imperialist-dominated structure. That requires revolutionary leadership—communist leadership. And in the wake of these upsurges, U.S. imperialism and other imperialist powers are maneuvering feverishly to maintain and expand their interests, as with their bombing and forced regime change in Libya.

An unjust and unsustainable status quo is breaking apart. But the question is whether something positive for the people can be wrenched out of it. The only way this is possible is by breaking out of the horrific choices of the current situation, and bringing forward another, liberating way aiming to overthrow and transform the root causes of the horrors facing the people—imperialist domination and feudal, patriarchal, and other oppressive traditional relations and the political structures that enforce all this.

In that context, two final points: first, the more that a visible force emerges in the U.S. that rejects the crimes and “justifications” of “our own” rulers, the better the conditions will be for a genuine, liberatory force to emerge in the world. Second, it is crucial to get word of genuinely emancipatory communism—as concentrated in the Manifesto from the RCP, USA: Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage—out into the world.

Suggested readings

Bringing Forward Another Way, Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, RCP Publications, 2007.

Communism: the Beginning of a New Stage: A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, RCP Publications, 2008. (Available in Spanish, Farsi, Turkish, German, and other languages at

Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda, Larry Everest, Common Courage Press, 2003.

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.