Yet another imperialist military intervention has begun with French air strikes on Libya. The US-sponsored North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) operation has been launched ostensibly to prevent Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces from attacking its people. This direct interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country, the biggest intervention since the military occupation of Iraq, comes under the sanction of a United Nations Security Council resolution. This overzealousness betrays imperialism's eagerness to retain its hegemonic control over the oil-rich region and prevent any realignment of forces that could be detrimental to its interests. The region has proven, accumulative reserves of 103.2 billion tonnes of residual fuel oil in 2009, or 55.6% of the proven total global oil reserves.
Imperialism's double standards become clear with the US-inspired Saudi Arabian military intervention in Bahrain to prop up the Khalifa, opposed by the people seeking better standards of livelihood, human rights and democracy. In Libya, imperialism seeks a regime change while in Bahrain, it seeks to sustain the autocratic Khalifa family that has lorded it over the country since 1783. Both interventions are ironically in the name of protecting the people. The reason for such dichotomy is not far to seek. Bahrain is home to the US navy's fifth fleet and has been a steadfast ally. Libya, on the other hand, is not such a firm ally. Further, Libyan oil reserves and the ocean of fossil water reserves on which its deserts lie today have the potential of more lucrative profits than oil. A regime change here could well be to imperialism's advantage, while in Bahrain it is not.
Behind these military interventions lie the basic geo-political interests of imperialism in the region. Its post-World War I history is replete with occupations aimed at controlling its energy resources. Post World War II, in an effort to reverse the gains of de-colonisation, the US intervened to topple the democratically-elected regime in Iran and foist a pliant one. On the one hand, its propping up of Israel, military aggressiveness against Arab countries, denying Palestinians their homeland and on the other, the propping up of client regimes through massive military and 'aid' programmes, ensured imperialism's hegemonic control over the region.
The situation dramatically changed over the past few months when popular protests across the region led to the downfall of pro-US regimes in Egypt and Tunisia. Hosni Mubarak's Egypt was imperialism's lynchpin in the region. With popular protests rising in other countries like Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, imperialist hegemony was threatened. It is important to remember that all these countries received massive US military assistance. In fact, the weapons being used by Gaddafi's forces today were provided by the US and other Nato allies in the first place.
The recent popular upsurges have been triggered by the global economic crisis that has increased the burden on the people through massive lay-offs and price rise. Libya, interestingly, occupies the first place in the human development index for Africa and has the highest life expectancy in the continent. It provides food security, essential social services, education and health for its people as well as employment to people from neighbouring countries. However, the protesting youth are an unmistakable picture of indignation. The demands for a better life, a better political and social ordering and the ability or inability of the ruling dispensation to meet these aspirations are matters that have to be settled within sovereign boundaries of independent countries.
The military intervention in Bahrain a week earlier, however, has come under the terms of the Joint Peninsular Shield established in 1990 under the umbrella of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a six-nation regional organisation, where any member state can seek military assistance from another in the face of an external threat. The threat that the ruling autocracy in Bahrain faces is entirely internal. The GCC is estimated to have $1.34 trillion of surplus assets accumulated in the last few years alone as oil revenues. The escalation of popular protests in Bahrain could well snowball into other GCC states, spiralling a political destabilisation that jeopardises such huge reserves. Already protest marches in four different locations in Saudi Arabia have been repressed.
These popular upsurges have also negated imperialism's stereotypical projection of any uprising in an Islamic country as the rise of fundamentalism and therefore terrorism. The joint statement by Bahraini opposition groups have put it succinctly, saying "this tripartite coalition adopts the choice of bringing down the existing regime in Bahrain and the establishment of a democratic republican system". The people in Islamic countries, like people anywhere else in the world, aspire for better living standards, human rights and liberty. This aspiration gets exponentially magnified in countries that have suffered for centuries under oppressive, autocratic rule backed by imperialism.
If people are sovereign, then they must be allowed to decide on their future in their sovereign country. Imperialism must be forced to roll back this military intervention. The countries that abstained in UN Security Council, including India, must now assert themselves and stop yet another military aggression in Libya.
PS: Whither Obama's promising rhetoric at the Al Azhar in Cairo soon after he assumed the US Presidency?
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal