With the outburst of conflicts and shifts of power in the Arab region, Political Islam continues to grow more extreme, ISIS has emerged to turn things upside down and the Arab-Israeli conflict has gained a new dimension.

Analyzing these events as they unfold, Fawaz Tarabolsi, Lebanese thinker, writer and leftist advocate, shares his perspective in an interview with Correspondents.

With the outburst of conflicts and shifts of power in the Arab region, Political Islam continues to grow more extreme, ISIS has emerged to turn things upside down and the Arab-Israeli conflict has gained a new dimension.

Analyzing these events as they unfold, Fawaz Tarabolsi, Lebanese thinker, writer and leftist advocate, shares his perspective in an interview with Correspondents.

Tarabolsi was a prominent leader of the Socialist Lebanese Movement in the 1970s,  as well as a historian and university professor. He  penned two important books: ‘Democracy is Revolution’ (2012) and ‘Marxism and Some Arab Issues’ (1985).

He calls the attempts to extradite the Arab revolutions as ‘counter-revolutions’ and believes that economic change and innovative ways for protest will lead the crowds to overcome these counter-revolutions. 

Fawaz Tarabolsi, three years since the Arab revolutions, the region is once again on fire: a coup in Egypt, civil wars in Libya as well as Syria, in addition to the division of Iraq. Has the Arab Spring turned into a nightmare?

I opposed labeling the revolutions of the Arab world as ‘Arab Spring’ for many reasons. First, it is wrong to compare the revolutions which happened in the Arab World to those of Eastern Europe.

Second, this description goes against the surprise element which can be applied to five or six countries. Third, the term ‘spring’ is easy to manipulate and cannot be studied academically.

The revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Libya were not easy since revolutions are not generally peaceful, but their level of violence depends on the reactions of the ruling regimes. Gathering the crowds is not a peaceful act unless the authorities are prepared to make compromises. The only exception was in Morocco where the regime contained a movement which was not as important as that of Egypt or Libya.

Thus, violence is closely related to this spontaneous explosion which has negative as well as positive implications at the same time. It is a spontaneous reaction indeed since it gathers tens of millions of people without any unified goals, except fighting oppression and corruption. It was interesting to see five or six countries with the same demands of a decent life, freedom and social as well as human justice.

Is there hope that these revolutions, which took the form of consecutive revolutionary waves, will achieve their ultimate goals?

I am not saying that these revolutions are not effective in the long term, but they were subject to many counter-revolutions. The old social powers have resurfaced and there were all kinds of external interventions. The USA, for example, aimed at sacrificing the regimes’ heads to keep the regimes themselves, which was the case in Egypt and Yemen. 

The super powers believe that these regimes derive their strength from their security apparatuses and military. Economically, these regimes are required to comply with the international financial institutions or the so-called Neo-Liberalism. 

Definitely counter-revolutions happened in the countries whose revolutions turned into civil wars such as in Syria and partially in Yemen where the crowds responded violently to the regime’s suppression. However, that was not the case in Egypt and Tunisia where the main aim was to maintain the old regime. I believe that in their pursuit of equality, justice and breaking class barriers, the crowds themselves, rather than the USA, caused the constructive chaos. 

We are certainly facing counter-revolutions which take many forms. In some countries, Political Islam was able to reach the parliament through elections such as in Yemen. In Libya, it is a major power. Egypt tried it for a whole year before getting rid of it. Then, there was a power balance which made the army introduce itself as a savior backed by the so-called ‘Remnants’. In Tunisia, there are power balances between Ennahda Movement and its opponents.    

Is there still a bet for the future? Is there incurable hope, as you titled one of your books?

There is no bet. The revolutions’ strength lies in violence. The threat they posed to the national security stimulated violent reactions. Some regional powers such as the Gulf regimes tried to contain the new reality. However, we are discovering to what extent these regimes have international legitimacy. The crowds’ trust lost by the Arab regimes was regained through external support. None of these regimes dared moving without international and regional consent.

Today, we should admit that the crowds who took to the streets, strived, dreamed, envisioned and committed to their beliefs were not organized to face the military forces. On the other hand, the ever more powerful Political Islam, which hosts jihadist groups is not but one vicious aspect of the counter-revolutions. Revolutions aspire to modernization and freedom, but these powers aimed at destroying the civil states which are theoretically based on constitutions. They wanted to replace the law with the right to govern by force. I believe the need for economic change will be a reaction to these counter-revolutions.

These counter-revolutions provoked the major public powers which once took to the streets and are now required to be much wiser and more reasonable since the time of occupying squares is over. While the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions were a success, Syria opened fire on the first protest it witnessed. Today, more creative ways should be considered since disregarding the reasons behind the revolutions produces similar deceiving regimes.

How do you see Political Islam’s situation today, starting from the Muslim Brotherhood’s fall in Egypt and the rise of ISIS and other radical groups in Libya and Tunisia? Does the current situation constitute the end or a new awakening for Political Islam?

I have the same question. In Egypt, under the Muslim Brotherhood, the question was: “Will the so-called moderate Islam strengthen the Jihadist one or remove it altogether?” Sometimes, it seemed that it was able to eliminate the Jihadist Islam from its religious context. Besides, the American policy, which is based on suffocating the world, is doing damage in the context of the so-called universal war.

Those who accept to deal with Political Islam should ask themselves the following question: “Is the war waged against them the only way to finish them, including the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq especially when the terrorist groups are turning into full-fledged armies?” ISIS is the by-product of the Iraqi Jihad against the American occupation, as it operates under the command of three pro-Saddam officers who led the war against the American occupation.

I doubt that the answer is moderate Islam. No doubt the ISIS and the Jihadist Islam are imposing themselves by force, which entails strong and violent responses. If we look at the story of ISIS’ revival in Iraq, we would find out that the monopoly of power by two Shiite parties (Da’wa and Higher Council)— backed by America and Iran after the withdrawal of the American occupation, in alliance with the Kurds— is partly to blame regardless of involving a Sunni faction and blaming the Sunnis for Saddam’s crimes. That situation was met by peaceful protests in mixed and Sunni governorates. They demanded revoking the Anti-Terrorism Law which is discriminatory. Maliki only responded with more oppression.

The American occupation managed to stop most of the tribes from supporting ISIS, which was called al-Qaeda at the time. The Americans formed the Awakening Forces of 150,000 from the tribes which led to al-Qaeda’s decline and fall. However, the Iraqi regime refused to integrate them in the regime and, thus, this corrupt army was the by-product of the situation after the American occupation. This army collapsed in front of the alliance of ISIS, the armed tribes, former Baathists and some dissidents, such as the followers of the Naqshbandi Sufi method.

I believe there are political, economic and social justifications for the spread of Jihadist groups. It is not a coincidence that jihadists are rife in the marginalized areas, which are ignored by the ruling regimes. Some jihadists are from the same tribes and clans which were armed and took part in smuggling arms when they were required to smuggle jihadists. The ISIS’ jihadists are those who fought in Iraq and then dispersed.

There are economic, social and democratic answers. There is no one simple explanation. Jihad is extremism which can only be cured by moderation and democracy which make all people feel they are part of the political process.    

Has what happened over the last three years changed the international balances especially since the conflict is no longer between the Sunnis (supported by America) and the Shiites (supported by Iran and Hezbollah)? Has Saudi Arabia become a key player in the equation and in changing the conflict zones?

Saudi Arabia has always been at the center. What is new is that part of the region has become Saudi-Iranian. When the Iranian-American negotiations started, it was interesting to see that the U.S. was only interested in settling the issue of Iran’s nuclear weapons. That explains the Americans’ unwillingness to change in Syria, which encouraged some Syrian and Turkish factions to provide weapons.

The use of a full veto on nuclear weapons in the region would change the balance of power and, hence, relying on Russia was the main target. The U.S. seemed in strange harmony with Iran. The situation became more complicated with the appearance of ISIS in Iraq. I believe Iran is planning a military intervention in Iraq on the pretext of removing ISIS.  The Saudi-Iranian conflict explained the emergence of ISIS despite the fact that the Saudi monarch did not say much about Qatar. ISIS is still posing a threat to the Iraqi regime, which is backed by Iran and the U.S. What proves it is that the U.S did not take a decision whether Maliki should step down or stay in office for a third term.

There is no doubt that this conflict will increase violence and will apply to Iraq and Yemen where Iran has influence in the east and south of the country. Another issue is that geopolitics are more important than people’s interests in a region which badly needs change and freedom, not to mention security, which is closely linked to Israel defending its security in Gaza.

Debating Sykes-Picot agreement leads to misunderstanding the American policy, which is steered by stability, preserving the status quo after establishing Israel and protecting its interests— all the agreements prove that.

How do you think the media handled the coverage of Gaza? How do you evaluate the resistance’s role? Do you consider the military strikes a victory which will lead to lifting the siege?

The media accentuated the catastrophic human aspect and the losses of lives among civilians and children. They did not show what actually happened. Some even went further to suggest that Israel stroke Gaza in response to abdicating three Israeli settlers. The media was only focused on scoops and inciting instincts without thinking and analyzing.

I believe the Israeli decision to start the war has three reasons. First, it was a reaction to forming a Palestinian national unity government for the first time in which Hamas had recently been calming things.

Second, the Israeli far right saw a danger in the level of arming which the resistance reached (which is in fact only intended for defense) and so it decided to seize it. Third, there is a talk about the coastal borders of Palestine having natural gas and the existence of Hamas or any other Palestinian authority, which has the potential to be financially independent, is out of the question. Palestine, including the West Bank and Gaza, is economically occupied and has no access to the sea and, consequently, the world. In other words, it has no actual resources except for the custom fees which come from Israel, the Palestinian revenues and the international aids.

I believe the resistance survival is in itself a triumph. I have already said it to Hezbollah. As for the military results and losses, we do not know much about the military infrastructure of Hamas and Jihad movements. However, it is obvious that there are no losses among their leaders. The key development was the tunnels which enabled them to execute major successful military operations.

It should be noted that the ratio of military to civilian Israeli casualties is five to one, but we do not know the ratio in the Palestinian side whose casualties reached 2,000.

The resistance survival is in itself a triumph. Israel was only able to reduce the volume of Gaza’s military preparations and stocks and make two Palestinian authorities ready for a political solution despite my deep belief that Israel is not keen on one. Israel will go unpunished for all this bloodshed and death. It is interesting that the International People’s Movement had an unprecedented angry response in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, these difficult negotiations should have at least led to lifting the siege and opening the crossings. Gaza gave an example of the resistance courage and endurance.

This victory came amid general Arab degeneration. The Palestinian losses were reduced by aids from the Gulf countries.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s horrible reign and terrorism in Gaza created a certain Egyptian public opinion and prepared for the new authority. Under the Muslim Brotherhood, terrorism thrived in Sinai which is a distant tribal area suffering many issues. This area largely resembles the north west of Syria. All of that shows how such areas became beyond the authorities’ control in addition to the collapse of the countryside. This degeneration passively impacted the Palestinian people’s interests.