Political rule before and after the ″Arabellion″
Internal colonialism and counter-revolution

When an elite ruling class controls state institutions and resources and uses them for its own benefit, this can be called ″internal colonialism″. Such systems exist in their worst form in the Arab world. The Syrian author Louay Safi believes, however, that all signs indicate that the Arab peoples will rid themselves of this colonialism and that the repressive military regimes will be smothered by their own crimes and corruption

The term ″internal colonialism″ was coined by Latin American authors who used it to describe the relationship of ruling elites to their people. This form of rule can be called colonial, they argued, because the exploitation upon which it is based is very similar to the behaviour engaged in by external colonial powers when subjugating nations.

Elites commandeer the state institutions and use them to impose their own interests, without considering the welfare of the poorer sections of the population. They control the economy and trade, and deploy the army and police force illegally to suppress dissent and drive back competing political forces.

And while the economic situation of the people deteriorates and no one is there to protect them, the elites live in fortified residential complexes, send their children to private schools, take advantage of all the basic supply systems and services, and live a life of luxury, ignoring the plight of the majority.

This exploitative colonial model can be found at its worst in the Arab and Islamic world. It first arose in the 1970s in Pakistan, where the lion's share of the national budget has always gone to the army, which in turn competes with the private sector in trade and industry. Officers' families live in their own housing complexes isolated from the civilian population and their children go to private schools and get scholarships, while the majority of Pakistanis live in poverty, have no access to public services and health care, and receive only a meagre education.

Colonialism on the inside: the example of the Egyptian army

The Pakistani model made its way to Egypt in the 1980s. After Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, the Egyptian army was transformed into a commercial enterprise. The ruling class immediately segregated itself from the people and moved to special neighbourhoods with their own supermarkets, clubs and private schools, as well as their own electricity and water supply and special surveillance systems. By contrast, the majority of Egyptians have no access to public supply systems and are unable to find work, while living costs continue to rise and resources dwindle.

Demonstration in Tripoli (photo: dpa)
In revolt against omnipotence: the Arab Spring tried to overcome this situation and put people in a position to elect their own leaders and then call them to account. One revolt followed another, while the military regimes crushed all demands for reform and carried on with their own internal colonialism

The Arab Spring clearly demonstrated how the Arab military regimes are practising internal colonialism. This is revealed each time a country's rulers create and expand fortified colonies for themselves. The elite residents of such colonies then no longer need to worry their heads about the survival of the common people. This scheme is evident in all nations that have freed themselves from European colonialism only to succumb to an internal form of the very same system. Faced with this relentless situation, some of those affected even long for a return to colonialism from the outside.

This is exactly what happened in Syria under Assad, in Tunisia under Ben Ali, in Libya under Gaddafi and in Yemen under Salih. Everywhere we see the same picture of ruling elites who tried to secure the approval of the big powers, as well as their own special privileges. At the same time, they displayed nothing but indifference and arrogance towards their own people.

Syria as Assad's private farm

Syria can arguably be considered the worst example of internal colonialism in the Arab world. This is not only because the Assad regime has proved to be among the bloodiest and most brutal of colonial regimes, but also because it is obviously prepared to sacrifice its sovereignty, dignity, land and honour, to mortgage the future of the country, to ally itself with greedy outside powers and to placate its real adversaries merely to perpetuate an autocracy.

The Arab Spring tried to overcome this situation and put people in a position to elect their own leaders and then call them to account. One revolt followed another, while the military regimes crushed all demands for reform and carried on with their own internal colonialism. As was to be expected, the deep-rooted state that had evolved over decades launched a series of counter-revolutions to prevent the reform movements from achieving their goals.

But these, too, will fail, because they aim at maintaining regimes – now little more than hollow facades – that are riddled with corruption. All signs indicate that the Arab peoples will cast off internal colonialism, and that the military regimes, which deploy their weapons and repression mechanisms against their own people, will gradually be smothered by their own intrigues, crimes and corruption. The Arab peoples will then be able to breathe again, and the nightmare of tyranny will come to an end.

Despite the repression and despotism they have suffered, or perhaps for that very reason, the peoples will find their way to freedom!

Louay Safi

© Qantara.de 2015

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

The Syrian journalist and political scientist Louay Safi is the author of numerous books on the Arabellion.

More on this topic