Nadia Mahmood from the Worker-communist Party of Iraq spoke to Solidarity about the impact of the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt on Iraq and the whole Middle East.
This version of the interview is longer than the abridged version in the printed paper.
These two great revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt are opening a new arena in the entire world. They have a huge impact and influence on the people in the Middle East in general and all over the world.
The victory of the revolution in Tunisia and Egypt has forced all western governments to abandon one of their loyal allies, under the pressure of consistent struggle by the people show. These revolutions show that the people have the power if they decide to use it, and can topple the most savage dictatorships.
Many of the presidents in the Middle East have now announced a number of changes. For example, Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq has announced that he will not nominate himself for another election. The same in Yemen from Abdullah Saleh. Saeb Erekat has resigned from his job as a Palestinian negotiator with the Israeli authorties. King Abdullah has dismissed his government and called for another one. In Kuwait the government has announced that they will pay each citizen $3400.
In Iraq the monthly rations are now to be delivered on time, and three months' worth are to be distributed to families in advance. Before these revolutions the government was threatening to cut the rations. Now a number of MPs are announcing that they will donate their salaries, or take only half of their salaries.
Already demonstrators have taken to the street in Iraq. There is not enough media coverage, but it happened in a number of cities. In Diwaniya the police opened fire and killed some demonstrators. Our party and the Iraq Freedom Congress organised a demonstration in Baghdad on Thursday, 3 February, from our Tahrir Square to the Egyptian embassy, with banners supporting the Egyptian people and saying Hosni Mubarak should step down. There were solidarity demonstrations in many cities in Iraq, from Basra to Kirkuk.
Now there are preparations for a demonstration of one million, planned to take place in Baghdad on 25 February in Tahrir square - it is the same name as the square in Cairo. Facebook and email has been used intensively to organise people for what is called the "day of rage". Spreading the revolution is now a real possibility. It is on the agenda of hundreds of thousands of people in the whole area.
In Iraq, there have been already been demonstrations to expose the corruption of the Parliament and how it is not providing any services to the people.
Just a few days, after the government came into office, it imposed the closure of shops selling alcohol. Even before that the sale of alcohol was banned in some cities in southern Iraq, but in Baghdad there were shops selling alcohol. Now the government has said that Muslim people are not allowed to have shops selling alcohol.
The education ministry is trying to impose a new segregation between boys and girls in universities. Some ministries also want to impose the veil formally.
Islamisation in Iraq is now going ahead formally, led from the government. We are organising demonstrations and mobilising people to stop these violations of basic individual rights.
Q. In one way, though not in others of course, what's happening in Egypt and Tunisia now is similar to what happened in Iran in 1978. Do you think there are any lessons from Iran for Egypt and Tunisia now?
A. The first lesson is that the revolution has to continue its job. In Egypt, people succeeded in toppling Mubarak, but the government he formed is still in office, and the army that he was one of its leaders of is still in power. The question is, where to go from here? People are concerned about the Emergency Law. They want the rule of law.
Now, is the time for working class, for unemployed youth, women, and people from different walks of life to get organised and to determine their destiny.
If the movement stops at this stage, there will be some political openness, but what is the government going to do in terms of economic crisis? The crisis is not local one, it is a global one. Unless people fight to the end, they can not have their demands met.
Q. In Iran in 1978-9 there was a democratic upheaval, with working-class action, which was taken over and annexed by Islamists to produce a regime even more brutal than the old one...
A. I think the movements in Tunisia and Egypt show that the curve of political Islam is declining. The golden days of political Islam are coming to an end. It is a joke when Ahmadinejad or Moqtada al- Sadr describe the revolution in Egypt as an "Islamic revolution". It is not.
For a third of a century Iran has been ruled by political Islam, and people see no good in their rule. Just last year, millions took to the streets against the Islamic Republic of Iraq. Political Islam has had no solution to economic problems, but only intensified them. And they add to it political oppression similar to medieval abuses.
People have seen Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Palestine, Algeria. They don't want political Islam. You can hear people from Tunisia saying on the television that they don't want a Khomeiny in Tunisia. The revolutions have been secular.
In Iran the revolution was not an Islamic revolution: as Mansoor Hekmat described it, it was the suppression of the revolution that was Islamic. If America sees the revolution in Egypt and Tunisia going beyond their control, it may see no option but to use the Islamic movements as a "representative" and "legitimate" power to impose calm and "work" with them, as in Saudi Arabia. But, again, people have to make their decision.
Q. Some people say that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has learned to be a democratic party and it is different from the Islamists in Iran and Algeria...
A. No. Of course not. Mubarak claimed to be "democratic" too! The Brotherhood won't say that they will impose an Islamic state now, when they are not in power. In Iran, after the revolution, Khomeiny did not change everything suddenly. It took a process. To force veils on women, for example, they started in the universities, and it took them three years to impose Islamic rule completely on the country.
Of course the Muslim Brotherhood talks about democracy now. But if they come to power, we will not see anything better than Islamic rule in other countries.
Already the culture of Egypt is very influenced by the Islamic movement. You see many women veiled, which you never saw in the 1960s or the 1970s. You see the attacks on writers, on film-makers, on singers. The Muslim Brotherhood is not in power, but they already exert pressure on the society.
Q. Compare Eastern Europe in 1989. You had huge popular movements which overthrew the regimes. The outcome was dominated by the neo-liberals, not because the majority liked their ideas, but because they had networks, they had political cadres... In Tunisia and Egypt so far the political stage is held by the army, by conservative opposition politicians like ElBaradei, and by the Islamists.
A. In Egypt now the trade unions are forming themselves and trying to impose their demands. But there is still a vacuum in terms of a political party that represents workers. That gap needs to be filled. It is a great weakness now in Egypt that we do not have a communist workers' party.
At least now we have trade unions, and they have great demands. If they succeed in imposing a workers' agenda in terms of jobs and social security, that is a great achievement.
Because of the political vacuum in terms of a communist workers' party, I think this movement will produce a government which does not meet workers' demands. They can make the government retreat on some things, but not change it completely.
These countries have been subjected to economic neo-liberalism and privatisation. Maybe there will be no change in that structure. But there will be more political openness.
Now we have economic hardship and political oppression. The result of this movement can at least bring political openness, and prepare better ground for workers and communists to function and to work.
Capitalism cannot bring a better version of neo-liberalism. The ground is prepared now for communists in the Middle East.