Calls from the Arab world to support the resistance
Cairo conference: Anti-imperialists, Islamists and pan-Arab leftists gather in Egypt
The yearly Cairo conference was held at the Journalists” Syndicate in downtown Cairo March 29th until April 1st. The conference and parallel Egyptian Social Forum was, unlike many of the gatherings of the Western and especially European-dominated social forums, filled with a strong popular and explicit voice sounding support for the resistance in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine. But, everything is not good tidings. As well as bearing witness to the support of the resistance the conference itself also bore forewarns of the growing splits in the Arab pro-resistance movements.
The conferences in Cairo seem always to give clear forecasts on what are the forthcoming successes as well as problems, splits and difficulties facing the pro-resistance forces. This year the deep split between the resistance movements regarding Iran overshadowed all the other political discussions. As well discussions are plenty to be found towards relations to the Palestinian government after the Mekka agreement, the alliance of Islamist and leftist forces as well as the relation between the democratic struggle and the resistance against imperialism, especially in Egypt. Most of these debates are to be found in the nuances of different statements, rather than boiling polemics. But they still play an important role in the dynamics of the anti- imperialist movement of the Middle East, without necessarily being a hinder for unity.
Also unfortunately, given that the conference itself was marked by a popular support for the resistance struggles, a majority of the international delegates were reluctant to bring this call home to their own countries. The majority of the representatives of different anti-war movements in mainly Western Europe, Canada and Korea, many of them also linked to the International Socialist Tendency of the British Socialist Workers Party (Socialistworker.co.uk.) argued against raising support for the resistance in Western countries. Rather, they argued, the movement should focus on fighting the wars and to bring the troops home. This debate is recurrent of the debates taking place during the 70s on the movement to support Vietnam. Also at that time many argued that the solidarity movement could not take a clear position towards the FNL and the Vietnamese liberation struggle. While these representatives are arguing that the anti-war movement must respect a majority of pacifist or other forces that do not want to support armed resistance they overlook how a movement, like today the pro-resistance Western forces, once could grew from a minority to a majority in many Western countries.
Also for the International Socialist Tendency the new focus on the war threats on Iran seems to shift their focus away from Iraq and the resistance of the Arab people. While it is essential for the movement to mobilize against any American war threats on Iran, we should neither forget the occupations of Palestine and Iraq or the struggle against American and Israeli hegemony in Lebanon.
To counter this hesitation to take the support of the resistance from words into actions in the West a clear approach from the Arab world is needed. Among the most prominent in delivering such a call is Hizbollah, who, following sue a conference held by them and their allies in Lebanon November 2006 now reaches out to the anti-imperialist movement of the world for an international day of action 12th of July. This call needs to be embraced and developed by the principled parts of the Western anti-war movements. The realization from the part of Hizbollah on the need for depending on the resistance and at the same time gathering international support for it is more clear-cutting than the approach of the Cairo Conference itself, which seem to content itself on whatever coordination can be made with Western movements and at the other side principled pan-Arabists completely ignoring the role of solidarity movements in the west.
The discussions on Iran
From the beginning of the Cairo conference it was clear that the topic of Iran would be a hot topic. At the opening session the Iraqi representative (an Iraqi Baathist living in Egypt) withdrew because of the support given from the Egyptian speakers to the nuclear program of Iran and against American war plans. Such supportive views were uttered by among others Hamadan Sabahi from the Karama party and Akef from the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). We can mainly point out three different views. The first is the position most prominently manifested in the words of Hizbollah, but also enjoying supports from other groups (especially in Syria and Lebanon) that Iran represent the main resistant current and project in the area and that the resistance forces need to be in the same trench as Iran.
The second view is the view of the majority of the Egyptians, Palestinians and so forward that the pro-resistance forces in general should support Iran against the USA, but not consider Iran as such a part of the resistance and furthermore to various degrees criticize the Iranian role in Iraq. The last point of view is that of the Baath party that equalize the Iranian and American role in Iraq.
This is de facto a sectarian position hidden in Pan-Arab propaganda aiming not only at Iran but also at the Shia majority in Iraq and it”s also a reflection of Baath”s version of republicanism which in reality means the exclusion of the Shiite political community as formally equal it might be.
Further this is the most dangerous position as it reflects the attempts of the Americans to split and divide the resistance forces. The escalation of this heated antagonism is the best proof of the American successes in this regard.
The witch hunt for Shiites proved to be the main card of the reactionary Arabic regimes during the war in Lebanon 2006, to provide an excuse for them not to support the struggle of Hizbollah. Anti-imperialists need to confront all attempts by the US to split the forces of resistance. At the same time the Iranian role in Iran is mainly negative. To continue a game of cat and mouse is not in the long term interests of Iran, if the state wants to remain outside the hands of the US hegemony in the region. The solidarity movement should be relentless in supporting Iran against the US, including its right to develop a nuclear program, and especially to give strong support to the more anti-imperialist currents inside the Iranian regime (which, unlike many orientalist conceptions is ultimately one of the most factional of the Middle East regimes). But at the same time, anti-imperialists have to honestly criticise the Iranian state whenever it choose to compromise with the US, whether in Iraq or elsewhere. The Iranian role in Iraq is growing exceedingly dangerous as the US, having no other choice, resorts to playing on sectarian divisions to ensure its hegemony.
In the same way as criticism towards Iran needs to be honest and concrete, anti-imperialists and the solidarity movement should support especially the Iranian assistance to the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine.
The position on Mekka and PA
A veiled, but existing contradiction is the position towards the PA and the Mekka agreement. The Cairo conference in a way takes a positive attitude to, the new government or at least by the Hamas parts of it by inviting them as main speakers through the conference. It seems clear that we cannot any longer talk about a “resistant government” as maybe was possible during the first months of the pure reign of Hamas in Palestine. At the other hand Jihad and PFLP have taken a choice against participating in the agreement, warning against the results of Mekka.
If these, Jihad and PFLP, are able to find together it would be positive. The possibility of turning Hamas into a new Fatah is not to be ruled out. In this discussion we also find the discussion on the nature of the PA itself. Some call for dissolving the authorities claiming that these are subservient structures of the occupation. Such views should be taken into consideration, however while this might be principally correct, any kind of resistance movement need political structures. The important tasks of the solidarity movement remain to give support and legitimacy to the resistance, whether of Hamas or other factions, against the western boycott and blockade of the Palestinian government.
Islamism and the left
An always existing discussion on the left in the Middle East is their relation to the Islamists. Most of the pro-resistance forces recognize that they in the struggle against occupations need to fight together with Islamic resistance movements like Hizbollah. From here, however, disagreement take place. In Egypt, the Revolutionary Socialists (RS) belonging to the IS tendency have taken a position of actively encouraging an alliance with the MB. This is the result of a long period of work from their side to reach this goal.* Other forces, like Karama Party (Nasserists) tend to see the issue more from a pragmatic point of view. First of all they advocate general unity with whomever agrees on the general issues. In this they find possibilities for unity with the Muslim Brotherhood in certain issues, especially the anti-imperialist struggle and the struggle against the Mubarak dictatorship, while disagreeing with them on social issues. Furthermore, they see movements like Kifaya also as a tool to influence the MB into a more open mode of cooperation with the left. Despite small differences between themselves, the main spirit of the Cairo Conference was positive in upholding the need for unity among Islamists and leftists against what everyone perceived as a common enemy.
This view seems more vital and potent than the traditional view of the Egyptian left, including smaller far left organizations included in the Arab People”s Resistance Alliance, whose third founding conference was held subsequently after the Cairo Conference this year. The Egyptian participants in this conference refuse cooperation with the Egyptian Islamists as a matter of principle** Although the tactics might vary towards the different organizations, it is difficult to understand the advantages of self-isolation from one of the greater Islamist oppositional forces like the Muslim Brotherhood on behalf of these forces. It is true that the Brotherhood sometimes play an opportunist role and shifts between being friend and foe with the more consolidated anti-imperialist forces. This pattern has been witnessed many times in Egypt, which is maybe why leftists in this country are especially reluctant to join forces with them. But this should not be an excuse for engaging in a struggle for unity with these forces.
Continue towards an anti-imperialist front
The conferences, and especially the Cairo conference, held on a yearly basis in the Egyptian capital play an instrumental role in building the framework of an anti-imperialist front in the region. Through this they are gradually developing unity between the resistance forces of the region, at the same time raising the need for the solidarity movement in Western countries to support this struggle as well as the democratic struggle against the US puppet dictatorships in countries like Egypt and Saudi-Arabia.
However, the looming threat of a split in the resistance movement needs to be taken on a more serious level by all parts. The lacking Iraqi participation is a grave problem which risks threatening the legitimacy of the conference in parts of the Arabic resistance movements. At the same time, the conference needs to address further what is meant by calling for international solidarity. This should not be confined to creating a forum in which the western anti-war movements can meet with the pro-resistance forces. It should move further, following the example of Hizbollah, in making a clear-cut call and demand to the anti-war movements of Europe and the Western world to support the resistance in deeds, and not just words. If these two factors are dealt with in a positive way, the conference could be able to achieve huge progress in the struggle for a world anti-imperialist front.
* Hosal al-hamalawy, “Comrades and Brothers”, Middle East Report 242
** See Anti-imperialist Camp, Interview with Prof. Dr. Ashraf el-Bayoum, 26.02.2007