Tuesday, March 28, 2006

 

Cairo Conference- A lot of Hype but little substance.

I attended the 4th annual Cairo conference in Cairo (funnily enough). It's an activist conference this year the theme was "With the Resistance in Palestine and Iraq.. Against Globalization, Imperialism and Zionism." The conference's two main participants were the International Socialist Tendency (their various branches from the Australian ISO, the British SWP, the Greek SWP etc.), and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood of students.

On the International front the conference also had representation from the Red Alliance in the Netherlands, The Canadian Palestine solidarity movement, the Turkish Kurdish Communist Party Marxist Leninist, and group of Anti-Imperialist from Europe. On the Egyptian front there were also Nationalists, Nassarists, Socialists, Islamists etc. With a few journalists etc. However the politics of the IST and the Muslim Brotherhood clearly dominated the conference.

Much of the conference was less a learning experience then being ranted at by people in such a way that sounded like the defeat of imperialism was just around the corner. In terms of Palestine, despite almost every second sentence being about fighting Zionism, it was clear that very few people there had any sense of what was actually going on in Palestine. The IST in a session on the left and Palestine said the Hamas victory was important for 4 reasons:

1. They Refuse to Recognise Israel
2. They Put Refugees back on the agenda
3. Put pressure on other Arab countries to supply aid (with the US withdrawing theirs)
4. Have stated they are not against the Jews

The main problem for Palestine is at this stage not an abstract one of prefering one or two states, but the very real question of how is Palestine going to put pressure on Israel to win any state at all. Fateh has a strategy of negotiation, which they still talk about despite the fact that they have nothing to negotiate with. Hamas has no immediate strategy as to how to apply pressure on Israel to win anything, they have retreated from military action at this point (much more so then Fateh, given that Hamas have not been involved in any attacks for the last 2 years).

Rather then talk about the need to build up popular committees in Palestine like the first intifada the IST kept putting forward their bizarre schema that the road to liberation in Palestine lies in 'Middle-East wide Arab revolt.' .

This strange formula implies the same sort of ridiculous pan-arabism in the same way that Zionists just refer to Palestinians as Jordanian. It is similar to their abstract approach that East Timor should just wait for an Indonesian wide working class revolt top defend them rather than achieve their independence on their own, with whatever assistance they can get. It totally obscures the question of national self determination and works like their attitude towards Scotland or East Timor in the past, that these countries just need to be part of a regional revolt to solve their problems.

All IST delegates said there was no way that Palestine could achieve independence on their own. One even saying to me that "Palestine could not achieve independence because Palestinians are divorced from the means of production in Israel and any general strike by Palestinians could at best hurt 20% of the Israeli economy." Like this stopped East Timor who's GDP was a lot less then 10% of Indonesia.

There wasn't even mention in their speeches of the need to build up the civil movement in Palestine, or any analysis of the decline in 'leftist' Palestinian factions. The IST gave no concern to the need to build up the Palestinian left, or any left for that mater, as an ideological alternative to Islam. Far from it, the whole conference appeared to consist of the IST sucking up to Islamic forces in a fairly opportunist manner.

Rather then using the conference to debate and discuss the real differences between socialist and Islamist solutions, the IST seemed perfectly content to ride on the wave of Islamist popularism without seeing the need to be critical in its support and trying relate to the most progressive elements in the Middle East or trying to politically convince them. This seems to be the same approach the IST is taking with Respect in Britain at the moment choosing to abandon building a real left (a Socialist Alliance) in favor of popularist formation for short term gains.

But then the force of extremism seems to be their call. They expressly stated throughout the conference that they refused to condemn suicide bombings of civilian targets (even though it hurts the cause). They also kept talking about refusing to accept Israel which denies the reality, that Israel has built up a national identity that can't just be sweaped aside in one night. This also simplifies Israeli national identity. Sixty years after the creation of Israel it can not be simply defined in terms of its 'Jewish' characteristics.

The Muslim Brotherhood displayed similar contradictions. They had films on their stalls, interspersing images of legitimate armed Palestinian resistance (currently a small part of the resistance) with suicide bombings of civilians. They even had a T-shirt with the image of a Palestinian fighter and the text on the front "Jihad is the only language they understand" and on the back "When negotiating with the Israelis to get your rights, use the ONLY Language they understand."

The Muslim Brotherhood like the IST seemed to totally oblivious to the fact that the intifada has slowed down. Also Hamas who they support have diverting most of their energy to social programs, not armed resistance as they continue to fetishise. I kept trying to convince some of the delegates that they should travel back with me to Palestine to get a real sense of what is going on. I still can't understand why a Palestine solidarity group would send people to Cairo and not Palestine to develop their understanding of the Palestinian struggle.

Anyway there were some interesting moments at the conference, the democracy movement in Egypt seems to be making progress, particularly there was talk about fighting the 1989 laws banning political free speech on campus. It was rather bizarre though to hear the Islamic Brotherhood argue on one hand for the right to free speech and then complain that the government was diverting people away from being able to engage in serious study and politics on campus by having campus social activities (read parties, possible sexual interaction etc.) .

There was also talk about sending people to Iraq similar to the 'human shields.' A call was also made for an international day of action against war on Iraq to occur on May 6, to coincide with the European Social Forum in Athens.

Comments:
I found this blog surfing.

I think your analysis of that conference was intelligent.

There is also the Islamist character of Hamas as an issue. Palestinians have been traditionally secular. They were actually supported by Israel as wedge against secular and one time leftist Fatah.

Israel is glad Hamas is in power. No real pressure to give up land. No negotiation.
 
Liked the comments. To the point. No bullshit.
 
Hey everyone,

I was expecting a possible backlash from that last post entry, but I certainly didn't expect positive feedback especially so quickly.

I disagree with Renegade eye though. I do think Hamas' coming to power was a positive move and isn't something Israel wanted. I just don't think it was the positive step the IST makes it out to be. Fateh would engage in 'negotiations' but they never actually moved anywhere in those negotiations and they certainly didn't apply leverage against Israel to assist them in negotiations.

This meant that Israel could be seen to be negotiating without doing a thing.

I think that Hamas is stating clear demands is a step forward and whilst they say they refuse to recognise Israel, talk of a 'long term truce' hopefully on the 67' border would amount to a negotiation of some sort if Israel ever came to the negotiating table (unlike Fateh who negotiate over nothing tangible for Palestine).

I also think that Hamas being elected on an anti-corruption stance and developing the social services in Palestine is an important thing. It will help the Palestinian people who are worn down in the grind of every day life under occupation take action.
I also think that the IST are right in that Hamas' new found acceptance of the Jewish religion is a step forward and certainly this approach of separating oppressor government from the people is useful. There are sections of Fateh's armed wing Al- Aqusa that certainly haven't worked that our and their kidnapping of international aid people after the siege in Jerico (like their previous kidnappings) is proof of that.

I don't think Hamas has a strategy for organising people to resist the occupation though. I think this is an important discussion to have on the nature of the resistance and organised factions in Palestine. So if anyone else would like to post intelligent comments or questions I would only be too happy to post them.
 
Say Harrison, this is a brilliant blog, you have a very down-to-earth yet incisive mind on Palestine which is a pleasure to read. No bs.

I suspect most of the vote for Hamas was a protest vote from a people much harmed by the pass laws & poverty. I don't believe Israel wanted it, but I also think the Israeli establishment in any case will cudgeon Palestinians for their vote as much as they did before under Fatah if not maybe more.

The real opposition will take some time to develop and I agree the ISP are being oppurtunistic in taking sides so early into the new circumstances.

Noam Chomsky once said choice under capitalism is a, b, c, d whereas for revolutionaries it is e, f, g, h

I look forward to more posts from you in the future. Thanks for your patient analysis and expose of lived experience - it's very welcome, and has a strange practical edge to it.
That's why I think most people are so glad to commend you thus far.
 
Things don't always go according to plan -or else the conspiracy-theorists would be right, and we could never win.
It is true that Israel and the US originally encouraged and assisted Hamas, but in recent times their help took the form of undermining the Palestinian Authority in every way,preventing it from developing,wrecking hopes in a "peace process" without gains, and doing everything to provoke a desperate response. However other factors were the worsening pauperisation of Palestinian people - partly Israel's responsibility but also that of Arab oil states which got rid of Palestinian workers - hitting thousands of dependents at home and did not help the PA.
The Hamas victory is not straightforward. Corruption and poverty were issues, as well dissappointment. And within days of the Hamas win (which was less overwhelming than reported) a poll showed a big majority of Palestinians in favour of resumed negotiations with Israel. So it is Israel which is finding excuses to say no. hard to separate these days from the Washington neo-cons, though good to see Netanyahu went down.
Regarding Cairo, wondered why SWP people here making such a fuss but see now it is part of their effort to impress and ally with the Ikhwan. (Similarly their nervous reaction here to anything they fear night upset its UK offshoot).
Disappointed to hear the SWP has not moved far from its old line that the solution to Palestine problem can only be in the rest of the Middle east. A socialist federation would be very nice, but how do we get there from where people are? Especially if they are consigning the future of Egypt etc to the Muslim Brotherhood for now. There was a time the SWP here liked to talk about "do it yourself demands" for workers to rely on their own actions, but it seems for the Palestinians, behind all all pretence of militance and criticising the national movement from the "Left", their real counsel is wait for somebody else - the Messiah perhaps.
 
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