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Tariq Ali: 'Our marches have had a big impact'

Tariq Ali, writer and broadcaster, has been an anti-war activist since the 1960s

Issue No. 1840

Tariq Ali speaking in Hyde Park on 15 February

Tariq Ali speaking in Hyde Park on 15 February (Pic: Ray Smith)

How have governments in Europe been affected by the anti-war demonstrations?

The size of the demonstrations in London, Rome, Madrid, Paris and Berlin has stunned everyone. What this shows is the emergence of an unofficial opposition to official politics.

If the French leader Chirac and Germany's prime minister Schröder capitulate to the imperial pressure of Washington they will pay a heavy price. In Italy prime minister Berlusconi has said in public that he will not ignore the three million who marched in Rome.

In Britain the Blair regime is on the defensive regardless of the spin and the rhetoric. Even loyalist Labour MPs were shaken by the size and composition of the demonstration and the strength of feeling.

The key fact here is whether they will display the ruthlessness of the Tories who ditched their leader Margaret Thatcher when she had become a liability. Labour MPs of left and right tend to be far more sentimental towards their leadership, but Blair isn't really a traditional Labour leader.

So it should be easier for the junior rats to push the big rat off the sinking ship first in the hope that they might save the ship. Blair is hoping that it will be a quick war and happy Iraqis will welcome him to Baghdad, and that these images on TV will dispel the anger - I think he's wrong. People have seen through him and the fake reasons given for waging this war.

What impact do you think the protests will have in the Middle East?

It is very difficult to judge. After all, the two-year intifada (Palestinian uprising) and the Israeli response to it - which the Arab masses identify with much more than Saddam - did not provoke mass demonstrations on the Arab streets. Will the occupation of Iraq? I hope so, but I doubt it. I think the impact will be felt more in the medium and long term.

The Arab world desperately needs someone like Nasser, the Egyptian leader 50 years ago, to mobilise and defend the Arab nation against imperialist raids and depredation. New national movements are bound to arise, grow and develop over the next decade.

Can anti-war protests shift any of the regimes in the Middle East?

Only if they develop an insurrectionary flavour. An Arab-wide intifada - an Arab 1848 - against the corrupt, pro-imperialist regimes could sweep them aside, but at the moment there are few signs of such a development.

It's interesting that 2,000 people, Arabs and Jews, could march in Tel Aviv on 15 February, but in Islamabad there were only 100 demonstrators and in Lahore 1,000.

The mobilisations in Rio de Janeiro (20,000 people) and Buenos Aires (6,000 people) were larger than in the Muslim world. The reason for this is partially fear, partially demoralisation and a mood of despair that breeds apathy.

What sort of support do the US's allies have in their own countries?

If you had a free election in Egypt, President Mubarak would not get more than 10 percent of the vote.

The Islamists would emerge as the largest bloc, but not an overall majority. In the political vacuum that exists they have become the main opposition. In Saudi Arabia the Islamists would win a big majority. In Kuwait the ruling family would disappear.

In Jordan, which is an Israeli-US protectorate, the Palestinians and Islamists would form a government. Everyone knows this and that is why the West prefers to rule through the elites that have served them well, rather than the unruly masses, who might demand Arab control of Arab oil.

What is your response to political commentators like Christopher Hitchens and David Aaronovitch who argue that the left doesn't care about Saddam's victims?

They lie - what more can one say? I remember marching and speaking for the Kurds when they were under attack by Saddam, as did my old friend Jeremy Corbyn. I do not recall most of our detractors today showing the slightest interest in the victims of Saddam's repression in the late 1970s and 1980s.

The West supported him and armed him. He was their man in Baghdad till he got too strong and the Israelis began to get very nervous. Our opposition to the war does not indicate any support for Saddam's regime. We are opposed to the new imperial design prepared in Washington.

The reasons for the war are both political and economic. They have nothing to do with Saddam's brutalities or his nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. I think the people who marched on 15 February understood this instinctively. Otherwise they wouldn't have marched.

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Sat 1 Mar 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1840
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