Socialist Worker

'We know we have the millions with us'

Activist Raida Hatoum of the Lebanese paper Al-Yasari (the Leftist) explains the impact of the war on Iraq on the Middle East

Issue No. 1862

NOBODY SHOULD expect the resistance to the US occupation of Iraq to go away after the killing of Saddam's sons last week. The actions against the occupying troops have accelerated and US troops are suffering increasing casualties.

The occupation forces are not considered any different from the old regime. A few days after the fall of Baghdad the resistance was emerging. The Iraqis know that the US occupation is another tyranny imposed on them, and they will never stop fighting until they achieve their independence. The general understanding within the Arab street is that the US-led democracy is no different from the Israeli democracy-led by occupation, tanks, bombs, targeted kills.

Popular responses to the war among ordinary people included volunteering to fight the US in Iraq. There were also demonstrations against the war. The demonstrators were divided into two camps. The first opposed the US war but supported the Arab regimes. The second, which connected with the feeling of the Arab street, opposed the US war and the state oppression by the Arab and Middle Eastern ruling class. The new emerging left in the Middle East led the second camp. It has initiated a new force proclaiming change and demanding it on all levels.

15 February 2003 was a challenge. The movement opposed to the war on Iraq organised massive demonstrations across the world. Activists understood that the Arab regimes are responsible for helping the US forces. They are also responsible for crushing down the intifada and their own people.

In Egypt demonstrators protested against the war, but at the same time attacked the regime. In Jordan, a campaign was carried out with the title 'No to US aggression, and no to the regimes' oppression'.

In Lebanon the 'No War - No Dictatorships campaign' made it clear that to stop the war we should bring down our regimes. This campaign carried out a successful act throughout three months. We created a network of leftist groups from different tendencies, student groups within the universities, and a coalition of non-governmental organisations. In Bahrain women's groups and small underground groups called for stopping the regime's support for the war, stopping the regime's oppression and stopping the war on Iraq.

In Tunisia the unions organised a campaign, independent from the state-led campaign, calling for stopping the war on Iraq, stopping the Arab regime support of US, and declaring these regimes as dictatorships. The regimes responded with more oppression, arresting activists and leading media attacks on the activists. Torture is used widely. April 2002 witnessed a surprising change in the Arab street. Huge protests swept the Middle East in response to the Israeli siege of Jenin.

Small groups had organised grassroots campaigns supporting the second intifada, or uprising of the Palestinian people, which began in September 2000. The second intifada lit the spirit of resistance inside the Arab world. These small groups were relating to the real needs and demands of the people.

The new left is growing gradually throughout the region. But it faces a lot of challenges. It is trying to connect more to the international movement. It is trying to find answers to the local issues.

The new leftist groups are trying to hold a movement together that can hold political and ideological differences (among the left) but at the same time have unity in action. The last four months have proven that it is possible. It is now a serious movement.

The anti-war protests around the world had a positive impact on pushing out these groups to take part in more activism. Most of these groups were much more confident of their actions, as they knew they were part of the international movement. It is clear that there are now two superpowers - the new world order led by the US and the anti-war global movement. People in the region no longer feel that we are alone. We will no longer face imperialism alone - we have the millions with us.

Cairo Conference

Important step forward for international movement

DOUBTS AND confusion appeared right after the war. The question of the global street is now, 'Why could we have all these demos all around the world and still couldn't stop three men from waging a war on Iraq?' Other questions are asked about the growing movement inside the region and globally, such as what is the future of the anti-war movement?

The Cairo Conference in Egypt is an important step forward for activists from the Middle East and the West. It is important as not only will it establish coordination in activities, but more importantly it will establish collective work. This will provide answers to the many shared questions.

We need to learn from previous experience and try to overcome its failures with a new understanding of the global crisis and its impact on the local struggle and the future of the movement as a whole. The international movement has to approach the people of the region directly and not through official and governmental channels.

The region still faces threats from the US and Israel through the roadmap and the 'war on terror'. The US is preparing to wage another war soon, maybe against Iran or Syria. It is important that the Cairo Conference addresses regional and global problems more effectively and seriously by initiating working committees on issues like occupation, racism, privatisation, oppression, human rights, refugees' rights, the Palestinian cause.

Challenging the US Empire and the repressive Arab regimes

The Middle East has always been a boiling point - an ongoing conflict between the West's interests and the will of the people. After the Second World War a new era began - the end of the European empires and the beginning of the US Empire. The year 1948 witnessed the creation of Israel, a powerful state in the heart of an unstable region that has gradually grown up to be a huge military base for US imperialism. It has been terrorising the region since.

The Palestinian resistance to this has been a central point of struggle and a leading example of the fight for freedom within the region. National liberation movements in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and other countries emerged. Once they came to power they turned to totalitarian dictatorships.

After the fall of the Soviet Union these regimes surrendered completely to the US. Most of the Arab regimes failed the challenges of this war. They weren't willing or able to mobilise the people against the war. They have declared openly their support, either by direct political statements, or by providing facilities to the US army, or even building up military bases for the US-UK attack on Iraq to be led from.

The demonstrations in the Middle East proved that the struggle against war and imperialism had to begin by confronting these regimes. The people know that if they had the power to decide, no war would have been imposed on the Iraqi people.

The war on Iraq had strong effects on the people and the regimes of the region. The regimes were terrified because they were concerned about their continuing existence in power.

The new movement has reminded them powerfully of the rise of opposition movements after 1948. They have responded by tightening their grip on the social, political and ecconomic rights of the people.

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Sat 26 Jul 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1862
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