Socialist Worker

Cairo conference: anti-war spirit feeds wider anger in Egypt

A conference against globalisation and war last week came at a crucial moment for the movement in the Middle East, writes Simon Assaf

Issue No. 1994

“Keep the movement on the streets” was the message of the Fourth Cairo Conference against imperialism and globalisation, which was held in the Egyptian capital last week.

Over 2,000 people crammed into the Egyptian journalist union’s building to hear speakers from Egypt, Palestine, Europe and Iran. Hundreds of others crowded into overflow rooms.

This year’s conference was held against a background of mass opposition to corporate globalisation in Latin America, threats of war against Iran and the recent victory of the Islamic resistance movement Hamas in Palestinian elections.

Osama Hamden, representing Hamas, vowed that the new government in Palestine would never compromise with Israel.

Hamden said his movement’s recent success in the elections was a victory for resistance.

He warned of the dangers of sectarianism between Shia and Sunni Muslims in Iraq, and cautioned against Arab hostility towards Iran.

John Rees of the Stop the War Coalition in Britain said the success of the anti-war movement means that even the ­neo?conservatives in Washington have been forced to admit that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake.

Rees told delegates, “Bush’s poll ratings in the US are now lower than his IQ, and Tony Blair is seeing the last days of his premiership.”

Arab regimes

Respect MP George Galloway said, “The resistance in Iraq and Palestine is the hammer, and the global anti-war movement the anvil which will break Bush and Blair.”

Galloway, who was held overnight by authorities on a recent visit to the Egyptian capital, denounced the regime for blocking Iraqi delegates from attending the conference.

As well as US and British imperialism, delegates also condemned the Arab regimes. Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, told the opening rally:

“While I blame colonial states for what we suffer, I put the bulk of the blame on our puppet regimes and governments that fell into their arms.

“They are repelling us, wreaking havoc in the land and causing corruption to flourish, weakening our strength and resolve, plundering our wealth and resources... incarcerating our noble and free men, torturing our youth and rendering our countries an easy prey for transgressors.”

The conference declared continued support for resistance in Palestine and Iraq, and opposition to US threats against Lebanon, Iran, Syria and Latin American countries.

Many of the speakers praised Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, calling him “our brother in struggle”.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition ­movement, called for the unity of all opposition groups – the left, the Arab nationalists and the Islamists – because “no one group can face the regime alone”.

Thousands of Brotherhood members are in jail for opposing the regime. The opposition group were denied victory in the recent parliamentary elections after widespread ballot rigging by the ruling National Democratic Party.

Kamal Khalil of the Kifaya campaign – the name means “enough” in Arabic – said the movement in Egypt had to confront the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak.

Khalil was denied victory in the parliamentary elections last November after the police closed down polling stations.

Aida Saif al-Dawla, a leading Egyptian opposition activist, told the conference, “Don’t wait for the US tanks to start rolling on Iran – build solidarity now, begin to mobilise now.”


Signs of a growing movement against Mubarak

Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt is a key ally of the US. Mubarak has ruled with a state of emergency for almost 25 years. Over 20,000 people have perished in his jails and during attacks on the opposition.

But over the last few years a growing opposition movement has galvanised resistance.

On the Monday before the conference over 500 demonstrators faced down riot police in a protest to mark the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

Chanting “resistance, liberation”, “hold on Hamas” and “a thousand greetings for Hizbollah”, the demonstrators, drawn mainly from the left and Arab nationalist organisations, took over Midan Tahrir, Cairo’s central square.

The spirit of protest continued on the opening day of the conference as hundreds of protesters stood on the steps of the journalist union’s building, shouting defiance against the regime and the jailing of journalist Amira Malash.

Malash, a reporter on the al-Fajr magazine, was recently jailed for one year after she accused a senior judge of corruption.

The spirit of resistance has even infected the upper echelons of Egyptian society.

Hundreds of judges and state prosecutors have been holding regular public protests against ministerial interference and the prosecution of colleagues who campaigned for reforms.

The Cairo Conference has become an important meeting point for these growing movements.

This year over 50 peasants representing villages in Egypt’s agricultural heartland in the Nile delta met at the conference to plan the next steps in their campaign to defend their land against the return of the old landlords.

The Egyptian government has given the green light for landlords to seize land distributed to the peasants in the wake of the 1952 revolution.

The conference, which now includes the Egyptian Social Forum, hosted crucial debates on freedom of the press, fighting corruption and the rights of minorities.

Sudanese refugees told the forum of their determination to resist deportation and urged Egyptian opposition parties to defend asylum seekers.

Police killed at least 27 Sudanese refugees, including many children, when they stormed their protest camp outside the offices of the UN high commissioner for refugees in Cairo last January.

A key meeting saw a debate on the rights of Egypt’s Christian minority. The Copts, who make up around 10 percent of Egypt’s population, regularly face discrimination and persecution.


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International
Sat 1 Apr 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1994
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