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Sameh Naguib in Egypt: ‘Israel’s defeat has transformed the region’

This article is over 15 years, 4 months old
John Rees spoke to Sameh Naguib from the Centre for Social Studies in Cairo about the consequences of Israel’s defeat
Issue 2015
A demonstration in Cairo against the Israeli aggression earlier this month
A demonstration in Cairo against the Israeli aggression earlier this month

JR: Can you give us your evaluation of the outcome of the Israeli attack on Lebanon?

SN: It is very significant that the US and Israeli plans for this war have failed. It is now obvious that the attack on Lebanon was arranged by both the US and Israel as part of their wider war in the region, as part of their plans to attack Iran and Syria.

If those plans had succeeded it would have meant a further escalation of imperialist military action in the region.

But those plans failed, and failed drastically. This is a very important victory for the anti-war movement worldwide – it has prevented, or at least delayed seriously, the plans to attack Iran and Syria.

The other outcome is that it has created a feeling of confidence on the Arab streets. At the beginning of the war people’s reactions were very sceptical. Obviously they were all for the resistance, but they thought that we would lose.

Saddam Hussein promised he would defend Baghdad, but it took very little time to find out that this was not the case. In 1967 the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdul Nasser said that he was going to destroy Tel Aviv – and nothing came of that.

But as the war went on, the ability of the resistance to fight the Israelis and to make small but serious victories slowly started to sink in. This started to create a feeling that change was possible – a feeling that hasn’t been around for a very long time.

This is reflected not just in what people think about the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance, but also in what they feel they can do against the Egyptian regime and even within their own workplaces. There’s a general feeling of confidence that translates into all kinds of resistance – the idea that you can fight back and win even if it seems that you are weak.

This is becoming a generalised feeling. Of course it is also a dangerous feeling, in that people can overestimate what has happened. It’s an important victory, but we’re only at the beginning of something and it will take a much larger struggle until we win completely.

Could you elaborate on what you think the effect of this will be on the different political currents in the Arab world?

The biggest Islamic current is the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a Sunni organisation that historically has had very serious problems with the Shia and with Iran.

That has dissipated very quickly. Mahdy Akef, the general leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, produced a very strong statement a week after the war started, saying that all differences between Sunni and Shia were meaningless now. He said we should all support the resistance, that Hassan Nasrallah was the leader of all the Arab resistance, and that we should fight with him.

This is a historic document that will have repercussions on Sunni Islam and Islamism across the Arab world. It could even have positive repercussions within the Iraqi resistance, in terms of the possibilities for Shia and Sunni to fight together against the US.

So the more backwards and conservative side of Islamism has been set back at this point, at least for a period. People really didn’t care whether Nasrallah was Shia or Sunni – and this is new. All people would talk about before were details of religious belief and so on. This is receding now, and the force of resistance is much stronger.

There is also an obvious class dimension. People can see that it’s the poor of Lebanon who are suffering and that it’s the poor of Lebanon who are fighting. It’s not just any old resistance – it’s the resistance of the Lebanese working class. People can see this on television every day, and it’s easy for them to associate their misery with the misery of the Lebanese south.

The war has had a very strong polarising effect on the left in Egypt. For instance, there is a section of the Stalinist left, a “right wing left”, that says it is no longer important to be against imperialism, that we have to concentrate solely on winning democracy, that we can never stand with the Islamists, that Islamists are fascists, whether in Palestine or Lebanon or anywhere else.

This kind of view, which has had some influence among a section of the left, has now disintegrated completely. People have had to shift their position, and the ones who were in the middle have shifted to the left because of the war.

We still don’t know what the end results of this polarisation will be, but there are serious discussions, arguments and fights on the left. These are not sectarian – it is a real polarisation and it means something new. This will affect how the left in general deals with Islamic movements in Egypt and the whole position of the left towards national liberation in this region.

What do you see as the next steps, both generally for the movement and in particular for the left in Egypt and the region?

The next step is to try and unite the different strands in the anti-imperialist movement and the anti-war movement as much as possible. This is what we’ve been trying to with the Cairo Conference and what we’re planning with the Beirut Conference in late November.

If we are able to link together the anti-imperialist and anti-globalisation struggle in Latin America, in Europe, in the Middle East – and do it at this moment of relative weakness for the enemy – this would have a very big effect on the region.

There are other implications of having movements that do not have an Islamic colour or a religious colour, but seem to be moving in the same direction. Consider the decision by Hugo Chavez to support the Lebanese resistance and to pull out his ambassador from Israel, when all the Arab and Islamic regimes did nothing. This shows people it is not about religion, it is something different – it has a class dimension and an international dimension.

The outcome of the war has also given a push forward for the left. Previously the idea of having a powerful resistance movement against Israel might have seemed to tend in a religious direction. But Hizbollah is a Shia movement, not a typical Sunni organisation, and religious Sunnis have as much trouble with Shia as they have with Communists or anyone else.

This means that the chances for the left, those who build on fighting back and on the struggles of the poor, are much greater now than they were before.

Again, this does not mean it is easy, but the chances are much better now both for building a broader movement against imperialism and globalisation, and for building the radical left in the Middle East region.

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