By Stan Crooke
The 'Cairo Declaration' was issued by a conference held in Cairo on 18th/19th December last year. Around 400 people attended the conference.
Apart from issuing the 'Cairo Declaration', the conference also launched the International Campaign Against US Aggression on Iraq. The campaign has two vice-presidents, both of whom attended the Cairo conference: John Rees (Socialist Workers Party/Stop the War Coalition) and Elias Rashmawi, a member of the American Workers World Party.
(The Workers World Party originated in a group which split from the American Trotskyist movement in 1957. The group had supported the Stalinist crushing of the Hungarian Revolution the previous year. Today the WWP hails North Korea and Iraq as bastions of 'anti-imperialism'.)
According to "Socialist Worker" (18th January 2003), the 'Cairo Declaration' is a 'great opportunity' for the anti-war movement. Speaking at the Stop the War Coalition conference in London (11th January 2003), John Rees described the Declaration as being 'of great importance because it is a call from the most powerful centre of the region of the globe that will be most powerfully affected by an attack on Iraq.'
Support for 'Cairo Declaration' is being promoted by the Socialist Workers Party/Stop the War Coalition, and by sections of the Socialist Alliance and Scottish Socialist Party.
Who Organised the Cairo Conference?
The conference was organised by the Egyptian Popular Campaign to Confront US Aggression (EPC).
The EPC had been set up by the Egyptian Bar Association in September (2002). Its founding conference attracted Nasserists, Islamists, Marxists, public celebrities, and members of trade unions and professional syndicates. According to Ashraf Bayoumi, one of the founders of the EPC, its members regard themselves as "defenders of the national security of the country (Egypt)."
An EPC press release, issued on the occasion of its founding conference, stressed the need to 'defend our national security and interests' and to combat the USA's goal of 'ensuring absolute control over the entire Arab nation.' According to the press release, it was 'a human, religious and national duty' to combat 'US domination, dictates and militarised globalisation, in which its strategic ally, the Zionist entity, plays a key role.'
Opponents of the Cairo Conference have alleged that Iraq helped fund the conference. Although the Saddam Hussein regime was represented at the conference (see below), no hard evidence has been put forward in support of such allegations.
The EPC itself has stated that much, or maybe all, of the funding for the Cairo Conference was provided by Egyptian businessmen involved in trading with Iraq.The conference concluded with the reading of a list of the Egyptian businessmen who had financed the conference.
According to EPC member Soheir Mursi, the fact that the conference was held in Cairo and was funded by Egyptian businessmen 'reflects the awareness and pressing concern emanating from Egypt. Those businessmen know that Egypt's economy will be hurt and that this country is at risk.'
[Sources: EPC Press Release (6th September 2002); IslamOnline website (9th September 2002); Al-Ahram Weekly Online (12th September 2002); Al-Ahram Weekly Online (12th December 2002); "Cairo Times" (26th December 2002); CounterPunch (27th December 2002).]
Who Attended the Cairo Conference?
Keeping John Rees and George Galloway MP company at the Cairo Conference were, amongst others:
- Nabil Negm: former under-secretary in the Iraqi Foreign Ministry; political adviser to Saddam Hussein; leader of the Iraqi conference delegation.
- Saad Qassem Hammoundy: leading member of the Iraqi Baath Party; Secretary-General of the Iraqi Conference of Arab Popular Forces; Iraqi Ambassador to the Arab League.
- Vassilly Safronchuk: former deputy permanent representative of the Soviet Union at the United Nations.
- Leading members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood: allowed to attend the conference as 'private citizens', not as official delegates. (The Muslim Brotherhood advocates the transformation of Egypt into an Islamic state.)
- A delegation from Cuba (one-party state - no free trade unions).
- Abdel Amir Al-Rikabi: described by the conference organisers as a member of 'the honest Iraqi opposition'; an opponent of the Iraqi Baathist regime who advocates the creation of a 'unity govern-ment' in Iraq - which would include the Baath Party.
[Sources: "Cairo Times" (26th December 2002); Indymedia/Adelaide (website report); International Action Centre (website report); Al Ahram Weekly Online (26th December 2002).]
What Was Said at the Cairo Conference?
The political composition of the conference was reflected in the contributions made by its participants:
"The US can teach nothing about democracy to a country (Iraq) that first had a parliament 3,000 years ago and continues to have deep democratic traditions." (Saad Qassem Hammoundy.)
"The priority is to oppose aggression from outside. I am against the Egyptian government as well, but if it was in a similar situation (to the Iraqi government), I wouldn't hesitate to support it." (ESP member Al Ashraf Bayoumi. The logic of this argument is that the Iraqi opposition should now support the Iraqi regime.)
"Iraq welcomes any (domestic) opponent who does not deal with American, British or Israeli intelligence." (Nabil Negm, replying toAbdel Amir Al-Rikabi's call for a 'unity government' for Iraq. The statement is contradicted by the entire record of the Baath regime.)
"We have no option but to demonise the US because it poses the greatest danger to humanity. We have a powerful enemy that wants to take over." (Gabrielle Muzo, Italian economist.)
"We should not succumb to this colonisation force that is reproducing itself in the worst form and is led by a fascist right-wing administration." (Egyptian businessman Mohamed Sami, speaking about the USA).
"If Bush and Blair are allowed to go ahead with this war, they will be like Mussolini and Hitler. Bush is very closely approaching the behaviour of the Nazis." (William Oltman, Dutch journalist.)
"This is the ninth crusade. Bush is waging a ninth crusade which will begin in Iraq, then move to Tehran, Sudan, and then Saudi Arabia." (Former Algerian President Ahmed Ben Bella.)
"If Iraq falls, I believe that Syria and Saudi Arabia and Egypt will fall next. This is the real face of globalisation." (Moustafa Bakri, editor of "Al Osboa".)
"Unfortunately, present-day Russia is different from the Soviet Union, which stood shoulder to shoulder with Abdel Nasser and the Arab people in Palestine in their fight against Israeli aggression." (Vassilly Safronchuk.)
[Sources: Indymedia/Adelaide (website report); Al Ahram Weekly Online (26th December 2002); Eat the State (website report).]
What Was the Schuman Incident?
Amongst those attending the conference - or, more accurately, part of it - was Harold Schuman, a German journalist and author of "The Global Trap" (a critique from the left of the impact of globalisation).
When a member of the Iraqi delegation present at the conference defended Iraq's human rights record and boasted of the Iraqi government's commitment to democracy, Schuman responded:
'The Iraqi people are also suffering because ... their regime is as corrupt as all the others. To say that the US is responsible for the misery in the Arab world is only half the truth. ... Arab governments are as much implicated in this worsening situation as the US is. ... This conference was not meant to defend the Iraqi regime and Saddam Hussein in any shape or form. I am here to defend the Iraqi people.'
Schuman walked out of the conference in protest, while Nabil Negm complained to the conference organisers about Schuman's comments. Schuman later told the Egyptian newspaper "Al Ahram" that a condition for his attendance at the conference had been that it would not be used as a podium by the Iraqi government: 'I was promised that no speaker would be connected with the Iraqi regime. In no way do I want to be associated with the government in Baghdad.'
No press reports make reference to any other conference participant walking out of the conference, or protesting from the floor of the conference, in response to Saddam Hussein's representatives making propaganda on behalf of the Baath regime at the Cairo Conference.
[Sources: Indymedia/Adelaide (website report); Al Ahram Weekly Online (26th December 2002).]
What Does the 'Cairo Declaration' Say?
Selective and misleading extracts from the 'Cairo Declaration' have been published in "Socialist Worker" (18th January 2003). The carefully edited extracts refer to the internationalist struggle against against neo-liberal globalisation, the growth of poverty and unemployment as a result of capitalist globalisation and US hegemony, and the need for total opposition to war on Iraq.
Such worthy sentiments, however, are not representative of the politics encapsulated in the 'Cairo Declaration'.
The 'Cairo Declaration' criticises the US for 'maintaining the existing uni-polar world order' and blocking a shift in the balance of power 'towards multi-polarity.' This is not an obscure and coded call for working-class struggle against capitalist inequality. It is a complaint that the domination of international markets by large-scale US capital (uni-polarity) is squeezing out the local capitalist classes and elites (multi-polarity).
The Declaration covers up the crimes of Saddam Hussein against his own people. It delicately refers to 'restrictions on democratic development in Iraqi society.' Such a formulation does no justice to the totalitarian levels of repression in Iraq. The Declaration goes on to suggest that Iraq is really no worse than any other Arab country - restrictions on democratic development exist 'in all Arab societies'. The Declaration also attributes the 'restrictions on democratic development' in Iraq to 'the devastating effect of 'US-imposed sanctions.'
But the Iraqi regime was just as repressive prior to the imposition of sanctions as it has been since their imposition. Iraq is a totalitarian state because of the nature of the Baath regime, not because of the imposition of sanctions.
The Declaration concludes with an Action Plan. The Plan does not call for the overthrow of the Baath regime in Iraq. It does not appeal support for the democratic opposition to Saddam Hussein within and outside of Iraq. But it does appeal for human shields to go to Iraq.
The Action Plan also calls for a 'boycott of US and Israeli commodities in solidarity campaigns in support of Iraq and Palestine, with emphasis on the right of return for Palestinians.' This is the wrong tactic in support of the wrong demand.
Socialists focus on the producers in the workplace, not on consumers. (In fact, nowhere in the Action Plan is there any reference to working-class mobilisation.) Calls in Europe for a boycott of Israeli goods have led to little more than pickets of 'Marks and Spencers' shops (which are not known for selling Israeli goods). And the Action Plan's emphasis on 'the right of return for Palestinians' as a political 'solution' to the Middle East conflict cuts across the right of Israeli Jews to self-determination.
What Are the Issues Raised by the Cairo Conference and 'Cairo Declaration'?
There is nothing wrong in principle with socialists attending meetings and conferences which are not based on socialist policies and at which socialists are only a small minority of those attending. Fighting for socialist policies necessarily means arguing for those policies in an unsympathetic or even hostile environment.
Nor is there anything wrong in principle with socialists endorsing statements which do not say everything which they would want such a statement to say.
In both cases - attending meetings, and endorsing statements - it is a question of judgement. Given the overall nature of the Cairo Conference and the Declaration to which it gave rise, however, it is fundamentally wrong to conclude that they constitute a 'great opportunity' for the anti-war movement in general or specifically for socialists working in the anti-war movement.
The Cairo Conference was convened by an organisation committed to the defence of the national security of Egypt. At best, the conference was financed by local businessmen. (At worst, the Iraqi government had a hand in funding it.) Those attending the conference including representatives of the Iraqi Baath regime, members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, a delegation from the Cuban Castroite regime, and various veteran Stalinists lamenting the collapse of the Soviet Union.
True, other individuals and political currents were represented at the conference as well. But, judging by the various reports available on the conference, only one person (Harold Schuman) was prepared to take a stand against the pro-Saddam propaganda of the Iraqi regime's delegation. Clearly, any socialists present at the conference failed to set the tone of the conference. They likewise failed to define the politics of the post-conference Declaration.
The Declaration apologises for the lack of democracy in Iraq and puts the blame on sanctions. It is silent on the repression of the working class in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. Instead, its concerns and sympathies lie with the local small-time capitalists who are being squeezed out of a 'uni-polar' world.
The Declaration advocates human shields for Iraq, and consumer boycotts of Israeli and US commodities in the rest of the world. It refers to the Palestinians' struggle to 'liberate their land and return to their homes', but it is silent on the right of Israeli Jews to national self-determination. Implicit, if not explicit, throughout the document is the image of a United States which is about to re-establish the classic colonialism of nineteenth-century empires.
The Cairo Conference and the 'Cairo Declaration' point the anti-war movement in the wrong direction. They point away from working-class mobilisation, and away from uncompromising opposition to the regime of Saddam Hussein - even in the midst of a military conflict. Instead, they express a popular-frontist kind of Arab populism and an apology for the crimes of Saddam Hussein.
If socialists are serious about maintaining the basic ideas of Marxism and independent working-class politics, if socialists are serious about fighting for their political ideas in the anti-war movement, then high on their list of priorities must be exposing and challenging the political ideas expressed at the Cairo Conference and in the 'Cairo Declaration'.
TEXT OF THE CAIRO DECLARATION
Against U.S. Hegemony and War on Iraq and In Solidarity with Palestine
The international meeting organized by the Egyptian Popular Campaign to Confront U.S Aggression was convened in Cairo on December 18 and 19 to launch the International Campaign. We, the participants reaffirm our resolve to stand in solidarity with the people of Iraq and Palestine, recognizing that war and aggression against them is but part of a U.S. project of global domination and subjugation. Solidarity with Iraq and Palestine is integral to the internationalist struggle against neo-liberal globalization. The Cairo meeting is not an isolated event, but an extension of a protracted international struggle against imperialism, from Seattle and Genoa to Lisbon and Florence, to Cordoba and Cairo. The U.S. provides unlimited support, and even justification, to the Zionist perpetrators of genocidal crimes against the Palestinian people. The suffering of the Iraqi people under a regime of genocidal sanctions lasting over a decade, and the aggressive militarism which they face today is but a logical outcome of the structures of power asymmetry of the existing world order: The U.S. monopolizes political, economic and military power within the framework of capitalist globalization, to the detriment of the lives of the majority of the world's people The U.S. imposes control through naked aggression and militarized globalization in pursuit of its rulers' interests, all while reinstating the characteristic direct occupation of classical colonialism The U.S. global strategy, which was formulated prior to September 11 2001, aims to maintain the existing uni-polar world order, and to prevent the emergence of forces that would shift the balance of power towards multi-polarity. The U.S. administration has exploited the tragic events of September 11, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, to implement the pre-existing strategy.
Attention to this global context helps explain current world developments: First: Capitalist Globalization and U.S. Hegemony prioritize the interest of monopolistic capitalist circles above those of the people, including Europeans and U.S. citizens. integrate the economies of different countries into a single global capitalist economic system under conditions which undermine social development and adversely affect the situation of women, child health, education, and social services for the elderly. In addition, unemployment and poverty increase. generalize the culture of consumerism and individualism, to the detriment of a sense of collective responsibility, whether towards the thousands of infant and child deaths in Iraq resulting from polluted water, malnutrition and deficiencies in medical supplies, or towards the victims of AIDS, malnutrition and famines around the world. Among millions of people standards of living have deteriorated while unemployment and poverty have become widespread. Globalization has resulted in the marginalization of entire peoples who could no longer acquire the basic necessities to sustain life.
Second: In the absence of democracy, and with widespread corruption and oppression constituting significant obstacles along the path of the Arab peoples' movement towards economic, social, and intellectual progress, adverse consequences are further aggravated within the framework of the existing world order of neo-liberal globalization. Admission to restrictions on democratic development in Iraq in no way constitutes acceptance of U.S. justifications for continuation of sanctions, and now preparations for war. Without disregarding long-standing restrictions on democratic development in Iraqi society-, as is the case in all Arab societies- it is evident that the U.S.-imposed sanctions have had a devastating effect on Iraq's development. Whereas Iraq had once enjoyed a relatively positive profile according to certain human development indicators, its people now suffer severely as a result of the sanctions regime. Iraq has witnessed a significant rise in child mortality rates, the spread of several diseases, reduction of opportunities in education, and a marked deterioration of the standard of living. As human suffering increases it generates a sense of defeatism. The Palestinian people are suffering as a result of the loss of their land and continued Zionist aggression, which the U.S. supports militarily, economically, and politically, making its administration a de facto accomplice in the crimes committed against the Palestinian people. The U.S. protects Israel from condemnation in international forums under the pretext of combating terrorism, and it asserts additional false claims, such as when it equates the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people to resist occupation, liberate their land, and return to their homes, on the one hand, with terrorism that we all abhor, on the other.
The policies of Structural Adjustment associated with neo-liberal globalization have precipitated global crises manifest in a widening wealth gap, increase in poverty and unemployment, and general deterioration of standards of living.
U.S. military presence in the Arab region, and its dictates to governments of sovereign nations of the region has compounded the suffering of the Arab people. Interference in the internal affairs of these nations now extends to demands of educational reform, and insistence on "democratization". Ironically this is occurring at a time when civil liberties in the U.S. are clearly under siege, especially with regard to Arab and Muslim Americans, along with other minorities. The U.S. administration also violates international law by its inhumane treatment of the POWs in Guantanamo. Also evident is the wealth gap in the U.S., which is the widest among the industrial nations of the world.
Far from secretly, the US intends to partition Arab countries into smaller entities on ethnic or religious basis. This would enable Israel to become the dominant regional power within the framework of the Middle East Project, to the peril of an Arab project of equitable development and regional unity. The suffering of the Arab people and U.S. unwavering support of the system of apartheid imposed on the Palestinian people, will undoubtedly fuel conflict and lead to the escalation of violence in one of the most sensitive areas of the world. Such danger can easily extend to neighboring Europe, Asia and Africa. Continued preparation for war on Iraq in spite of its acceptance of a UN resolution of aggressive inspection of its armament, as well as civilian industries, signals a predetermined intent to control the Arab region, its oil and indeed the entire world supply of oil.
Third: For all these reasons we declare our total opposition to war on Iraq and our resolve to continue the struggle against U.S. policies of global domination. We strongly believe in the urgency of mobilizing against these policies. All democratic forces in the world that are for genuine Peace and Justice must join together within the framework of an international campaign against neo-liberal, US-centric globalization and promote an alternate globalism based on Equity and Justice. This would mean better utilization of the world's resources and protection of the environment. Together the people of the world are quite able to combat aggression and all forms of injustice, prejudice and racism, and make a better world possible.
The Cairo conference against war on Iraq and in solidarity with Palestine represents the launching of an international popular movement that creates effective mechanisms for confronting policies of aggression. The participation of international activists who are prominent for their struggles for Human Dignity, Rights and Justice, as well as intellectuals, authors, unionists, human rights workers, journalists and artists- from Egypt and the rest of the Arab World, Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, and the United States- will no doubt accelerate this noble endeavor in spite of the numerous obstacles that we have to confront.
Fourth: It is important that this international popular initiative of solidarity with Iraq and Palestine proceed according to an Action Plan which includes clearly defined priorities: 1.Condemnation of U.S. military presence on Arab land along with pressuring the Arab governments that allow U.S military bases on their territory to close them down, and not to provide air, naval, or land facilities.
2. Develop cooperation among popular organizations of the South to reinforce solidarity in confronting the policies and practices of neo-liberal globalization and U.S. hegemony.
3. Work towards cooperation with the international anti-globalization movement of the North and South, and participation in activities and meetings organized by this movement 4. Promote the unity of democratic forces and popular organizations in different parts of the world, and form solidarity committees which oppose war on Iraq, and the genocidal crimes faced by Palestinians, supporting their right to resistance and struggle for liberation.
5. Under the banner Together against globalization and U.S Hegemony add Iraq and Palestine to the agendas of international progressive meetings, particularly the next Social Forum at Porte Allegre.
6.Invite Arab and international human rights organizations to evaluate humanitarian conditions in Iraq and disseminate their findings worldwide.
7. Prepare to send human shields to Iraq 8. Introduce the boycott of U.S. and Israeli commodities in solidarity campaigns in support of Iraq and Palestine, with emphasis on the right of return for Palestinians. 9. Elect a Steering Committee to follow up on the implementation of the Cairo Declaration, and coordination among organizations which commit to its principles, and enhance awareness through appropriate actions ranging from the preparation of posters to organizing marches and demonstrations in solidarity with Iraq and Palestine.
The Bar Association, which Stan reports founded the EPC, was taken over by the Islamic Trend - the Muslim Brotherhood's organisation within professional associations - in 1992. As far as I know it still controls it. The Islamic Trend also won the control of most of the other main professional associations - engineers, doctors, etc - at the expense, obviously, of more secular forces including leftist Nasserists, and so on. See 'Islamic mobilisation and Political Change' by Carrie Rosesfsky Wickham in 'Political Islam'. Joe Stork and Joel Beinin, eds, IB Tauris 1997.