Resolution passed by AWL conference 26-27 October 2013 on Syria, Egypt, and Israel-Palestine.
Almost three years after the beginning of the 'Arab Spring', much of the scene is dominated by the rise of reactionary Islamist movements. The threat we identified as early as spring 2011, of the democratic upheavals being co-opted by Islamism, has to a large extent been realised.
Nonetheless, the forces or potential forces of the Third Camp, the camp of workers and oppressed people opposed to both the Islamists and the old order, are still alive – particularly in Egypt and Tunisia, which have large and lively labour movements.
The partial pushing aside by Islamism of the democratic drive of the original mass uprisings has not completely eliminated that drive. Complex relationships between Islamism, bureaucratic-military state machines, bourgeois democratic forces, democratic plebeian movements and workers' movements are playing out in different ways according to the idiosyncrasies of each state – moulded by the particular shape of capitalism in the Middle East and North Africa.
In Egypt, which has the biggest working class, the independent workers' movement continues to grow and organise militant action. But its lack of an independent political expression has meant it is continually squashed between the country's military-bureaucratic regime and the reactionary popular movement of the Muslim Brotherhood. Politically much of the labour movement, as of the mass plebeian movement which mobilised against Morsi, appears to be hegemonised by the anti-Brotherhood bourgeois forces and by illusions in the military. We advocate solidarity with the labour movement against both the Brotherhood and the old order, and opposed the July 2013 coup without supporting the return of Morsi. Solidarity with the Egyptian workers' movement and seeking contact and discussion with Egyptian socialists are urgent priorities. In such discussions, the ideas of Third Camp Marxism, critical of both the pro-Islamist left and those who have been hegemonised by the military, will be vital.
In Libya, the overthrow of Qaddafi with the help of NATO intervention has produced a right-wing (and seemingly quite unstable) regime that nonetheless has elements of a functioning bourgeois democracy. There are legal opposition movements of various sorts, opposition media, and, as of mid-2013, trade unions recognised by the international union federations. There have been some strikes. There were relatively free elections in 2012, which the Islamists did not win, though they are a growing force. There have been pogroms and repression against black Libyans and against migrants, numerous human rights violations by the government and various militias, and the country is fragmenting and could break up further. Nonetheless, the situation is qualitatively better than under Qaddafi. While advocating stark distrust of NATO, we were right not to denounce flat-out the NATO intervention, which prevented the crushing of the rebellion.
In Israel-Palestine, the Israeli government's continuing oppression of the Palestinians and its refusal to negotiate on a democratic basis even when levered by the USA into formal talks is a factor poisoning the whole region. While the spread of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories is undermining the possibilities for an independent Palestinian state, this solution – two states for the two peoples – remains the only practicable basis for mutual reconciliation and building links across the borders. We will continue to build solidarity with the Palestinians and Israeli internationalists. We remain opposed to boycotts of Israel, but call for the UK, the EU and the US to withdraw the political, economic, diplomatic and military 'aid' they give the Israeli government until it negotiates a deal granting the Palestinians a really independent state.
In Syria, the last year has seen the opposition increasing militarised, and the opposition military forces increasingly dominated by Sunni-sectarian radical Islamism. A victory for the main Syrian opposition militias would lead not to any degree of liberation, but to the break down of Syria into chaos, ethnic cleansing and warlordism. Rather than advocating a victory for either side, therefore, we support democratic and working-class forces in order to create a Third Camp between the Assad regime and the main opposition militias. We oppose intervention by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah in support of Assad and by Saudi Arabia and Qatar in support of the Sunni-sectarian forces. We oppose US bombing of Syria because it more likely than not, it would speed up the disintegration of the country and lessen the already narrow chances for peace and democracy. A peace deal between government and opposition in Syria, engineered by the big powers, would surely be rotten. We would not endorse it; we do not call on the big powers to organise. Nevertheless, if it came about and stuck, it would provide less bad conditions for the emergence of a Third Camp. Our critical comments on such a deal would therefore be such as not to suggest or imply that continuation of the current war, full victory either for Assad, or full victory for main military forces of the opposition, would be preferable.
The civil war in Syria has also become the axis of a Sunni-Shia sectarian polarisation across the whole region, in which at present all the allies of the USA are Sunni. The polarisation was eased somewhat by the military coup in Egypt, which came soon after declarations by the Muslim Brotherhood of active support for the Sunni-jihadi opposition, and has been followed by declarations by the new government that it will certainly not back jihad in Syria. Nevertheless it is alarming and regressive.
In Iran, the working class remains beleaguered under fierce repression. While supporting Iranian worker activists and developing our links with Iranian revolutionary Marxists, we oppose Western economic sanctions against Iran and the threat of a military attack. In doing so, we are not 'defending' Iran, which is not in any way an oppressed nation. We expose its role as a regional imperialist power, including propping up the Assad regime in Syria. We oppose Iran developing nuclear weapons. The fact that the USA, Israel, etc. also oppose Iran having nuclear weapons, and are hypocritical, does not make the prospect of the clerical-fascist regime deploying nuclear arms any less scary.
The Kurds, divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, have a right to self-determination, including the right to separate and unite in an independent Kurdish state if they wish. We also support the right of the Syrian Kurds to defend the autonomy they have gained within Syria in the course of the civil war, though of course we do not endorse their political leadership.
We advocate a federation of the Middle East, rationally reorganising the region and allowing its huge wealth to be used for the masses of the people. However, this should not be counterposed to the right of self-determination of the peoples living there, including non-Arab minorities such as the Israeli Jews and the Kurds.
Regimes in the region are bourgeois, not pre-capitalist, with many centres of important capitalist development and important working classes and labour movements. Yet some retain semi-feudal political structures, while in others bourgeois revolutions earlier in the 20th century took place mostly under the leadership of militarised middle-class forces influenced to varying degrees by Stalinism, creating a political frame for society which was in some respects pre-bourgeois. Here demands for the emergence of civil society, democratic rights and so on are central, though of course they must be intertwined with demands pointing the way towards workers' control and socialism. To do that requires a working-class socialist movement opposed to Islamism, Arab nationalism and the remnants of the Stalinist-nationalist left which was dominated by it.