Anti-globalization and anti-war activists from around the world closed ranks with their Arab peers in Cairo in pursuit of a `different world.
We have no option but to demonize the United States because it poses the greatest danger to humanity. We have a powerful enemy that wants to take over. Those are not the words of an Arab or Muslim radical, but of Gabrielle Muzo, an Italian economist who, with some 50 internationalists, came from around the globe to participate in a two-day conference organized by the International Campaign against U.S. Aggression on Iraq (ICAA).
Muzos sentiments were shared by scores of activists and observers, and even those who say that they dont identify with the anti- globalization movement. Though the mood was one of defiance, the most pressing question was how such shows of solidarity, which are bound to multiply in the coming few weeks as the countdown to the war begins, can face down the war machine that is swiftly gearing up.
This sense of urgency was reflected in the words of British MP George Galloway who said, We are at the 11th hour and there will soon be no more time for gatherings and conferences like these. Action speaks louder than words, he told the audience in a fiery statement.
But in Egypt, where acts of political protest are not welcomed by security apparatuses, merely holding such a conference in Cairo is a powerful action, as conference organizer Soheir Mursi said. Even when the gathering was threatened with cancellation, owing to security reasons, we felt that we had already achieved a significant part of our goal of linking up with the worldwide struggle against global apartheid, Mursi said at the opening of the conference.
This link-up has indeed turned what was meant to be a show of solidarity with Iraq against a pending U.S. attack into a show of support for the worlds underdogs from Iraq to Cuba and Palestine to Venezuela. Among the items on the events agenda were U.S. globalization, empire, globalization and struggle, genocide and ethnic cleansing as a new world order and popular movements and imperialist discourse.
Explaining the rationale behind including other struggles among the conferences topics, Muzo said, The agenda should not simply be against the war, but against all sorts of ideological and economic domination by the only super power. This is not about solidarity, because one cannot express solidarity with oneself. It is about the complementarity of our struggle to liberate ourselves. A minute of silence, hence, was devoted to the martyrs to struggles for freedom the world over.
The talk of resistance and the sense of profound and intense international solidarity has prompted some speakers to liken the anti-war movement with the solidarity movements of the 1960s and 1970s. This is not only a resistance movement, it is a movement for global justice whose roots begin with the youth, not only in the U.S., but in Europe, Asia, South America and in the Arab world, said one speaker.
For the first time in the history of the anti- globalization movement, this closing of ranks between international and regional activists was launched from an Arab capital. ICAA organizers said that it was a symbolic gesture to launch the campaign against U.S. hegemony from Cairothe so-called heart of the Arab nation.
The gathering was the culmination of efforts that date back to 1997 when Egyptian activists launched a campaign to lift the sanctions imposed on Iraq. The conference, entitled, Together Against U.S. Globalization and a War on Iraq, is the first event organized by the Egyptian Campaign Against U.S. Aggression on Iraq, which was launched a few months ago. Perhaps the most important achievement, in the view of the conferences main organizer, Ashraf Al-Bayoumi, was establishing a dynamic through which both Arab and international activists were brought together to outline a plan to contain U.S. hegemony. We wanted to break away from prevailing defeatist notions. Understandably, we are on a very difficult path but we are confident of the results at the end of the road, and we are confident that American hegemony can be contained, Al-Bayoumi told Al-Ahram Weekly.
This sense of defiance on the part of the organizers was essential as the conference comes at a time when, as Edward Said put it in his message to conferees, Arab lives, resources and land will be lost with scarcely a note of complaint from regional governments who have abandoned their people. Said stressed, It was not too late for intellectuals and activists to mobilize opinion in the Middle East and elsewhere against the terrible injustices and sufferings soon to be endured on a vast scale.
While participants agreed on the need to steer clear of rhetorical statements and apocalyptic scenarios, there was an evident surfeit of rhetoric demonizing the U.S. We should not succumb to this colonization force that is reproducing itself in the worst form and is led by a fascist right-wing administration, warned Mohamed Sami, an Egyptian businessman who helped fund the conference. We should stand up to this barbaric war which has been waged against our nations and peoples because the Arab nations will be on the front- line defending all humanity, Sami added. Former Algerian President Ahmed Ben Bella gave a passionate speech, saying that the war was not only against Iraq, but that Egypt would be a future target. Why is this war waged? asked Ben Bella, becausethey tell usthey want to teach us democracy and enjoy democratic rule. But I say 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. We are facing a fundamentalist administration; [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld is a fundamentalist, [Vice-President Dick] Cheney is a fundamentalist. All of them are. This new world order they want to impose on us should change.
Ben Bellas anger was shared by at least one non-Arab, Dutch journalist William Oltman, who was keen to explain that he was not anti- American since he had lived in the U.S. for 38 years. He also said, I am a journalist, not an activist. Nonetheless, he had some very harsh words for U.S. President George W Bush. If Bush and [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair are allowed to go ahead with this war, they will be like Mussolini and Hitler. Bush is very closely approaching the behavior of the Nazis and what we see now is very frightening. I just dont understand why Arab nations dont stand together against this aggression and arrogant use of power? he exclaimed.
While Oltman was certainly not expecting any answers to his question, veteran German journalist Harold Schuman, author of The Global Trap, expressed impatience with arguments that put the brunt of the blame for the regions chronic problems squarely on the shoulders of the U.S. Schuman noted that most speeches did not analyze the situation, but rather took the easy way out by demonizing the U.S. To say that the U.S. is responsible for the misery in the Arab world is only half the truth, the other half is that some people are trying to conceal that Arab governments are as much implicated in this worsening situation as the U.S. is, simply because Arab governments dont have to fear the public vote, Schuman said angrily. He was in fact keen to point out that the conference was not meant to defend the Iraqi regime and Saddam Hussein in any shape or form. I am here, he said, to defend the Iraqi people. That remark raised the ire of the Iraqi official delegation headed by Nabil Negm, the chief political adviser to the Iraqi president, and Negm protested to the conference organizers about the comment.
The incident, however, brought to the fore the question of drawing a line between the Iraqi people, who are bound to suffer in a coming war, and the Iraqi regime. One interesting feature of the gathering was the meager representation of those in whose defense it was organized.
There was, however, a member of the Iraqi opposition present. Abdel-Amir Al-Rikabi, described as a member of the honest opposition (in contrast with opposition figures who met at a U.S.-sponsored event in London), referred to a reconciliation initiative that was launched by the Iraqi opposition, which he described as having the potential to foster a mechanism for democratic change in Iraq without a war. Under such an approach, the immediate goal would be to establish a unity government that would work to develop a constitutionally-enshrined system that ensures the right to representation for all political and national forces including the Baathists. The response from Saad Qassem Hammoudy, a leading member of the Baath Party and secretary-general of the Iraqi Conference of Arab Popular Forces, was, Iraq welcomes any opponent who does not deal with American, British or Israeli intelligence.
Unlike the Iraqis, the Russians had a very strong presence at the event and their rhetoric evoked that of the Cold War era with many references to Nasser the leader, standing shoulder to shoulder with our Arab brethren and fighting imperialism and social injustices.
Russian indulgence in a good old days discourse reached a low point when Vassilli Safronchuk, who was former deputy permanent representative of the USSR at the United Nations and under-secretary general of the organization, said, 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. Putting aside nostalgia, Safronchuk suggested that the use of force against Iraq could be averted if one of the permanent members of the Security Council vetoed such an action. We should call upon Russia, France and China to veto any resolution that permits the use of force. This should be the first goal of this international campaign because such a resolution is coming, he added.
It was, however, a voice from the United States that offered a less gloomy picture. Peter Phillips, a media professor, who supervises an initiative entitled, Project Censored that draws attention to issues that the mainstream media overlooks, said, There is an outrage emerging in the U.S. Some sections of the public no longer view it as a war, but rather as a march to slaughter. We know more about Winona Ryders shoplifting incident than we know about the destruction of Iraq. PR people spin the news. He went on to explain that despite this gloomy picture, there is a growing interest in alternative sources of information, because we know that the corporate media is not telling the truth.
Al Ahram Weekly Dec. 26-Jan1, 2003
Against U.S. Hegemony and War on Iraq
[The full text] 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.
First: 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 worlds 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 unipolar 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:
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 societyas is the case in all Arab societiesit is evident that the U.S.-imposed sanctions have had a devastating effect on Iraqs development. Where 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. 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 U.S. 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, U.S.-centric globalization and promote an alternate globalism based on Equity and Justice. This would mean better utilization of the worlds 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.
Stop War, January 26, 2003