Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Peace forum breaks Middle East’s spell of fear

After decades of silence, over 1,200 dissidents and activists from across the Arab world found their voice at Cairo's anti-war forum in December 2003.

February 1, 2004
3 min read

In keeping with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s increasingly jittery attitude to any criticism, the conference was surrounded by riot police, but this did not quell the debate inside. When told by the chair to keep his contribution to two minutes, one Egyptian delegate replied: “I have waited over 30 years for this opportunity to speak. I will not be silenced now.”

The meetings, which drew intellectuals, trade unionists and activists from Morocco to Syria, were often stormy. There are three traditions within the Arab world: nationalist, Islamist and leftist; and years of defeat and repression have bequeathed a legacy of distrust and rancour between them. But in the conference hall of the Egyptian Journalists” Institute, these three currents forged a united opposition to US and Israeli aggression. Whether this unity will last is another question.

Divisions surfaced when Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood refused to support a call by Salma Yaqoob of the Birmingham Stop the War Coalition for Islam to give women the right to choose whether to wear the veil. But surprisingly, a motion to put anti-capitalism and the struggle for democracy at the heart of the burgeoning new movement was won easily by the left. More contentious was a debate on how far criticisms of the resistance in Iraq and Palestine could be raised.

One defining moment came when several British anti-Zionist Jews won an argument for the conference to refer to supporters of Israel as “Zionists”, not “the Jews”. In a country where “Jewish conspiracy” theories are rife, an acceptance that not all Jews are Zionists was a major advance. However, an attempt to endorse Israeli pilots and soldiers who refused to suppress the intifada was a step too far for many. Notably, though, it was supported by the Palestinian and Lebanese delegations – the people directly under threat.

Events outside the conference hall informed the debate within. As the conference opened, the socialist activist Ashraf Ibrahim was being tried at a military court for his role in organising the “Tahrir Square intifada”. Tahrir is Cairo’s central square, and as the war in Iraq began in March thousands of Egyptians gathered there to defy the martial law in place since the assassination of Anwar al-Sadat in 1981 and demand the downfall of the Mubarak regime. The protest ended in running battles with security forces, and Ashraf is facing treason charges and a possible life sentence if convicted. The stakes are high for activists in the Middle East.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism