Middle East: A Cairo Conference Call

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Last December a call went out for delegates and activists from the Middle East, Europe and America to attend the third anti-war and anti-globalisation conference in Cairo, which was due to start as Socialist Review went to press.

In the last two and a half years, representatives from the anti-war and anti-capitalist movements in the Arab and Islamic world have met with their counterparts in the west to discuss ways in which links between them could be established and strengthened. Four hundred attended the first conference in December 2002, and 800 the second in December 2003.

At the second conference, campaigners discussed the most effective ways of opposing the war and occupation of Iraq, and of building solidarity with the people of Palestine. Overseas participants received the warmest of welcomes from their Egyptian hosts, and were able to exchange ideas and experiences in a friendly and constructive atmosphere. For all who attended, the conference was one of the most memorable and enjoyable political events they had experienced.

The third conference is being held at a time when the resistance in Iraq and Palestine is at a crucial juncture. In Iraq, it is becoming increasingly evident that what we are witnessing is not some 'terrorist' campaign carried out by Ba'athist diehards or foreign jihadis but a nationalist struggle against occupation, supported by a majority of ordinary Iraqis.

In Palestine, the people are waiting expectantly for Israel to make serious concessions, such as ending the occupation, dismantling all the settlements and granting the refugees the right of return, before giving Mahmood Abbas, Yasser Arafat's successor as president, the thumbs up. The signs, however, are that Sharon will use the disengagement from Gaza to entrench and extend Israel's hold over the occupied West Bank.

Throughout the Arab and Islamic world, there are signs of a growing radicalisation as ordinary people become increasingly angry at the imperial arrogance of the American and British rulers. And there is real concern among the latter that the corrupt, despotic regimes they have supported for decades are facing a growing challenge from the grassroots. In Egypt the movement for genuine democracy has suffered repression by the state, with three leading activists detained last January on charges of distributing leaflets opposing a new presidential mandate for Hosni Mubarak, and the inheritance of the presidency by his son. They were released after numerous protests both in Egypt and internationally.

This is the backdrop to the conference taking place this year. All these issues will be debated at plenaries and workshops at the conference, and it should help in strengthening the left throughout the region.