New faces, new politics
There is a rising generation of leftist and Islamist activists, reports Gamal Nkrumah
The story of the Fifth Conference and Third Social Forum for Building an International Coalition of Resistance to Imperialism has by and large been one of discovery by the outside world. This year's event in Cairo, drew in more participants from distant lands than ever. In an unprecedented development, some 20 Canadian and 80 South Korean anti-war activists turned up in Cairo for the event. The participation of such a huge number of South Koreans was an unprecedented event.
"South Korea has a very strong and serious anti- war movement," Sameh Naguib of the Cairo- based Centre for Social Studies told Al-Ahram Weekly. Naguib explained that the South Korean anti-war movement has a special and intense interest in the Middle East. As democracy takes root in South Korea, after decades of military dicatorship, the South Koreans empathise with nations that are grappling with democratisation.
Naguib says that the presence of a large contingency of foreign participants, including the South Koreans, "gave the conference a very international flavour". He explained that their presence was a great morale booster for the Egyptian organisers, and "gave us a sense that the issues we are grappling with are global in nature".
One of the most important aspects of this year's conference was the presence of a new generation of activists Muslim Brotherhood youth activists in unprecedented numbers.
Leftists were eager to embrace Islamists. "This year's conference witnessed the participation of a very large number of young activists -- both leftists and Islamists," Naguib said. This conference had a large proportion of youth in their 20s and even younger, in their teens," he added. "People, even seasoned activists, are not used to this. We saw less of the usual old faces -- the traditional leftist crowd is the over-40s, the Tagammu -type people. This conference had a large proportion of youth, and that is a reflection of the demographics of the country," Naguib mused.
However, the most eye-catching feature of this year's conference was the high profile participation of young women -- both Islamists and leftists -- at the conference. Young women actively engaging in the fight for democracy, human rights and freedom of choice. They joined hands in the anti- globalisation, anti-imperialism and anti-war struggles. They traded notes and exchanged ideas and information.
Another exciting aspect is that the young -- both Islamists and leftists -- have joined forces in the pro-domocracy and anti-war struggles. The majority of youngsters were Muslim Brothers. They worked long and hard, and clearly were learning to listen to what the leftists had to say.
"The jargon and terminology of both groups is very different. Leftists have their traditional beliefs and slogans and the Islamists use their own religious expressions. This is obvious in social commentary and support for the Palestinian cause. The Socialists speak of national liberation and imperialism as the main problem in th Middle East. The Islamists, on the other hand, talk of Palestine in general, as a sacred Muslim place," Naguib explained.
Both groups, he noted, are involved in trying to push forward an independent free student union as an alternative to government-controlled student unions. However, all is not smooth sailing. Leftists were alarmed by the tone of a particulr Muslim Brotherhood leader, Ali Abdel-Fattah, for example. He became rather agitated and defensive at a conference seminar on Muslim-Coptic relations. He accused the Copts of being pawns of the government. The Copts, in turn, warned that the Muslim Brotherhood was playing a destructive role, curtailing Coptic civil rights and pursuing politics detrimental to Coptic interests.
Some observers said that certain Coptic groups were playing a dangerous game. Al-Katibah Al-Tibiyah, the Theban Brigade, a hardline right-wing Coptic youth organisation, are calling for greater United States intervention on behalf of the Coptic community of Egypt to secure their rights and fight their causes.
Indeed, the question of religious and communal strife cropped up in various forums at the Cairo conference. Feroze Mithiborwala, head of the Muslim Intellectual Forum of India, described how the Indian government decided to align itself with Israel and the United States. He explained that both the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the centrist Congress Party are based on class and caste interests and hence they are both committed to neo-liberal economic policies and political alignment with the West. "It is an alliance of Brahmanism and Zionism among the ruling elites of both the Congress and BJP, though there is the Nehruist faction of Congress and the many opposition parties which are against this. He pointed out that 50 per cent of Israel's arms exports go to India. "It is second only to Russia in importance, and this means Israel infiltration of our military establishment." However, he remains hopeful that this can be turned around.
He stressed the positive steps being taken by Muslims and social movements to fight the pro- Israeli policies of the ruling parties. "We held a conference in Delhi in mid-March with Hizbullah, Hamas, Syrians and Iraqi resistance." He emphasised that Islam must address class and minority issues, that yes, Zionism is attackintg Islam, but that we should not fall into the trap of fighting a "religious" war, since Zionism is not a religion, but a form of imperialsm, and that Christians, Muslims and Jews must be mobilised against it. He harked back to the clear anti-imperialist alliance of Egypt and India in the 1960s: "When we were poor in the 1960s, but had Nasser and Nehru, we were powerful. Now that our societies have become rich, and we have Mubarak and Singh, we are weak, irrelevant".