Of the many pithy formulae which members of the Socialist Workers’ Party use, one that seems to have a particular current resonance is that idea that “the road to Palestinian liberation runs through Cairo.” Or, as the headline to an article by John Rose in Socialist Worker (12 February 2011) puts it, “Answer to Palestine question is in Cairo.”
What do the SWP mean by this? Rose’s article argues against any possibility for Palestinian liberation that does not involve “the rest of the Arab world” and asserts that “the outcome of the Egyptian revolution will shape the Palestinian leadership.”
Hamas, the clerical-fascist party which rules Gaza as a theocratic state and which the SWP supports, has already repressed demonstrations in solidarity with the Egyptian uprising — an action Rose explains away and implicitly defends by claiming that Hamas is “waiting to see what happens rather than making any move that might be perceived as provocation.”
Hamas’s sister organisation in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, is currently positioning itself to win power and influence; the SWP has implicitly supported the Brotherhood, viewing it as some kind of reformist, almost social-democratic, formation that the left should ally with.
The focus on Cairo as the epicentre from which the shock-waves that would eventually liberate Palestine would spread has another purpose.
Rose cites Tony Cliff, “the road to both liberation [of the Arab population generally and the Palestinians in particular] was routed through Cairo […] and not Jerusalem.” The message here is clear; the Israeli workers have no role to play. If there is no road to liberation through Jerusalem then the Israelis must accept their fate at the hands of external forces. They have no agency in the struggle for liberation in the region.
It also effectively robs the Palestinians themselves of any agency and counsels them to sit tight — presumably under the watchful gaze of the heroic “radicals” of Hamas — and wait for a more belligerently Arab-nationalist government to emerge in Egypt.
Rose comments, without explanation or elaboration, that “Egypt is the leader for all classes throughout the region — the ruling class, the peasantry, and the working class.” The SWP’s conception of “Arab liberation” and “the Arab revolution” is essentially classless — or rather, cross-class. It is not a revolution of workers in the Middle East (regardless of their ethnic or national origin) against bosses, but of “Arabs” against “imperialism”.
Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1978/79 and has remained one of only three Arab states to recognise it. Rose quotes Henry Kissinger in his comment that the US’s role in brokering this deal was about “breaking up the Arab united front.” Again, the space between Rose’s lines is large and the writing is very big: “the Arab united front” of bourgeois or Stalinoid nationalists against Israel was something progressive, worthwhile, positive. Something to be supported and defended. The SWP’s hope is that something like it may re-emerge from the current uprisings.
Rose concludes that “any kind of progressive outcome in Egypt will significantly weaken Israel’s historic position.”
It is certainly to be hoped, and worked for, that if a genuinely democratic government emerges in Egypt it will be able to play a role in pressuring Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank, dismantle the settlements and recognise an independent Palestinian state. But this is not what Rose means.
His hope, and the SWP’s hope, is for a government in Egypt that will reverse the last 30 years of history and break off any notion of peace or co-existence with Israel. Taking it altogether there is only one possible conclusion: the SWP wants an Egyptian government that is prepared to declare war on Israel.
A real socialist programme for the region should be based on facilitating common struggle of workers across the Middle East — Arab, Israeli-Jewish, Kurdish and others — against their bosses. The SWP’s desire for a nationalist or Islamist “Arab united front” to take on Israel is a bloodthirsty and reactionary fantasy.