Arab Left: The Challenge of Becoming Relevant
By: Nahed Hattar
Published Tuesday, April 24, 2012
The Arab Left will have no serious value in the regional and international arenas if it remains incapable of building an organized ideological, institutional, and public force which can qualify it to compete in elections in order to govern or to take and participate in power.
What is important here are the elements of the ideological and strategic structure needed by the left to move from the margins into playing a central political role in our countries.
The Arab Left faces seven basic ideological and strategic challenges. They are:
1. The ideological challenge: Rebuilding a presence for the Arab Left cannot happen without full liberation from the domination of liberal ideology and a repositioning within Socialist ideology in opposition to neoliberalism and capitalism.
The Arab Left needs to redefine the social program as the pivotal leftist agenda and as an ongoing struggle that transitionally revolves around overthrowing the comprador-like categories. In this context, I call for launching a discussion to develop alternative democratic formulas to propose to our societies.
2. The cultural challenge: It is today represented in reactionary mass religiousness. Every form of religiousness not associated with liberation on a national and social level is reactionary.
The existing religious wave in the Arab world revolves around the Sunni-Shiite split. Instead of pandering to the religious or ignoring this division, it is the duty of the Left to confront this wave by assuming three mutually reinforcing roles.
The first is related to reconnecting what was severed in the experience of martyr Hussein Mroue and the legacy of the Arab Marxists in their critical knowledge of Islam. The second is to seriously challenge political Islamic forces and uncover the substance of their programs, particularly on the social level. The third revolves around reviving intellectual achievements and the rational, secular, and enlightening literature of the Arab Renaissance in the 19th and 20th centuries.
3. The Gulf challenge: This is represented in the neo-imperialist function of the Gulf protectorates. They are very wealthy, extremely reactionary, and constitute a hub for the counter-revolution in the Arab world. The Arab Left cannot build itself and assert its presence without a full disengagement from the Gulf system, its role, governments, media, and cultural activities.
It should focus intensively on exposing, boycotting, and besieging the Gulf, as well as presenting all forms of possible support to the revolutionary forces there.
4. The Israeli challenge: Israeli military dominance in the region and the prevailing ideas of peace and coexistence with the enemy continue to thrust broad segments of the masses into the "realistic submission" of the controlling regimes, who work on safeguarding the status quo by reducing the barbarity of the Israeli beast.
The direction taken by some political Islamic forces was to submit to Israeli requirements for peace that today dominate the awareness of broad sectors of Arabs. This delivered a painful and unprecedented blow to the culture of resistance.
Thus, the Arab Left is compelled to confront this neo-surrender course by exposing it, fully severing from all forms and programs of conciliation and normalization with Israel, and developing and promoting leftist culture and the practice of ideological, political, and armed resistance.
5. The neo-imperialist challenge: During the so-called Arab Spring, imperialism moved from a position of controlling the organs of regimes to political and ideological domination over a substantial portion of the Arab public.
This occurred either through the illusion of participation in "democratic values," or the delusion of alliance in confronting the "common enemy" represented through Iran and Shias.
We have lived long enough to even see popular demonstrations demanding imperialist intervention in Arab countries in order to establish liberal democracies, raising the flags of colonizing states, and restoring the symbols of colonialism.
The Arab Left will not only lose its presence, but also its character and nature if it does not put on top of its agenda the immediate confrontation of the ongoing imperialist success in the "hearts and minds" of reactionary segments among the Arab masses.
That success stemmed from the ground of liberal ideology in particular. It was reinforced by political Islamic forces that concluded their dialogue with agreements and alliances with imperialism. The context will imminently lead to sectarian mobilization, strengthen the reactionary role of the Gulf and the agreements signed with Israel, and consolidate compradorial control.
Thus, the challenges obstructing the Arab Left’s renaissance are interlinked and part of one system. This requires overcoming it through one intellectual/political system as well.
6. The geopolitical challenge: This is represented by the collapse of the regional power of central and civilized Arab countries (Egypt, Iraq, and Syria, which now need significant time to retrieve their strength and roles). Two non-Arab powers – Turkey and Iran – are emerging and they both exercise their hegemony on parts of the Arab masses and forces on the basis on religious ties.
We distinguish here between the two countries in terms of their positions in the struggle against imperialism and Israel. But we do not overlook the fact that they support political Islam, deepen the Sunni-Shiite divide, and marginalize Arabism.
If the obligations of a political alliance with Iran require the Arab Left to agree and coordinate with Iranians, this does not mean remaining silent on the obstructive Iranian role in Iraq's rise and unity. It also does not mean abstaining from an ideological and cultural confrontation with political Shiite Islam.
As for the Turkish front, the Arab Left should launch a multi-dimensional attack on Ottomanization, the policies of sectarian mobilization, and the regional expansion approach. In fact, it should be against the Turkish state itself that has concretely shown itself as an anti-Arab entity.
This raises the task of serious participation in dismantling this entity's power through raising the issue of liberating the Syrian territories usurped by the Turks and supporting the cause of the Turkish Kurds and their right to separation.
The Arab Left can arrive at a new approach consistent with principles of the “right to self-determination” and Arab national security interests through developing a position supporting the establishment of a state for the Kurdish nation.
The Arabs have practically lost Iraqi Kurdistan. This frees the Arab Left to support an independent Kurdish state on all Kurdish territories that could create a new regional balance among the four nations of the Middle East.
7. The local challenge: Without falling into a false nationalism that ignores local characteristics and priorities, the Arab Left remains bound by its ability to overcome limits in various ways of convergence and interaction, according to the circumstances and the facts on the ground.
Serious leftists in the Fertile Crescent, for example, need to engage in a unifying process, due to the intricate geographic, demographic, economic, and political links between their countries.
Egyptian leftists, on the other hand, could stop at effective solidarity with their Arab comrades, as long as it is not forced and remains open to different possibilities.
Regarding the Jordanian Left, the past decade's developments and events demonstrated that the strength and presence of overlapping issues among Jordan, Iraq, and Syria – and of course, Palestine – cannot be ignored in favor of purely local issues.
It is high time for leftists in Syria and Lebanon to look at their countries as one political arena and act accordingly.
The horizon that might be open today for Iraqi leftists is only possible in the presence of a healthy relationship with their levantine neighbors.
Getting rid of the provincial mentality requires strenuous thought and political exercise resembling a revolution in itself, especially for the Lebanese and the Palestinians, who cling to the particularities of their individual situations.
Their Iraqi, Syrian, and Jordanian comrades might be more prepared to come together in the context of building a new social, national movement in the Arab Mashreq.
Nahed Hattar is a Jordanian writer.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.