Resistance and racism from the colonial era to present

September 07, 2004 12:00 AM


CAIRO: The 1919 Egyptian revolution against the British occupation broke out after the speaker of the Egyptian Legislative Assembly and six of his colleagues were expelled by the British military authorities in Egypt. The speaker and his colleagues had asked for the occupier's permission to attend the international peace conference in Paris to discuss Egypt's independence in the post World War I arrangements. They even declared that they intended only to negotiate according to the principles they learned from Great Britain; in one of their declarations, they vowed to work "with peaceful means, whenever possible, for Egypt's independence, in accordance with the principles of freedom and Justice, whose banner the state of Great Britain and her allies hold high." While the politicians themselves were brought to power by the recommendation of British occupation officers, the masses that filled the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, cut the rails between those two cities and the rest of the country, and in some cases declared republics in their now "liberated" villages, were definitely much more radical. One week after the revolution broke out, the British Military Authority called most of the notables in Cairo, the ministers, the members of the Legislative Assembly and the remaining colleagues of the exiled speaker and warned them that the British would take extreme measures including attacking civilians and burning villages unless the violence in the country stopped. Before the end of the week, the members of the Legislative Assembly, some independent notables, as well as members of the exiled speaker's party issued a statement calling upon the Egyptian people to calm down: "The military authority has issued a warning that it would take the cruellest of military measures to punish the aggressors who attack routes of communication and public property. And it is clear to everyone that aggression, whether against human souls or against property, is forbidden by Divine Laws and human legislations. And that cutting the routes of communication greatly harms the people of the country since it prevents them from pursuing their interests and fulfilling their duties, and it stops the transportation of goods and harvests, and hampers trade and causes poverty. Moreover, punishment for such deeds exposes villages to destruction and ruin, and exposes innocent lives to punishment for sins they have not committed. It also should be noticed that such aggression deprives the Egyptians of the sympathy they are waiting for and causes rumors against them to be widely circulated. Therefore, the undersigned see it as the most sacred patriotic duty to call upon the Egyptian people, in the name of the interests of the homeland, to avoid any aggression, and that no one breaks the law whatsoever, in order not to block the way in the faces of those who are serving the homeland in legal ways. We also call upon the notables and people of influence in the country to perform their duties in ordering good and forbidding evil and to take whatever measures they can to stop whatever could harm the country. Finally we strongly hope that the Egyptian nation, with its wisdom and patience, would listen to this call of ours, and keep calm. May God grant us good guidance." The very leaders of the revolution were calling it an aggression! And the logic was, to give a chance to negotiations with the overwhelmingly powerful occupation forces. Six months after the Great Palestinian Revolt broke out against the British mandate denying the Palestinians their right to have a representative government, and against the continuous British sponsored immigration of Jews into Palestine, a similar warning was given to the leadership of the revolution by the British, through the Prince of Transjordan, the Kings of Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the Imam of Yemen. A declaration by the General Command of the Revolution said: "To all the Mujahideen in South Syria-Palestine ... in obedience to the calls of our Arab kings and princes and in acceptance of the request of the supreme Arab Committee in Jerusalem, we call for complete cessation of all acts of violence and harassment that could pollute the atmosphere of the ongoing negotiations through which the Arab Nation aspires to gain a lot. Fighters should also avoid committing any act that could be used as a pretext to abort the negotiations ... Anyone who does not obey these instruction will be considered an outlaw and he will deserve punishment and Divine wrath." (The General Commander of the Arab Revolt in South Syria-Palestine, Fawz Al-Din Al Qaweqji.) Last Saturday, I watched a round table discussion on television between a British foreign ministry official, two American officials, former prime minister of Israel, Shimon Perez, and Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa. All five officials and the interviewer formed a hexagon around a white dinner table. Moussa was articulate as usual but he was treated with blunt racism. The whole scene looked as if it was cropped out of the late nineteenth or early twentieth century - the "dark native," trying to whisper his way on the table of the white European colonial officers (the two Americans are Anglo-Saxons and Perez is originally Polish). All except Moussa agreed that upgrading their weaponry, surveillance technology and intelligence operations are a must to fight terrorism and the countries that harbor it - primarily the Palestinians and Syria and Iran. When Moussa tried to mention justice, occupation, and the continuous massacres, he was interrupted and ignored. I remembered the calls of 1919 and 1936 for ceasing all resistance operations in Egypt and Palestine as it seemed Moussa himself was under occupation but unable to resist while sitting on that table. That interview was the direct descendant of the negotiations of 1919 and 1936 and their like. Relieving your enemy from any pressure in order to negotiate is a strategy that the Arabs have applied a lot, yet is one that has seldom been applied to us. Intuitively, moderation in any matter is better than extremism. The problem, however, is that the powers dominating us, who would benefit most from our moderation, do not give that moderation a chance. Arab moderates in the past century had a dim future - they were humiliated despite their moderation - and that fact does not encourage moderates today.


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