- Title: FRANCE: Middle Eastern Communists fight declining membership
- Date: 13th September 2010
- Summary: LA COURNEUVE, FRANCE (SEPTEMBER 11, 2010) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF FETE DE L'HUMANITE, THE ANNUAL FESTIVAL ORGANISED BY THE FRENCH COMMUNIST PARTY AT WHICH PARTIES FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD ARE PRESENT VILLAGES OF THE WORLD: THE PLACE WHERE FOREIGN COMMUNIST PARTIES HAVE THEIR STANDS BANNER OF THE IRAQI COMMUNIST PARTY
- Embargoed: 28th September 2010 13:00
- Location: France
- Country: France
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVAEZ6XSFV85606MVNHPUJUDL041
- Story Text: During the Cold War the Fete de l'Humanite outside Paris was one of the high points of the international communist calendar, a place for parties to gather, hosted by one of Western Europe's largest political groups, a force to be reckoned with.
Nowadays, with the fall of the Berlin Wall a distant memory, the Communist Party may be a shadow of its former self but its annual festival is still popular, drawing sister parties from around the world.
Middle Eastern communists are still well represented at the festival and on Saturday (September 11) several of their senior members were present and optimistic that the tide may be finally turning in their favour.
The Middle East, and the Arab world in particular, was home to some of the first communist parties following the Russian revolution in 1917 and the creation of the Communist Internationale.
The Palestinian Communist Party traces its roots back to 1920, the Lebanese one to 1924 and the Iraqi one to 1934.
Many have spent much or all of their existence as illegal groups in their home countries, or at the very least have faced severe repression.
Today, they not only have to cope with the demise of the Soviet Union - they also find themselves squeezed between political Islam and the free market, trying to offer a message that an ideology many view as overtaken can still offer a genuine alternative.
Iraq's Communist Party played a fundamental role in the post war history of its country and faced particular repression after Saddam Hussein's rise to power in 1978.
Now it operates in what is seen as a free and democratic Iraq.
"With the emergence of religious ideologies and the control of religious parties on the state, there is a difficulty in seeing progressive secular parties holding important positions in the state, but the people have seen what these parties can bring them and their voting in the last elections reflected this," said Mohammed Salam Kadim, the spokesman in France for the Iraqi Communist party.
Nowhere is the decline of Communist power as tangible as it is within Lebanon's party. In 1967, on the eve of the Six Day War, it had 75,000 members, roughly three percent of the population. At the time it was the largest political formation in the country.
No longer, according to Hassan Hamdame, a member of the party's central committee, who says it now has about 5,000 members. But rather than talk of Communist decline, Hamdame sees opportunity in a country where the free market has reigned supreme during several waves of post war reconstruction.
"Socialist ideas in general, and left-wing ideologies including the project of communism, are gaining more and more ground in Lebanon, especially among the young. That's because current politics are in an impasse, mired in crises caused by the neo-liberal capitalist policies in Lebanon," he said.
During the colonial era, multiple resistance movements which opposed a foreign presence sprang up throughout the Middle East, many claimed a Communist identity.
Today many commentators say that political Islam has seized the mantle of resistance from the nationalists. But Mustapha Brahma, the deputy general of Voie Democratique, one of the Moroccan Communist parties, says the time has come to fight back.
"Islamists, in their different colours, do not represent true nationalism. Those who portray true nationalism in Morocco are the democratic parties, including the real communist parties, because some of them participated in liberal capitalism or joined governments that had policies like these. So they have lost some credibility like Islamist parties, but the democratic, progressive and social ideals is what constitutes true nationalism in the Arab and Islamic world," he said.
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