While the buzz in the Arab world has been the latest United Nations Development Report, there was a small conference in the region that also quietly made headlines last week.
The 16th Arab National Congress (ANC) was held in Algiers between April 6 to the 9th. The meeting had participants from throughout the Arab world. The focus of the four day conference was mainly on Iraq, the Sudan, Lebanon and Syria, and the Palestinians.
The Congress produced a document highlighting the main points discussed, most of which centered around a "U.S.-Zionist project" targeting the Arab nation. It called for supporting "resistance and continued struggle by all means available." Arab regimes who "flock to appease" the West were also denounced: "The ANC reaffirms that such appeasement and conciliation will only drive our enemy to more arrogance and sense of superiority, increasing his conviction that force is the only means of dealing with Arabs."
The ANC document devoted 5 points to Lebanon and Syria that discussed thwarting the "U.S. - Zionist assault" on those countries and Hizbullah was praised for its resistance activity. 4 points of the document were devoted to the Sudan and discussed the "U.S.-Israeli imperialist scheme against the Arab nation," while Arab TV networks were called upon to uncover the truth behind these schemes.
Nine points devoted to Iraq and in particular supporting anti-American activity there were discussed. They included calling for enhancing the actions of the resistance and calling for liberating the country. The Iraqi people fighting "the occupation" were also praised and the document promoted the concept of creating a national front to liberate Iraq.
The ANC recommended Arabs throughout the world to join forces with the resistance and participate in the fight: "[we] call upon popular political forces all over the Arab world to activate the Arab street's support for the resistance; affirms the right of everyone in the nation to join forces with the resistance, considering its support by all its Arab neighbors, by all means possible, a duty of top priority; calls upon the efficiencies of the Arab popular Council to Support Iraq to continue their activity, strengthen these efficiencies, providing media support to Iraqi resistance."
The "Palestine question" was the subject of 8 points. They included calling for the continuation of the Intifada and supporting "the heroic resistance and arm struggle." The U.S. and Europe were "condemned" for placing Hamas and Islamic Jihad on lists of terrorist organizations.
The ANC called for the Arab world to finically support the Intifada and for Arab states with normalized relations with Israel to reconsider their positions. The ANC also warned of falling into the "U.S. and Zionist trap aimed at breaking psychological barriers in this existential conflict through contacts, visits, or shaking hands with enemy officials." Palestinian "militancy" was praised as was congress member Palestinian Bishop Attalla Hanna, for taking "militant" positions regarding confronting Zionist actions.
Atallah has been on the record numerous times supporting suicide attacks. On January 17, 2003 in the square of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem he lead a protest against "American threats to attack Iraq" and expressed support for terrorism. According to Al-Quds Al-Arabi he stated, "We declare publicly our blessing, support, and legitimization of the brave Palestinian resistance [carried out] by any means, including the brave Fidaiyin martyrdom operations…"
He added: "[the martyrs] will be inscribed in the history of our Palestinian and Arab people in holy white letters. The voices of those who defame these acts of heroism and honor are nothing more than anomalous voices that do not represent Arab and Palestinian public opinion… The Fidaiyin martyrdom operations aimed deep inside Israel are unique pioneer operations that deter the Zionist enemy … This is Arab Palestinian land, that has no connection whatsoever to the Jews and the Zionists'… Martyrdom operations are an excellent and good way to resist the Zionist invasion of the Palestinian land. In front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, we bless the souls of the heroic Shahids and the families of the Shahids."
While the ANC was anti-American in nature, the subject of reform was present throughout the four day event. Just as Lebanese opposition figure Walid Jumblatt grudgingly admitted last month that he was wrong about President Bush and his reform agenda, even the most anti-American conference in the Arab world is now following the blueprint laid out by the president. Surely, this is another sign of victory for the policy of democratization and reform now springing up in the Middle East.
Steven Stalinsky is the Executive Director of The Middle East Media Research Institute.