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memri
December 20, 2007 No.
1790

Iraqi Liberals Attack Egyptian Reformer Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim for Comparing Iraq to Vietnam and Algeria and for Expressing Sympathy for the Resistance

A polemic has recently erupted between noted Egyptian sociologist and reformer Dr. Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim and Iraqi liberal authors over the war in Iraq. The controversy centered on recent articles by Ibrahim comparing the Iraqi resistance to the Vietnamese fighters at Dien Bien Phu and to the Algerian FLN. In response, a number of Iraqi liberals – Dr. 'Abd Al-Khaliq Hussein, Kazem Habib, and Iraqi Kurdish author Hosheng Broka – rejected Ibrahim's historical comparisons, and accused him of supporting Ba'thist and Al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for crimes against the Iraqi people.

The following are excerpts from Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim's articles and the Iraqi authors' responses to them:

Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim: "Foreign Occupation Must Inevitably Give Rise to National Resistance"

On October 27, 2007, Dr. Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim published an article titled "Vietnam and the Search for Iraq's Future" in the Qatari daily Al-Raya and in the Egyptian opposition daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm. The article, written during a visit to Vietnam, was a reflection on U.S. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez's recent statement that the Iraq war was "a nightmare with no end in sight," interspersed with reflections on the author's student days as an anti-Vietnam War activist.[1]

It was Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim's follow-up article, "From Vietnam to Algeria to Iraq," that became a source of controversy, as it seemed to express sympathy for the Iraqi "resistance." Following are excerpts:

"As I was traveling in Vietnam with my wife and son... I called to mind stories from the past. I remembered the biographies of the great historical leaders of this poor Asian country who led a popular resistance against three foreign occupying forces in the 20th century – Japan, France, and the U.S. – and was victorious over them all, despite the heavy sacrifice of its people's blood.

"One of the scenes that came to mind was the French forces' surrender to the Vietnamese fighters at Dien Bien Phu in the spring of 1954...

"I was just beginning high school then in Egypt when we heard and read about the defeat and the French surrender... and something that attracted my attention at the time was the fact that some of the French soldiers who had surrendered were of a brown complexion, with Arab and African features.

"I knew then that France was enlisting people from its colonies in North Africa, especially from Algeria, to fight for it in its colonies in Indochina – in Vietnam in particular.

"As the rings of history are connected and interlocking, the scene of surrender at Dien Bien Phu proved to the Moroccan and Algerian soldiers in the French occupation forces that the white European man, who had appeared to them to be a 'superman,' could be defeated and made to surrender to the yellow Asian man.

"Thus when the Moroccan and Algerian soldiers returned to their countries after the French forces' withdrawal from Vietnam, they recounted the details of the scene to their peers, who had been resisting France's colonization of their country in the traditional, accustomed ways – demonstrations and slogans...

"The 'returnees from Vietnam' began to call for a new method in the struggle – armed popular resistance. It was no coincidence that the armed Algerian revolution broke out in November 1954, six months after Dien Bien Phu.

"What are the lines that draw together Vietnam, Algeria, and Iraq?

"The first is foreign occupation; the second is the resistance; and the third is armed popular struggle.

"Numerous experiences have made clear that a foreign occupation, whatever its causes and justifications, must inevitably give rise to a national resistance – even if the occupiers are angels."

"I Am Certain that America Will Leave Iraq in Defeat, Sooner or Later"

"Whatever the objective causes, such as the exacting of payment of debts [perhaps an allusion to the British occupation of Egypt], and no matter how noble the justifications, such as freeing a people from dictatorial rule, or freeing them from a bloody, despotic regime – and even if some welcomed [the occupation] at first – sooner or later the national conscience awakens and there appears a call to end the occupation.

"At first it is a peaceful call. But the irresponsiveness of the occupation forces pushes the people of the occupied country to take up arms. This is what happened and is happening in the three countries named in the title of this article [i.e. Vietnam, Algeria, and Iraq]...

"It is often the case that some of the causes and justifications [for the occupation] are sound. But the general rule is that they hide another, unannounced agenda, such as the exploitation of natural resources or monopolizing markets, benefiting from a geostrategic position, or spreading a certain ideology.

"The true agenda quickly becomes clear to the occupied, and a national resistance crystallizes in stages – and then, in some cases, takes the form of armed struggle. This occurred in Vietnam after some 100 years of occupation, in Algeria after 130 years, and in Iraq within a few months...

"The strategy [of 'extended popular war'] was associated with General Giap, who was a student of his leader Ho Chi Minh. In the case of Algeria, the strategy was associated with many names, among them Ahmed Ben Bella and Houari Boumediene. In the case of Afghanistan, it was associated with non-Afghan names such as Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and one Afghan name, Mullah Omar. And we do not yet know the names of the leaders of the resistance in Iraq...

"When the numbers of dead rise, the youth of the country whose government gave the occupation orders demonstrate against their government. This is what happened during the Vietnam War... and this is what is happening now in the case of Iraq. It is the American youth who are being killed daily because of their country's occupation of Iraq.

"This is what led the retired general Ricardo Sanchez to explain two weeks ago that America cannot win the war in Iraq. No occupying force, whether American, French, British, or Israeli, has ever won a war against an armed popular resistance employing the strategy of an extended war of attrition. For this reason, I am certain that America will leave Iraq in defeat, sooner or later..."[2]

Iraqi Liberal 'Abd Al-Khaliq Hussein: America Did Not Occupy Iraq, It Liberated It

One of the Iraqi liberals who took umbrage at Ibrahim's characterization of the situation in Iraq was Dr. 'Abd Al-Khaliq Hussein in an article published on the liberal Arab website Aafaq on November 7, 2007. He expressed particular disappointment in the fact that Ibrahim, a respected and outspoken democrat and former political prisoner, would express such views. Following are excerpts:

"I would not be giving away any secrets if I say that I regularly read the writings of Dr. Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim... but, and I say this with sadness, his latest article, titled 'From Vietnam to Algeria to Iraq'... was a shock and a disappointment to many of his readers – to the point where I cannot believe that the author of this article is the Dr. Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim whom we know to be a firm defender of modernity, democracy, and human rights.

"I say this in all candor: If the name of the author were not at the top of the article, I would have thought that its author was perhaps [the pan-Arabist editor-in-chief of Al-Quds Al-'Arabi] 'Abd Al-Bari Al-'Atwan or [Nasser's former advisor] Muhammad Hassanein Heikal.

"I do not want to respond to the article paragraph by paragraph; I only want to address its strange position on the issue of Iraq and the terrorism that is being perpetrated there by the fascists of [our] age – the adepts of Wahhabi Islamofascism in alliance with Ba'thist fascism. [Dr. Ibrahim] has gotten matters confused and has treated America's actions in Iraq – liberating it from an evil, fascist regime – in the same way that he treats French colonialism in Algeria.

"The worst thing is that he takes the savage, barbaric actions that are going on in Iraq – the savage killing of children and women... and elevates them to the rank of the Vietnamese resistance... and the Algerian resistance... I cannot understand how he reached this strange conclusion..."

Where Is It Better to Live – In "Occupied" South Korea or "Free" North Korea?

"First... Is what occurred in Iraq truly an occupation? Not at all... In truth, what America did was to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein's fascist Ba'thist regime, based on the request and imploring of the Iraqi opposition, after the Ba'th regime came to present a danger not just to the Iraqi people, but to all the people of the region – as is known from its Ba'thist wars, domestic and foreign, which caused the death of approximately two million Iraqis and the forced exile of some four million.

"Thus what America did in Iraq is not occupation, but liberation in the full sense of the term, and exactly resembles what America did when it liberated Japan from fascist militarism and Germany from Nazism in WWII.

"Did a resistance and a popular armed struggle develop in these two countries against the 'occupation'? Not at all. And history has proven that what America did in these two countries was for the good of these peoples, the Japanese and the Germans, and both are now among the most advanced democratic regimes and enjoy the strongest of economies.

"I ask why Dr. Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim compared Iraq to Vietnam and Algeria, instead of comparing it to South Korea, for example, to which it is more similar? Compare the political and economic situations of the two Koreas, the 'occupied' south and the 'free' north – for God's sake, in which of them would any reasonable person prefer to live if given the choice?"

"There Are Groups that Call the Acts of Killing in Iraq Resistance – First and Foremost Among Them... Al-Qaeda"

"Second... Is what is occurring in Iraq a national resistance...? There are groups that call the acts of killing in Iraq resistance; and first and foremost among them are the adepts and supporters of Al-Qaeda, the orphans of the fallen Ba'th party, and the enemies of democracy and political activity in Iraq. What kind of a resistance is this that targets the poor masses?

"Dr. Sa'ad Eddin, as a sociologist, knows that the majority of killers [in Iraq] are those who have been brainwashed by the clerics of death, come to Iraq for the sake of 'jihad' and martyrdom for Allah and Islam in order to speedily meet the virgins of Paradise, and explode themselves in places crowded with innocent day laborers...

"And recently, terrorism in the districts that used to empathize with the terrorists – due to shortsightedness, the disinformation of the Arab media, and sectarian motives – reached the point where the residents of these areas were themselves targeted. They realized this, even if only after calamities, and the uprisings of the 'awakening' movements were established.

"Indeed, the Sunni tribesmen, who were deceived by the fake slogans of the resistance, learned through bitter experience that it is the Iraqi people who are being targeted, and not the occupation forces, as the remnants of the Ba'th and the adepts of Al-Qaeda claim...

"These terrorists carried out, and still carry out, the same criminal activities in Algeria, from 1992 to the present, and the victims of their terrorism number a quarter of a million innocent Algerians. Was Algeria under American occupation...?"

"Dr. Ibrahim finds it odd that the names of the leaders of the 'national resistance' in Iraq have not surfaced... In truth, the names of the leaders of the Iraqi 'resistance' are known: Osama bin Laden the Saudi, Ayman Al-Zawahiri the Egyptian, and the Jordanian carrion, Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi; there is not a single Iraqi name among them..."[3]

Iraqi Kurdish Author Hosheng Broka: "How Can Killing the Nation Be a 'National Resistance'?"

Another Iraqi liberal who wrote a rebuttal of Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim's article was the Kurdish poet and author Hosheng Broka. He opened his article with a summary of Egyptian liberal Sayyed Al-Qimni's earlier criticisms of Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim – namely that he had abandoned his secular positions and become an ally of the "[Muslim] Brotherhood salafi discourse." He then argued that Ibrahim's article on Vietnam, Algeria, and Iraq had confirmed Al-Qimni's diagnosis:

"The Egyptian sociologist [Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim] sees three lines connecting Vietnam, Algeria, and Iraq: occupation, resistance, and popular armed struggle. He does not hide his enthusiasm for the 'legitimacy' of these three 'resistances', [all three] on a par, 'even if the occupiers are angels,' as he put it.

"Nobody contests that what occurred in Vietnam at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, and in Algeria, land of the million martyrs, in 1962, was a natural consequence of two legitimate national resistances [carried out] by the people of these countries against foreign occupiers, in the full sense of the two words 'resistance' and 'nation,' with all their sacred dimensions.

"But the strange thing is that a sociologist of the standing of Dr. Sa'ad Eddin would place 'the Al-Zarqawi resistance' on the same level as Ho Chi Minh's.

"Dr. Sa'ad Eddin says that 'we do not yet know the names of the leaders of the resistance in Iraq.' As though he has never heard the names of the 'emirs' of 'The Islamic State in Iraq,' and first and foremost among them the 'commander of the faithful,' the talon of Osama bin Laden in Iraq, the now-interred Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, as well as other creators of killing and 'exploding emirates.'

"Further, is there an 'Iraqi resistance' at all, apart from that 'imported' from the Al-Qaeda organization, which kills, explodes, and decapitates Iraq and the Iraqis in the worst way, by the direct command of the 'emirs' of Al-Qaeda in the mountains of Tora Bora...? This is clearer and more evident to the simple people than it is to their elites... like Dr. [Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim], who directs a 'respected' 'research center'...

"How can killing the nation be a 'national resistance'? How can killing the people be a 'popular resistance'? And how can killing religion be 'jihad' for the sake of Allah?..."[4]

Iraqi Liberal Kazem Habib: "Someone Who Thinks in this Way Has Left Behind the Fight for Human Rights, Individual Freedom, and Democracy"

A third Iraqi liberal to criticize Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim was Kazem Habib, who, unlike 'Abd Al-Khaliq Hussein, was not originally in favor of the war. He went out of his way to express his respect for Ibrahim, and pointed out that he had recently written in support of him in his confrontations with his critics in Egypt. (Ibrahim had come under fire for meeting with President Bush and urging him to tie U.S. foreign aid to the recipient countries' human rights records[5]). But he went on to say that he felt compelled to write against the views Ibrahim had expressed on the situation in Iraq:

"Dr. Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim's most recent articles on this subject [i.e. Iraq] were characterized by three grave observations:

"1. The consideration of what is going on in Iraq as being equivalent to the struggle against colonialists in Algeria and in Vietnam, whether French or American.

"2. This then unambiguously means that [Ibrahim] supports the current violence in Iraq, as he considers it a national resistance.

"3. This means, in turn, that he absolves of responsibility all the extremist, salafi, and terrorist forces of political Islam and the Saddamist Ba'thist forces that perpetrated and perpetrate premeditated and savage killing...

"Why didn't Dr. Ibrahim try to initiate an open discussion about the situation in Iraq with the Iraqi liberal and democratic forces before issuing judgments in this way? Why didn't he try to visit Baghdad when he was in the Kurdistan region, and why didn't he express this view there so that he could discuss it directly, instead of publishing it in Qatari newspapers whose stand on events in Iraq is well-known? His propositions concerning Iraq are no different than those of the Al-Jazeera channel, whose loyalties are known to us all...

"Is it possible to use weapons in all circumstances, or does one need to know the balance of power and how to work with events? [Ibrahim] himself said that after the use of peaceful methods proves impotent, the nationalist forces turn to resistance. But does he not see that these forces began robbing, plundering, and spreading anarchy in the land from the very moment the regime fell, and then took up arms, not against the occupation forces, but against the people, and killed more than 300 university professors, and close to that number of journalists, and tens of thousands from among the Iraqi people?...

"I was opposed to the war, but what position is one supposed to take once the foreign forces are already in Iraq, and the evilest, vilest, and basest dictator Iraq has ever known has fallen – a racist and sectarian dictator who perpetrated mass murder and genocide, drowned Iraq in wars and invasions, and filled Iraq with mass graves? The Iraqi people did not make the decision [in favor of] occupation, but they are acting in various ways to free themselves of the presence of foreign forces, after they put an end to the bloody terrorism that Iraq has experienced throughout the last four years.

"[Ibrahim] did not manage to differentiate between a national resistance and the obscurantist forces that want to impose a regime like the Afghan Taliban regime on Iraq – whether in a Sunni or a Shi'ite version… Does he really believe that the criminals, the followers of Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda, are [resistance] fighters on the model of Ho Chi Minh and his courageous followers, or that they resemble in their fight the Algerian FLN? There is no doubt that somebody who thinks in this way has left behind the fight for human rights, individual freedom, and democracy…

"I am sad to say that you are making a horrible mistake in supporting these bloody groups, and you have even become, without your noticing it, a partner to them in ideology… and a defender of the continuation of their criminal actions against the Iraqi people…"[6]



[1] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), October 27, 2007; Al-Raya (Qatar), October 27, 2007.

[2] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), November 3, 2007; Al-Raya (Qatar), November 3, 2007.

[3] www.aafaq.org, November 7, 2007.

[4] www.elaph.com, November 10, 2007.

[5] www.elaph.com, October 21, 2007; Kazem Habib's article in defense of Ibrahim was posted on www.aafaq.org, October 13, 2007.

[6] www.aafaq.org, November 12, 2007.