The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Youssef Darwish passes away

I received more troubling news in the morning--another prominent leftist figure passed away. Youssef Darwish, an Egyptian Jewish Communist legend, died today at the age of 91. Darwish joined the communist movement in the 1930s. He was an active campaigner against the British occupation, the Egyptian royal system, and the Zionist movement.

Darwish, the son of a Jewish jeweler, devoted his life to working class issues. He, together with veteran lawyer Ahmad Nabil el-Hilaly, led a split from the underground Egyptian Communist Party (ECP) in the late 1980s, protesting Ref3at el-Sa3eed's authoritarian command over the organization. Darwish and Hilaly formed a faction inside the ECP around 1984, denouncing el-Sa3eed's revisionist views on Mubarak's regime and the state of Egyptian capitalism. El-Sa3eed then claimed there were divisions within the regime, between the institution of the presidency, which he claimed represented the "progressives" (sic), and other institutions like the interior ministry, etc. El-Sa3eed also claimed there was a difference between "parasitic" capitalism and "patriotic" capitalism. The job of the Communists, he stated, was to support the latter against the former.
The two veteran activists also opposed el-Sa3eed’s drive to merge the ECP with the licensed Tagamu3 Party. They were careful to outline the limits of “legalism� in the Egyptian context, and the necessitiy for the Egyptian working class to organize itself independently in a revolutionary party.
The faction finally split from the ECP sometime between 1987 and 1989, forming the People's Socialist Party (PSP), which maintained presence in Ain Shams University, Cairo University and some industrial centers.
There was also a debate within the left then on the position towards the rising Islamist giant. El-Sa3eed's line on Islamism regarded the Muslim militant groups as "fascists," who should be repressed by the government at any cost. Thus, during the 1990s, the Egyptian Communist Party foolishly allied itself with Mubarak's regime in his "war on Islamic fascists."

Darwish and Helaly, refused allying themselves with Mubarak. For sometime before the outbreak of the Islamist insurgency in 1992, there were conflicting views within the PSP towards the Islamists. Some inside the PSP, regarded militant Islam as an "armed movement of the oppressed," that should be supported. Hilaly reportedly subscribed briefly to that view. Darwish did not support this view, but neither held the Islamists as fascists. A raproachment happened between the PSP and the Trotskyte-leaning Revolutionary Socialists in the 1990s. Darwish and Helaly expressed sympathy to Trotsky's theory of the "Permenant Revolution," which stands opposite to the Stalinist legacy Egyptian communism was also trapped in. Still, Darwish was more cautious when it came to alliances with Islamists. He remained hesitant to adopted the RS's position which states that "Socialists should be sometimes with the Islamists, but never with the state." That stand produced interesting scenes last year, with a National Alliance declared between the Muslim Brothers and the Trotskytes. It was interesting to see unveiled Socialist women activists waving red flags, together with bearded Brothers in the same demo.

Darwish enjoyed a saint-like place among the hearts of leftists and activists from all political shades.

He will be missed.