Lebanese Socialist Speaks at UMass

Caleb Nelson

On September 24th, 2008, Ayisha Zaki, a Lebanese socialist, made her second stop on a national speaking tour at UMass Boston promoting socialism as the solution to international hunger and violence.

Zaki-who works with Iraqi refugees in Beirut-is a member of the Committee for Workers International, whose U.S. counterpart is the Socialist Alternative, an active club at UMB. On behalf of the organization, she spoke about the growing conflict engulfing the Middle East and the strategic position Lebanon occupies within the area.

“Lebanon is a reflection of the struggles and power conflicts that take place in the region,” said Zaki.

According to Zaki, multinational corporations use corrupt leaders and political unrest to gain control of the Middle East’s natural resources. As government resources are privatized, Zaki said, the state can no longer meet the needs of its people, resulting in little funding for social services such as public healthcare and education.

“It’s not about democracy; it’s not about liberating people; it’s about dominating resources.”

Zaki said that 60% of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty line, and the minimum wage in Lebanon-which is not an accurate portrayal of the inflation rate-is not enough to meet the most basic needs of the population.

Despite Lebanon’s wealth of resources-water from the mountains and natural gas reserves-people living outside of Beirut’s tourist centers are faced with water shortages and power cuts, she said.

On the front page of a Beirut newspaper Zaki showed the audience, a large photo of blackness and a row of lights on the horizon behind it accompany an article on the recent power cuts in and around the capital city. She translated the headline, “The Question of Power is an Economic Crisis, and Firstly a Political Decision.”

Zaki used this headline and image to illustrate her conviction that the government’s pandering of the Lebanese upper class is a major factor in the resource distribution dichotomy that plagues many rural communities in the country.

“The working class has been paying the price for the enrichment of the capitalist class,” she said.

According to Zaki, Rafik Hariri-the Lebanese Prime Minister who served almost uninterrupted from 1992-2004 before his assassination in 2005-accumulated billions of dollars in the span of twelve years. When Hariri came to power in 1992, Zaki said his declared worth was $2 billion, and by 2005-up until the day he was killed by 1000 kg of TNT in Beirut-he had $24 billion in the bank, half of Lebanon’s national debt.

Zaki said that universal health care, education, and the absence of church and state that exist in most Western democracies intrigued her to study in London, where she researched political ideologies she did not grow up under.

“I was not satisfied with the analysis and the positions that were put forth by most groups on the Left,” Zaki said.

One idea that did resonate with Zaki, however, was Karl Marx’s philosophy that a worker’s toil is what gives a product value, and in her experience, that value was not seen by the worker. Zaki said her socialist views were further reinforced when she saw corporations begin outsourcing national jobs for cheaper labor abroad.

As economic problems become global and multinational corporations have the mobility to ignore environment regulations at home in order to capitalize off of cheap labor in developing countries, Zaki said she finds hope in socialism.

“It [socialism] provides an international standard for workers rights independent of that workers location on a map.”