The first Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity conference: A retrospective
Prepared by the researcher : Ghadir El Alayli, Ph.D – Adjunct Professor and Lecturer at Université Saint-Joseph (Beirut and Dubai) – Attorney-at-Law, Consultant and Researcher – Ph.D. in public law – Beirut- Lebanon
Democratic Arab Center
Journal of Afro-Asian Studies : Tenth Issue – August 2021
A Periodical International Journal published by the “Democratic Arab Center” Germany – Berlin
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This article aims to analytically examine an unprecedented major historic event: the first Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity (AAPS) conference held in Egypt in 1957-1958. A general review of the AAPS allows to better understand resolutions and recommendations of its first conference in context. This includes its introductory and closing speeches, political issues and social matters it raised and tackled, its economic, cultural “humanistic”, and internal (organizational and financial) resolutions. The latter focus notably on the establishment of the Council for Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity and its Permanent Secretariat having its permanent headquarters in Cairo. Finally, a critical analysis of the first AAPS conference is crucial for several reasons and in the light of current circumstances and topical problematics.
Arab progressives need to look back on themselves to break free from the tendency
to prefer the word to its content (Houari Boumédiène, 1967)
This article aims to analytically examine an unprecedented major historic event: the first Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity (AAPS) conference held in Egypt in 1957-1958. A general review of the AAPS (1st Section) allows to better understand the numerous and diverse resolutions and recommendations of its first conference in context (2nd Section). Finally, a critical analysis of the latter is crucial for several reasons and in the light of current circumstances and topical problematics (3rd Section).
- Overview of the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity
As per its own definition provided by its official website, the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organization (AAPSO) is a mass non-governmental organization with national committees in more than 90 countries nowadays in Asia and Africa, and has associate member committees in Europe and Latin America.
The first conference of AAPS (movement) (not yet turned into an organization back then) was held in Cairo between December 26, 1957 and the first of January 1958 gathering representatives of numerous Asian and African people. Reportedly, the participation of some of the latter’s delegations was prohibited by the colonizers. The Conference occured during the Cold war, five years after the 23 July 1952 Egyptian revolution, and two years after each of: the first Asian Solidarity Conference in Delhi dated April 6, 1955 (which AAPS elaborates and extends), and the Bandung Conference dated 18-24 April 1955. AAPS first conference was held just before the 1958 Tashkent Conference (for which it incites), and four years before the Non-Aligned movement (NAM) was established in 1961.
AAPSO enjoys an observer status in NAM and was since then considered as a popular extension of the latter’s objectives – NAM was itself an official continuation of the Bandung conference. Also, four years after the first AAPS conference, the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples was found in 1961 (also known as the “Special Committee on Decolonization” or the “C-24”).
AAPSO struggled since its inception against colonialism, imperialism, apartheid, racial discrimination and wars. It endeavored for peace and extended various forms of support and escalation for liberation struggles to peoples in Africa, Asia and Latin America, that collaborated to the birth and independence of numerous countries.
- Brief about the First AAPS Conference
The first AAPS conference started with introductory speeches by the President of the Conference Anwar AsSadat (President of the Egyptian Committee for Afro-Asian solidarity in charge of holding the Conference in Egypt), the President of the Indian delegation Rameshwari Nehru, and the General Secretary of the Conference Youssof AsSiba’i. The Conference tackled political issues notably by raising a series of calls for: (i) nuclear and atomic disarmament (twelve years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagazaki in 1945, and just before the Fourth International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy dated September 1958); (ii) for nonviolence and alternative means of political conflicts resolution; (iii) for enhancing nations’ representations at the United Nations which promotes the principle of self-determination; (iv) for anti-colonialism and anti-mandate described as “terrorism”; as well as (v) for refusing each of the apartheid, discrimination, slavery, the “Atlantic Alliance”, the Eisenhower doctrine, the Baghdad Pact and the Israeli violations especially the “conquest” of Palestine (It shall be noted here that the latter is considered by some jurists as being the exact relevant terminology in terms of international public law).
Then, the conference took economic resolutions (with a socialist spirit), mainly about commercial exchange, agriculture and industrial development, social justice and wellbeing, individual dignity, labour and social protection, guarantees and rights, syndicates and cooperatives, economic rights of non-independent countries, and rejecting economic monopoly. To a lesser extent, there might be a shallow quasi-“communist” influence in the approach of colonialism and imperialism (whether economic or otherwise) as being an exploitation of the “proletariat” vulnerable countries by the “capitalist” powerful States.
The conference also made decisions regarding social matters especially health, medical and social services, and fighting illiteracy (which was, and still is nowadays, indeed a crucial regional need). Relatively, very remarkable, reformative and progressive steps were decided towards achieving gender equality, protecting and enforcing youth and families (women and children in particular; although some Afro-Asian religions or traditions would refrain therefrom especially at that time). Furthermore, the conference made “humanistic” resolutions towards an international cultural collaboration.
The Conference also took internal (organizational and financial) resolutions notably the establishment of the Council for Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity and its Permanent Secretariat having its permanent headquarters in Cairo. The Conference was ended by closing speeches. The first one was made by AsSadat, who wrongly speaks of a so-called “acquired peoples’ freedom” (instead of the inherent freedom found, in fact, in the human nature itself as per natural law). The second closing speech was made by Nehru, who namely thanked the Egyptian President Gamal AbenNasser, and, may be unintentionally, poetically represented the AAPSO logo signification and message.
- Critical Review of the First AAPS Conference
As a utopia of a better world order and as a tentative breach in the vicious circle of colonization and of the past bipolar world, the Conference was definitely by itself an added value to the history of regional and international relations and politics. However, many critics can be made to it; the following are the most important ones:
If the Conference minutes were officially published by its Permanent Secretariat only in Arabic, French and English, this risks to reflect an Afro-Asian integration of linguistic imperialism and may be colonial socialization. In fact, there are many other African and Asian languages that should be taken into consideration in this regard. The same critic applies to each of the following use of: The “white man” patriarchal concept to describe the Western colonizers vs. the so-called “colored people of the world” ; The theory of “natural rights of all nations” whitout explaining it, revisiting it and introducing it to Afro-Asian public opinions; The expression “Middle-East” without even providing any terminological, geographical or political indication or delimitation ; The so-called “Arab nationalism” and “Arab patriotism” systematically inspired of the Western model of Nation-State and thouroughly influenced by Western patriotic sentiments without revisiting them and without providing any scientific explanations or precisions; The distinction between “developed” States and “big” nations on the one hand, and so-called “retarded” (Afro-Asian) countries / States / economies, “small” nations / States or the allegedly “small Palestinian people victim of colonialism and zionism” on the other hand. These issues may also depict an exaggerated feign pitiability and victimization coming out of an inferiority complex or internalized orientalism. The latter somehow dangerously and “blindly imports” and adopts Western abstract perspectives without proactively taking matters in hands, filtering their accuracy, providing any explanatory criteria or even adapting them to local or regional cultures, considerations, true needs and expectations.
The Conference also lacks of technical accuracy when it uses rather literature and undefined wordings such as “national sovereignty of the umma” which means nation, but no specification was made as to which nation is meant. This may be connoting an Islamic influence, which may also apply to the word “al-jihad” used to describe the struggle for freedom and against colonialism. Also, the word “aqtar” is used to describe regions and countries, whereas the positive international law and international community’s cant and logic are those related to “States” and to their bilateral, regional and international relations. Even the key-words “African” and “Asian” were not terminologically and geographically defined, whereas there is a serious need of accuracy and clarification in this regard.
Moreover, the Conference recommends dirigisme and collectivization, which might be arguable and contentious socio-economic measures. It calls for a nationalist transversal propaganda immersing even in the education field, and in this context, it aims to found relevant civil society organizations, whereas the latter should be, by definition, non-governmental. In addition, it was decided to “guide” the medias and “push” towards the AAPS through literature too, as well as to “use” literature, arts and sciences “in the sake of peace and wellbeing”. These are shocking violations of fundamental freedoms and rights.
The Conference was characterized by its excessive demagogy, poetry wording and emotional literature, sometimes excluding any rational or reasonable thoughts. Idealist imaginaries, ideological exaggerations and sentimental representations were often brought to the table, and reference to “ideals” happened to be often expressly made. This occurred without, at least, rethinking relevant pillars such as the Arab Renaissance [An-Nahda Al’Arabiya] and the wider oriental heritage. In fact, persuasion left sometimes no room for conviction.
Pretentious and non-pragmatic simple enumeration and an over-simplistic listing of general and universalizing principles, values and virtues predominates the discourse, whereas “reality” might not always be the same everywhere in the world, not even among the disparate societies of Asia and Africa themselves. The conference also suffers from a static approach of international relations conceived as having to always be regulated, even in the future, by the Bandung Conference principles considered as having to be, ideally, applicable to all countries. The AAPS Conference resolutions and recommendations were conveyed as “a message of hope and confidence for the upcoming (1958) year”. The minutes’ introduction encompasses even intentional rhyme (which may remind of Coranic verses writing style).
Some readers might note a naivety, such as the belief in a divine justice ruling over political conflicts and international relations, or the quasi-systematic tendency to political unification even where it is not necessarily feasible or pragmatic such as the cases of Yemen, Korea and Vietnam. This phenomenon somehow seems to also apply to the so-called “Arab umma / nation” as per the Conference, but to a lesser extent as this case remains rather ambiguous and sometimes contradictory. The League of Arab States was not even mentioned, and the Arab nationalism was not subject to any discussion or analysis in the light of other existing movements and competing doctrines in the Arab world, especially at the time, such as pan-Africanism, pan-Syrianism and pan-Islamism.
Other readers would see that the Conference is taking the Afro-Asian public opinions for granted: when it affirms that colonization is the sole reason that explains the “retarded” local economies, and that the risk of war is the exclusive reason why cultural and social rights were not implemented. In fact, several Afro-Asian regimes, leaders or establishments were (and many still are) corrupt and/or incompetent. The same applies when the Conference absolutely and very generally describes conspiracies led by the colonizers through local actors against “patriotic” governments in the region. In fact, in the name of such conspiracy theory (regardless of its extent of truthness), brutal oppressions were locally made sometimes against sincere or credible oppositions. Some local governments committed assassinations, imprisonments and employed atrociuous cruel methods of torture, in violation to basic rights and freedoms.
There are also self-centered, machiavellic, opportunist or biased positions based rather exclusively on Afro-Asian interests, as well as inconsistencies and contradictions like the following facts: Refusing coalitions and the European Common Market although AAPS itself might be considered as a coalition that even calls for autarky in the medical and medication field; Rejecting any foreign interference in internal governmental issues, but recommending such “solution” in order to put an end to apartheid, and founding the liberation movement on natural rights; Calling for decolonization and liberation together with safeguarding French interests in Algeria on an alleged “rightful basis” and aiming to convince the French that an independent Algeria would “serve” French interests; Totally denouncing Balfour Declaration, zionism and Israel as implementing a settler colonialization, and at the same time accepting the idea of a “rightful solution” to the Palestinian issue; In addition to another inconsistency residing in the name given to Palestinians sometimes as so, while other times only as “Arabs in Palestine” which is itself a colonizational expression. Finally, although Palestinian refugees and their right of return were clearly mentioned, statelessness and their basic rights in their respective countries of residency were not. Not any consideration or planning was made about the (possible) upcoming generations of refugees.
The conference did not analyze plural or fragmented African and Asian societies, identities and cultures e.g. internal tribal and ethnic disputes; minorities, communautary groups, confessionnalism, institutionalized under-representation and marginalization as a “divide and conquer” colonial legacy. For instance, this was the case of the French mandate in Lebanon which is a typical example of imperial internationalization of local politics in the light of global events as demonstrated by patterns: In Lebanon, the French mandate started in 1923 to “succeed” the Ottoman empire that ended after World War One; Lebanon gained independence only in 1943 before the end of World War Two. The 1957-1958 Lebanese political crisis itself reflected these foreign interferences in the context of a bipolar world order. Although held during the 1957 Lebanese crisis, the Conference totally avoided these and similar controversial but crucial issues, as it did not tackle the highly sensitive case of Lebanon.
Unanimity on all numerous and various resolutions including subtle ones, and the special care revealed by participants to achieve such unanimity may remind the late 20th and even early 21st century readers of dictatorial and non-democratic States’ electoral ironic results phenomenon of around “99,9% of votes”. Anyway, although they were unanimously approved, not much of these resolutions were actually (well) implemented afterwards, which draws legitimate questions about the extent to which they were pragmatic. Finally, the Conference lacks of efficiency as it does not take any effective and escalating diplomatic action against colonizing States and their allies.
These are some of the unfulfilled promises of past decolonization struggles. Many Afro-Asian people still suffer since then also because of neocolonialism; Revisiting their “Future Pasts” struggles might be the key for a better tomorrow: “that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
“We can change the world and make it a better one. It is in your hands to make a difference” (Nelson Mandela)
 Ghadir El Alayli, Ph.D. is adjunct professor and lecturer at Saint Joseph University (in Beirut and Dubai), attorney-at-law, consultant and researcher in human rights, fundamental freedoms, public administration and public policy. He holds a Ph.D. in public law (from Saint Joseph University in Beirut).
* Conflicts of Interest: none.
 Reference is made to the second trilingual edition (Arabic, English, French) of the Conference minutes (no publication date specified therein). The author of this study consulted a scanned copy (Princeton University Library) of those minutes in the Arabic language : pp.1-67.
 Lumumba-Kasongo, T, Rethinking the Bandung conference in an Era of ‘unipolar liberal globalization’ and movements toward a ‘multipolar politics’, Bandung : Journal of the Global South 2, 9 (2015), 25 July 2015, https://doi.org/10.1186/s40728-014-0012-4
 The Freie Universität Berlin’s PalRead recently held a webinar (part of its “Mighty Magazines”) dated February 23, 2021 about “The Afro-Asian Anti-Colonial Movement and its Writers”. It was provided by Anaheed Al-Hardan and Tareeq Mehmood and is highly interesting, notably regarding the historical context as well as the intellectual and cultural background of the first conference of AAPS (movement).
 About the history of the Non-Aligned movement, see : CVCE. European NAvigator. Marco Gabellini, The beginnings of decolonisation and the emergence of the non-aligned states, Last updated in 2016 :
 See a recent book in French (by the author of this study): Ghadir El’Alayli, Le droit naturel, fondement de l’Etat de droit panarabe, Editions Pedone, Paris, 2021.
 However, it shall be noted that the Conference did not use (did it consciously avoid using ?) the concept of “Third World” (which originated from the French demographer Alfred Sauvy who wrote of “Three worlds, one planet” in an article published in the French newspaper L’Observateur in 1952).
 Compare with : Anibal Quijano’s concept (in 2000) of the coloniality of power.
 Compare with Arab existentialism.
 See the critical retrospective analysis of these movements and doctrines, notably pan-arabism, in the abovementioned book (in French) of the author of this study: Ghadir El’Alayli, Le droit naturel […], op.cit., 2021.
 One can imagine how dangerous such project could be if applied, especially when humanity comes to face a pandemic (like the COVID since the beginning of 2020)!
 See about decolonizing research on Palestinians : Anaheed Al-Hardan, Decolonizing Research on Palestinians: Towards Critical Epistemologies and Research Practices, Qualitative Inquiry 2014 20: 61-71, December 16, 2013, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1077800413508534
 About this concept, see a book (in French) of the author of this study: Ghadir El-Alayli, Le droit de la femme libanaise d’accorder sa nationalité à ses enfants, HBDT, juin 2015.
 Compare : Evan Ritli, Colonialism, Lebanon and the Middle East, July 5 2011, https://www.eir.info/2011/07/05/colonialism-lebanon-and-the-middle-east/
 See in Arabic :
سايد عبد العال، أزمة الحكم في لبنان 1957-1958، مجلة كلية الآداب بقنا، 2012، ص.152-216.
 This subject-matter is very topical with current (2021) Lebanese political events.
 About the history of decolonization, see in French : Ludivine Thiaw-Po-Une, Décolonisation, in : Encyclopédie de la culture politique contemporaine, dir. Alain Renaut et coord. Claire Demesmay, Pierre Zelenko et Ludivine Thiaw-Po-Une, Ed. Hermann, 2008, Tome I, pp.190-194.
 Compare : Lutfi Hamadi, Edward Said: the postcolonial theory and the literature of decolonization, European Scientific Journal, June 2014, Special edition, vol.2, pp.39-46.