Away from the intense voting and hustle and bustle in the main hall, the fringe meetings at the NUJ’s Delegate Meeting provided a more intimate environment for discussion.
The Stop The War campaign have been present at the conference, and organised the first of these fringe meetings on Friday.
The three members – David Crouch, Peter Reilly, and Alistair Cartwright – tackled what they saw as the deeper motives for the coalition of countries involved in the so-called ‘no fly zone’ to provide aid to the rebel movement in Benghazi, east Libya.
They discussed the complicity of the UK with other repressive regimes in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the latter of which has also seen repression of public protest taking place. They also reiterated their skepticism of the UK and USA’s involvement in attacking pro-Gaddafi troops.
A question and answer (Q&A) session bought up the issue of whether ‘humanitarian intervention’ by the US, EU, the UN and NATO is justified. The example of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 was downplayed by Crouch, who insisted that the situation was different to the current unrest in Libya.
A journalist in the audience calling himself ‘Stalingrad’ put forward the controversial view that the rebels are as sympathetic to fascism as Gaddafi is. Meanwhile, the examples of the British in Sierra Leone and the current involvement of French troops in the unrest in Ivory Coast were provided as examples by an audience member of where Western humanitarian intervention has been beneficial.
Saturday’s Fringe Meeting, meanwhile, was chaired by the Socialist Worker’s Party (SWP), and also looked at events in North African and the Middle East, though focusing specifically on Egypt.
Subtitled “Egypt shows the way – strike together to beat the Government – TUC: now call a general strike”, a screen showed footage in Tahrir Square filmed by one of the speakers, Jess Hurd, who spoke of her experience of being in Egypt during the recent revolutionary events there. She told the audience, recalling the elation in the centre of Cairo: “They [the protestors] had lost their fear – there was something internal they had let go.”
The meeting discussed the relevance of people power revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia to the UK, and the SWP’s part in the recent demonstration in London on 26 March.
As with Friday, there was a Q&A with the audience, which included David Crouch from the previous day’s meeting, who said: “You can take sides in a political conflict and still be a brilliant journalist.”
One audience member discussed the role of Wikileaks in the Egyptian revolution, and another described watching the uprising in many Arab states as “the most exciting moment in my life”. The SWP speakers ended the meeting by positing the question: “What do we do about the state?”