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Digital Archive International History Declassified

September 23, 1956


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    Delegates from Damascus and Cairo visit Moscow to visit the Russian Labor Union and request support in the Canal cause, labor issues, and other policy areas.
    "Untitled report about a Communist delegation's visit to Moscow ," September 23, 1956, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Emir Farid Chehab Collection, GB165-0384, Box 10, File 106C/10, Middle East Centre Archive, St Antony’s College, Oxford.
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Travel Date: Sep. 20th, 1056 from Damascus, Sep. 23rd, 1956 from Cairo

Names of delegation members from Damascus: Salah Zanzul from Hama, Khaled Al-Hakim from Damascus, Ali Derwish (Oboshi) from Aleppo, Issam [illegible] and Hassan Al-Asmar from Tripoli – Lebanon, Zaki Al-Shaikh Yassin Wajih Menko from Amman – Jordan, Mahmood Al-Jabiri from Iraq, Awadh Salim Yamutref from [illegible] Aden, Nassir Abdulla Al-Said from Saudi Arabia and Awadh Nima Al-Aziz, Iraqi works in Kuwait.

Names of delegation members from Cairo: Subhi Al-Khatib and his two daughters and son from Damascus, Fathi Muhammed Kamil from Egypt, Mansur Abdul-Mun’in, Hawi Ahmad Hawi, Ahmad Ahmad Al-Uqaili - Egypt, Karam Karam, Fahd Sham’a – Beirut.

In Moscow:

The Damascus delegation arrived in Moscow on Sep 22nd, 1956, and the Cairo delegation arrived on Sep 24th, 1956.  The delegation traveled from Moscow to China on Sep 27th, 1956, and arrived in Beijing on Sep 29th, 1956.

They were met at the airport in Moscow by two Secretaries from the Russian Labor Union, and they were accompanied to Hotel, Metropole by one of the two.  They stayed two per room and on multiple floors so they can contact each other individually.

We were informed that the hotel offered laundry service and a salon that we can use for free since we are not carrying Russian currency.  If we need to buy presents, we can exchange at four Rubles per dollar.  They took us in cars around the city streets around the Ministry of Interior, Foreign Affairs and the other ministries.  These are the grandest buildings in Russia.  On the way to the Moscow University, we saw areas with homes built in wood and metal roofs.  These were old buildings. We also noticed that many of these are close to the factories.  The faces on the street are expressionless and frozen.  No one smiles or laughs.  Their clothing is cheap and worn out, which is obvious.  Pretty women on the sidewalks selling roses, nightgowns and other cheap trinkets that cannot be enough to feed the hungry, so I don’t what profit they’re making???

We visited the agriculture Fair, which had a lot of statues and flowers, which was nice.  As for what was shown, I heard my comrades say that the Agriculture Fair in Egypt was a lot nicer than this one.

They took us to the University which had 24 levels and takes up a large area.  We spoke to the students who spoke Arabic from the Eastern Languages Department and we tried to get an idea of the social scene in the country, but our guides sensed our intense interest in them, so they openly pulled them away from us.  They spoke to them sternly in their language that when they came back to talk to us, their tone changed and their understanding of Arabic was less than before, so we left them so we don’t cause them harm (or “ruin their lives” as my colleagues referred to it).

They took us to Stalin’s Tomb, where I was amazed at people’s patience in waiting for hours to [line up] to see the Tomb.  My amazement faded when I saw the hallway where lies two crystal chambers, inside one was Lenin in civilian clothing and the in the other was Stalin in military uniform.  They almost looked alive, asleep.  Such a sight of a dead man looking alive calls for patience to wait to see it.  It’s not about love that people are gathering to see the Tomb.  Even I went twice just to see it, and I think most others, if not all are like me.

They asked what factory we liked to visit, so we said a car, aircraft and weapons factories.  They apologized about the weapons one claiming that that would require an approval from the Defense Ministry, which we accepted.  But when we find out that the delegation cannot come or go anywhere without proper approval from the ministry in charge, then it’s not acceptable (because it’s against the rules).  They took us to the car factory.  This factory is operational day and night.  It produces trucks at a rate of almost one every ten minutes.  Then they took us to the Kremlin, then they took us to the museum section, which houses the private effects of Czar Peter the Great all the way to the last Czar.  Inside the Kremlin, we saw this woman with wood around her legs and in her hands.  She was pouring hot oil on the ground while kneeling down.  She appeared to be in her forties.

We saw a lot of churches that were turned to museums, like the ones on Red Square.  These were Indian in design.  They took to the location of the International Sports Championship of 1958, which wasn’t completed yet.

I saw long lines of people waiting to board buses, which is an indication that they have a shortage in sufficient public transport.

They took us to the opera.  After the show, we went out in the reception area before heading out into the street.  I witnessed some ladies take off their new shoes, place them in paper bag and put back their old shoes, which means that it is hard to own more than one shoe a year.

They set up a meeting with the top secretary of the Russian Labor Union at the union building.  His name was Bokharov.  We were accompanied by one of the two union secretaries that every Arab that visits Moscow is familiar with as he is assigned to these visits.  His name is Zakharov, a translator by the name of Hussain and a female translator, her names is Nina and another older lady whose name I don’t recall.  This one speaks fluent English and French.  Bokharov welcomed us, hailed the Arab-Soviet friendship and stressed the importance of cooperation for peace, to liberate countries against imperialism.  He praised Egypt’s position in nationalizing the Suez and spoke against the Imperialist who are trying to highjack the canal (his words).  He was sure that the British will not manage to attack Egypt, and if they did, which was unlikely, then they would suffer a great blow and face miserable failure.

I asked him how he sounded so certain of victory for Egypt and whether this meant that they would support us in case there was an attack on Egypt due to the canal [situation].  I asked about the type of support and whether they would enter in the war with us or just supply us with powerful artillery.  Just a casual question.  He confirmed that in case there is an attack, that Russia will defend Egypt even if they had to enter the fight.  He said that you will cast the Brits into the sea and we said with God willing, so he said let’s not count on God since He’ll get us nowhere if we relied on Him as we have to believe in ourselves to be victorious.  He asked if we had any questions, so we asked him to tell us about the victories achieved by the Russian working class.  After a long pause, he smiled and said that it was a tough question as the Soviet Labor Union is in fact an integral part of the Soviet Party, by which we came to the realization that national issues and the good of the state is what is driving us to give up some rights.  The party has not left us short at all, but within the means and that the good of the state is what’s good for the party.

I attended a closed meeting with Subhi Al-Khatib and Fathi Kamil, where the Soviet Labor Union was asked for support in the Canal cause, for which they expressed complete support and assured our delegation that Russia will stand by us and will not leaving on our own on the battlefield no matter the outcome.  Then we talked about discussing support for Egypt and the Canal cause at the International FSM Union Conference held in Sofia last month.  We also discussed approaching the Chinese delegation at this conference about forming an international union for Asian and African labor unions so as not to say that the Russians are the ones pushing for this union.  You have been informed of the decisions reached in this conference, therefore, Fathi Kamil, the Secretary General of the International Arab Labor Unions invited the Russian Labor Unions to visit the Arab states in the winter, on which he insisted, so the Russian Union accepted the invitation in principle.  And when I asked Fathi Kamil and Subhi Al-Khatib who appointed them to extend the invitation to the Russians to Visit Arab states, saying that they had no capacity to do so without consulting us as members of the Executive Council, he said the Secretary General was authorized by his government to extend such invitation and that all expenses will be paid by the Egyptian government.  (This means that it’s said that Arab Labor Union is extending the invitation, when in fact the Egyptian government is the real host).  Similarly, the Russian and the Chinese Labor Unions asked us to invite the Asian and African unions since in case they’d done so, then the world would perceive it to be a communist union, whereas if we hosted them, then the world would perceive it as a rebel Nationalist, Asio-African union founded on these countries’ objection to imperialists who had taken over their assets for too long.

I don’t want to expand and explain as this would fill a thousand books, but the summary of our trip is basically the following:

1- The delegation had elements from the Arab Baath Party, among them a pharmacist from the city of “Ghail Bawzir” invited from the British Protectorates and another AWOL Iraqi, who now lives in Egypt.  We had formerly rejected his participation in the Damascus conference of March, 1956.  Also, another communist escapee from Saudi and a Kuwaiti Baathist.

2- The invitation was extended by the head of the Union, Subhi Al-Khatib, who visited China twice.

3- The delegation accomplished three issues: National, labor and political.

a- The national issues that the delegation discussed were Palestine and Algeria, which were of interest to the Baathists.

b- Paint the focus of the trip on labor issues (while its true aim is to promote friendships between Russian and China’s laborers).

c- Politically, the focus was to strengthen relations with Russian and Chinese laborers in order to unify our efforts with both countries.

4- An official invitation was delivered to both countries to conduct a visit to Arab countries to be fully paid for by the Egyptian government.

5- An agreement was reached to bring to existence labor unions from Africa and Asia.

6- This union is to finance Russia and its first conference is to be held in India or Indonesia.

7- We held popular meetings in China.  The first meeting was attended by [illegible], who is a labor leader.  At the meeting, issues of the Suez, Palestine and Algeria were expanded on.  We discovered that the head of the union and other heads of vocational unions are prominent members in the Communist Party.  We came to the conclusion that the state is the one behind these meetings.

I noticed that agriculture is behind the times [in China] despite that 500 million farmer works in the field.  They give exceptions to small vehicles that traffic stops to give small cars the right of way if they were in the same direction.  The average number of family members is 8-12 persons.  The largest family home in China are the ones in modern government housing usually has three bed-rooms with allowances, with similar homes occupied by 8-12 people.  We cannot call the Chinese system communist because there is free market as there stores and factories still owned by individuals, and others with shared ownership between the state and the business person.  There are still evident religious freedoms, which completely unlike Russia.  I believe that once China is able to produce manufacturing goods that will meet its needs, then things would go sour with Russia due to disagreement about the leadership of Communism in the world since the Chinese are proud of their struggle and of Stalin’s support of them and don’t recognize the Kremlin’s authority over them.

China believes in Egypt and Syria since they are both true friends.

I wasn’t able to come to Beirut on Friday, so I gave Issam Awdeh copies of the application to the parties.

Ansar Al-Salam are holding continuous secret meetings, for which invitations are issued by Mamdouh Al-Namli.

Baathist students are putting together these applications, they search for party leaders to seek their signatures for applications and memos.  It’s believed that Mamdouh Al-Namli and Abdul-Razzaq Hajir and Abdulla Al-Bisar are cooperating with Salim Dibliz and Mahdi Al-Shahhal and others who well-known Ansar Al-Salam.

It’s expected that Rashid Karameh will tour Tripoli to collect donations for Egypt. 

Salim Al-Timmen, Jamil Islamioli and Hashim Al-Jazzar met with Muhammed Mushrif and promised to extend their assistance in the name of the Arab Liberation Party.  There might be open cooperation between this party and the Communist Party.


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