Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October 2020, p. 72

By Sami Tayeb

John Lewis, 80, civil rights leader and representative of Georgia’s fifth congressional district, died on July 17 of pancreatic cancer. Lewis, known as “the conscience of Congress” was one of the longest serving members. In 1965, during the Black civil rights movement, Lewis led the first of three Selma to Montgomery marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which was viciously attacked by police and became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Although Lewis opposed most U.S. wars in the Middle East, including both wars against Iraq, he had been a staunch supporter of Israel and has a long record of support for the state since the beginning of his career in 1987.

In recent years, his position on Israel became more nuanced. Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss states, “Notably, Lewis a year ago was an early co-sponsor of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s bill in Congress to affirm that boycott is a free speech right in the pursuit of human rights abroad. The bill was aimed at countering legislation to punish BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] supporters. Lewis justified the sponsorship by speaking of the importance of boycotts in the civil rights movement in the South; though at the same time he opposed BDS and supported legislation that characterized the BDS campaign as anti-Semitic.”

Ebru Timtik, 42, Kurdish lawyer and activist, died on Aug. 27 after a 238-day hunger strike in Istanbul. Timtik was one of 18 lawyers who were associated with either the Progressive Lawyers Association or People’s Law Bureau, known to represent clients critical of the Turkish government, who were arrested in 2017 for being members of the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front. Convicted on flawed testimony in 2019, Timtik was given a 13.5-year prison sentence. Calling for a fair trial, Timtik and jailed colleague Aytaç Ünsal went on a hunger strike on Jan. 2 of this year. On July 30 they were taken from prison to different hospitals, where Timtik eventually died from her strike.

Sulaiman Layeq, 90, former Afghan leftist revolutionary and poet, died July 31 from injuries related to a Taliban bomb blast. During the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan rule of Afghanistan from 1978-1992 after the Saur Revolution, Layeq served in several different party and ministerial positions in the government. According to the New York Times, “Layeq was an unlikely early champion of the leftist movement in Afghanistan. He came from a lineage of religious leaders and was trained in Islamic seminaries. He was a journalist and editor before helping the communist People’s Democratic Party violently seize power.” After the Mohammad Najibullah government was overthrown in 1992 at the start of the Afghan Civil War, Layeq fled to Germany.

In addition to leaving behind 70 volumes of unpublished political diaries from his time in government, Layeq left behind his 40-years-in-the-making magnum opus titled, A Man from the Mountains. In 800 pages of rhyming verse, “the poem examines the life and thoughts of the insurgent,” said friends of Layeq. According to the Times, “the epic is also a treatise on why Afghanistan’s tribal and feudal injustices were never solved either by Marxist ideology or by Islamist militancy. Each ideology briefly held the country in its thrall, only to leave behind a legacy of chaos and blood.”

Adil Barakat, 88, former president of the Arab American Press Guild, died July 15 in Moorpark, CA after battling a long-term illness. Born in Acre, Palestine, he was forced to leave Acre in 1948 during the Nakba and fled to ­Anabta in the West Bank. After getting married, he went to work as a teacher in Bahrain in 1958. In 1961, he went
to Kuwait to work as a journalist at Humat Alwatan newspaper and Al-Arabi magazine.

Barakat and his family migrated to the U.S. in 1969, settling in Moorpark CA, and he became successful in real estate. In 1990 and 1991, he was elected president of the Arab American Press Guild. Barakat was also one of the founders of US-OMEN (a nonprofit charitable organization in California that provides medical and educational assistance to countries around the world), a founder of the Islamic Society of Simi Valley in 2013 and an activist for the Palestinian cause. Barakat is survived by his wife Nuha, five children (Nidal, Adala, Abdulrahman, Manal and Mohammed), 18 grandchildren and 24 great grandchildren.

Samir Twair