Sunday, February 28, 2010
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Also briefly attending the protest was Gamal, a worker from the Tanta Flax Company. On their 36th day of strike and their 6th day (day and night) protest in front of the Prime Minister's Office the workers are demanding their rights. The representative stated his support for the protest against the Wall of Shame. A group of participants from the Gaza protest joined the Tanta Flax workers the same night.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Upon being reunited with my family I started realizing the explanation of what "Nour" -- my main interrogator -- must have meant by "international relations." During my abduction by the Egyptian state security apparatus, protests were staged around the world, letters were sent to embassies, some friends initiated a widespread Internet campaign and the press covered the story extensively.
During Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip the Egyptian authorities kidnapped or arrested many Egyptian activists that protested or expressed criticism of the Egyptian government's role in the Israeli attacks on the Palestinian enclave. Most of these activists were beaten, deprived of sleep and tortured. Likely due to my second (German) citizenship I was only threatened with torture during my abduction. From the start I was treated with a different standard than Egyptians without a second passport.
And yet, my quick release I attribute to the multitude that stepped into action around the world. These included friends, family members but also a mass of people I don't know and who, one year later, can't thank enough. My final days of interrogation were extremely sped up -- though under intense mental pressure of heightened interrogation and accusations. Suddenly "Nour" and his compatriots simply wanted to get rid of me and get this "story" off their backs.
Fast-forward to December 2009. Members of various civil society and human rights groups from around the world organized the Gaza Freedom March (GFM) in response to the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip in December 2008/January 2009 and the ongoing siege. The marchers from over 42 countries had set out with a similar message to the 15 person strong march that I had been abducted from earlier that year -- an end to the siege of the Gaza Strip. The reason it had been that small is that we knew how the Egyptian state apparatuses work. They follow online organizing and tap phone calls, so we had to organize clandestinely if we were to get anywhere.
The organizers and participants of the GFM who I know are committed activists, and collectively they had an incredible capacity for networking with activists around the globe. Prominent Palestinian activists in Gaza and elsewhere in Palestine provided vital backing to the march and a steering committee was formed to lead the events. Yet, some curious decisions were made early on that should be questioned in retrospect.
For many months, activists in Cairo remained in the dark as to who was organizing the Gaza Freedom March and what its intentions were. Although the idea of a march garnered much excitement, it left many in Egypt asking why they knew nothing more than the few details available on the GFM's public website. This was all the more confusing considering that the march was going to be launched from Cairo where numerous Palestine solidarity groups are based.
Many Egyptian activists who I know were excited to be involved in an event that would increase global awareness about the siege on Gaza. I called some of the organizers of CODEPINK during a trip to the US in October. They informed me that they had decided to follow the instructions of the Egyptian regime, which included no contact with Egyptian activists and meant they were providing the Egyptian authorities with a list of names of all the participants. Once the marchers arrived in Cairo I repeatedly heard justification that GFM organizers did not want to put Egyptian protesters at risk. Yet, Egyptians regularly protest in Egypt despite the risks. For a group of outsiders to justify the exclusion of our involvement without asking our opinion -- in spite of the good intentions of "protecting" us -- felt paternalistic and demeaning.
I believe from the start a political miscalculation was made: the colonization of Palestine and the siege on Gaza do not take place in isolation. The network of neo-liberal hegemony in the region includes Egypt as a key player and thus the regime acts as a partner with Israel when shared interests are at stake. Despite my reservations about the organizational dimensions of the march, I believe some very critical sporadic protests were staged all over Cairo that made an impact and caught Egyptian security completely off guard.
One week after most of the GFM participants had left Egypt, the site of a planned protest to commemorate the end of the Israeli assault on Gaza was completely overrun with Egyptian state security. Passersby were barely permitted to pass the square and the march had to be relocated to a less public place. The Gaza Freedom March was an important effort that reminded me of what I had learned upon my release from prison: our best weapon is numbers.
Fast-forward again to Saturday, 23 January 2010. In Beirut various factions including a movement called "The Campaign to Stop the Wall of Shame" staged a significant protest at the Egyptian embassy protesting the regime's construction of an underground steel barrier on the border with Gaza. This was powerful. When activists of a nearby country move to the street to protest the Egyptian government -- and an Egyptian multinational corporation's role in aiding the Israelis in besieging the Palestinians.
My question is, how do we take it a step further? Can we coordinate actions between Cairo, Beirut, Gaza and other cities against this wall of shame? On 13 February a joint protest against the wall is planned to happen in Beirut and Cairo. The Arab Contractors company that is constructing the wall along Egypt's border with Gaza operates in 29 countries. Let us move 29 countries to the streets and call for an end to complicity in the siege.
One year on from my abduction I have the liberty to move, act freely and live. The population of the Gaza Strip does not have that luxury. What we have on our side are numbers determined to end the siege on Gaza and call for justice in Palestine. Let us move together.
Monday, February 8, 2010
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
"any movement must entail gunfire. No one's supposed to be there." He added that at a meeting with his brigade commander and others it was made clear that "if you see any signs of movement at all you shoot. This is essentially the rules of engagement."
It's more than a year since Israel launched its immoral attack on Gaza and Palestinians are still living on the verge of a humanitarian disaster. So what has Tony Blair done to further peace in the region? Virtually nothing, argues the historian Avi Shlaim
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Egypt’s actions in Gaza have been a source of confusion for some time. Far from bureaucracy or misinformation this is part of a purposeful campaign of a two-faced regime.
Four factors uphold the Egypt authorities’ central role in the Gaza Strip.
First, the Egyptian regime aims to present Hamas as an example of the ineptitude of the Muslim Brotherhood to govern. Second, the regime’s acquiescence to American policies in the region entails a central emphasis on Israel’s “security.” Third, the importance of portraying Egypt as a principle mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and thus a significant political player in the region. And finally, an attempt to maintain Egypt’s image of supporting the Palestinian cause.
Two days following the one-year anniversary of the beginning of Operation Cast Lead- the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Cairo for a closed meeting with Egyptian president Husni Mubarak. The visit acted as a confirmation of Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and especially in the siege of the Gaza Strip.
Egypt’s 80 million strong population is a force to be reckoned with and the Mubarak regime has no interest in having the masses up in arms about turmoil in the neighboring Gaza Strip. The timing of the Israeli premier’s visit means the regime is confident in where it stands vis-à-vis the Egyptian public. Revealing the methods of Egypt’s actions in the Palestinian enclave and its ensuing propaganda machine will help shed some light on its position in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
In January 2006, the Egyptian regime was one of many governments not to recognize Hamas’s parliamentary election victory. While the supplanted Fateh government did accede to Hamas forming a new cabinet, president Mahmoud Abbas and his ring of confidants held on to their control over all PA security forces. Due to this condition of undefined authority, widespread violence prevailed in the following months between Palestinian factions and clans. In the Gaza Strip lawlessness started spiraling out of control.
During this period of internal struggle the Mubarak regime opened Egypt’s borders to weapon shipments from the USA intended for Muhammed Dahlan, the Palestinian president’s National Security Advisor. The controversial Fateh strongman was the mastermind behind much of the unrest on Gaza’s streets, funding and supplying with weapons dissidents willing to oppose the new Hamas authorities.
When the Gaza-based cabinet sensed an impending Dahlan-lead coup it reacted with force, taking control of PA police stations, intelligence and security forces headquarters. Though all these security apparatuses by Palestinian law fall under the jurisdiction of the PA Ministry of Interior, up until that moment Fateh had denied its rival authority over them. On the final day of Hamas’s four-day sweep of the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian military sent a ship off the coast of Gaza City for select Fateh escapees. The Egyptian authorities sheltered the Fateh members in Egypt while providing others safe passage to the West Bank.
Since that time the Egyptian regime has treated the Gaza Strip as a hostile entity. Following Hamas’s “takeover,” Israel intensified an already existent siege on the Palestinian enclave. What is often obscured is the fact that Egypt has full legal sovereignty over Gaza’s southern border and thus plays a part in the Israeli-lead blockade. All exports are prohibited via both Israeli and Egyptian controlled border crossings. Moreover, Israel has slowed the inflow of goods into Gaza to- Israeli- determined essentials- largely entailing limited international aid and select Israeli goods dumped onto Gaza’s captive market. The Mubarak regime, for its part, has opened its border to Gaza for international aid only under extreme external- never internal- pressure. During Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, with aid convoys amassing on its border, goods entered at a trickle.
Eventually, Egyptian authorities re-routed aid through the Karem Abu Salim crossing, where Israeli “inspection” implied the Israeli military determined every item that would and would not enter. Counter to Egyptian government claims, the regime has complete sovereignty over its border crossing with the Gaza Strip, yet coordinates closely with Israeli authorities.
Thus, the Mubarak regime allowed for the opening of the Rafah border crossing when it sent arms shipments to Fateh- with Israeli approval. Furthermore, the Egyptian authorities opened the border under particular international pressure created by the likes of the Viva Palestina convoys, which provided the Egyptian government with fodder to claim their professed pro-Palestinian stance. During Operation Cast Lead, the Egyptian regime likewise opened its border crossing with the primary purpose of portraying itself in line with a claimed historic tradition of standing by the Palestinians in times of crisis.
The recent construction of a steel wall 30 meters under the ground along the Egypt-Gaza border is a further stage of the Egyptian authorities conceding to collective punishment on Gaza’s population. Initially Egyptian government sources responded to reports of the wall’s existence as “baseless,” claiming that the regime “is dealing with smuggling seriously and is capable of stopping it without this wall.” Eventually the Egyptian president conceded to the barrier’s construction as a prevention of "threats to national security." The wall, built by the Egyptian firm Arab Contractors with foreign funding, includes pipes that delve deep into the earth with the assumed purpose of flooding existent tunnels.
The steel wall is likely to have devastating environmental effects on agricultural land on either side of the barrier. If successful at preventing tunnels, the wall could cut Gaza’s final economic lifeline. The tunnels are used primarily to import everything from clothes, household items like tea glasses, coffee and spices to car spare parts, gas and medicine.
If the Egyptian government succeeds in preventing such vital inflows, the wall will be a case in point of the Egyptian regime’s political efforts. By joining the Israeli authorities in collectively punishing the Gaza Strip’s entire population the Egyptian authorities reveal themselves to be a key component of an Israeli undertaking to choke Hamas’s opposition to Israeli colonial expansion. The Egyptian regime is complying with its American ally’s demands, as well as trying to position itself as a political heavyweight in a region. With growing opposition- not from Israel- but from the likes of Syria, Iran and Qatar, Egypt’s regime wants to hold on to its historic regional hegemony.
Cynically, Egypt’s Foreign Minister reported that in Netanyahu and Mubarak’s meeting on January 29th, the Egyptians had requested Israel, to “take many internal steps to lift the pressure off of Palestinians.”
The Egyptians for their part have no interest in doing so.