Halftime in Egypt

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The Egyptian Revolution is not a sporting event. Hundreds have been killed and thousands injured by police and regime inspired thugs in the 18 days it has taken for a non-violent mass movement to build into a powerful force able to oust a dictator closely linked to U.S. interests. Yet in the celebratory moment following his resignation, it is important to remember that even as Mubarak hands power to the military, the movement that expelled him faces new challenges and deserves our ongoing attention and support. This is not over.

The protesters, who have inspired observers around the world with their bravery, determination, and sheer numbers, know that the brutal and kleptocractic regime Mubarak represented, will not simply melt away. Low ranking, often conscripted soldiers and some officers have shown sympathy and cautious support for the anti-Mubarak demonstrators, but the views of high command are harder to decipher. And as freedom loving Iranians, Romanians, Nicaraguans, Russians, Mexicans and others know, pushing out a hated figure or political party is no guarantee of peace, democracy, human rights, or an end to repression.

In the days to come we are likely to see efforts to douse the revolutionary spirits that have been transforming Egypt and inspiring supporters around the globe. Egypt under Mubarak was a strategic cornerstone for American and Israeli interests in the region. A realignment of Egyptian policy driven by popular –democratic– sentiment in Egypt would undermine the cozy, U.S. led real politic that has held sway in the Middle East for decades. Powerful interests will be at work trying to divide and contain the mass movement and its leadership.

The great drama of the Egyptian revolution will continue. Demonstrators and movement leaders are likely to face excruciating pressure to curtail their mobilization as well as to accept partial measures that leave power and class structures intact and do not undermine tacit Egyptian support for Israeli military domination of occupied Palestine and surrounding region.

In the U.S., the hysterical right has already begun an Islamaphobic scare campaign promoting the idea that radical Islamists are lying in wait to turn Egypt into another Iran. In this article, “Why Egypt Will Not Turn Into Another Iran,” Professor Stephen Zunes demolishes those arguments.

Stand with the People of Egypt

Here’s another update about the uprising in Egypt. This post originally appeared on OpEdNews. Medea Benjamin, Cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK reports back about the flower action in Egypt.

Our first attempt to buy flowers for the demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square was thwarted by a crazed-looking guy with a gun in one hand and a homemade spear in another (pruning shears taped to a broomstick, to be exact). Three of us, all Americans, were in a taxi driving to the flower market when this fellow stopped our car at gunpoint. His hand on the trigger, he forced us to pull over. Soon we were surrounded by a dozen pro-Mubarak thugs who started yelling in Arabic and broken English that foreigners like us were causing all the trouble in Egypt.

They said they were policemen but none was wearing a uniform. They seized our passports and then four of these characters squeezed into our taxi to “take us to government headquarters.” Frantic, we started calling everyone we knew–local lawyers and activists, friends back home, the U.S. Embassy.

Soon the car stopped at an intersection manned by about ten soldiers. The officer in charge peered into the car and asked us where we were from. “Americans,” he smiled with approval. “I love America.” He started chatting about his training in Ft. Eustis, Virginia, while we sat terrified. To our amazement, he ordered our kidnappers to get out of our taxi, return our passports and let us go. We sped off, not looking back. Our poor taxi driver was shaking. “No flowers,” he said. “Hotel.”

Back at the hotel, we discussed our options. We were thankful not to be in some dark interrogation room being beaten to a pulp, but we still wanted to get the flowers. Folks back home had donated money for us to support the activists, and these people were putting their lives at risk to overthrow a dictator supported by our taxdollars. We could donate blankets, food and medicines through Egyptian groups, but we had to get the flowers ourselves.

We decided that the blonds, Billy Kelly and I, would stay behind and we’d send Tighe Barry and Rob Mosrie, who blend in more. Instead of taking a taxi, they’d go by metro. If stopped, they would say they were buying flowers for a friend’s funeral.

Miraculously, they returned two hours later with a truckload of flowers. Praying that no thugs would beat us up along the way, we piled the flowers in our arms, grabbed our “Solidarity with Egyptian People” banner, and headed toward the square.

People along the street started clapping, smiling, giving us the thumbs up. “Free, free Egypt,” we shouted, as we were swept into the square by a sea of people. They were hugging us, kissing us, snapping our photos–and crushing us and the flowers. Thankfully, we were rescued from the chaos by a group of men who linked arms to form a ring around us. Steering us toward the main stage, they hoisted us onto the railing so that people could see us. We began throwing roses, carnations, gladiolas and marigolds into the cheering crowd who yelled out, in Arabic, “The People, United, Will Never Be Defeated.”

It was exhilarating. What a privilege to feel connected to this joyous mass of humanity that was charting a new course for the entire Middle East. I was in awe of their bravery, their devotion, their love for their country and each other. I looked down and saw a teenager who had ripped open his shirt to proudly show us his chest full of bandages from the street battles. “You are my family,” he shouted, as he jumped up and down, crying and blowing kisses our way. “I love you.”

All of a sudden, there was a commotion next to us. A military man was making his way to the stage. It was General Hassan El-Rawani, the head of the army’s central command, coming to speak to the masses. Someone handed him a white gladiola. He took it awkwardly, looked over at us and smiled. Then he addressed the crowd.

The military has been in an untenable position and this was a particularly tense day. The commanders had promised they would not attack peaceful protesters, but the government was fed up with the protesters camping out in the city’s main plaza. Today was Saturday, day 12 of the uprising. The army had orders to clear the square by Sunday so that life in Cairo could “get back to normal.” Everyone was worried about what the army would do. The crowd became silent as the General spoke.

He urged the people to leave the square peacefully. He told them they had won, that a new government had already been appointed. It was time to go home.

He also warned the people not to be manipulated by outside forces who were pushing them to keep up the protests. Like the thugs who carjacked us at gunpoint earlier in the day, pro-Mubarak forces have been putting forth this line that the protests are instigated by foreign forces–from Iran and Hamas to America and Israel–who want to create instability in Egypt.

One of the young pro-democracy organizers looked at us while the General was speaking and laughed. “It’s crazy how they try to blame this purely Egyptian uprising on foreigners,” he said. “Perhaps they’ll try to say that these flowers are part of some American plot to incite the masses.”

Meanwhile, the General was still asking the protesters to leave the square. They were respectful, but stood their ground. “We won’t go till Mubarak goes,” they chanted back at him.

Having tried his best, the General stepped down from the stage and walked back through the crowd.  He was still holding the white gladiola. And the next day, the people were still holding the square.

For more updates about Egypt, check back here on our People to People blog.

“Something wonderful is being born here: an inclusive, grassroots, democratic movement which is, even in this time of extreme crisis, enacting ideals of nonviolence, creativity, courtesy, public service…what can I say? This revolution is not just Egyptian; it belongs to everyone who believes in the possibility of a better way for us all to live together.”
–Ahdaf Soueif, Acclaimed Egyptian novelist sent this message to Medea and CODEPINK to share with you.

One voice among millions, a simple yet elegant declaration of the aspiration of a nation on the precipice of revolution. We have been awed and inspired by the determination of Egypt’s people, their refusal to back down from their rightful claim to freedom and dignity, despite increased violence and heavy personal cost.

Along with the rest of the world, Global Exchange is closely watching the struggle for freedom in Egypt. Global Exchange Co-Founder, Medea Benjamin, is on the ground in Cairo, blogging the latest news from the embattled Egyptian people.

Medea, along with a delegation of CODEPINK activists, is in Cairo standing in solidarity with the people of Egypt. Follow her latest reports on our blog.

Medea has met with dozens of women and groups in Cairo and learned this:

The next major demonstration has been called for this Friday after prayers. People are desperate for it to be a peaceful mobilization. They have a plan to deliver hundreds of flowers to demonstrators, wounded protesters, and to the gun barrels of the Army’s tanks during the next big uprising on Friday after prayers.

Our sisters at CODEPINK will deliver hundreds of flowers at tomorrow’s protest in Cairo. Donate $5 to help buy flowers and send a message of solidarity and peace to Egypt. This is one way we around the world can support the nonviolent people’s uprising. Please consider making a larger gift; any donation over $5 will support the ongoing, critical human rights work of Global Exchange, and will be tax deductible.

[update February 8, 2011. Thanks for choosing to support the people’s movement in Egypt. The rally in Cairo has now happened and thanks to GX supporters we were able to send flowers to demonstrate our solidarity for peace and the respect of human rights. Your donation to support our ongoing work is crucial and 100% will be tax deductible.]

Here are ways you can support the Egyptian people in their call for a peaceful revolution:

  • Protest and March in solidarity with the Egyptian and Tunisian people; Join the International DayofMobilization in San Francisco, Sat. Feb. 5th, 2011, 1 pm at the U.N. Plaza, Market and 8th, San Francisco, CA. More info on Facebook.
    Protest in front of Egyptian embassies — Find an Embassy near you.
  • Spread the Word — with information blockades and unprecedented efforts by the regime to cut off access to social media, we need to work together to ensure that the Egyptian people’s voices are heard. Blog, tweet, and share, share, share!
  • Call on the U.S. government to end military aid to the Mubarak regime.
  • Sign Avaaz’s statement of solidarity and let the people of Egypt know they are not alone.

Get firsthand accounts of what is happening on the ground in Egypt.  For continual updates, check our People to People blog.

Thank you for your support of Global Exchange and of our ongoing commitment to human rights, democracy and peace here at home and around the world.

In Solidarity,
Carleen Pickard, Associate Director
Global Exchange

This was originally sent out to our News and Action e-mail list. Sign up for Global Exchange’s Newsletters and stay on top of the latest news in the Global Exchange community.

Egyptian protesters have poured into the streets this week calling for President Hosni Mubarak to step down by Friday, the people’s deadline. Global Exchange stands in solidarity with the people of Egypt, and we’re calling on the US Government to support the peaceful and immediate end to the Mubarak regime.

Global Exchange Co-Founder Medea Benjamin has been in Cairo for the past week. She was supposed to pass through Egypt to join her CODEPINK colleagues in leading a delegation to Gaza, traveling through the Sinai to get to Gaza’s southern border. But the Rafa crossing into Gaza was closed, and their delegation was unable to leave Cairo, so instead they have been caught up in the breath-taking people’s movement that is sweeping Egypt. The activists will stay in Cairo until they can safely make their way to Gaza, where they intend to continue their delegation for peace.

Medea has been emailing updates when she can. Since her earlier post This is What a Revolution Looks Like, things have changed quite a bit, as illustrated in a message she sent this afternoon:

It’s crazy here. We are holed up listening to the street fighting outside. All hell has broken loose. SOOOO sad. I think of just yesterday, when people were so euphoric. This was planned by Mubarak’s people, who are a bunch of horrible thugs. They are fomenting violence to justify keeping this dictator in power. It makes me so angry to think of how our governments have supported this system for so many years, and how many more people will die just to bring democracy to their country.

I saw a friend who is a professor at the American University in Cairo. He had a big gash in his head. “Please, help us tell the world what is happening. Tell them how we were viciously attacked,” he said. “Tell them we will die here if we have to, but we will NOT turn back.”

I couldn’t believe that after today’s attacks, there were still women in the square who planned to spend the night. A group of young women ran up to us and started hugging and kissing us. “You don’t know what your presence means to us,” one of the students said. “Please tell Obama that we need him to do more to push Mubarak to go NOW, before more of us get killed.”

When CODEPINK was in Cairo for the Gaza Freedom March last year, we led and participated in small, peaceful protests that were set upon by hundreds of riot police at the behest of repressive Mubarak regime. But now there has been a seismic shift. There are not 50 people rallying in Cairo, but hundreds of thousands protesting across the nation. Dozens have been killed; hundreds have been wounded. But the Egyptian people will not be turned back. They feel their power and are determined to seize the moment.

From Medea’s press release today:
Egyptians have been excited to see their message of solidarity from the American people. Many Egyptian protesters are carrying signs that say “My address is Tahrir square until Mubarak leaves” and they are holding firm. The activists also report that many Egyptian youth seem ecstatic that President Obama has acknowledged their voice in Egypt’s political affairs but they want him to put more pressure on Mubarak to step down. Women are in the streets and have played a major role in the grassroots movement for democracy in Egypt.  Today, as violence towards peaceful demonstrators escalates, the activists said rumors have circulated that the pro-Mubarak agitators are paid supporters of the dictator.

Now is the time for Americans to stand in solidarity with the Egyptian people, push for free and fair elections immediately to prevent future corruption and violence and support true democracy and freedom in Egypt.

The Time is Now to Show Your Support!
As Medea makes clear, “Now is the time that the Egyptian people need our solidarity. Don’t let there be one more “Made in the USA” teargas canister hurled at these people. Don’t let there be one more U.S. bullet or U.S. weapon aimed at them. The Egyptian people are writing a beautiful chapter in the history of nonviolent revolutions. Let’s show them we are on their side.”

Here are ways you can stand in solidarity with the Egyptian people:

  • Protest and March in solidarity with the Egyptian and Tunisian people; Join the International Day of Mobilization in San Francisco, Sat. Feb. 5th 2011, 1 pm at the U.N. Plaza, Market and 8th, San Francisco, CA. More info on Facebook. Protest in front of Egyptian embassies — Click here to find an Embassy of Egypt near you.
  • Spread the Word — with information blockades and unprecedented efforts by the regime to cut off access to social media, we need to work together to ensure that the Egyptian people’s voices are heard. Blog, tweet, and share share share!
  • Call on the US government to end military aid to the Mubarak regime.
  • Sign Avaaz’s statement of solidarity and let the people of Egypt know they are not alone.

For Egypt updates, check back here on our People to People blog.