Key Egyptian democracy activist Hossam (3arabawy) el-Hamalawy had an important piece in the Guardian Unlimited yesterday, underlining the degree to which the Palestinian intifada of 2000– which, lest we forget, started out with many days of unarmed peaceful protest until the death toll rose so high that people’s patience wore out; check the B’tselem figures on this– served as an inspiration for his generation of Egyptian activists.
- Only after the Palestinian intifada broke out in September 2000 did tens of thousands of Egyptians take to the streets in protest – probably for the first time since 1977. Although those demonstrations were in solidarity with the Palestinians, they soon gained an anti-regime dimension, and police showed up to quell the peaceful protests. The president, however, remained a taboo subject, and I rarely heard anti-Mubarak chants.
I recall the first time I heard protesters en masse chanting against the president in April 2002, during the pro-Palestinian riots around Cairo University. Battling the notorious central security forces, protesters were chanting in Arabic: “Hosni Mubarak is just like [Ariel] Sharon.”
The anger was to explode on an even larger scale with the outbreak of the war on Iraq in March 2003. More than 30,000 Egyptians fought the police in downtown Cairo, briefly taking over Tahrir Square, and burning down Mubarak’s billboard.
The scenes aired by al-Jazeera and other satellite networks of the Palestinian revolt or the US-led onslaught on Iraq inspired activists across Egypt to pull down the wall of fear brick by brick. It was in 2004 that pro-Palestinian and anti-war campaigners launched the Kefaya movement, which took on the president and his family…
So many western commentators have been sounding off to the effect that these current wave of massive democracy protests in the Arab world somehow “prove” that Arabs don’t care about Palestine. This is palpably untrue. Yes, the democracy activists have a lot to do in their own countries, and that is without a doubt their highest priority. But if the pro-Israeli-power crowd thinks that means they don’t care about Palestine… Well, that shows either that they’re hopelessly out of touch or that they’re wilfully lying. Maybe both…