Today, on this one-year anniversary of the Israeli attacks on Gaza, the Gaza Freedom March had a very busy and eventful day here in Cairo. As you all know, our plans have been derailed time and again by the Egyptian government and today was no different.
After our morning briefing meeting, we all met at the Kasr al Nil Bridge to tie flowers and letters to the wrungs of the bridge as a sign of solidarity with the people of Gaza. We were at this for about an hour and managed to attract some attention. The Associated Press, PressTV, and other local media were there to cover the memorial. It was truly a beautiful sight to see!
Unfortunately, after about an hour, we were approached by Egyptian military officials who asked us to stop what we were doing and move off the bridge. It took a while to get everybody mobilized, but we eventually began heading towards the end of the bridge, but were still in a large mob formation…the military officials did not like that. Apparently any group of more than 6 people is illegal without a permit. We were slowly herded like cattle all the way down to an open field where we were left alone but still watched from the sidelines.
After this, we all decided that it would be better to split up into smaller groups so as not to attract attention and cause more problems. Basem and I went back up to the bridge to look for some people we’d lost contact with, and saw that the officials (or someone) had ripped down all our flowers and letters to the people of Gaza…such a terrible feeling to see the bare yarns and ribbons hanging, empty on the bridge.
We had some time to kill until the next planned action for the day, so Basem and I spent some time with his cousin – an Egyptian citizen who, because of his citizenship, is not allowed by the Egyptian government to even sign up for this march, sadly.
Next item on the agenda for the day: Take a bunch of felucca (boat) rides and light up 1,400 candles to place in the Nile River; one candle for each life lost during the assault on Gaza last year. We were really counting on this making a huge visual impact for the media and for the Egyptian people. Well, by the time we got to the meeting place on the corniche, there was a huge mob of Gaza marchers in front of the entrance to the felucca boats, which had apparently been shut down because of us.
I don’t know what they expected we’d do after this; but we definitely didn’t back down! We stood our ground on the corniche and inadvertently staged a protest and rally in support of the people of Gaza and pleading with the Egyptian government to let us in to the strip. We held our candles in our hands, chanted, sang songs, etc. It was really something! This in a country where it is illegal to assemble and protest in public places without prior permission and a permit to do so! Needless to say, we commanded the attention of all those passing us by on the very busy Nile River Corniche.
Before we knew it, more and more members of the press showed up to our event including Press TV, Al Jazeera, Associated Press, and some local and foreign media as well. Many of us were interviewed and photographed during the event and we are sure it will make local and global news! Fun Fact: I gave 2 Arabic-language interviews! God only knows how those turned out, lol!
As the night went on, our crowd got larger and the Egyptian authorities made their presence known by blockading off the sidewalk to keep us off the street. They attempted to employ some basic crowd-control tactics, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t; but the entire night was completely peaceful and non-violent. Near the end of the night, retired Colonel Ann Wright began negotiating with the authorities to allow us to secure a meeting spot for our scheduled orientation meeting at 7pm (they revoked our permits for the original meeting location). After a few back-and-forth exchanges, they agreed to let us meet in front of a large building near the Egyptian Museum at 7:30pm. Ann (along with Ehab Lotayef from Canada)was later interviewed by Al Jazeera and others. To sum up her main request: “If you would like to us to leave and clear this road for you, all we ask is for you to allow us to enter El-Arish and Rafah. We are not here to cause problems for Cairo; we are simply here for the people of Gaza.”
At 7:30pm, nearly all 1,360 delegates convened on the front garden of the large “Mogamma” building in downtown Cairo for our “orientation meeting”. There were a few speeches, some updates on other information, and then we broke up into our regional/affinity groups to figure out our plans for the next day.
As per our schedule, we are supposed to be boarding the buses tomorrow morning (Mon.) at 7am to head to El-Arish, but the Egyptian government has revoked our permits for the buses and informed all buses not to take any foreigners towards El-Arish or Rafah. Last night, a smaller delegation made up of French, American, and Greek citizens managed to make it up to El-Arish on their own, but we found out today that many of them were detained in El-Arish and questioned for hours. Today, the rest of the French delegation has staged a sit-in in front of the French embassy here in Cairo and they managed to get the French ambassador and his wife to come out and negotiate with Egyptian officials!
Here’s the plan for Monday:
7am – Meet at the bus station with our backpacks to look like we are ready to travel. We know we will not be going, but we want to show through the media that we were packed and ready to go but Egypt will not let us leave.
8am – Join the French delegates at the embassy and stand in solidarity with them.
9:30am – Daily briefing meeting
11am – Small Press Conference
12pm – Action at the UN
3pm – Women’s contingent will meet and deliver a letter to Mubarak’s wife.
4pm – Hopefully visit the Canadian embassy