Egypt: Gaza protest coverage

Protests throughout the world have been growing as Israel continues to assert its military might in the Gaza Strip. Egypt has been the scene of some of the most visible protests. MENASSAT’s Salma Eldwardany has this snapshot of the street reaction in Egypt.
Angry protesters in Egypt converge on a Cairo mosque. © AFP

CAIRO, January 7, 2008 (MENASSAT) - Since the Israeli assault on Gaza began on December 27, Egyptian protesters have been a regular presence on the streets - accusing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s government of failing to open up the Gaza border and for not putting more pressure on Arab governments to mediate an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Significant clashes between Egyptian security forces and protesters began on December 31, the third day of the Israeli air assault on Gaza.

These protests have only intensified since Israel launched its ground offensive into the Gaza Strip last Saturday. Emboldened by the growing protesters worldwide, public pressure has notably increased for Mubarak to act to end the crisis in Gaza.

Sources say the longer he waits to intervene the more a segment of the Egyptian opposition is able to paint a picture of a regime that had prior knowledge of the Israeli plan to eliminate the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. 

Downtown Cairo under siege

In Cairo, several thousand Egyptians marched through downtown Cairo on December 31, chanting phrases such as, "Off to Gaza we go, martyrs by the million,"  "Where is the Egyptian army?" and "Shame on you Mubarak".

Egyptian security forces cordoned off the streets leading to the Arab League's headquarters in downtown Cairo as Arab foreign affairs ministers were meeting on December 31 to discuss the unfolding events in Gaza.

Security forces began dispersing the crowds by force, and least 40 demonstrators were detained. Scores of others were beaten.

The Muslim Brotherhood then led a demonstration in front of the journalists’ syndicates downtown, and by the end of the day on December 31 thousands of protesters had filled the downtown streets.

Various sources confirmed that at least 300 activists were detained in Cairo on December 31, with over 160 activists arrested in train stations and cars on their way in to Egypt’s capital.

Largest demonstrations prompt harsher security response

On Friday, January 2, two days after the police crackdown in Cairo, Egyptians took to the streets for the largest demo against the Israeli offensive.

The rally, organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, began near the Al Fatah Mosque in Cairo and urged the Egyptian government to open the border between Gaza and Egypt.

Special Forces units were mobilized and stationed on the street corners that led to various demonstration sites, and in the early afternoon, Egyptian police moved in to crush the dissent throughout the city. Eyewitnesses said that riot police used sticks to beat protesters in an attempt to disperse the crowd.

Egyptian police also seized three of the biggest downtown mosques before Friday prayers: Al-Fatah and Al-Azhar in Islamic Cairo, and Al-Nour Mosque in Elabbassyia district in northern Cairo. Police cordoned the downtown area with more than 200 vehicles.

Police also warned religious leaders at the Al-Fatah mosque against talking about Gaza during Friday prayers, witnesses said, also mentioning the spread of the state security laboratory on the roofs of buildings along Ramsis Street.

Still, about 5,000 protesters gathered at Al-Azhar mosque after Friday prayers, carrying placards that said, "Shame upon you, Arabs of silence.”

Central Security troops eventually entered the mosque with eyewitness accounts counting some 15-security vehicles surrounding streets around the mosque.

Police attacked the demonstrators and dozens of arrests were made including at least 40 members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood who prepared for the Friday demonstrations.

Reporters fair game

And demonstrations have not been limited to Cairo. Mass rallies and demonstrations have erupted in number of governorates throughout Egypt.

Alexandria Minya, Assiut, Sohag Fayoum, Suez, Dakahliya, Qalubia, Port Said, Kafr El-Sheikh, Aswan, Munufeya and al- Arish have all seen protests in the last 12 days.

Rights groups are unsure of exactly how many demonstrators have been arrested in these outlying protests, and Egyptian security forces are finding it increasingly difficult to control the demos.

Egyptian security forces have also been targeting journalists as protests have continued unabated since Israel began its attack.
About 200 journalists and activists have so far been arrested while covering the mass protests.

During the December 31 protest in Cairo, journalists covering the Tahrir square demonstration organized by the Leftist Alliance were violently dispersed by security forces.

Plain-clothed police officers forced bystanders and journalists to leave the area. Journalists at the scene were manhandled, verbally abused and threatened with arrest if they did not leave the area sources at the demonstration told MENASSAT.

Students anger erupts everywhere

Student demonstrations have also been taking place on campuses all over Egypt. Trade unionists, professors and students held mass demonstrations to condemn what they called the “Israeli war machine” and “The silence of the Arab states.”

A series of demonstrations have been held at Cairo University, but the security presence has been heavy with Egyptian authorities worried the students would take their anger to the nearby Israeli embassy.

Some 800 Muslim Brotherhood students at Helwan University have staged a continuous demonstration in solidarity with Gaza, and at Al-Azhar University more then 4,000 students have protested over the last week despite a heavy security presence that has prevented them from hitting the streets.

Ain Shams University was also the scene of two rallies this past week, one led by Dr. Ahmed Zaki Badr, President of the University, and the second by the Muslim Brotherhood student association.

A diverse civic reaction

As with protests throughout the Arab world, the demonstrations in Egypt have been diverse with people from a wide range of backgrounds taking part - secularists, Islamists, leftists, university students, journalists and others

Hundreds of artists, actors and writers organized a protest in Elgiza last week condemning the Israeli aggression. Protesters demanded an immediate halt to the export of Egyptian gas to Israel and expulsion of the Israeli ambassador. Khaled Elsawy, writer Fathia Elassal and Professor Ahmed Sakhsookh were some of the artists participating in the protest.

The Bar Association and the Medical Association have also organized demonstrations, and the Egyptian Popular Committee for Solidarity signed a petition demanding that Egyptian authorities open the Rafah crossing, the expulsion of the Ambassador of Israel.

The group has also called for the cessation of all forms of normalization with Israel, and they announced they would organize a convoy of relief to be sent to Gaza.