On the ground in Cairo

Dec 29 - Cairo: Cairo is overwhelming --17 million people in the metro area. The streets are filled with young people late into the night. The city is a cacophony of activity and sound. The ride from the airport was a high-speed bumper car experience with police checkpoints along the way… But no time to get my bearings, there's much to do.

I knew (and posted) that Egyptian authorities have declared there will be no crossing for our delegation into Gaza. Things have intensified. With meeting places closed, people are regrouping in small groups, networking, and sharing info. I bump into 3 “internationals” as delegates to the GFM refer to themselves. Two from Europe, one from Canada. They fill me in on the day’s events in more detail.

The bus company that was to take us to near the Gaza border was pressured to pull out. Delegates who have made it on their own to Al Arish, the Egyptian resort town an hour (by car) from the Gaza border are essentially under house arrest in their hotel. Egyptian police, and “secret police” with walkie talkies under their jackets are following every group of delegates around Cairo, breaking up gatherings, or surrounding them and not allowing them to move. A commemoration ceremony for the 1400 killed in Gaza in the "war" last year was broken up by police who threw memorial flowers into a river.
They share stories of being shadowed and threatened by the authorities while finding ways to get into the streets and the news. Small groups gather at times with quickly made signs, and chant “free Palestine” in English and Arabic. Is all this big news in the US? If this was China during the Olympics, and the protesters were Tibetan or Chinese dissidents, this would be front page New York Times for months (not to dismiss or downplay the oppression of Tibettans and suppression of dissent in today's capitalist / pseudo-socialist China, just noting the gross hypocrisy).

The manager of the shop where we are talking is listening in. He apologizes for the Egyptian police. That’s not you, I say -- we understand. We have the same problem, our government isn’t us either.

Delegates from France, the US, and other countries were encouraged to visit their embassies and ask their governments to intercede. The Europeans tell me they went to the US embassy, where only a delegation of 3 people were allowed into the embassy, they were not allowed to talk to anyone of import, and only given five minutes to raise their complaints to someone. They were assured though, that the embassy was “very concerned.” I describe to the others the story of the movie “Missing,” and the “concern” the US embassy showed for a US student murdered by Pinochet in a US-sponsored coup. No, that’s not “our” government.

A couple from Europe read my previous post. I ask them for their perception of / insights into Americans? They had thought that maybe America came to its senses with the election of Obama but now they are in turmoil tryign to figure out what that really meant. They know about the “rednecks” who hate Obama in America, but wonder if he’s really any better than Bush? We begin to sift thru that, but we have to get up before sunrise, and I gotta go write up and post this blog.

Tomorrow morning, we will attempt to leave en-masse for the Gaza border. Stay tuned.!

Photo: dawn breaks over smoggy Cairo

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