New Year's Eve, Cairo: One critical impetus for the Gaza Freedom March is the impeding move by Egypt to build a deep wall at the Gaza border that would cut off the flow of essential survival material for the people of Gaza. I’ll be writing more about the nature of this planned wall, and the terrible danger it presents based on what I’ve learned from other delegates on the March. Stopping that wall has been a demand of the Gaza Freedom March.

Right: The Egyptian mass media, even while providing somewhat sympathetic (and very prominent) coverage for the Gaza Freedom March, has been inundating the public with fears that "drugs and contraband" are going through the Gaza tunnels and endangering Egypt's security. This from a regime that has blocked any possibility of legal commerce and criminalized the transport of any goods in or out of Gaza.
* * *

Tonight, a bunch of us including a young crew from Canada are relaxing a bit in the hotel lobby, summing up the tumultuous events of the last few days, and watching one of the cable news neworks. A story comes on about the impact of global warming on the highly vulnerable country of Bangladesh – a country which is almost entirely very near sea level. A slight rise in the level of the world’s oceans, resulting from the melting of glacial and polar ice, threatens to flood much of Bangladesh – a densely populated country of 160 million people.

This particular story focused on how Bangladesh’s larger, more powerful neighbor, India, is building a wall, 2,100 miles long, to seal the border between the two countries. The high, heavily reinforced barbed wire fence is not going to keep out water, it’s being built to keep out people. Scientists are saying that some 15 million people will be displaced in low-lying regions of Bangaldesh by mid-century, and the wall is to seal them into desperate Bangladesh and out of India

When the story ended, a delegate commented with bitter insight: “Seems like the solution to everything these days is to build a wall.”

What an indicting truth! In a world that so badly needs global cooperation among people, all the capitalist system can do is build walls – to keep people out, or to keep people in. All, in one way or another, to fortify a system of grotesque inequality and brutal oppression.

* * * 

What almost nobody knows, these days, is that in a communist world, people would be able to pool their energies, creativity, and unleash the positive side of diversity and uneven development to solve the massive problems humanity faces.

As the editorial in the current issue of REVOLUTION says: “The world cries out for revolution, communist revolution which, as the Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA states, can bring  ‘a whole different way of life…in which human beings, individually and above all in their mutual interaction with each other, can throw off the heavy chains of tradition and rise to their full height and thrive in ways never before experienced, or even fully imagined.’ (Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, September 2008. See revcom.us.) A revolution to bring about this whole new era in human history is both necessary and possible. And we have, in Bob Avakian, the leadership we need to advance on this path…"
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Links: Global Warming: Catastrophe from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal | Excerpt from Raymond Lotta webcast: "The Elephant in the Room: Can Anything Short of Revolution Solve the Environmental Crisis?"

Gaza Freedom March ... a Call to the World

12/31/09, Cairo: Around 5 PM Cairo time, an inspiring Gaza Freedom March concluded in Cairo. The march took over a major thoroughfare in the heart of Cairo briefly, and was then pushed by police to the sidewalk where it was surrounded by phalanxes of police.

By 5 PM, penned in protesters were released, but only after they organized their confinement camp into a living manifestation of the demands: End the Seige of Gaza, Free Gaza.

The Gaza Freedom March cracked through the tsunami of wildly distorted pro-Israel coverage of the situation in Gaza in mainstream US and European papers from the New York Times to Le Monde. It got major coverage in the Middle East - Al Jazeera filmed tonights protest. Tens of thousands of Egyptians and tourists saw the March, and the story is all over the news in Cairo (photo at right is tonight's Cairo paper). More and more  Egyptians are coming up to us on the street, expressing support for the protest in different ways. It appears that some Egyptians joined the protest and at least one may have been singled out and abducted by Egyptian security.

The march, originally planned for Gaza, was held in Cairo because the Egyptian government confined most of the 1350 participants from 43 countries to Cairo. In the course of fighting thru police state repression, and intransigent efforts by the Egyptian government and their US sponsors to stop the march, those involved strengthened their collective commitment to the mission of the Gaza Freedom March, reached out and began to connect with people in Egypt (see The Sleeping Giant post below), and became a major event around the world at a critical moment -- when the world powers are moving to literally starve the people of Gaza into death or submission with the wall planned at the Egyptian border.

There is so much to digest, so many stories to tell, and so much to learn from this whole experience about the situation in Gaza, and the struggle to end the siege of Gaza.... And also much to think about and learn from the conversations about what it will take to "free Gaza" and beyond that, to bring about a world free of all oppression. I'll be blogging more and writing after I catch my breath. But for now, a moment to appreciate: A call that has been issued from Cairo to the world.

Photos below are from inside the protest, previous post has photos from outside the confinement area. Watch video at Guardian (UK). Thanks to so many GFM people for photos.

Gaza Freedom March in Downtown Cairo

CAIRO 2 PM 12/31

No, the photo at the right is not of U.S troops marching out from a base in Afghanistan or Iraq, it's the Cairo police moving on the Gaza Freedom March. At this moment, 300 or so Gaza Freedom Marchers are surrounded by police in the middle of downtown Cairo, amidst the embassies, the museums. And in the midst of this, getting the message of breaking the siege of Gaza, and "free Gaza," out to thousands of thousands.

First two pictures below - going into the streets. Third - 2 PM, surrounded by police, reaching out to the world.

The Sleeping Giant....

12/29/09, Cairo: Tonight our GFM internationals were invited to join with Egyptian students who were protesting Egyptian president Mubarak's meeting with Israel's prime minister Netenyahu. Ostensibly the two were meeting to restart the "peace process" that has unfolded in the form of more and more death and horror for the Palestinian people. But, in the midst of widespread outrage and fury in the region over the situation for the people in Gaza, the meeting served as an in-your-face statement about the role of the Egyptian regime in all this. The protest was outside the Journalists Syndicate hall, an impressive building in downtown Cairo.

For the first time, in our time here, we are working with Egyptian students -- the crowd chanting on the steps was roughly half Arabic and English. The demands: LIFT THE SIEGE OF GAZA! STOP THE GENOCIDE! FREE PALESTINE!

Egyptians, including sizeable numbers of college-age women, are half the crowd -- the other half internationals with GFM. We are used to being shadowed and harassed, detained, and sometimes violently assaulted by plain-clothes Egyptian security forces who ride around in pickup trucks they can jump out of like the Islamic regime's thugs in Iran. But the massive police presence at this protest was on another level -- rows of riot police with helmets lined up in front of the protest, and trucks to haul in police, and haul people away were lined up at the end of the block.

But the atmosphere was electric -- almost literally, as bright spotlights flooded the steps of the Journalists Syndicate building with white light in the dark Cairo evening. In the organized chaos, I grab any Egyptian student I can to talk to. The first one tells me that there are other protests elsewhere in Egypt against Netenyahu's visit, and the planned wall to strangle Gaza by closing the Egyptian tunnels. I ask him about the risks he is taking. He talks about what is happening in Iran, and that he has a feeling an eruption like that might be not too far beneath the surface in Egypt.

Next I find myself interviewing a professor who has studied in France. He is in his sixties, and his command of English is elegant and nuanced. He knows about the Gaza Freedom March: "I know, I know," he says when I describe what the authorites are doing to keep us from getting to Gaza. "It is important that you people go to Gaza" he tells me. I ask him for an assessment of the movement of opposition in Egypt

"It's a police state here," he says with the tone of a prof patiently explaining something basic to a slow student. He pauses to indicate with subtle eye motion the phalanx of riot police. "If you foreigners weren't here we'd be getting clobbered bloody right now." I ask what impact it is having on Egyptian society that the regime has detained the GFM people in Cairo (and other cities in Egypt)? "They have made a huge mistake. They're dumb," he says. "They have ended up making a bigger deal out of this." He is sticking his neck way out to be on the steps tonight, and he reminds me that "your embassy is calling the shots in all this, you know."

Two young women college students are discretely passing out flyers in Arabic. Can anyone translate? They appear to ignore my request and walk away, but come back in a few minutes with a guy who speaks English. "You are a journalist?" Yes. "You should be at the press conference, go in the building to the 4th floor." I consult with friends from the GFM -- does anyone know what's going on inside? What is at the 4th floor? Anybody seen anyone go in there? Or come out? Nobody knows, but it seems important to find out. I exchange cell phone numbers with GFM friends, and people promise to respond if I do not return from the building. I go in, and take the elevator to the 4th floor.

The Journalist Syndicate building is big and modern -- similar in size and amenities to a newer classroom building at UCLA or NYU. Another striking feature: It's the first building of almost any size I've been in in Egypt without cops or security hovering around.

I get off the elevator and follow the crowd into a massive meeting hall. Quick headcount: 700 people. Everyone is speaking Arabic. Help! A young man comes to my aid. The press conference, he explains, has been called by the Journalist Syndicate along with other groups. The crowd? Lawyers, journalists, professionals, he says, "and me - an accountant," he smiles. It's all being explained quickly, but he tells me the panelists are prominent, respected journalists in Egypt who cannot be heard in the mainstream media, along with at least one attorney, and an Indian journalist (I believe from a Muslim paper in India, he speaks Arabic).The list of sponsoring organizations is hard to follow but I recognize the word "communist" in the name of one of the groups - whatever that might mean here. And it does seem that there is what one might call a "secular left" in the region that has some influence. I direct all interested in something besides capitalism (or Islamic fundamentalism) to check out "Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party." Wish it was available in Arabic right now! Anyone capable of providing a translation?

My newly enlisted translator is fluent, poetic and simultaneous. Not bad for an accountant... or anyone else. I do my best to keep up -- madly scribbling notes --but errors in the following quotes are my fault, not his. The first speaker welcomes the crowd: "Today, a terrible crime is being committed. A war is being waged against Gaza in the form of a wall. Mubarak is building it. Egypt can wait no longer to stand with Gaza!"

The format takes some getting used to for me - this is not a traditional rally. Applause is restrained. Attention is rapt. A cell phone goes off, and the mc stops the event to sternly warn against that happening again.  I learn later that the Journalists Syndicate facility is, for a combination of reasons including its proximity to a major court facility, is so-far off-limits to the security forces, with the proviso that events are confined within its walls and do not extend onto the steps and into the street (as is happening tonight). And it appears the press conference format serves as a form of protest under conditions of extreme repression.

One speaker is an attorney who indicts the Mubarak regime for war crimes. He says that Egypt was an early signer of the Geneva Convention, and that the wall, which will kill civilians in Gaza, is a war crime. And then he begins telling the audience about how the regime is detaining the Gaza Freedom Marchers in Egypt. My translator nudges me - "he's talking about you! right?" People nearby hear that. "You're one of them?" Yes.This creates a buzz on our side of the room. The speaker issues a demand: "They must not be turned around at Rafah (the border crossing into Gaza from Egypt)." "Today," he says, "is a different feeling for us. We are standing up together as Muslims and Christians. I find no polite words but am trying. People are angry. The wall is going up, people in Gaza will die. We can talk all night about utilizing proper procedures but that won't change anything!"

I have heard about the long detentions, the beatings, and torture that are the fate of those who defy the regime here. There has been discussion amongst us about the appropriateness of connecting with the struggles of the Egyptian people. I am thinking about this, and am filled with emotion -- I nearly cry -- when a speaker says, "We appreciate people from other countries who stand with us and we welcome them and their sincere activism."

I emerge from the press conference back into the Cairo night. The crowd of protesters has thinned considerably, and -- unable to understand the Arabic messages on my cell phone -- I finally realize that the SIM card I bought from a dude on the street has run out of time. Luckily, a couple friends who are shooting documentary footage of all this have stayed to wait for me. We find a quiet spot, and they interview me about the experience for their project.

Then we rush off to the hotel where major discussions and debate is going on over how to advance the cause of the Gaza Freedom March. I share the experience at the press conference, and it becomes part of the picture of complex, contradictory, and rather intriguing mix of factors we are dealing with. There are other interesting experiences of interacting with Egyptians, who are singled out viciously by the authorities for threats and attack when they associate with us. We didn't come here to protest in Egypt, we thought we had an arrangement to quickly pass through into Gaza. But the struggle for justice, let alone profound, radical, social change, is never a straight line. It's a complex, multi-level, windy road. And the struggle to break the siege of Gaza is -- as is being brought into increasingly sharp relief -- a global one that ultimately can only rely on the people of the world.

So, here we are in Egypt.... struggling to get the Gaza Freedom March into Gaza.

And in that context, we are working to wrench opportunity out of difficult conditions. Egypt is a big country, the largest (in population) in the Middle East, and the 2nd largest in Africa. Right now, Egypt is a link in the chain around the necks of the Palestinians, and a brick in the wall* of global imperialist exploitation and oppression. But there are pressures from below (I'll share more on that factor later), and it seems, profound anger and discontent stirring among important sections of the middle class.

Someone passes me a daily paper from Cairo -- the heroic French Gaza Freedom March delegation, who has been camped out in the hundreds on the sidewalk in front of the French embassy for 3 days now, is the main story. Egyptians will wake up to that story tomorrow.When will the sleeping giant awaken?
* See the video statement by Roger Waters in support of Gaza Freedom March

It's not our embassy....

12/29/09, Cairo: The repression, house arrests, and state of siege against those of us on the Gaza Freedom March is tightening here in Egypt.... and new channels of creative protest are being forged. There are many forms of protest today in Cairo over the Egyptian government's refusal to allow the Gaza Freedom Marchers into Gaza. At the US embassy, 42 or so people were brutally corralled and detained outside while attempting to lodge complaints -- one person was lifted up and tossed over security lines by Egyptian security forces. The U.S. Embassy staff claimed the detentions were carried out by Egyptian police in reaction to a protest outside the embassy (of which there was none), but the Egyptian commander on the scene told those detained the US embassy was directing things; A U.S. embassy 'observer' was overseeing the operation without identifying himself to the detainees.

As of late PM, the detainees were being allowed to register their grievances before embassy staff, and get told that blocking our entry into Gaza is a decision by the sovereign state of Egypt and it would be inappropriate for the US to interfere.

And we all know that the U.S would never tell any "sovereign state," like the Egyptian regime (the 3rd largest recipient of US "aid," and one of the countries to which the US sent detainees to be tortured under the rendition program)... what to do.

Yeah. Right.

It is, in reality, thru this "chain of command" that the orders flow that have locked us down in Cairo (along with a few dozen people with GFM who are under virtual house arrest in Al Arish near the Gaza border), in an attempt to further islolate the people in Gaza. It is through these channels that the vice around the Palestinians in Gaza is being imposed thru a deadly blockade. And now, a massive is being planned and built to shut down the tunnels through which Gazans get just enough to eat and live (mainstream news sources report that the US Army Corps of Engineers is involved in building the wall). All in the interests of global empire.

I am reminded of Bob Avakian's statement during the Iran hostage crisis: It's not our embassy, it's the embassy of the imperialist ruling class...  ("From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey From Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist," chapter 23).

Egyptian Authorities Stop Gaza Freedom March From Leaving Cairo

Dec 28- Cairo: At dawn today, hundreds of people from around the world were set to depart from Cairo, Egypt for Gaza to participate in the Gaza Freedom March – protesting on the one-year anniversary of Israel’s massacre in Gaza, and demanding an end to the ongoing state of siege that is killing the people of Gaza.

After Egyptian authorities forced the original bus company to refuse to take us to Al Arish, near the Egypt-Gaza border, march organizers chartered other buses to take us to the area as tourists. Again, Egyptian security forces intimidated the bus company into not sending buses. Egyptian police also shut down the rendezvous point in central Cairo -- there was a wild scene as they chased off taxis attempting to drop off delegates, while activists attempted to make it possible for passengers to arrive.

TOP photo: Egyptian security forces attack activists from Code Pink (upper left corner of photo), and chase off taxis attempting to drop people off. (bottom right of photo). MIDDLE photos: Delegates to the Gaza Freedom March, penned in by police, reach out to the people of Cairo: "Let Us Go to Gaza!... Free Gaza!" BOTTOM: Protest at the UN in Cairo later in the day where Hedy Epstein, an 85 year old Holocaust survivor and others began a hunger strike today as a response to the Egyptian government’s refusal to allow the Gaza Freedom March participants into Gaza.
Those who were able to make their way to the rendezvous point were cordoned in behind police barricades for a couple of hours, before being allowed to leave. They unfurled banners in English and Arabic saying "Let Us Go To Gaza," and "Free Gaza." For two hours, internationals - as many call themselves, from Japan, the US, England, Europe and elsewhere sang and chanted in English and Arabic, and were joined by a number of Egyptians -- a new development as up to now, the organizers of the march had acceded to demands of the Egyptian government to not involve Egyptian citizens in Gaza Freedom March activities in Cairo. 
For two hours, this major scene in the middle of Cairo connected with people going to work in Cairo.
People are regrouping, discussing plans, reaching out more to the people of Cairo, and taking heart from a sit-in outside the French embassy by hundreds of French people who are in Cairo attempting to get to the Gaza Freedom March.  I have met  internationals from around the world and will be sharing their stories, and reporting on the next moves...
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Later in the day...

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

En Route: A tale of 2 papers

The flight attendant is pushing a small shopping cart of newspapers down the aisle of the airplane. Most of the papers are in Arabic, which unfortunately I cannot read. One is in English – the Jordan Times. I look at page 1, and see an article on the front page: “Gaza convoy remains in Aqaba as Egypt talks at impasse.” Whoh! We’re on page 1 in Jordan? It turns out that the article is actually about another delegation, a humanitarian convoy of including ambulances, trucks, vans and jeeps from England, Turkey and other places  (actually, we do make page 1 - an update of the story in the Dec 27 edition includes substantial coverage of the Egyptian government’s blocking of the GFM).

I read the rest of the paper. One article is about how Christians in Gaza (mostly Greek Orthodox) don’t have much to celebrate. One holiday “human interest story” details the situation of a Christian family in Gaza who were denied permits to make a pilgrimage to Bethlehem by the Israeli’s because the mother in the family is under 35 years old, and therefore ineligible to get Israeli permission to travel from one part of Palestine (Gaza) to another (the West Bank). One gift shop owner is only selling posters of Palestinian prisoners detained by Israel – there isn’t much market for Christmas presents, and the article says that Gazans find “scant holiday cheer ”on the 1 year anniversary of the so-called “war” – Israel’s massacre at the end of last year, and the beginning of ’09.

Before I left, I solicited questions from people of very different perspectives – things they wanted me to investigate. One asked, how can people in Gaza support Hamas? The Jordan Times does not appear to have a pro-Hamas slant at all. But an article notes – in passing – the obvious: In the “war” last year, 1400 Gazans were killed, compared to 13 Israelis, and this, the article notes, “swelled the ranks of Hamas.”

You want to end that cycle? Let's start with opposing Israel's crimes and "our own" government's role in backing them.

On page 4, another article details a strike on “suspected terrorists” in Yemen on Dec 17th of this year. The article says that President Obama “approved” the raid, According to civilian authorities, the attack (details were very vague in the article) resulted in the death of some 49 civilians, including many women and children, Did you read about that? How big was that on the news in the US? Then, several days later, the article says two protesting young people were killed (the article doesn’t explain by whom).

I finish reading the Jordan Times and pick up the Xmas edition of USA Today: There is a page one story about how in some states in the U.S., police are giving out coupons for chicken sandwiches for motorists stopped for seatbelt checks who have their seatbelts on. The letters page celebrates “our” troops " who are "protecting our country” … in in Iraq & Afghanistan.

People in other countries, who do not have as much of reality hidden from them, distorted, and turned upside down, must wonder wtf is wrong with Americans .

They need to see, and know that 1300 people from around the world, including hundreds of Americans, are determined to join the Gaza Freedom March on Dec 31. Powerful forces around the world are determined to keep that from happening, and people around the world are being challenged to make it possible for this to happen. Stay tuned.