[News] Palestine and the Egyptian revolution: a view from Gaza
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Mar 24 12:09:31 EDT 2011
Palestine and the Egyptian revolution: a view from Gaza
Haidar Eid, The Electronic Intifada, 23 March 2011
When I was asked by a solidarity activist about the impact of the end
of the Mubarak regime on the Gaza Strip, my immediate answer was that
it would definitely mean the end of the deadly siege that has been
imposed on Gaza since 2006. Yet, we in Gaza are still waiting.
The deposed Egyptian regime made it its duty to make sure that the
Palestinians of Gaza be kept within the walls of the Israeli-guarded
concentration camp. The foreign minister of the former regime, Ahmed
Abou Elgheit, in whose presence Israel's winter December 2008-January
2009 war on Gaza was symbolically declared by the presence in Cairo
of his then Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni just days before the
attack, became obsessed with "breaking the bones of those who
trespass against Egypt's national security."
He was referring to the starving children, men and women of Gaza who,
in an act of unprecedented heroism in January 2008, tore down the
wall on the Egypt-Gaza border and flooded the streets of the Egyptian
town of al-Arish to buy food, milk and medicine, and then went
peacefully back to their homes. The old regime's spokespersons and
political analysts shamelessly made it their duty to demonize Gazans
in order to justify the closure of the Rafah Crossing, the only
official border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Accusations of
"terrorism,""vandalism" and "threats to national security" were thrown around.
So fearful of his Gazan neighbors was Egypt's ex-minister of interior
Habib el-Adly, who is now behind bars, that he indulged in the
hysterical charge that the recent popular Egyptian revolution was
caused by "some Hamas infiltrators." The same ruthless minister had
also accused Palestinians from Gaza of being behind the bombing of a
Coptic church in Alexandria on New Year's Eve, which killed 21
persons. Indeed now it is el-Adly himself, and Egypt's state security
police, who are under suspicion and investigation of carrying out
that and other sectarian attacks.
The Egyptian revolution has brought that political farce to an end.
No one can deny that this uprising is a social revolution par
excellence, one against corruption, despotism and tyranny. But this
is Egypt after all, the heart of the Arab world, the pole of
pan-Arabism. If Egypt revolts, then the Arab world holds its breath:
the repercussions are immeasurable and will be felt for decades to come.
But Egypt itself is also "haunted" by the Palestinian question. One
here tends to disagree with the prevailing view that the Tunisian
revolution was the only catalyst inspiring the revolt in Egypt. This
ahistorical approach ignores some social and geo-political facts
about the cumulative nature of the factors leading to revolutions.
The protests and strikes by workers at Mahalla undoubtedly played a
crucial role in revolutionizing Egyptian consciousness, a
consciousness that is known to be characterized by a very rich legacy
of rebellions against oppression.
And the Mubarak regime relied heavily on tools of oppression provided
by the United States. Not a single pro-democracy movement in the Arab
world had been supported by the US, hence the confusion and
contradictory statements made by US officials about the Egyptian
revolution. It is, then, a revolution for democracy, personal and
collective dignity, and against notorious levels of corruption and nepotism.
And yet, no matter how much the Mubarak regime and the Ramallah-based
Palestinian Authority tried to silence and suppress the links of
sympathy and affinity between the Palestinian and Egyptian peoples,
these links have always been there.
And here is where I part company with those analysts who take the
great Tunisian revolution as the catalyst behind the Egyptian
uprising. When one-third of the Palestinian people -- those living in
the Gaza Strip and the West Bank -- went to the polling stations in
2006, and voted against the Oslo accords and the racist two-state
solution, and against the deformed mini-Arab regime to be created by
these accords, in what most international observers considered the
most fair and transparent elections to take place in the Middle East,
bringing Hamas into office, questions were raised about the long-held
orientalist idea of the incompatibility of democracy with Arab culture.
In a revealing climb-down from his June 2009 Cairo speech, US
President Barack Obama has since spoken of democracy without ever
affirming the right of the Palestinians to freely choose their
leaders. But more serious debates and soul-searching questions had
started in the Arab world itself, especially in the surrounding
countries: if Palestinians, under occupation, could vote freely, why
not us, then?
Needless to say, the outcome of the 2006 Palestinian elections was
not what Israel, the US and their Arab allies were hoping for. Hence
the imposition of an unprecedented tight siege on Gaza, out of
existential fear of the spread of real democracy a la Latin America
-- a democracy in which people are free to elect parties whose
ideologies do not necessarily coincide with US and Israeli interests.
The fiercest rejection came from so-called "moderate" Arab regimes
headed by the deposed Egyptian government. Israel decided to close
the six gates to Gaza, and the Egyptian regime followed suit by
closing Rafah, the only exit Gaza has to the external world. This
blockade has, so far, caused the death of more than 600
terminally-ill individuals whose lives could have been saved had they
been allowed entry into Egypt, not to mention the devastation it has
caused to Gaza society and economy in so many ways.
But the siege failed to force the Palestinians of the Gaza open-air
prison to surrender, leading Israel to launch the genocidal war that
was foreshadowed by Livni's presence in the heart of Cairo. None of
the objectives of the war were achieved, to the dismay of "moderate"
After the war, Egypt began to build with American supervision a
monstrous underground steel wall blocking tunnels beneath the border,
the only lifeline Palestinians of Gaza managed to create.
Attempts by the Egyptian regime to cover its collusion with Israel
and the US were, alas, supported by the Palestinian leaderships'
acceptance to start endless rounds of national dialogue in Cairo,
again, sponsored by the Egyptian government. The failure of the
Palestinian leaderships of all factions to dissociate themselves from
the Egyptian regime and stick to the demands of the Palestinians of
Gaza by declaring that, after the end of the war on Gaza, any
national dialogue should be held in Gaza as long as it is under
siege, helped, indirectly, to prolong the Egyptian regime's life.
This is a reflection of the elitist nature -- not to say
short-sightedness -- of the Palestinian leaderships with their
long-held belief that ties with regimes, rather than popular forces
and civil society, are the way forward. Hence the suppression of all
signs of solidarity with the Egyptians in both Ramallah and Gaza in
the early days of the revolution.
The Mubarak regime did not only close the Rafah crossing and erect
the Wall of Shame, but also prevented any sign of solidarity and
support coming from international solidarity activists determined to
break the siege. The Viva Palestina convoy and the Gaza Freedom March
were treated brutally by Egyptian security.
The only way for some supporters to reach Gaza was by sea, and nine
Turkish activists lost their lives as a result of the cold-blooded
massacre committed by Israel last May aboard the Mavi Marmara, one of
the ships in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
But the question raised was about Egypt's indirect responsibility:
had the crossing been open for all, those nine precious lives would
have been saved. The massacre led to the Egyptian decision to
"partially" open the Rafah gate without ending the siege altogether.
This step, ironically, coincided with Israel's decision to "ease" the
blockade by allowing more Swiss chocolate into Gaza!
The Egyptian people, with their lively grassroots movements, youth,
syndicates and unions watched helplessly and with dismay as their
Palestinian brethren endured a siege that UN Special Rapporteur to
the Occupied Territories, Richard Falk, described as "a prelude to
genocide," with the complicity -- if not direct participation -- of
the Egyptian regime. But they also saw Palestinian steadfastness in
the face of this assault.
The Egyptian regime's complicity undoubtedly played a crucial role in
radicalizing Egyptian consciousness. The catalytic nature of
Mubarak's collusion with Israeli oppression has, for understandable
reasons, been ignored by mainstream media. The concept of dignity,
collective and personal, as we grew up understanding it, was inspired
by the fiery sayings of the late Egyptian revolutionary leader Gamal
Abdel Nasser after the 1952 revolution against a corrupt monarch,
King Farouk, and his allies, British colonialism.
The slogan "Raise your head, brother, for the age of subjugation is
over," formed not only modern Egyptian consciousness and sense of
national dignity, but that of the entire Arab world, in general, and
of Palestinians in particular. Moreover, Palestine, for most
Egyptians, is part of Egypt's national psyche, a deep wound that is
yet to heal, in spite of all the babble about "peace" and
"reconciliation," a fundamental part of the national self.
That, however, was supposed to change with former Egyptian President
Anwar Sadat's gamble -- the 1979 peace treaty with Israel -- that
left Egypt firmly in the American camp. Official Egyptian discourse
laid the blame for many of Egypt's problems at the door of
Palestinians, hence the unprecedented maltreatment of Palestinians,
Gazans in particular, at the hands of Egypt's notorious state
security. No wonder, then, that the last decision taken by the
deposed government was to ban all Palestinians from entering Egypt.
Now the question that begs for an answer is about the future of the
Egyptian-Palestinian relationship. The Rafah Crossing is "partially"
open for a few passengers but no goods, food or medicine are allowed.
Some Palestinians are turned back every day, and the decision taken
by the previous government not to grant Gazans entry via Cairo
airport is still in force. The sentiment on the streets of Palestine
has, naturally, been supportive of the revolutions in the Arab world
and this is in spite of the position taken by the two controlling
parties in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to ban all solidarity
Radical change in Egypt should mean radical change in Palestine as
well: a pro-Palestine Egypt should mean the end of the siege. But
when will we see that? Is it too much to ask? Do we have to
"understand" the difficulties the new rulers of Egypt have to deal
with, while we are starving and still besieged in Gaza? If this is
the case, why do we, Palestinians of Gaza, have to pay the price? Are
all other Egyptian crossings and border posts "partially" open like
the Rafah gate? And are we, by posing such questions, still
considered "a threat to Egypt's national security?"
Haidar Eid is Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern
Literature at Gaza's al-Aqsa University and a policy advisor with
Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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