Solidarity Rallies in DC Stand with the Egyptian People’s Movement
Hundreds of people gathered in Washington D.C. Saturday to send a message of support to the Egyptian people. Currently, the Egyptian people are into a nearly one-week-long peaceful rebellion against the 30-year dictatorship of Hosnei Mubarak.
Saturday’s protesters also gathered to send a message to express frustration with the White House’s refusal to take a strong stance against the Mubarak regime and the Egyptian security forces.
The demonstration was organized mostly through Facebook by an ad-hoc group of Egyptian students in the area. The demonstrators gathered at the Egyptian Embassy before spontaneously marching to the White House. A group, already assembled there, cheered as the marchers arrived.
A large Tunisian flag stood side-by-side with an Egyptian flag at the center of the rally, symbolizing the bond between the people’s movements in both Egypt and Tunisia.
The crowd numbered as high as 500.
It was made up largely of Egyptians and people from other Arab nations. All expressed hope that the Tunisian, and now Egyptian, spirit would replicate across the Middle East.
And it may. The rebellion that brought the Tunisian government down almost overnight has inspired the Arab world to action. And while Egypt has been the most significant example, major demonstrations have also been ongoing in Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Algeria, and more recently in Sudan.
In front of the White House, Tunisian, Libyan and Saudi men and women described their hopes to see the revolution spread across the Arab world. “I’m with everyone from Egypt, or Saudi Arabia, or Jordan,” a Palestinian woman told me. “And I’m telling them, it’s coming. It’s coming, although we have to be patient. God willing, we will change it.”
Women’s voices were dominant at the demonstrations in DC, a reflection of women’s participation in the recent Middle East uprisings. “Women have been major actors in these revolutions,” a young woman told me. “It’s incredible. This defies every stereotype of the passive Arab woman… They’re out there, young and old, every race, every religion, fiercely fighting for their rights and the rights of their children.”
As DC demonstrators gathered chanted and cheered, Egyptians deified yet another curfew in order to continue their street presence. Reports came out this weekend that the Egyptian military has been deployed.
The military, however, has so far refused to repress demonstrators. In some cases, soldiers joined the demonstrations. A report from The New York Times describes a group of armored military vehicles that, “…moved at the front of a crowd of thousands of protesters in a pitched battle against Egyptian security police officers defending the Interior Ministry.”
The soldiers allowed demonstrators to take cover behind their vehicles.[i]
Many believe that the success or failure of the protests in Egypt will be determined by whether the soldiers’ shoot at the crowds or not. So far, they have refused.
In Tunisia, two weeks ago, soldiers refused to fight against the popular movement. The dictator then fled. The same fate fell on Slobodan Milosevic, in the movement that toppled his regime in Yugoslavia, in 2000.
With the police dispersing, people across Egypt have been arming themselves with improvised weapons in order to protect their communities against street violence and looting. The reports were described by some gathered in Washington today as the work of Mubarak’s gangs.
“They are paying people to ransack, to intimidate,” an Egyptian woman told me, asking to remain anonymous for fear that her family in Egypt would be targeted. “They are working for the NDP (the ruling National Democratic Party),” she said, “The violence is against the Egyptian people.”
Others I spoke with were frustrated by the double-standards of the U.S. government. “Often the U.S. expresses its support for democracy, but when it caters to its individual interests, it becomes reluctant to express the principles which sometimes it says it stands for,” a young Egyptian man told me, explaining Egypt’s role as an ally to Israel and the U.S. government’s unwavering support for its policies.
A young woman expressed frustration with the same double-standards. “Mubarak is a dictator, and I don’t know why we are not calling him that, and I don’t know why we are continuing to be passive with the regime in Egypt,” she said.
At the end of the demonstration today, a young Egyptian woman asked the crowd to sit and observe a moment of silence for those who had been killed in the streets of her country.
“They could have stayed home, they could have lived a normal life,” she said, her half-gone voice full of emotion, “But instead they went out to the streets to fight for their freedom, for the freedom of all of the Egyptian people.”
A Tunisian man told me he was there because, “Tunisia is free. Egypt is free. And God willing, next time it’s going to be Algeria, Libya. It’s going to be Syria and even Saudi Arabia too.”
The whole world is watching Egypt right now. The results of this movement could have enormous effects on the politics of the Middle East and the ability of the U.S. government to continue pushing its Middle East policies.