A PROTEST in Egypt on Friday of last week defied the wrath of the security forces.
About 200 Egyptians joined a convoy taking humanitarian aid to Rafah—a city surrounded by Palestinian refugee camps, straddling the border between Egypt and the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip.
The convoy of coaches was halted at the border of the North Sinai governorate, where activists held a march. Public protests are illegal in Egypt, and this one came at a tense moment.
The Egyptian government has recently been forging closer links with the Israeli government.
But this did not stop the Israeli military from shooting three Egyptian police patrolling the border last month.
The Egyptian activists gained confidence from the presence of international delegations in the convoy. They came from Britain, France, Greece, Turkey, and other countries, in response to the organisers’ calls for solidarity.
The aid delivered by the convoy—hundreds of tonnes of food and thousands of blankets—was allowed through to Rafah. Meanwhile activists sang and chanted their way up to the security forces’ lines. Slogans included “Intifada until victory” and “Viva Palestina”.
As it became clear that the road was being blocked, the protesters began chanting “Take the soldiers away”. The security forces were aggressive, pushing forward until an elderly demonstrator suffered a heart attack.
Some of those who marched were veterans of the great strikes and protests of the 1940s. Others had fought in the 1973 war to liberate the Sinai peninsula from Israeli control.
They pointed out that the convoy was stopped at the exact limit of the Egyptian advance in 1973.
As well as expressing solidarity with the Palestinians, the protest tapped into wider discontent with the Egyptian regime. Some protesters raised slogans like “The World Bank won’t rule us” and “No more price rises”.
Signs of new resistance in Cairo
On Sunday the People’s Committee for Change organised a second, 1,000-strong, protest. It took place in the capital, Cairo, under the slogan “Enough. No more extension. No more hereditary succession.”
President Hosni Mubarak plans to extend his 23-year reign with elections in November 2005. To stand, a candidate needs two thirds of the MPs to nominate them, and as each MP can only nominate a single candidate this means Mubarak will be unopposed.
He is also grooming his son, Gamal Mubarak, to succeed him. The demonstration, held outside the supreme court, was a collaboration between radical pan-Arab nationalists and socialists.
It was also the first protest to openly challenge Mubarak. The security forces responded by sending two police for every protester.
Mohammed Waked from the Egyptian Anti-Globalisation Group says, “We thought they would refuse to allow the protest to go ahead. It would have been unthinkable five years ago.
“People have been mobilised by the imperialist acts in the region. And in Egypt Mubarak has implemented very harsh neo-liberal policies, leading to sharp rises in the prices of food and water.
“But people now know they can say something about it—they learnt this through supporting Palestine and Iraq.”
There is a sense in Egypt that the protests mark the birth of a new movement.
The third international Cairo conference against US aggression takes place in March and will be an opportunity for Egyptian activists to forge links with the international movement.
Additional reporting: Anne Ashford, Dan Mayer, Colin Smith and Kate Connelly
For more on the Cairo Conference go to www.stopwar.org.uk