Rallying solidarity for Egypt

January 31, 2011

Thousands of people in cities around the U.S. attended demonstrations this weekend in solidarity with the revolt in Egypt. Elizabeth Schulte rounds up some of the actions.

NEWS OF the revolution unfolding in Egypt inspired demonstrations across the U.S. this weekend calling for an end to Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule--and in support of the people taking the streets in Egypt.

The protests emphasized the contagious power of solidarity--connecting the people of many countries, men and women, and people from different ethnic and religious groups--to topple totalitarian rulers. As one Chicago protester's sign read, "1. Ben Ali 2. Mubarak 3. Coming soon."

Or as signs in many other cities said simply: "We are all Egyptians."

In addition to adding their voices of solidarity, protesters saw this as their opportunity to point out the U.S. government's complicity in Mubarak's crimes, as Washington has provided billions in funding for the regime. More than one protester pointed out that the tear-gas canisters being fired at Egyptian demonstrators had "Made in U.S.A." clearly printed on them.

In New York City, about 2,000 people protested in front of the United Nations building on January 29 as part of the quickly organized International Day of Solidarity with the Egyptian People. Among the chants in Arabic and English was "Hey, Mubarak. Hey, Mubarak. Saudi Arabia is waiting for you!"

Thousands of demonstrators came out in New York City to show their solidarity with the revolt in Egypt
Thousands of demonstrators came out in New York City to show their solidarity with the revolt in Egypt (Hadas Thier | SW)

Protesters drew the connection between the struggle of the Egyptian people and the struggle against U.S. empire around the globe. The demonstration, organized by an ad-hoc coalition of groups, was comprised of a diverse crowd of Egyptians, Arabs, U.S. leftists and others.

Suzanne of Al-Awda, the Palestine Right of Return Coalition, spoke movingly about how the Mubarak government's emergency laws, enacted on the back of the U.S. government's war on terror, have been used to repress the Egyptian people and to keep the Palestinian people in Gaza locked in open-air prison.

The impact of the uprising in Egypt on the struggle of the Palestinian people was much discussed today, just as the inspiring struggle of the Tunisian people was recognized as having led the way for the Egyptian uprising. The idea that this is just the beginning of a broader struggle of the people of the region against their repressive governments left the participants of today's rally inspired.

In Chicago, as many as 2,000 protesters squeezed into an enormous picket line on the sidewalk in front of the Egyptian consulate to demand the resignation of Mubarak and an end to U.S. aid to Egypt.

Demonstrators came from as far away as Indianapolis and Des Moines, Iowa--many alongside their families after finding out about the protest through Facebook or their mosque or community group. Chants of "Brick by brick, wall by wall, we will see Mubarak fall" rang out onto downtown Chicago's busy shopping area on Michigan Avenue.

An Egyptian-American protester named Efraim drove to Chicago from Champaign-Urbana along with members of his family. "I'm here because this is a new beginning, not just for our brothers and sisters in Egypt, but for every person everywhere that has had enough--enough of no jobs, no food, no rights, no future," he said. "It's time for a new beginning for my father and sister in Port Said, but also for my daughter here."

Several speakers highlighted the futility of Mubarak's attempts to "reshuffle the deck chairs" atop his sinking regime, citing economic immiseration as the engine driving the protests.

"About 50 percent of Egyptians live on under $2 a day," said a representative of the American Muslims for Palestine. "So Hosni Mubarak can come on any press conference and say as much as he'd like--that he's going to get rid of everybody in the government, and that he's going to get rid of all of this corruption, but these are just the symptoms."

Several rally speakers drew attention to the hypocrisy of the contradictory position U.S. officials have so far taken on the revolt in Egypt.

"Obama said that he's on the side of democracy and human rights...but every tear gas canister, every tank that we see in the streets of Egypt, that's paid for by the American government," said the International Socialist Organization's Shaun Harkin. "Why has he not cut off the $2 billion that the U.S. government gives the Egyptian government every year?"

In Washington, D.C., 700 people of all ages and backgrounds gathered outside the Egyptian embassy for a solidarity rally on January 29. Egyptians and Egyptian-Americans led the rally, and a sizable contingent of Tunisians was there, as well as students from area high schools and colleges.

The crowd quickly overflowed the small area of street between the embassies of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and after rallying for several hours, the crowd relocated their protest to the White House. Most people drove or took the Metro, but hundreds marched the four miles downtown, taking over half of Connecticut Avenue as their ranks swelled to more than 300. As marchers met others at the White House, the combined rally came to over 1,000.

The previous day, 75 people rallied at the White House in support of the Egyptian protesters, and another rally was planned for the next day.

In Los Angeles, some 400 people rallied on January 29 at the Federal Building in support of the Egyptian revolution and called on the U.S. government to withdraw its aid and backing of the Mubarak regime.

Organized through Facebook and other social media by Egyptian-American youth, the crowd brought out families, students and workers in joyous support of the protests in Egypt. Handmade signs carried messages from "Mubarak = Liar, criminal, dictator" to "Obama, don't disappoint the Egyptian people."

Nadine, a young Egyptian-American, summed up the feelings of protesters:

First, we want Mubarak out. We want real elections, real change and real democracy. Obama is doing nothing to stop the corrupt regime. We are here in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the streets of Egypt. Revolution is not going to be pretty, but it's about damn time.

Earlier in the day, a group of 30 rallied in front of the office of the Egyptian consul in Los Angeles with the same message. Protesters carried signs that read, "Jail Mubarak, not the protesters," "Free Egypt" and "Egypt's Repression Made in the USA."

"The over a billion dollars that the U.S. spends to support the Mubarak regime's war on its own people could be spent on schools or jobs at home," said Sarah, a high school teacher.

"We're here to tell the consul that we're here to stay: Mubarak must step down," said Sami Wassef of the Arab American Press Guild. "Obama went to Egypt in 2009 to offer his hand in friendship. We say Obama, its time to take your hands off our necks!"

In San Francisco, 400 loud and energetic people attended a demonstration and march in downtown. The crowd was made up of long-time activists as well as people new to protesting, young and old. The Arab-American community was well represented.

After an opening rally at Montgomery and Market, protesters marched to UN Plaza carrying signs that read, "Which part of step down can I help you understand?" "U.S. security aid kills Egyptian people" and "Mubarak, you're fired--Signed, the Egyptian people" and chanting, "1-2-3-4, get Mubarak out the door." Motorists honked their approval.

One marcher echoed the overwhelming sentiment of protesters: "Mubarak must go, his prime minister must leave, his party must leave." Another man who said he had recently traveled to Tunisia, said, "They can't stop the revolution."

At the closing rally, Imam Abdul Malik declared, "We are all Egyptians, we are all Algerians, we are all Tunisians, we are all Jordanians." He had a message for the Obama administration as well: "If Obama continues to support Hosni Mubarak, he will be on the wrong side of history."

Behind the stage, a handful of protesters stood waving Egyptian flags atop a statue of South American revolutionary Simón Bolivar on horseback.

In Seattle, 200 people turned out in the pouring rain on less than 24 hours notice to show solidarity with the Egyptian protesters. Chants of "Mubarak must go!" and "No justice, no peace!" carried the day during the lively three-hour picket, and people also tried new chants that matched the hopes of many protesters--"Egyptians don't have amnesia, we'll kick out Mubarak just like Tunisia!"

The idea of a solidarity rally began with an e-mail discussion among five people who hadn't even met face to face. They decided to call a rally and posted it on Facebook, where it quickly spread. From there, it also spread via word of mouth with announcements made at local mosques.

One of the organizers, Abu Bakhach, said: "We are opposed to the Egyptian government, but we are in awe of the Egyptian people right now. We reject any interference from the U.S. government under the guise of help and support and understanding of the Egyptian people.

"We recognize that that Western powers, driven by the capitalist ideology, have only ideology as their criteria for making decisions and supporting people. The government of Egypt is one of the most corrupt regimes in the world, yet it is the second largest recipient of U.S. aid."

In Austin, Texas, 250 people gathered at the State Capitol Saturday to demonstrate solidarity with the democratic uprising in Egypt and across the Arab world. The event was called by the International Socialist Organization, co-sponsored by the Palestine Solidarity Committee, and organized with the Arab and Muslim communities and peace activists in Austin.

The demonstration brought together people from many different countries and backgrounds, including Turks, Palestinians, Egyptians, Tunisians, Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians and Mexicans. The crowd chanted in Arabic and English, "Hey Mubarak, you will see--Egypt will be free," "Mubarak, Saudi Arabia is waiting for you" and "Hey, Obama, you will see. Mubarak will fall like Ben Ali."

The mass uprising over the past few days not only in Egypt but also in Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan and Algeria, is of massive significance. "The Tunisian and Egyptian people have dictators shaking in their boots from fear with what the people can do," said socialist Snehal Shingavi.

"These events could be the beginning of the end for the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq," he added. "They will transform forever the way the U.S. can protect its power. They expose U.S. support for every vile dictator. They expose the vicious complicity of the state of Israel. People are calling for democracy. They know which side Israel is on."

A speaker from the Palestine Solidarity Committee stated to cheers, "If Rafah falls, Gaza will no longer be under siege."

Egyptians and others in the crowd said that the incredible turnout and energy of the rally was inspiring and gratifying. Nahed Abel Rahman, who has family in Egypt, said that the rally made her "feel like we are in the right. People are supporting democracy and human rights. I feel happy today."

Activists in these cities and more are already planning more protests for the coming days and weeks, as well as community meetings and speak-outs on campuses to built yet more solidarity for the people of Egypt, and to hold the U.S. government accountable.

Michael Chase, Dana Cloud, Cindy Kaffen, Jon Kurinsky, Mariano Silva, Rachel Wilsey and Zach Zill contributed to this article.

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