Solidarity with Tahrir Square

February 7, 2011

Elizabeth Schulte rounds up reports of actions in solidarity with the Egyptian people.

THOUSANDS TURNED out in cities across the U.S. for marches and rallies on a pivotal weekend for the Egyptian revolt to show their solidarity and to call for an end to the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak.

From New York to San Francisco, events were timed to coincide with "Day of Departure" protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square on February 4--to send a message to the people of Egypt that we stand with them, and that we will hold the U.S. government accountable too.

In New York City, students at Hunter College in New York organized their own Tahrir Square--or "Liberation Square"--on the campus's main walkway. They created a place for students to discuss the Egyptian revolt and show their solidarity, projecting five hours of videos and the live stream from Al Jazeera, plus distributing information sheets and literature about the Middle East.

"We decided to create a Liberation Square at Hunter College in order to raise awareness about the pro-democracy movement in Egypt, especially in the wake of Mubarak's crackdown on journalists and the internet," said Hunter student Owen Hill. "All eyes should be on Egypt right now because a victory for them is a victory for all of us. We will continue to organize Liberation Squares until Mubarak steps down. We call on other campuses to do the same."

A San Francisco demonstration in solidarity with the Egyptian revolution
A San Francisco demonstration in solidarity with the Egyptian revolution (Jeffrey Boyette | SW)

Activists collected more than 250 signatures on a petition to cut U.S. funding to Mubarak.

This was one event in a flurry of protests this week in New York. On Monday, January 31, as many as 1,000 people protested outside the Egyptian consulate.

Two days later, 300 to 400 protesters turned out for a protest organized by the Palestinian solidarity group Existence is Resistance. The event was originally called as a response to a potential attack from Israel, but blossomed into a response to the attack on protesters by Mubarak's thugs.

On Friday, February 4, as many as 5,000 people gathered for a march to coincide with "Day of Departure" protests. The mood was jubilant following the mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square, with protesters crowded onto sidewalks, chanting "Hey, hey, ho, ho! Mubarak must go!" as they marched to the Egyptian consulate.

"It's been a stressful time, but it's been an exciting time," protester Nancy El Shami told CBS New York. "It has broken this great barrier of fear that has shackled them for the past 30 years."

Protesters were clear--now is the time for Mubarak to go. "I am here to tell President Mubarak--step down. Thirty years is enough," Ibrahim Musba told Agence France Presse.

Some protesters stressed the importance of putting pressure on the Obama administration, pointing out the U.S. government's long history and hypocritical funding of Mubarak's dictatorship, even while it claims to foster "democracy" around the world.

Protesters didn't stop with this huge outpouring of support for the Egyptian revolt. The next day, another 200 people braved freezing rain to protest again at the UN in a rally organized by the Egyptian Association for Change.

While smaller than Friday's protest, it provided an opportunity for protesters to address the crowd. People gathered around for several hours to hear people speak about their experience under the Mubarak dictatorship, their hopes for Egypt's future and stories about family members there.

In San Francisco, protesters also organized a demonstration to stand with the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, with 3,000 people coming out for a multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-generational demonstration in UN Plaza on February 5.

Many of the people who attended the demonstration spoke of the courage of the Egyptian people and what that example means for organizing movements in the U.S. Protesters held signs that read "Free Egypt, Jail Mubarak"and "Our tax dollars support dictatorship in Egypt."

Activists led chants from a truck at the front of the march, as the protest made its way through downtown, stopping briefly at City Hall where protesters stood on the steps, holding a banner that read "Long Live the Do-It-Yourself Revolution," printed in English and Arabic.

Protesters chanted "Down, down with Mubarak! Up, up with the Egyptian people!" and "1-2-3-4 Kick Mubarak out the door!" At one point, someone in the crowd began chanting in Spanish "Mubarak out! When?" as the crowd answered back, "Now!"

During the closing rally, an Egyptian activist read a letter from a participant in the struggle in Cairo who described life and death in Tahrir Square. An activist from Women of Color Against Violence described how a woman in Egypt, who was pursued by police while she attempted to get medical supplies for the wounded, defiantly declared Egyptians would never go back to the way things were.

Los Angeles saw a weekend of protest that brought out hundreds of people in solidarity with the international day of mobilization for the people's movement in Egypt.

On Saturday, at the Federal Building in West Los Angeles, more than 300 people carried signs in English, Arabic and Spanish, including "Todos Somos Tahrir," "No U.S. aid to Mubarak" and "Obama stop the massacre--arrest Mubarak." Speakers and participants pointed out that the Obama administration bears responsibility for the deadly assaults on pro-democracy protesters by refusing to call out Mubarak and to cut off U.S. funding.

Many people also drew connections to the fight for Palestinian liberation--and the hope that this already contagious revolt will spread further. "We stand by the Egyptian people. Their cause is our cause," said one Palestinian protester. "I hope the Palestinian people will be inspired to free themselves from their leaders who are selling them out."

"We will be returning here to protest as long as the brave people of Egypt are protesting," announced rally organizer Mohammed.

On Sunday, more than 100 gathered at the Egyptian consulate office in Los Angeles with the same message--solidarity among people fighting against oppression. "The Egyptian revolution did more than just get a country to stand together for democracy, but it also brought two religions, Christians and Muslims, in one unity," pointed out Antoinette, an Egyptian-American activist. "This will be a lasting unity."

In Washington, D.C., on Saturday, as many as 600 people showed up for the second straight week at the Egyptian embassy to call for the end of the Mubarak regime.

The energy was high despite the cold, rainy weather. "The people in Tahrir Square are out there everyday sacrificing their lives for the future of Egypt," said a young protester. "It's the least we can do to show solidarity in support." She added, "We also have a critical position as Americans to support the cutoff of aid to the Mubarak regime."

Chants not only included calls for the ousting of Mubarak but also the ousting of Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's recently appointed vice president. Slogans rang out in English and Arabic, and organizers passed out sheets for those who didn't speak Arabic on how to say the chants.

Before protesters started to march to the White House, about a quarter of the crowd joined in prayers, first for Muslims and then for Christians--a sign of solidarity that echoed the solidarity in Tahrir Square.

The crowd marched down Connecticut Avenue, taking up two lanes with chants of "We will be here every day, until Mubarak goes away!" They aren't lying, as there were solidarity protest outside the White House or the Embassy every day last week. On Friday, some 300 people turned out.

In Chicago, hundreds turned out in frigid temperatures on Friday night to show solidarity with Egyptian protesters and to call for an end to the Mubarak regime.

Protesters representing several Arab and peace groups gathered across the street from the Egyptian Consulate downtown. Chants of "Brick by brick, we will see Mubarak fall" rang out as organizers called out "Let's make sure they hear you in Cairo, but at least let them hear you in D.C."

"Today, Chris Matthews of MSNBC talked about how ashamed he was that the U.S. was betraying its friend Hosni Mubarak," said one speaker. "Well, shame on you, Chris Matthews, shame on you! You should be ashamed that we betray our democratic principles."

In San Diego, over 300 demonstrators rallied today in front of the Federal Building, the main U.S. government complex in San Diego.

A diverse group turned out. Egyptians, Tunisians, Palestinians and Algerians joined Anglo, Mexican and Philippine Americans, old, young and in between, to carry signs and chant in English, Arabic and Spanish.

"All the people to uprise against the government--something we thought would never happen," said Noha Salem, a young Egyptian woman. "As an Egyptian, I am so inspired by these youth in Egypt who are struggling against oppression.

"But what's more important here, and this I think is very inspirational, this is not a political movement, it's not a religious movement, it's not a Western movement, it's not a Christian movement. What this is is a human rights movement."

Palestinian activist Nasser Barghouti said:

Today, we are all Egyptians. The U.S. media is still confusing people about what's going on in Egypt. It's a massive popular revolution of the best kind. It is one of the most popular revolutions in Egyptian history. This is one of the most momentous revolutions in all of history. It will change the world.

It is extremely important to understand that the Egyptian revolution will shape the Arab world. The Arab people are now speaking for themselves. Please listen to them. No one needs to interpret what they are saying--not Hillary Clinton, not Nicolas Sarkozy. The U.S. pays Egypt to prop up the police and the secret police. We saw exactly what they did several days ago. They attacked protestors. That is U.S. government policy.

The demonstration was initiated by the International Socialist Organization, and endorsed by numerous other groups, including Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, UCSD Students for Justice in Palestine, San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice and others.

In Austin, Texas, 300 people demonstrated on February 5 at the Texas State Capitol before marching to the Congress Street Bridge. The protest was a sea of Tunisian, Egyptian and Palestinian flags.

Arab youth and women led chants in English and Arabic, such as "We aren't going. He is going," "Hey, Obama, you will see. We are for democracy" and "No justice, no peace, U.S. out of the Middle East."

Speakers at the event emphasized the importance of the Tunisian uprising as inspiration for Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. "What happened in Tunisia has been a long time coming," said Roy Casagrandra, an Egyptian activist. "U.S. imperialism and its support for crony dictators who conspire in the hoarding of capital wealth have created a life that is intolerable.

"We are sick of wars of oppression and billions of dollars for dictatorships. Now we have a situation where potential democratic societies can challenge U.S. foreign policy."

Another theme was the rejection of the West's deployment of Islamophobia to discredit the revolution in Egypt and the spreading democracy movement. Socialist Snehal Shingavi commented, "We must fight against the vicious fear of Islam. We must prove in the U.S. that there is no excuse for antidemocratic wars for Empire. The biggest threat to democracy around the world is not Islam--It is the United States."

In Amherst, Mass., nearly 300 people marched and rallied, despite sleet and freezing rain. The march was called by the Western Mass Coalition for Palestine and cosponsored by 12 student and community groups, including antiwar, Palestine and Darfur solidarity groups, and socialists.

Marchers chanted, "Hey Obama, take a stand, hands off Egypt is our demand" while marching through the center of town from the University of Massachusetts to rally at Amherst College. Several speakers called for an end to U.S. aid to the Mubarak regime and to make connections to struggles in Palestine, Sudan, Iraq and elsewhere throughout the region.

With so many activist groups cosponsoring, the event marks a step forward for building a movement in solidarity with the spreading Arab revolt in North Africa and the Middle East.

In Portland, Ore., 250 people came out Saturday to Pioneer Square to express solidarity with Egypt's pro-democracy protesters. The crowd was very multiracial, which is rare in Portland, with more than half of protesters being Arab, and a large portion of them Egyptian.

The incredibly spirited crowd chanted for about two hours, as children and adults alike ran around and waved Egyptian flags. Chants included "Mubarak must go!" "Hey, Portland you will see. Egypt, Egypt will be free!" "No more pharaohs" and "USA, USA, let Egyptians have their way." The Egyptian national anthem was sung more than once.

In Hartford, Conn., more than 100 people took to the streets in support of the pro-democracy movement in Egypt. The crowd included dozens of Arabs and Muslims, including Egyptian-Americans and immigrants. Egyptian students from the University of Connecticut, in conjunction with Council on American-Islamic Relations-CT, called the demonstration, which was also endorsed by CT United for Peace and other progressive organizations.

Freezing rain and icy sidewalks did not deter the demonstrators as they marched from the State Capitol to the Federal Building half a mile away. Activists passed around a sign-up sheet to set up a Committee to Defend Egypt, which will meet to plan future actions.

In Pittsburgh, more than 100 activists rallied and marched through the rain in solidarity with the Egyptian people on February 5. Speakers and songwriters engaged the audience in a pre-march rally on the University of Pittsburgh campus, followed by a spirited march through the Oakland neighborhood. Demonstrators were greeted by horn blasts and shouts of support from passing motorists and students.

In Burlington, Vt., 70 activists came out in knee-deep snow to take part in the International Day of Solidarity with Egypt. The rally in front of the Burlington offices of Sen. Patrick Leahy was buoyed by Vermont's Egyptian community coming out and leading the rally in Arabic chants.

A teach-in about America's wars in the Middle East and the current revolution spreading throughout the region is being planned for the coming weeks.

Michael Chase, Dana Cloud, Tim Gaughan, Rick Greenblatt, Andrea Hektor, Brian Igo, Naveen Jaganathan, Cindy Kaffen, Gary Lapon, Jim Ramey, Jen Roesch and Brian Ward contributed to this article.

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