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Cairo's Fear of Boomerang Effect: Suppressing Protests for Palestine

Cairo's Fear of Boomerang Effect: Suppressing Protests for Palestine

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On Tuesday, April 23rd, protesters in Cairo were detained while participating in a peaceful demonstration in support of women in Sudan and Gaza. Ironically, this event coincided with Sinai Liberation Day.

This was anticipated, given Egypt's history of suppressing protests since 2013, under Sisi. This is not the first time that activists have been arrested for showing support for Palestine since the conflict began last October. In early April, Demonstrators assembled outside the Journalists Syndicate in downtown Cairo to denounce the Zionist aggression towards Palestine. The government accused the protesters of spreading false information and of belonging to a terror group – accusations that are used in almost every instance of the government suppressing free speech.

In this most recent wave of arrests, the protestors were all women, protesting in solidarity with other women. Among the protesters were notorious figures in Egyptian revolutionary society, such as Eman Ouf, Rasha Azab, Mahienour El-Masry, Ragia Omran‌ and Lobna Darwish. The feminist activists involved assembled outside the regional headquarters of UN Women in Cairo. According to the organization, UN Women is responsible for promoting gender equality and empowering women as a United Nations entity. However, it was the UN office that alerted the police to the protestors. Witnesses reported that the security personnel stationed at the UN Women offices physically attacked the activists participating in the demonstration. The detainees were released the day after their arrest.

UN Women works to promote gender equality and empower women as a United Nations entity. However, it was the UN office that alerted the police to the all-female protestors standing outside their offices in solidarity with the women of Sudan and Gaza. 

Despite expressing their disapproval of Israel's repeated public statements about relocating displaced Gazans to Egypt, and requesting greater assistance from the US in securing the border, Cairo has not taken direct action against the Israeli aggression since it started, over six months ago. This has led to significant frustration and resentment amongst Egyptians.

Although it claims otherwise, Egypt has played a role in the blockade on Gazans. The majority of those who have been able to cross the borders hold dual citizenship in both Palestine and Egypt. Others have had to gather an exorbitant amount of money in order to leave, due to the actions of Ibrahim Al-Organi, a leader of a government-approved militia in the Sinai region. Since the start of the Gaza war, Organi has had significant control over the movement of people and goods between Gaza and Egypt through his companies. One of these companies, Hala, charges Palestinians thousands of dollars to help them leave Gaza. It has strong ties to the Egyptian security forces.

A majority of Arabs generally regard Israel as a representation of tyranny. Egyptians have voiced their disapproval towards their government for granting Israel any control in the transportation of crucial aid into Gaza through an Egyptian border crossing. Sisi fears the boomerang effect, as speaking out about the Palestinian issue during protests might motivate the public to rally against him, which did in fact occur last October.

State controlled protests?

In October, Sisi's authoritarian regime allowed the public to express their frustrations, by calling on people to gather in the streets. According to an article by The Tahrir Institute For Middle East Policy: “State-controlled media called on people to congregate in certain locations on October 20, to show support both for Gaza and the president. However, at least one of the demonstrations strayed from this state-approved scenario, as it made its way to the iconic Tahrir Square, after starting at Al Azhar Mosque. Videos of the demonstrations showed police trying, to no avail, to prevent people from reaching Tahrir Square. It was the first time demonstrations had reached the iconic square in 10 years.” According to Human Rights Watch, following the demonstrations, the Egyptian authorities unlawfully arrested and charged numerous peaceful protesters.

Egypt has played a role in the blockade on Gazans. The majority of those who have been able to cross the borders hold dual citizenship in both Palestine and Egypt, while others have had to gather an exorbitant amount of money in order to leave.

The people of Egypt stand firmly behind Palestine and the movement for Palestinian liberation. As my 89-year-old grandmother from Alexandria often says, "The Palestinian cause runs in our blood. I watched The Nakba unfold in my youth, and I was left confused about why there were masses of people crying on our streets. It wasn't until I grew up that I truly understood the ugliness of it all. I saw what the occupation was capable of after I saw my brother-in-law return from war in 1967, bloodied and in ripped clothes, only to enter his room and start hysterically crying."

The death of Egyptian cinema?

In ‌recent years, Egyptian cinema has died. Sisi founded the United Media Services Company, which oversees all creative, TV, and news production in the country. It is under the control of the General Intelligence Agency, giving the military a significant impact on artistic creation. Prior to this, many iconic examples of Egyptian film and television touched on the Palestinian issue. One of the most well-known films in contemporary Egyptian cinema that addresses the Palestinian conflict is El Sefara Fel Omara. This film follows the journey of Engineer Sharif Khairi, who is compelled to come back to Egypt after two decades of working for an oil company in Dubai. To his surprise, he finds out that the Israeli embassy is situated right next to his apartment. Initially, he attempts to sell the property, but his unsuccessful attempts lead him to handle the situation in a different manner.

Egyptian cinema died after Sisi founded the United Media Services Company, under the control of the General Intelligence Agency, which now oversees all creative, TV, and news production in the country. Prior to this, many iconic examples of Egyptian cinema touched on the Palestinian issue, like the much-celebrated El Sefara Fel Omara.

The cause is deeply ingrained in the cultural identity of many Egyptians. In an article published by Spectre Journal, Hossam El-Hamalawy writes, “The Egyptian regime’s position is understandable if one takes into consideration how the powers in Cairo perceive the Palestinians: as a source of threat, instability, and inspiration for Egyptians to revolt. The Palestinian cause has always been a radicalizing factor for the Egyptian public. Most, if not all, turning points in the history of dissent of the most populous Arab nation were, either directly or indirectly, the product of a chain reaction triggered by Palestinian resistance and popular mobilization.”

As Egyptians and Palestinians continue to be oppressed, occasionally by the same people, it is important to continue speaking up as the silencing won’t last. As long as Egyptians and Palestinians are facing oppression, sometimes from the same oppressors, it is crucial to keep raising our voices because the attempt to silence us will not last. Such silencing will only come back to harm those who tried to silence us, creating a boomerang effect where their efforts backfire and push us further toward the opposite side. The Egyptian population is fully aware of their oppression at this moment, yet they opt to remain silent in order to simply exist. Suppressing peaceful demonstrations in support of a deeply ingrained cause is a clear indication of the corrupt Egyptian government.

The events of the 23rd of April in Cairo serve as a powerful memory of Egypt's continuous battle with opposition and oppression during President Sisi's rule. The arrest of nonviolent demonstrators, particularly women advocating for marginalized groups in Sudan, Gaza‌ and other places, highlights the government's forceful methods and its unwillingness to address urgent matters such as the Palestinian issue. Despite efforts to suppress dissenting voices, the perseverance of Egyptians and their steadfast support for Palestine remains strong. As the fight for freedom continues, so does the resolve to speak up against injustice, even when faced with challenges and suppression.

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