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Archive for the ‘Articles in English’ Category

Adam Morrow and Khaled al-Omrani, The Electronic Intifada, 24 February 2010

Activists demonstrate in Cairo against the underground wall being built at the border with Gaza. (Hossam el-Hamalawy)


CAIRO (IPS) – Activists and opposition groups are stepping up pressure on the Egyptian government to stop constructing a barrier along the border with the Gaza Strip. Officials say the barrier will prevent cross-border smuggling, but critics say it will seal the fate of the people on the Gaza Strip.

“The Egyptian border was the only opening left to the Gazans — their only means of staying alive,” Gamal Fahmi, political analyst and managing editor of opposition weekly al-Arabi al-Nassiri, told IPS.

On 13 February, hundreds of activists from across the political spectrum convened in downtown Cairo to protest construction of the barrier. Demonstrators held banners reading: “The wall of shame must come down” and “No to sponsoring Israeli crimes.” The same day also saw anti-wall demonstrations in Lebanese capital Beirut.

Ever since news of the barrier was first reported by Israeli daily Haaretz late last year, officials have attempted to justify it by citing Egypt’s right to protect its national sovereignty and security.

“Egypt has the right to take whatever measures necessary to protect its borders in accordance with prerequisites of Egyptian national security,” presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad said late December. “The sovereignty of Egyptian territories is sacred.”

On 25 January, President Hosni Mubarak declared that the barrier was intended to “protect our nation from terrorist plots.”

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This article was originally published in the Middle East Report Online

This image appeared on Angry Arab's blog

February 1, 2010

In late December 2009, Arab TV channels aired footage of throngs of demonstrators, surrounded by the usual rows of riot police, on the streets of downtown Cairo and in front of foreign embassies. Street protests in Egypt have been sharply curtailed in the last few years, but the scene was familiar to anyone who had been in the country in 2005, when protests against President Husni Mubarak’s regime and in favor of judicial independence were a semi-regular occurrence. Yet there was something unusual about these protesters: They were all foreigners.

The demonstrators were Palestine solidarity activists from 43 countries, and they had come to Egypt planning to cross the Egyptian-controlled Rafah gate into Gaza and participate in the Gaza Freedom March, a peaceful procession to the border of the tiny coastal strip with Israel. The march was scheduled to commemorate the anniversary of Operation Cast Lead — the winter 2008-2009 Israeli military assault that, according to Amnesty International, killed some 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza — and to protest the ongoing international blockade of the territory.

But the international activists, who started arriving in Cairo on December 27, found that the Egyptian authorities had no intention of letting them into Gaza. Bus companies that had been hired to transport the would-be marchers to Rafah were told by state security to cancel their agreements; activists who made their way to the Sinai Peninsula on their own were turned back or detained.

Hence, the protests. Several hundred French activists headed to the French Embassy, where they briefly blocked traffic, and then staged a five-day sit-in on the sidewalk. Americans tried to reach the US Embassy, but were held up by Egyptian security forces and eventually allowed to enter in small groups to confer — fruitlessly — with State Department personnel. The activists also took more creative tacks. Giant Palestinian flags and banners were unfurled on three separate occasions on the steps of the Pyramids. About 30 people undertook a hunger strike, led by 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein.

The Egyptian authorities finally offered to let 100 of the 1,400 internationals into Gaza. On the morning of December 31, after bitterly contentious meetings and a fair amount of soul searching, 85 activists departed; the rest rejected the offer, seeing it as a shallow public relations maneuver antithetical to the march’s fundamental demand: free access to Gaza.

Those still in Cairo held a vigorous, day-long rally in Tahrir Square — just across from the Egyptian Museum — and, later, a candlelit New Year’s Eve vigil. The demonstrators held signs that read “Free Gaza” in English; they alternated chants of “Resistance,” “Viva Palestina,” “We are not afraid” and — in a reproach to the Egyptian police — “Shame on you!” They were hemmed in by large contingents of state security forces, who shooed away curious passersby and aggressively discouraged media coverage.

Then, a few days after the Gaza Freedom Marchers left Egypt, another convoy of internationals going by the name Viva Palestina — made up of hundreds of volunteers and vehicles delivering medical aid — reached the Sinai port of al-‘Arish. They entered Gaza on January 6, after clashes with police left 50 activists injured.[1] A Palestinian protest at the border in support of the convoy also turned violent, leaving one Egyptian border guard dead and several Palestinians wounded.

The rallies and aid delegations took place a few weeks after the discovery that the Egyptian authorities have commenced building a subterranean steel wall along the border with Gaza, in order to block the tunnels that Gazans have used to undercut the international embargo upon their territory. Quickly dubbed “the wall of death” by Hamas officials and “the wall of shame” by Egyptian critics, this latest measure to enforce the blockade of Gaza has sparked another heated round of recrimination in Egypt and the Arab world. The debate over the barrier, the foreign protesters in Cairo, the clashes near the Gaza border — all this has focused renewed, intense and, as far as the Mubarak regime is concerned, unwelcome attention on Egypt’s policies toward the besieged Palestinian enclave.

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Ahmed Moor, The Electronic Intifada, 21 January 2010

Egypt is constructing a subterranean wall along the border with Gaza. (The Electronic Intifada)

Egypt is constructing a subterranean wall along the border with Gaza. (The Electronic Intifada)

The Campaign to Stop the Wall of Shame, a newly-formed activist movement based in Beirut, Lebanon, held a press conference this morning to publicize the Arab Contractors construction company’s role in the building of an underground steel wall along the Egypt-Gaza border.

Since June 2006, following the Palestinian legislative elections, Israel has imposed nearly total closure of the Gaza Strip — also enforced by Egypt — preventing the normal movement of goods and people to and from the territory. A smuggling trade has emerged as a result, via tunnels running between Gaza and Egypt. Egypt’s construction of the underground border wall is designed to undermine the tunnel trade, cutting off Palestinians in Gaza from what has become a lifeline.

The alleged role of Arab Contractors in assembling the steel wall was first reported by Al-Jazeera and Egyptian journalist Lina Attalah. Local sources identified the Egyptian company by name. According to the BBC, the wall’s steel panels were engineered and manufactured in the US. Press reports also implicate French engineers in the construction of the wall.

The campaign has attempted to independently confirm the company’s role in constructing and assembling the wall. After an initial call to the company’s Cairo headquarters, activist Abir Saksouk-Sasso sent a letter to the company on 8 January 2010. On 12 January, activist Rania Masri received a call from the Egyptian Embassy’s Consul General in Beirut, Ahmad Hilmi, who said of Arab Contractors’ role in the building of the wall: “It is an Egyptian government company, and [building the wall] is an Egyptian decree.”

Responding to the campaign’s concerns about the subterranean wall’s impact on the population of the besieged Gaza Strip, Hilmi said, “We have never hurt Palestinians.” He added, “All Palestinians — each one — in Gaza is fine.”

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