June 29, 2005

WHEN CONDI COMES TO TOWN:

Marching in Cairo, because enough is enough (Mona Eltahawy, JUNE 29, 2005, International Herald Tribune)

I arrived in Cairo as another American was visiting. Condoleezza Rice was in town on her first trip as U.S. secretary of state. Saying that peaceful democracy supporters should be free from violence, Rice regretted the assaults of May 25, describing it as a "sad day."

Two days later, I was marching with Alaa, Manal and about 300 fellow Egyptians through the working-class neighborhood of Shubra, shouting "Down down with Hosni Mubarak." Riot police that had confined previous demonstrations to one spot were nowhere to be seen.

Emboldened, protesters who had begun the demonstration on a street corner pushed ahead and for the first time since the anti-Mubarak protests began, took their message to the street.

"You might have a point about Rice's speech," Alaa said, grinning and taking pictures.

I had asked him over lunch if he thought U.S. pressure would help Egypt's reformers. He said he was less concerned with simple regime change to replace Mubarak than with changing Egypt's political system from the bottom up. Only Egyptians could do that, Alaa said.

True, but that did not stop demonstrators from injecting their chants with the humor we Egyptians pride ourselves on: "Give Mubarak a visa and take him with you, Condoleezza."

About 100 Mubarak supporters marched in parallel to us. Only a thin white line of traffic police separated them from us. The police officer's only battle was to help buses full of stunned passengers snake their way through our march. I have never seen anything like it in Cairo.

It reminded me of a photograph of a demonstration in London that has earned a place in our family album. My parents took it when they first arrived in London. They had never seen police lining the streets to open roads for protesters.

But demonstrations and a thriving political culture are there in the collective memory of Egyptians. In returning to Cairo to march with Alaa, Manal and all the other Egyptians who weekly violate emergency laws that bar demonstrations, I was walking in the steps of my grandfather, who was arrested for protesting against the British occupation of Egypt more than 70 years ago.

The Mubarak supporters hurled taunts of "Traitors!" our way. But our shouting drowned out their tired regime line that we were any less Egyptian for calling for reform.

"We're here to help break the barrier of fear," a fellow protester said as he ushered us away from traffic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 29, 2005 8:20 AM
Comments

True, but that did not stop demonstrators from injecting their chants with the humor we Egyptians pride ourselves on: "Give Mubarak a visa and take him with you, Condoleezza."

Should have said "Condi".

Posted by: Ptah at June 29, 2005 4:36 PM
« BUT 40% AGREE WITH US! (via Kevin Whited): | Main | SEND 'EM TO SANKATY: »