I’m sure its going to take me some time to process everything that has happened in Cairo with the Gaza Freedom March over the past week or so but here are some of my initial thoughts and feelings. Bear in mind, these are my own opinions and reflections and they surely are not the same as the 1300 other people who were in Cairo. So for what its worth – here it goes:
This whole political experience here with CODEPINK, for me, has been honestly disappointing and angering. I’m going to be honest here, I did not participate in many of the protests that took place in Cairo because I had serious issues with the way everything was being handled and the way that the March really seemed to have fallen apart and unraveled once everyone realized that our chances of getting into Gaza were really slim to none. From the very first meeting that was held in Tahrir Square, the individuals who were going to be staying in Gaza longer (past January 2nd) were told to not participate in any of these demonstrations because if we did somehow come up with a way to get into Gaza, if we had any record or history with problems with the Egyptians – this would effectively eliminate any chance of us getting in. People told us to completely “disassociate from the March” and that because Egypt is not a democracy, “nothing we do will change their minds” – which sadly, ended up being quite true despite how often people demonstrated, were barricaded in by people, and some even beaten up. Moral of the story: This is not the U.S., they don’t care that you’re Americans, and we did not fly thousands of miles to protest in Egypt.
Aside from this though, there were so many critical problems with the way things were being done and decisions were being made that I really felt uncomfortable with doing anything that GFM was doing in Cairo.
I felt as though there was no insight to the way the Egyptian government works, or the greater public opinion in Egypt, at all. We cannot simply think that a country, who has religiously served the agenda of the U.S. and Israel, will do a complete 360 and open the borders when a group of activists show up, no matter how big. Anyone who has any familiarity with the politics of this conflict, know that Egypt’s role in ensuring the Palestinian suffering is not a new or novel concept. Given that, the fact that CODEPINK did not prepare for the very unsurprising setback that Egypt delivered by closing its borders, really baffled me. When we got news on Monday, that the borders were going to be closed and no one would enter, I figured that this was a very expected move (especially after news of Egypt’s steel wall just was released as well) and that the steering committee and whoever else also saw this coming and that surely back up plans and strategies were on hand now that Egypt played its cards. But after a couple days when everyone started arriving and it was time to figure out what we were going to do, it just seemed like these small fragmented actions (the hunger strike here, french sit-in there) were things that groups were doing on their own, hardly with any support from the mass collective. There was no unified message besides come out in the streets and protest. It felt like everyone kind of went their own way and that now instead of focusing on the occupation we were going to go after the Egyptian government – which as much as I have issues with that they are doing and how they add to the Palestinian suffering – that is not why I came here.
Lets clarify something here. As much as I hate Egypt, Egypt is NOT occupying the Palestinian territories. ISRAEL is. I mean, to a certain degree, by doing of all this, I feel, we took a lot of heat off of Israel b/c the press coverage just shows a bunch of people demonstrating in Cairo, which is giving the message that we have a problem with Egypt for what they are doing wrong when we were here to raise awareness of the ISRAELI OCCUPATION and Operation Cast Lead which was carried out by ISRAEL one year ago. Why are people shouting “Free Egypt” at the demonstrations? It makes no sense, we had no focus.
I want to believe that GFM tried to do the best that it could, given the circumstances, but honestly it just led to many people feeling as if they had to do something, anything, since we weren’t being allowed in Gaza. Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in public resistance and demonstrating, even getting arrested when its necessary, etc – but you cannot do these things without tons of planning, proper escalation tactics leading up to massive direct action like that, and a solid SOLID solid foundation in Egypt (resources, connections, lawyers, etc) for the people that do take those risks. Otherwise, you just end up looking like a bunch of stupid foreigners (mostly Americans) who are protesting, sitting in, going on hunger strike – for what? We came here to deliver aid and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza – if that was not going to happen then we could have held all of these actions back in our home towns where we know how things work, we know what resources we have, and we can accurately assess what type of risk we are willing to take for this dire cause. After these past few days, I feel that all we’ve done is agitate Egypt for a brief period of time, spent a lot of money fueling this unjust country’s economy, and made the daily lives of the Egyptian people harder.
When our plans fell through, and it did not seem like we were going to get in, there should have been a massive meeting/discussion with a vote with all of the delegates who have come from around the world as to what we think would be the best thing to do. But when people were told to figure it out and come up with ideas, you had serious fragmentation and people, like the French delegates, who were occupying the area in front of the Embassy feeling like they did not have support or instances like when the entire Japanese delegation just left after the first day for the West Bank. All I’ve been asking myself these past few days is “What the hell is going on?” and “What is all of this?”. And to tell the truth, I still really don’t know because I don’t think GFM really even knows.
The “100 people to Gaza” stunt was also another fiasco that only further divided this group and our efforts. At first, CODEPINK accepts this offer and takes credit for it since the women went and talked to Suzanne Mubarak. They come up with a list in a very short time of these people who would get to go, not realizing what a bad mistake this is. After a few hour, they do realize its a bad idea, send out an official message saying how they have ‘rejected’ this offer, and yet, lo and behold people STILL got on the buses and went? Again, “What is going on?”
I realize that this has gotten really long already and these are just some of my preliminary thoughts from the past few days. As of right now this is how I feel: as much as I’d like to really blame fully the repressive Egyptian dictatorship for the Gaza Freedom March falling apart and not succeeding, I believe that CODEPINK, and the same old foreign arrogance/ignorance we have, has a lot to do with it this time as well. Sadly, the Palestinian people are still under occupation and I wish the best of luck to the VIVA Palestina convoys who seem to have a better grasp on how to deal with all this nonsense than we do.
Until later, free free Palestine,