by Hossam el-Hamalawy
From the moment that Israel began its onslaught on Gaza, mass demonstrations broke out in Egypt. Up to a quarter of a million people took part in the first two days of demonstrations.
The protests have taken place in virtually every Egyptian university, outside all the big mosques and outside the Press Syndicate building in Cairo.
Everyone is accusing Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak of complicity in the Israeli attacks.
When there is a humanitarian crisis and people are fleeing from war, neighbouring countries usually open their borders to refugees. Mubarak has done the opposite.
He has closed down the Rafah crossing from the Gaza Strip. The city of Rafah is divided like Berlin used to be – there’s a Palestinian side and an Egyptian side.
By shutting the crossing Mubarak is locking the Palestinians in a cage and effectively telling the Israelis to finish them off.
This is because the Egyptian regime sees Hamas and the Palestinians as a radicalising element and a threat to its own stability.
The protests follow a wave of strikes and workers’ struggles that have shaken Mubarak’s dictatorship over the past two years, particularly in the industrial city of Mahalla.
Workers have fought back despite facing torture and repression at the hands of the Egyptian regime – which the US backs to the hilt.
Egypt is the main Arab client regime of the US. It is the largest recipient of US aid in the Middle East after Israel.
There is so much anger at the regime’s role in the attack on Gaza and its support for Israel.
Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Egyptian foreign minister, told a press conference last Saturday that Hamas was to blame for the assault on Gaza. “Egypt warned for a long time and someone who ignores warnings is responsible for the outcome,” he said.
The Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni was visiting Mubarak when the assault on Gaza started. In an obscene and shameless way, she declared war on Gaza from Cairo.
People can see that the Israelis would not have been able to do what they are doing without Mubarak’s help.
Those taking part in the demonstrations include socialists, Arab nationalists and activists from the Muslim Brotherhood – Egypt’s largest opposition movement.
The protests are against the Israeli attacks and the US, but they are also against Mubarak and the corrupt and pro-US Arab regimes.
This is a new phenomenon. We’ve always had pro-Palestinian demonstrations but people would typically find excuses for Mubarak.
You don’t get this now.
This change has shown up some tensions in the movement. Some leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood are conservative – they have tried to stop younger members from chanting anti-Mubarak slogans.
But many other people have been radicalised, especially after Israel was humiliatingly defeated in Lebanon in 2006. The socialists and nationalists are clearly attacking Mubarak.
We are organising aid for the Palestinians in Gaza. Some socialist activists sent an aid caravan to Rafah.
We are hoping to send eight more caravans and trying to involve a broader range of political forces.
We’ve been collecting donations from activists and workers – everybody has donated generously.
In the past the Egyptian regime has tried to block these aid caravans to Gaza. They usually crack down on them, but because the regime is on the defensive they can’t be too heavy-handed.
Struggles in one area have an impact on others. The strike wave this year started after five years of mobilisation around Palestinian and anti-war issues. These protests gave workers the courage to start fighting.
And this boosted the anti-war movement. The last aid caravan to Gaza was organised by the Mahalla strike leaders. That is not a coincidence.
We are calling on all our friends, comrades, brothers and sisters around the world to take to the streets.
There have been angry protests outside every single Egyptian embassy in the Arab world.
If you’re organising solidarity with Palestinians, protest outside Egyptian embassies too. The biggest favour we in Egypt can do for the Palestinians is to overthrow Mubarak.