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Why Gaza Should Be at The Forefront of Egypt’s January 25 Uprising

By Ahmed Elassy, Public Affairs Director — Egypt, Tahrir4Gaza campaign

On February 11, Egyptians managed to force the ouster of President Honi Mubarak, who had run the nation’s affairs — with more than a little help from Washington and Tel Aviv — for more than 30 years. While much still remains to be done to secure the uprising’s achievements, the Egyptian people should – inshallah – be able to look forward to a freer and more prosperous future.

With promises from the Egyptian Armed Forces for free presidential and parliamentary elections in six month’s time, the affairs of the nation will henceforth be set by the people — as opposed to being set by a foreign-backed dictator for whom geopolitical considerations and secret alliances trump the people’s welfare.

And, as is the case with all sovereign countries, a major aspect of those national affairs will be an independent foreign policy and full authority over the nation’s borders. And make no mistake: Egypt’s longstanding border policy, particularly in regards to its role in the three-year-old siege of the Gaza Strip, is wholeheartedly rejected by the vast majority of the Egyptian people.

After successfully unseating Mubarak, Egyptians of conscience should now devote at least part of their attention to opening the Rafah border crossing with Gaza. The Tahrir4Gaza campaign (see press release, here) is a peaceful one, which takes its inspiration from the peaceful methods of protest employed by the people during the recent January 25 uprising.

The criminal state of Israel (CSI) sealed its six border crossings with the Gaza Strip following Hamas’s landslide victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections. One year later, after Hamas took control of the coastal enclave from its CSI-backed Fatah rivals, Egypt followed Israel’s lead, sealing Rafah off to both people and goods.

The de facto siege served to hermetically seal off the strip, depriving its roughly 1.5 million inhabitants of desperately needed basic goods, including food, medicine, building materials and fuel. The CSI’s 22-day ‘Cast Lead’ assault on the besieged territory in late 2008/early 2009, which killed over 1,400 Palestinians and leveled much of the strip’s infrastructure, only exacerbated the already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Needless to say, this situation remains entirely unacceptable to the vast majority of Egyptians, who refuse to contribute to the de facto imprisonment of the people of the Gaza Strip.

While the Tahrir4Gaza campaign has already received substantial support from a number of Egyptian and foreign groups and individuals (many of whom have promised to participate), some have also voiced their opposition to the initiative, saying that “the time for such a move isn’t right.”

Here is how I would answer the following arguments:

1) ‘We first must focus on consolidating the gains of the revolution.’

I’m all for consolidating the political gains realized by the uprising. The government of Ahmed Shafiq, along with Mubarak-appointed ministers — such as Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit — must go. The Emergency Law must be overturned and all political prisoners released.

But this doesn’t mean that the long-suffering Gaza Strip should be ignored in the interim – especially when that suffering comes as a direct result of Egypt’s Mubarak-era border policy.

The uprising’s success can be partly attributed to the fact that protesters focused on more than one demand: along with the removal of Mubarak — and anyone associated with his regime — they also demanded a new constitution, the dissolution of parliament and end of corruption.

Happily, some of these demands have already been met. But Egypt’s Gaza policy was no less disgraceful than its dictatorial domestic policies under Mubarak; In fact, it was more so, since the closed-border policy served to imprison and starve those who aren’t even Egyptian. What’s more, it was a painful testimony of our country’s subservience to Israeli diktat.

Numerically speaking, the Tahrir4Gaza campaign will not detract, or sap significant energy, from the ongoing demonstrations at Tahrir Square. With a mere 1 percent of the million people arrayed at the square, we could put 10,000 people on the border.

Along with ratcheting up pressure to open the Rafah crossing, such a move would also deliver the message — to the besieged Gazans, the international community and the Israelis — that the Gaza issue remains at the forefront of Egypt’s political consciousness.

2) ‘It will detract from ongoing efforts to help the Libyan people.’

We entirely sympathize with the plight of the Libyan people, and entirely support Egyptian relief efforts aimed at assisting those affected by the ongoing unrest — both Libyans themselves and the tens of thousands Egyptian expatriates who had worked in Libya.

However, unlike the Gaza Strip, Egypt was never responsible — directly or indirectly — for the mass imprisonment of the Libyan people. It never sealed the Salloum Border Crossing (which straddles the Egypt-Libya frontier) off to people and goods, thus subjecting the Libyan people to illness and hunger.

What’s more, Libya enjoys open borders with all of its neighbors, including Niger, Chad, Tunisia, Algeria and Sudan, as well as Egypt. The Gaza Strip, by contrast, remains hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world by both land and sea.

As mentioned earlier, we entire support Egyptian relief efforts for Libya. But with Egypt’s 80 million-plus population — and with the estimated 15-20 million Egyptians prepared to mobilize in support of the 25 January uprising — we should have more than enough resources to both lend a helping hand to our Libyan brothers and sisters and Libya and stand up for the basic human rights of the besieged people of Gaza.

3) “We don’t want to provoke a war with Israel or alienate the US.”

We are absolutely not interested in provoking hostilities with the CSI. However, we also demand justice for the people of Palestine, particularly those of the embattled Gaza Strip.

To the best of our knowledge, there is nothing in the Camp David peace agreement, signed by Egypt and the CSI in 1978, which prohibits Egypt from unilaterally opening its border with the Gaza Strip, currently governed by a democratically-elected leadership (Hamas).

It is also worthy of note that Egypt has fully respected the agreement’s terms, which prevent it from making military deployments close to the border. The CSI, by contrast, has repeatedly violated the treaty by bombing and shelling the border area, both during its 2008/2009 Cast Lead assault and afterwards, which has led to the death of several Egyptians on or near the border.

As for fears that the Tahrir4Gaza campaign could serve to alienate the US, we believe that our cause is entirely in keeping with the Jeffersonian ideals on which the US was originally founded upon. Those ideals include the freedom of movement and the right of self-determination, both of which should — in theory, at least — enjoy the support of all patriotic Americans, some of whom plan to participate in the T4G campaign.

Nor, it should be mentioned, are we interested in getting into a confrontation with the Egyptian Armed Forces, which have repeatedly vowed to protect the Egyptian people and guarantee their political demands. On the contrary, we hope that Egypt’s armed forces — the lower and middle ranks of which we have nothing but respect — will support our efforts to end a policy that continues to be a source of shame for our great country.

4) “We don’t want to jeopardize talks between Egypt’s armed forces and Hamas.”

According to reports, the Egyptian Armed Forces is currently holding negotiations with Hamas over the sensitive border issue. While the outcome of these talks remains uncertain, we feel the T4G campaign will only help the ongoing negotiations by providing a clear demonstration of the Egyptian public will in this regard, which overwhelmingly supports an open-door border policy.

Hamas, for its part, has no role — official or unofficial — in the T4G Campaign, which was organized from start to finish by Egyptian individuals and groups in cooperation with a number of foreign Palestine-solidarity organizations.

5) “We don’t want to give credence to regime propaganda that Hamas was behind the uprising.”

The notion that Hamas was somehow responsible for Egypt’s January 25 uprising was a desperate ploy the Mubarak regime, which resorted to a devious campaign of disinformation in an effort to discredit anti-regime demonstrations. The idea that the Egyptian uprising was funded and organized Hamas — which remains tightly boxed up in the besieged Gaza Strip — is hardly worthy of a response.

It is enough to point out that during Egypt’s 18-day uprising, Egyptian state media accused numerous states and factions — including Israel, Iran, the US, Qatar and Hezbollah, in addition to Hamas — of standing behind the wave of demonstrations.

Also see

Egyptian Intifada: The ultimate conspiracy theory and the uses of  fear

Israel mulls paying compensation for Egypt border guard deaths

View the original article at Veterans Today

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