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Egyptians Fight to Open Border at Rafah with Gaza — Interview with Left Activist from “Egyptian Popular Committee for Solidarity with the Palestinians”

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Interview with Salma, a left activist from Cairo in the “Egyptian popular committee for solidarity with the Palestinians”

16 days into the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, Katie Quarles interviewed Salma for about the protests going on in Egypt against the Israeli attacks and for the opening of the Rafah border crossing to allow Gazans to escape and aid to enter.

You were on a bus headed for a protest at the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip…
Yes, but we were stopped before we reached Arish by state security, who had set up a roadblock. Then they started running towards the bus to forbid us from leaving it. They looked very scary. They were ready with their sticks and helmets and all. That same day there were demonstrators in Arish of which five were arrested and beaten up. There were a hundred thousand in Alexandria who were also attacked of course, and in Azhar, and in Cairo. So the whole country was demonstrating. The police were obviously afraid we would get to Arish after the clashes already happening there.

You had had another confrontation with police a few days earlier…
Yes, on New Year’s Eve, we got arrested, almost kidnapped – me and two other girls. We were the first to arrive to the demo location. We were taken by police wearing civil clothes into a minibus that started driving away with us. We started screaming that we were being kidnapped so many people from the street stopped the bus and the two other girls jumped out of the windows. But I was on the other side so I had to make it through the door, and it was blocked by one of the police men (who were not really police, but people who are trained for demos. They wear normal clothes). Anyways, he was pulling me into the car and the others were pulling me out. This went on for a couple of minutes until someone outside was able to pull me out and I escaped. But he got taken instead of me and was severely beaten and released after an hour. Another 13 people standing there were arrested and detained until 11 pm. When other people started going to the streets many were beaten and there were about 100 arrested and released before midnight: several protesters, and also photographers, and journalists.

What is the mood like?
Well, angry.

Is there a lot of anger at Mubarak?
Yes, because the Mubarak regime is taking part in this and especially blocking the border. This is making people angry that Egypt is participating in the Gaza siege.

Who is organizing these protests?
There are several groups organizing them, but a lot of spontaneous protests as well. The MB (Muslim Brotherhood) are the biggest and strongest, by the thousands. The left is active, but very few. But the buses going to Rafah were leftists.

Were the largest protests organized by the MB?
Yes, but with others spontaneously joining. And leftists joining MB as well. We all demonstrated together. We are not separated. We protest together. But they are much bigger.

Egypt has seen an increase in strikes over the past few years…
Yes, but things have been calm since the elections. Gaza revived activism as usual. Palestine always does. Palestine is the only thing all political groups agree on and work together for. It unites.

What group are you active with and what is it doing?
It’s called “the Egyptian popular committee for solidarity with the Palestinians.” Now we are continuing to collect donations. I am preparing with artists and singers to have a concert and paintings exhibition for donations. We already sent a lot and we will continue. And doctors are going from Egypt into Gaza, which is great. And it organized the buses to Rafah. It’s political, as well.

What is the political character of your group?
More left. But also with others who are not necessarily left, who are just sympathetic with the cause. But it is left in core. But left in a broad sense, any left tendencies. As opposed to the MB.

Do you have problems with MB?
It isn’t an issue, no. But people have problems, yes. Demonstrating with them was suffocating for people. Especially women didn’t like it. And the slogans were a problem. There were fights over slogans. The MB do not want to attack Mubarak directly. The left wants to. And the MB supports Hamas and the left is divided about that. All the left agree that they do not want religious slogans. Things like that. But these are small issues, the usual.

Why is it that the MB does not want to attack Mubarak?
Because MB have deals with the government. They make a deal, for example, that the government will let them protest, but on the condition that the slogans focus only on Palestine, and not at all Mubarak. So they make a deal. The left does not do that.

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