Friends in Cairo en route to Gaza

by Mark Chmiel

My friend Pat Geier from Louisville sent this update from her friends in Cairo…

Friends,

Mid-afternoon (Louisville time) I spoke with Sharon, Ibrahim, Russ and Ira. I tried but was unable to reach Mateo and Stephon. Everyone is fine, though frustrated and disheartened at not getting into Gaza. Russ, Ira, Ibrahim, Sharon and her mother are now all in the same hotel. Mateo and Stephon are staying in downtown Cairo.

The situation remains tense and the Egyptian government is not budging on allowing the delegates or the convoy to move into Gaza as hoped. Sharon and Ibrahim decided not to go to El Arish today because it was clear that there was no hope of getting there or to the border. There are demonstrations going on continuously and today our group protested with the Italian delegation at their embassy, at the UN which contains the World Trade Center, and at the French Embassy where 300 French citizens slept in the street last night, corraled by Egyptian riot police (“3 deep”) without access to food, water or bathroom facilities. No one is allowed into or out of the police corral. They French protesters will be sleeping in the streets again tonight.

Some comments from our folks:

Ibrahim: “I’ve never felt so helpless in my life . . . this is what being in a police state does to you.”

Sharon: “We’ve heard so many stories of life in Gaza . . . it is beyond desperate there . . . we are being watched all the time here . . . today we took a taxi to another demonstration and a plainclothes security officer asked out taxi driver where we were going.”

Ira: “It’s scary here . . . but I believe it’s important for us to be here. Good things will come of this.”

Hedy Epstein, 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, has begun her hunger strike and our group spent some time with her today. Tomorrow Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu arrives in Cairo and there will be further demonstrations.

Egyptian security forces have widespread control. A condition of CodePink being allowed to organize the march was that they could not have any contact with Egyptian activists who have been beaten and detained for any connection to the march and demonstrations. Demonstrations are always physically corraled, sometimes by police and often by security forces in riot gear. Ibrahim said that on several occasions he has been able to speak with the lower rank and file of police and “you could tell they are sympathetic to us and want to help the Gazans.”

Please post your comments and especially your support on the website so our friends know we are with them.

Pat

Forgot to mention that they are having difficulty getting the internet at the hotel . . . don’t forget to check the website.