It’s impressive to see such a forceful international reaction to this morning’s deadly raid on the flotilla of boats bringing aid to Gaza. Thousands have protested in New York, Istanbul, Ankara, Stockholm, Paris and many other places, in one of the biggest mobilizations on behalf of the Palestinian cause in years.
Even in Cairo, where pro-Palestinian demos have been very, very tightly restricted since the Gaza war — since the regime doesn’t want any reminders of its role in the Gaza blockade — today was a surprise. At first, the protest outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seemed disappointed, with only a few dozen participants. But this evening, thousands gathered at the al-Fath mosque on Ramses Square and staged an impressive protest, even if they were penned in by several hundred uniformed riot control troops and police officers, as well as tons of plainclothes security people and a bunch of baltiguiya (street toughs hired to intimidate, and need be, beat up protesters).
I didn’t get to come close to the mosque, because police people were everywhere (mostly plainclothes, which always leads me to say the equivalent of, ‘who the fuck are you? where’s your uniform? show me some ID if you’re a cop’ and that gets tiresome, especially since I probably only get away with it because I’m a khawaga) getting people to move off. But from what I could tell — confirmed by my colleagues Sarah Carr and Jon Jensen who were closer and there longer — it was a tightly organized affair, if not led by the Muslim Brothers then definitely Islamist-dominated. They even had a brief moment of shouting slogans against Mubarak, although that was quickly shushed down (my guess would be this is the old Labor Party Islamists vs. MB argument).
It’s important to note that this is the biggest protest about Palestine since the Gaza war, in an atmosphere in which such protests have not been tolerated. We might see more in the next few days, including on Friday after prayers. This may revive local activism on Gaza as well as linkages made between the situation there and the situation in Egypt — notably the Mubarak regime’s collaboration with Israel on the blockade. Expect a fierce fight in the media over this in the next few days, and more opportunities to express all sorts of grievances. But when Turkey expels its ambassador and Egypt is seen to be doing nothing, it looks very, very bad for Cairo.