The Gaza Freedom March (GFM) made its presence known in Downtown Cairo Yesterday. A group of around 700 activists, reportedly from more than 40 countries, congregated in Garden City on the eastern bank of the Nile – where they had intended to discuss their action plans aboard some twenty river boats. However, an assortment of security forces prevented these international activists from conducting their floating discussions.
Palestinian flags, and flags reading "Peace" and "Salam" (Peace), were waved amid the chants of "Viva Palestina," "Gaza, Gaza do not cry, Palestine will never die," and "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free." Hundreds of activists, many of them wearing Palestinian kufiyas (traditional head scarves), held up small cups containing lit candles.
"We just want to go to Gaza," stated GFM organizer Ann Wright, "We like Cairo, but our destination is Gaza."
Another organizer, Ehab Lotayef, said "These people have come to Egypt from around the world at their own expense in order to express their solidarity with the people of Gaza. Not the government of Gaza, but the besieged people in the Gaza Strip. They paid for airplane tickets, hotel accommodation, and transport in Egypt." Lotayef argued that such activists must be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip.
Police forces confined the activists to the sidewalk, and prevented them from moving in large groups.
A group of some 300 French nationals announced their intention of congregating outside their embassy where they would board busses bound for the Gaza border. They stated that they would sit-in at, and sleep outside, the site of the French Embassy if they were prevented from traveling or boarding the busses.
State security officers dressed in civilian clothing informed GFM organizers that they could not meet at the Church of the Holy Family to discuss their plans. The officers also requested the names of the hotel conference halls in which the activists planned to meet. Numerous GFM activists expressed their frustration regarding these security measures.
Later at 7:30pm activists converged at Tahrir Square, to clarify their action plans and coordinate their efforts in hopes of getting into the Gaza Strip. Security forces, both uniformed and in civilian clothes, kept Egyptian bystanders away from the GFM activists. A young American woman, addressing the congregation, spoke of confusion and frustration. She called upon the activists to split up into their respective groups in order to dispel this confusion.
What started as an Anglo-phone congregation ended up sounding like the Tower of Babel. Groups of Belgians, Koreans, Spaniards, Bulgarians, Libyans, Americans, Jordanians, Indians, Italians, Canadians and Greeks, amongst others, all spoke their native languages amongst their group members. There were also groups of international students, a women’s group, the Christian Peacemaker Team, an interfaith group, and a group of non-violence trainers, along with others.
Scottish activist Tom McVitie said “I arrived in Egypt on Christmas day. Although we are currently stuck in Cairo we are still planning, and still intending on going to Gaza. He added “our bus trips have been canceled but the French may have a chance to go because their embassy is trying to arrange this with the Egyptian government.” McVitie concluded “it is important to spread awareness regarding the suffering of the Gazans and regarding the new underground wall that Egypt is constructing to cut off the tunnels.”
Belgian activist Sanne Wenderickx also arrived in Egypt on Christmas, she said “we are here to help in raising awareness regarding the situation in Gaza. This is important and human rights are important.” She went on to say “we are not here to cause problems with the Egyptian government, but this government is standing in our way to Gaza. I’m so frustrated."