Al-Ahram Weekly On-line   Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
5 - 11 October 2000
Issue No. 502
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Child murder sparks campus fury

By Fatemah Farag

Egyptians watched with anguish and anger the television scenes showing Palestinian civilians being shot down by Israeli forces after clashes erupted between the two sides as a result of a visit paid by hard-line Likud leader Ariel Sharon to Al-Haram Al-Sharif (known to the Israelis as Temple Mount) in Jerusalem. The Egyptian outrage was reflected in statements of condemnation from the highest level of government and, on the ground, by thousands of students who have been demonstrating on a daily basis.

With the first spark of violence, President Hosni Mubarak lashed out at the Israelis. Mubarak's office issued a statement on Friday blaming Tel Aviv for "the bloody incidents" triggered by "Israeli elements who have no interest in achieving peace." Egypt urged Israel "to act to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in order to create an atmosphere necessary for the continuation of the peace process."

On Saturday, Mubarak consulted with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in Cairo and spoke by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. By Monday, as more Palestinian victims were falling in the streets, Mubarak questioned Sharon's intentions in having decided to make the visit, saying the hard-liner was attempting to obstruct the peace process and undermine the Arab identity of Jerusalem.

"What Sharon did was create a hell of a problem for the peace process," Mubarak told reporters on Monday. He added that during the ensuing confrontations, Israeli forces "attacked worshippers as they knelt in prayer. It's unbelievable." Mubarak further warned on Tuesday that "any attempt to usurp Jerusalem or Al-Haram Al-Sharif is certain to result in more clashes and bloodshed."


Enraged students mounted the gate of Cairo University to burn the Israeli flag

On the grassroots level, the most outspoken expression of anger came from university students. Beginning on Saturday at Alexandria University, approximately 6,000 students, in a demonstration organised by Islamists, protested against Israeli brutality. Soon the demonstrations spread at the Universities of Menoufiya and Zagazig. By Monday, protests broke out at the American University in Cairo, where students burned Israeli flags, chanted anti-Israeli slogans and accused the Israeli army of genocide.

Also on Monday, Ain Shams University witnessed a small demonstration made up of 500 or so students which was organised by socialist and Nasserist student activists.

"By Tuesday, after people had seen what happened in Palestine on Monday, especially the death of Al-Dorra [a 12-year-old boy killed by Israeli fire], students came to the campus in a militant state of mind," explained a student activist who asked to remain anonymous.

By Tuesday, demonstrations were being staged by thousands at Ain Shams and Cairo universities. At Cairo University, approximately 2,000 students held a sit-in, which was joined after noon prayers by a Muslim Brotherhood-led demonstration of nearly 5,000.

At both Cairo and Ain Shams, the students chanted such slogans as: "Al-Dorra's blood will not go unavenged" and "revolution until liberation."

There was similarly strong condemnation from religious quarters. The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, urged Muslims to brace themselves for confrontation with Israel, adding that the acts of violence perpetrated over the past few days must not go unpunished. "Strength can only be confronted with strength," he concluded. Pope Shenouda III, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, meanwhile called on the international community and organisations such as the United Nations Security Council to take a stance against the butchering of the Palestinian people.

The opposition Wafd Party urged President Hosni Mubarak to close the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and recall the Egyptian ambassador to Israel. The Nasserist Party followed suit and the Tagammu issued a statement calling for a comprehensive peace agreement that would put an end to the violence.


Related stories:
Sharon's calling card
For they shall inherit the earth
Reflections: Ordinary monsters

 

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