Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1312, (22-28 September 2016)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1312, (22-28 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Rallying in New York

Egyptians take to the streets of Manhattan in a show of support for President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

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Al-Ahram Weekly

A few blocks from the United Nations headquarters Khadija, a 42-year-old housewife, is waiting with a group of Egyptians to demonstrate her support for President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi as he attends the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

“The country is passing through a critical time and we have to stand together,” says Khadija.

Not too far away stands a second group of Egyptians, this time protesting against Al-Sisi and holding signs in support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The two protests dramatise the fault-lines within the Egyptian community in the US as Al-Sisi’s four-day visit to New York galvanises expatriate groups into organising pro- and anti- government protests. Similar demonstrations have been held every year since 2013, stirring debate among Egyptian expats in the US.

The number of protests is less than last year when supporters and opponents of the Egyptian government came close to having a street battle in New York. And one notable difference is the mass participation of Coptic Christians from New York and New Jersey in this year’s demonstrations.

At a large rally in support of the president staged close to where Al-Sisi stays in New York, patriotic songs were played as demonstrators danced and held pictures of Al-Sisi. Elsewhere in Manhattan huge limousines, rented by a group of Egyptians, cruised the streets plastered with the Egyptian flag and images of Al-Sisi. Some of the rallies were organised by the Egypt for Egyptians expats association.

Ahead of Al-Sisi’s arrival media reports that Coptic Pope Tawadros II had dispatched two bishops to mobilise Egyptian Christians in the US to take to the street to demonstrate their support for the president were published. A video posted on Coptic websites shows Bishop Youanas of Assuit addressing a group of Christians in a New Jersey church and urging them to attend rallies in support of Al-Sisi. Copts, said the Bishop, are experiencing the best time in Egypt in decades because “the government is working hard to solve Coptic Christians’ problems”.

In response more than 150 Coptic activists signed a petition condemning the Church’s attempts to mobilise Copts in support of the government. The petition criticised the church’s involvement in organising protests and demanded Coptic leaders steer clear of politics.

The petitioners’ arguments didn’t carry much weight with Nahed Guirgis, a participant at several of the New York pro-Al-Sisi rallies.

“We are here to support Al-Sisi not because the church asked us to do so. Every year we see the Muslim Brotherhood organise rallies to spread false information about Egypt. This year we decided to face them down. This has nothing to do with the church becoming involved in politics,” he said.

Adel Agaib, president of the American Coptic Association, told Al-Ahram Weekly Copts were involved in organising most of the pro-Sisi rallies during the president’s visit simply because Coptic Christians comprise 80 per cent of Egyptians living in New York and New Jersey.

“We reject being labelled only as Copts. We are Egyptians and what we are doing is for our country,” he said.

“Why should we clear a space for the Muslim Brotherhood? There is no shame in what we are doing. We are supporting the president at a critical time. In the future we may oppose him but at the moment he is doing his best for Egypt.”

This year the Egyptian delegation to the UNGA was accompanied by a group of 90 parliamentarians and journalists. Their visit was organised by the Chamber of Media Industries (CMI), an association of privately owned TV networks.

“We believed it is important at this time to send a group of MPs in addition to the official delegation to present the Egyptian state’s vision of what is happening in the Middle East and clarify any misunderstandings about what is happening in Egypt,” said CMI’s executive director Amr Fathi.

The delegation, he said, had met with groups of Egyptians living in the US to listen to their views about Egypt’s future and the current government’s performance.

“The delegation also met with American public figures to discuss US-Egyptian relations,” added Fathi.

The 53 MPs who were part of the CMI-sponsored delegation included pro-government and opposition parliamentarians.

Khaled Youssef, a member of the opposition 25-30 bloc, told the Weekly the delegation was in New York to exchange views with leaders of the Egyptian community in the US and to talk to the media about the future of the US Egyptian relations.

“The delegation is making this visit to improve Egypt’s image in the US and respond to media campaigns funded by some countries that promote false information about Egypt,” he said. “We believe part of our job as MPs is to oppose any campaign that unfairly targets the Egyptian state.”

Parliamentarians stand shoulder to shoulder with the government against terrorism and any country that funds media campaigns that try and undermine Egyptian interests, said Youssef.

Emad Gad, another member of the 25-30 opposition bloc, pointed out that many heads of state attending the General Assembly are accompanied by parliamentarian delegations since the event offered an opportunity to exchange views about issues of mutual interest with other countries.

 “It is important to show the international community that we are united in rebuilding Egypt and defeating terrorism. There is no conflict in doing this while still opposing some other government policies,” said Gad.

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