Monday,27 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1373, (14 - 20 December 2017)
Monday,27 May, 2019
Issue 1373, (14 - 20 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Anger contained

Mona El-Nahhas reports on local reactions to the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital


Protests at the AUC
Protests at the AUC

US President Donald Trump’s 6 December decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital stirred angry reactions in Egypt.

Following Friday prayers hundreds of demonstrators gathered at Al-Azhar Mosque despite a heavy security presence. Protesters chanted “down with Israel” and “we shall give our blood and souls to Palestine” while burning images of Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and US and Israeli flags. The demonstration attempted to move into Al-Azhar Street but was prevented from doing so by security forces.

There were also reports of police arresting demonstrators in Tahrir Square for attempting to stage an unauthorised protest.

On the same day as Trump’s announcement the Interior Ministry issued a statement saying five members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood “who planned to make use of the American decision to stir public anger and threaten stability” had been detained.

On Sunday afternoon dozens of lawyers gathered at the headquarters of their syndicate to demand the expulsion of the US and Israeli ambassadors and promote a boycott US products.

On Thursday journalists and political figures staged a sit-in at the Press Syndicate. Pro-Palestinian slogans were chanted and Israeli flags burned. The protesters called for diplomatic relations with the US to be severed and the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador to Egypt.

“We called the gathering to send the message to Arab rulers that they need to act on the anger Trump’s decision has caused on Arab streets,” said syndicate council member Mohamed Saad Abdel-Hafez.

The protest was dispersed by police, and some of the participants arrested, after anti-regime slogans were raised. The whereabouts of journalists Ahmed Abdel-Aziz and Hossam Al-Suefi remained unknown until Sunday when State Security Prosecution said they were in detention pending investigations.

The Pharmacists Syndicate announced a boycott of US medicines and published a list of alternatives available on the local market.

During a meeting on Thursday at the headquarters of the Engineers Syndicate attended by representatives from other professional unions, a boycott of US imports was demanded in response to Trump’s decision which “violated all international conventions and agreements and flagrantly challenged the Arabs’ national will”. A statement issued following the meeting reiterated calls for the Israeli and US ambassadors to Egypt to be expelled.

The Palestinian flag should be raised alongside the Egyptian flag at the headquarters of all professional syndicates in Egypt, said the statement, and a Palestinian liberation committee established at each syndicate to familiarise members with the reality of the Arab-Israeli struggle and the repercussions of Trump’s decision. The statement also asked the Egyptian and other international parliaments to review all agreements with Israel, including Camp David and Oslo.

On Sunday, students at Al-Azhar University, led by the university president and staff, staged a protest condemning Washington’s pro-Israeli bias. Similar protests took place at other public universities on Saturday and Sunday.

Hundreds of students at the American University in Cairo (AUC) protested against the US decision on Thursday. The university’s Students Union posted a video on its Facebook page showing students chanting anti-Israeli slogans and raising a banner on which was written “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine”.

A planned sit-in of political forces at the headquarters of the Arab League on Sunday morning was banned by the Interior Ministry.

“The decision to ban the sit-in was illegal. The Interior Ministry has no right to issue a ban without first getting a ruling from an urgent matters court,” said lawyer Tarek Negeida.

The sit-in was being organised by 12 liberal and leftist political parties and a list of demands was due to be handed to the Arab League secretary-general as part of the protest. Participating parties planned to demand Arab states adhere to a 1980 Arab Summit decision to cut relations with any country that recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. They also called for a boycott of US products, including arms, Arab divestment and a halt to all forms of normalisation with Israel. Representatives from the parties also demanded Egyptians be allowed to peacefully protest against the US decision and show solidarity with the Palestinian people.

“Banning a peaceful protest leaves the public no choice but to pursue illegal paths to express their anger,” warned Medhat Al-Zahed, chairman of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party.

Al-Zahed wants to see a much firmer official response from the government. “Summoning the Egyptian ambassador from the US and cancelling any meetings with US officials is the least that should be done,” he said.

Political analyst Hassan Nafaa describes Trump’s decision as “a shock which has pushed the Palestinian cause back to the top of Arab priorities”. But the resulting public protests, says Nafaa, are not strong enough to force Arab regimes, shackled by their interests with both the US and Israel, into taking firm action, and “Arab rulers are convinced the emotional reactions will not last long.”

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