Saturday,20 January, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1373, (14 - 20 December 2017)
Saturday,20 January, 2018
Issue 1373, (14 - 20 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Fury in defence of Jerusalem

Protests look set to grow following Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, writes Haitham Nouri

Fury in defence of Jerusalem
Fury in defence of Jerusalem

اقرأ باللغة العربية


As soon as US President Donald Trump declared occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, 6 December, rage erupted in cities across the Arab and non-Arab world. In the first few days, protests were not large but they continued to grow and spread around the world, which makes the US belief that the decision would pass without incident unrealistic.

Protests began in Palestinian cities but quickly spread to neighbouring Jordan where large protests near the US Embassy in Amman took place the day after the US decision. By Friday, large crowds had gathered in the centre of the city. In the Syrian capital Damascus, crowds set aside their own crisis and students came out within hours to protest the decision in preparation for massive protests after Friday prayers in this city of four million.

Baghdad waited until Friday, but protests have not stopped despite Iraq’s celebration of victory over the Islamic State group and designating 10 December as an annual national holiday. In Lebanon, things were calmer: there were no mass demonstrations in Beirut except starting Friday, but they continue to grow progressively.

In North Africa, Tunisia was the first to take to the streets, but Morocco’s demonstrations in Rabat were larger, which AFP news agency described as the largest so far. In Cairo, demonstrations were limited to universities in the beginning, until Friday, when the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb called on all Muslims to rise in protest. He said he will not meet with US Vice President Mike Pence who is scheduled to visit the region in late December, which is the same position of leader of the Coptic Church Pope Tawadros II. Before both, Abbas had said he would not meet Pence either. Since then, Egyptian public, private and international universities have been throbbing with protests and demonstrations.

A summit meeting between Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah is scheduled in Cairo. King Abdullah will then consult with Riyadh.

In the far east of the Muslim world, Indonesia had the largest and most protests, which began the next day after Trump’s announcement, and peaked Friday when hundreds of thousands of Muslims came out to demonstrate.

In Turkey, there were massive protests in Istanbul, as per calls by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party. In Europe, there were protests in all capitals amounting to thousands in some cases. “We notice that protests are reaching European cities despite bitter cold weather,” said Said Al-Lawindi, a writer at Al-Ahram. “This means the global community also rejects Trump’s decision, even though numbers are not as large as those who came out in support of the second Intifada in September 2000, for example.”

When former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was leading the opposition, he stormed the grounds of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in September 2000. This triggered Arab anger and Arab capitals erupted in protest in support of Jerusalem in what became known as Al-Aqsa Intifada. As a result, Sharon won the elections with the support of the secular and religious Zionist right wing.

“At the time, there were protests in every Arab and Muslim capital condemning Sharon’s actions, but today it’s not quite the same, even though protests are expanding and not diminishing,” noted Al-Lawindi. Nonetheless, they do not constitute any pressure on Arab or Muslim governments, he said.

“They are not as large as usual, but I expect them to grow and gain momentum in the next few days,” Al-Lawindi predicted. He believes the reason for their reduced size, so far, is because the decision comes after the Arab Spring which exhausted people despite their good intentions, and now they are disillusioned because they can no longer express their opinions.

“There is a sense of despair among the people, which is why demonstrations are small,” opined Jordanian writer Saad Hattar. “Successive difficult events in Arab societies and their inability to change their conditions directly caused this political fatigue.” Hattar noted.

Amid the growing discontent, a delegation from Bahrain visited the Gaza Strip after visiting Israel, which many viewed as normalising relations with Israel. In response, the Bahraini delegation was expelled from Al-Aqsa compound. Bahrain’s state news agency quickly reported this was not an official delegation, but rather members of the “This is Bahrain” association, which includes foreigners of different faiths living in Bahrain. According to the news agency, the group went on the trip on their own initiative advocating tolerance and coexistence.

“This is not the time for such initiatives,” according to Hattar. “We don’t know who sponsored them and what they want. Under any circumstances, it is incendiary. It seems the trip was a test balloon, but Arab rejection of Washington’s decision rendered it insignificant compared to bigger events.”

Many Arab quarters are calling for more protests, and they could be massive. By all indications, the streets will not calm down anytime soon.

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