Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Police states

Dec. 28

Chaos in the morning, with two grumpy taxi drivers throwing our money back at them for reasons I have yet to fathom out. We got to the "garage," the meeting point for our supposed departure for Gaza. Of course, the government had threatened the bus companies and our Gaza-bound chariot was not awaiting.

State security forces literally penned the freedom marchers in. Over the next hour or so people chanted, gave press interviews and gave cigarettes to the weary policemen.

The French embassy was next on the menu. 300 French activists had camped out there and we wanted to see what was going on. On arrival we were faced with a wall of about 500 riot police, who were there on the pretence of "protecting" the protesters. Everytime I tried to take a picture of the police, government thugs and protesters, I was politely moved on.

"The protesters are respectable people, we just want to keep them safe," a dominatingly large thug told me, after explaining that the police were there because the protestors had committed traffic offenses by blocking the road.

The grandpa of our group and a couple of others went inside and we had to send in Seira (a student member of our group) in as a "hostage negotiator" to fish them out.

The protests were the top story in the local English-language paper. A paper I picked up after finally getting a few hours to myself photographing the streets of Cairo. I snapped a pathetic street fight and armed guards outside an apartment block. It really is a police state here in Cairo. The pay roll of the security forces must be huge here.
In the evening I met up with Mike, Mike and Yasuko and we splashed out on a fine meal of kebabs and spicy chicken. A felt a tad guilty when, with a fully belly, we bumped into some Britsh activists.

They asked us where we were going.
I replied, "We're off to smoke some pipes and get some sleep."
To which they responded: "We're off to start a revolution. Good luck!"
At this point still no movement on opening up the border. But the protestors were still going hammer and tongue, lobbying the UN, the journalist syndicate and even the president's wife - head of the local Red Crescent.

Dec. 29

Four a.m. start to catch a 6 a.m. bus from Cairo to Taba. A resort town on the Red Sea, that doubles up as a border with Israel. Passing through the Sinai Peninsula, I got my first ever glimpse of a desert. Stunning, bleak with Sphinx-like mountains popping up every few minutes. It can't have been much fun for Moses. I had been looking forward to seeing the Suez Canal, but the damn bus crossed it in a tunnel. When the Red Sea came into view the whole bus seemed to take a collective gasp at its magnificence. A true Oasis.

A wee stroll from the bus station to the border crossing. It took an age to fill out the dreaded paperwork as the Egyptian guards cheerfully teased us.

Contrastingly, the Israeli guards were the miserable bunch of gun-toters I've ever seen. They threw our passports back at us and their shaloms were reluctant.

Yasuko, who has an Iraqi husband and visited Syria recently, was kept behind for half an hour. I was hauled back across the border to help interpret.

Finally in the Zionist state, we took a bus to Jerusalem.

The difference between Egypt and Israel was most palatable at the service stations. The Egyptian side just served tea and crackers. The Israeli side had hamburger bars, shiny shops and a Starbucks-like outlet. We could have been in Japan. The only similarity is the fact that both nation's are police states, albeit cheerful on the Egyptian side and stern on the Israeli side.
After finding a hostel for the night, news came through that the president's wife, Suzanne, had persuaded the Egyptian government to open up the Gaza border for 100 freedom marchers, apparently in defiance of the foreign ministry.
But being in Jerusalem, none of us could go.

The next morning, however, we awoke to the news that the steering committee of the march had decided not to compromise and would not send anyone. They plan to continue action in Cairo.
Personnaly, I don't think this is the right course of action. But we shall see.

No comments:

Post a Comment