Egyptian convoy bound for Rafah banned

Salma Shukrallah, Saturday 14 May 2011

Egypt's ruling military council has forbidden solidarity convoys aiming to reach Rafah ahead of the Palestinian Nakba Day on Sunday

Hundreds of enthusiastic Egyptian young men were prevented from going to Gaza

As planned, hundreds gathered on Saturday in Tahrir Square with the aim of heading to the Egypt-Gaza border at Rafah. However, organisers say, the ruling military council ordered tourism offices not to send the buses rented as transport for the convoy as it set a ban on all journeys to the border. 

Starting 9am, several hundred stood in Tahrir Square waving Palestinian and Egyptian flags, hoping to march towards Gaza to stage a sit-in on Sunday, 15 May, which marks the Palestinian Nakba Day, or day of catastrophe, in reference to the founding of Israel in May 1948. The convoy was not able to leave Cairo.

May Shahin, one of the organisers of the convoy, said “We have been preparing for this for the past month and a half now. We wanted to have a convoy in memory of the Palestinian Nakba. It was supposed to be a mass march towards Palestine. After realising that entering Gaza might be a risk for the Palestinians, we decided to head only to the Rafah border. We were surprised, then, to know that all tourism offices refused to rent buses to reach Rafah and canceled our contract. They told us that this was an order from the ruling military council. Under the Mubarak regime we were able to organise a convoy from Cairo to reach Rafah. Now, after the revolution, we are banned.”

The solidarity convoy set to leave Cairo was not the only one to be stopped. A group of 15 activists from the “Free Egyptian Group" and “We are the Bus People”, a group that tours Egypt staging artistic performances, left Cairo Friday and were also stopped.

Ragia Omran from the “Free Egyptian Group” recounts: “We were heading to Sheikh Zwaied village near Arish to stage an awareness show and we had all the musical equipment with us. We were stopped right after crossing Salam Bridge. We told them that we were only going to stage our show there, and showed them the musical instruments, but they did not let us pass.”

Still attempting to reach Rafah, individuals stopped in convoys tried to reach the border either on foot or via public transport. Estimates from people living in Arish are that hundreds of those who were trying to reach the border area in solidarity with the Palestinians were able to, despite strict restrictions from the military.

Egypt is expected to witness mass demonstrations on 15 May despite security alerts issued from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Shahin says: “On Friday, more than 5000 demonstrated in front of the Israeli embassy. That is the biggest demonstration ever staged in front of the embassy, which shows how much Egyptians are enthusiastic this year to participate in solidarity with Palestine.”

The Egyptian army fired shots Friday trying to disperse thousands of demonstrators in front of the Israeli embassy. Although protesters fled the scene upon hearing the shots, they quickly returned, chanting “We are going in!”

Egypt’s downtown area is flooded with posters reading “Palestine, we will return,” while Palestinian flags are sold on many street corners in the area surrounding Tahrir Square. The square itself was packed with tens of thousands on Friday chanting in solidarity with Palestine.

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