By Judith Mahoney Pasternak
CAIRO, December 28—Cairo was waking up as we made our way to the first of today’s actions. We were going to gather at the bus depot in the section of the city called Ma’arouf. It was from that depot that a convoy of buses was supposed to be taking us this morning on the first leg of the journey to Gaza, to join the historic Freedom March there on New Year’s Eve.
But days before Christmas, the Egyptian government announced that it would not permit us to go to Gaza. Now the marchers are protesting, trying to pressure the government to rescind the ban and asking other governments to intervene. This morning, we were making that demand at the site from which we had intended to leave Cairo.
We were looking at our map of the city when, as happens so often in Egypt, a passerby murmured to us, “Welcome to Egypt.” Gesturing toward the map, he asked where we were going. To Ma’arouf, we said. He told us how to get there. Then he noticed that two of us were wearing buttons that said, “My heart is with Palestine.”
“Are you with the Gaza march?” he asked. It was the first time any Egyptian had spoken to us about the march. When we said we were, he said, “We are honored that you are here. No matter what our politicians say.” He talked for a moment about the fact that many of the Egyptian people oppose the government’s shutdown of the march, although that fact doesn’t show up in media accounts of the events. “You are our voice,” he said. In turn, we thanked him for his support.
He gave us only his first name: Ali. He has seven children, he said. He can’t afford to get detained or questioned by the police. But for the omission of his last name, he was open and voluble. He works in a nearby hotel. He said that the government claims that it “has to act to secure our borders,” an assertion he declared is “poison sweetened with honey.”
We had to leave. As we made our goodbyes, thanking him again, he spoke about how painful he finds it that his country is “completely stopping everything from getting into Gaza, a land where they have nothing.” To him, that makes Egypt no different from the Israeli and U.S. governments. “We should play a different role,” he said sadly.