h/t and thanks to William Bowles at Creative-i
By Haitham Sabbah
Dec 29th, 2009
In a press conference conducted earlier this evening, the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit announced some threats, warnings, surprises as well as some good news. The press conference that aired on Egyptian official TV a few hours ago was boiling with Aboul Gheit’s very firm and angry answers to the journalists’ questions who did not spare him a topic. They asked about the peace process, Hamas, Rafah tunnels and the Iron Wall besides the questions about the Gaza Freedom March and Viva Palestina.
To my surprise, it seems that the mainstream media are so far ignoring this press conference and no one has published any of the surprises or the good news which he carried for the Gaza Freedom March and the surprise he had for Viva Palestina. Not even those directly concerned, the activists themselves. Instead, searching the mainstream media today you will only get news about Egypt’s arrest of activists in Cairo, the activist hunger strike, Viva Palestina’s redirection to Syria, and so on.
Therefore, to be fair with Egypt and Egyptians, I’ll try to translate the important parts of the press conference.
To start with the good news, Aboul Gheit announced that the Egyptians approved a limited number of Gaza Freedom March members to pass through and reach Gaza, Palestine, in the coming few days. He said (translated from Arabic here):
. . . On the demonstrations held by activists from 42 countries and their appeal to President Mubarak to allow them to cross into Gaza Strip, Aboul Gheit said, “This issue has been on the Egyptian state agenda for several months, there is a non-governmental organisation that heads six non-governmental organisations below it with 200 other organisations, and there are groups of activists, idealists and those of different directions. We have asked them early on, so as to heed their wishes, to provide us the details of their names and passports, and to tell us to what extent they wish to go. Some did, and others decided not to respond because they reject the right of the Egyptian state to use its territory to allow or not allow. They said, “we’ll impose on the people of Egypt to accept that we only have the right to impose conditions for those who want to enter our state. You can not (pointing to the journalists) get a visa for Italy or France just because you defend them, or some of you at least. So Egypt has decided that this is matter that needs to be looked at carefully, and then we identified that some of them want to reach the Egyptian Rafah to exercise unlawful acts which deal with the Egyptian construction (referring to the Iron Wall), which means demonstration against Egypt, and some tried to hold contacts in Egypt which we do not accept, and intervened in a clash with the Egyptian state, so Egypt decided not to allow either of these groups to move deep into Sinai, however, as a result of the appeal, the Egyptian state has decided as per instructions from Mr. President to consider allowing a limited number of representatives of groups that we feel are genuine groups, and stands with the Palestinian people, such as ours do with them, in order to express advocacy of the Palestinian people and will allow them to enter in the next few days.”
Aboul Gheit added, “Those thousands of people trying to conspire against Egypt, all that we will do is to let them in our streets, seeking to provoke the Egyptians, but the Egyptians are wiser, especially after we saw that all these demonstrations have been limited to those foreigners who tried to invoke the Egyptian security, who had not provoked, stressing that these will be in the hospitality of this magnificent sun, until the end of their desire to stay and they leave.”
. . .
That was the good news. At least partly.
As for the bad news, or should I say surprise, Aboul Gheit explained in detail the claims of Viva Palestina’s block to enter Egypt as they planned and provided copies of a letter that was delivered to the Viva Palestina convoy which clearly states Egyptian approval of their entry, but through Al-Arish port, as they did before, twice. The surprising part was the dates of these letters. The first one dates back to Nov 10th, 2009 and another reminder from Dec 10th, 2009 (copies below as available from source).
I think this is a very embarrassing day for activists around the world. At least for those who follow and support both, Gaza Freedom March and Viva Palestina.
Both of them either lack coordination and transparency, or have intentions for uncalled propaganda against Egypt which all activists and Palestinians are better off without.
Gaza Freedom March seems not in control of who joins and who is not supposed to, especially since it is clear that many of them did not comply with the Egyptian request of providing the details they requested ahead of time.
Egypt, like any other country in the world, has the right to approve or deny the entry of anyone to their land. However, it allowed anyone to arrive into Cairo and welcomed them like any other visitors. At the same time, in situation like borders with Palestine and Israel, no one can blame Egypt for being extra careful in accepting or denying who will travel into Sinai and who will not.
On the other hand, Viva Palestina never mentioned anything about Egyptian pre-approval to pass through Al-Arish. At least not to the mass followers, supporters and activists, if at all we assume that the convoy organizers coordinate well enough and know well ahead what is their approved route. Instead, after they reached Aqaba they issued appeal after appeal and calls for support, even went as far as asking Turkey to help. The Turkish official who went and met with Egyptians must be embarrassed after he discovered what Viva Palestina hid and did not tell him (or anyone else) about the Egyptian letters.
I think this is a lesson for the activists to learn from. Viva Palestina and Gaza Freedom March made a mess and they involved everyone in it. It is embarrassing to act in such a way.
The only thing that must be remembered so as to forgive them this blunder is the genuine reason they are claiming to be working for, which is helping Gazans. Otherwise, Gaza Freedom March and Viva Palestina lost their credibility because of their lack of transparency and misleading messages which reach to creating propaganda against Egypt and Egyptians.
Only apologizing to Egypt in a public press conference can make one forgive these fatal mistakes which made Egypt sound as THE enemy deflecting our sight from the real enemy and the real reason behind all this atrocities that Gazans and Palestinians live in, ISRAEL.
[Copies of the letters: Palestine Think Tank]
Haitham Sabbah is an uprooted Palestinian blogger. He is the webmaster and editor of Palestine Blogs, also webmaster and co-editor of Palestine Think Tank. His personal blog is Sabbah’s Blog: http://sabbah.biz/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License, 2009 Palestine Think Tank
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I have looked into the paperwork and reflected on the meetings we had from before the beginning of the trip. I have concluded that I am 100% happy with the decision of the organisers to take the convoy to Aqaba. The ‘requirements’ (aka siege) outlined in the Egyptian letter to Viva Palestina include handing over our aid to other agencies and negotiating with Israel as well as the El Arish port entry. From the start our intention was to remain with our vehicles and deliver the aid personally to the organising committee with whom we had been liaising – not via other agencies and not crossing Israel. If we had headed for El Arish port as a first then we would have been separated from the vehicles as well as having the extra cost and logistics. It was worth the effort to arrive on the doorstep and try to make the points we made from there. If there was to be any sensible compromise on the port of entry, Aqaba was the best place for us to be. As it was the negotiations resulted in the agreement that we could all enter with our aid and all vehicles under 3.5 tons could go in. So we compromised on the sea journey to El Arish and undertook momentous turnaround. Guess what – the agreement changed when we got to El Arish and the cars were no longer included! Hence protest. I’m glad we raised the issue at Aqaba so the media could show up this effect of the siege, and the convoy members I’ve spoken to agree.
Thanks Alex for all your efforts and for the update.
thanks for your post – at the time you posted I was en route to Lattakia from Aqaba with the convoy and now having finally returned to UK have been able to do some research. I’m not speaking on behalf of any of the organisers however I can tell you that team leaders and convoy members (and possibly some of the organising team) were not aware of any issue with the route via Nuweiba until the evening we arrived in Aqaba on 23rd December. I’m not 100% indignant about having discovered the detail of the prior notice, at the moment about 50% which may vary as I research further. I imagine some convoy members would be extremely indignant but I cannot speak for them. The convoy negotiators team – again I am not party to their level of awareness of the Egyptian notices – may have thought that they may succeed in re-negotiating the terms and took a chance with us turning up at the door. Again a chance that many convoy members carrying valuable and specialist equipment might be unhappy to hear about. Practical concerns aside and the reason why I am not 100% indignant is the question as to why Egypt would not want us to drive from Nuweiba to Rafah and the need to ask the question.
A clue as to why this might be was mentioned to me by a Malaysian delegate who visited Cairo while we were in Aqaba in order to work on our behalf on the Nuweiba entry. Apparently the road we would have used runs close to the Israeli border – the Egyptian authorities may not be able to guarantee our security against actions that might be taken against us or other convoys from the Israeli side along that border. When Egypt talks about the security of their border and the security of the convoy and everyone thinks of Egypt-Gaza border it seems to me a fairly substantial piece of the jigsaw is not being mentioned. Is the real concern the fact that the convoy or convoys could be targeted across the Israel-Egypt border and the potential implications of that? This is a question I have rather than a position I add.
On the providing of participant information to Egypt I can confirm that convoy did do this thoroughly as I was part of the information gathering for my team. I remain slightly baffled given the meticulous process of meeting the Egyptian request for this information that the other requests outlined in the letters posted were dealt with late in the day. At this time I remain seeking information and in dialogue with my team and have not reached a final conclusion.
Thank you, Alex for the additional info and your research. Good that you are back safely, too. And of course, thank you and all the others who participated in the Viva Palestina convey.
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The organizers of these marches may have mishandled this issue with Egypt, who seems to be extra sensitive about issues of sovereignty, and provoked it with more ways than one, to the point where the Egyptians were infuriated and confused about how to handle this matter, but there’s no doubt about it that the Egyptians have fumbled this one, and badly. Talk about your international fiasco, which is what this thing ultimately turned into, when it didn’t need to, and could’ve been handled in a much more sensitive and smart way without the Egyptians having to look like the bad guys here.
Egypt is the defacto mother of the Arabic world and has always occupied a special place in the hearts and minds of all Arabs as the leader and champion of their common causes, especially their common struggle with Israel. Thus, its stand on this matter, and the manner with which it allowed itself to appear was a political blunder of historical proportion. Egypt didn’t really need to look like an ally of Israel and the US more than an ally of the Palestinians, which it unfortunately did, and all those marchers who came from across the globe came basically to express their solidarity with the plight of the besieged Gazan people. These people didn’t come to support Hamas, who is a major contributor to the agony of the people of Gaza with their insistence on holding on to power in Gaza, at any cost and regardless of how much its one and a half million inhabitants suffer. They came to support the children and the hungry and sick people of Gaza, who have been treated inhumanely by Israel, the US, Hamas and also Egypt, unfortunately.
Definitely, Egypt, or more like the Egyptian government, could’ve handled this much better, and with much more sensitivity and diplomacy – but they didn’t, and instead they chose to appear so callous, insensitive and anti-Gazans, who have been blockaded for so long – enough to earn Gaza the title “Hell on Earth”. Egypt needs some major damage control action plan to rescue its badly mangled image and marred reputation in the eyes of the Arab, and Muslim worlds and many in the international community – other than Israel and the US, of course.
This ploy by Egypt does not seem credible. it is a typical move by an Arabic country.
huh? um, i think i want to hear from the freedom march people, at the very least, before i believe the self justifications of a regime with a long history of oppressing its own people and oppressing Gaza. in fact, this stuff obviously sounds like the kind of bureaucratic stumbling block procedure that is routine for oppressive regimes, including our own. Does anyone doubt that the regime in iran has a wealth of excuses for oppressing demonstrators? Did the demonstrators in Iran fill out the proper paperwork for their demonstrations? Obviously not. Does that justify putting down the demonstrations? obviously not. As regards Egypts rights to control its borders, that clearly becomes quite complicated when they are at the same time controlling Gaza’s borders, without Gaza’s consent.