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Disconnections Everywhere

Evidence emerges that the Arab street is getting fed up with the Occupation and with Arab leaders’ mealy-mouthed responses to it. Egyptians have begun to express their disgust that the Rafah border continues to be sealed up tightly. Patience runs thin in Cairo.

On Monday and Tuesday (Mar. 3, 4), demonstrations were held throughout the country by student groups and opposition political associations of all stripes, including the Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement and the pro-democracy group Kefaya. Numbering in the hundreds in many cases, protestors condemned the perceived inability of Arab capitals — particularly Cairo — to stem Israeli aggression in Gaza.

The popular mood was summed up in the Mar. 3 headlines of independent weekly al-Dustour: “Israel burns Gaza…and where are the Arabs? You spineless sons of….!”

In the capital, demonstrations were quickly cordoned off by police and security forces. At Cairo University — precariously located not far from the Israeli embassy — limited clashes broke out between protesters and police, reportedly resulting in several injuries.

In parliament, more than 100 opposition MPs staged a 24-hour sit-in on Sunday (Mar. 2) in solidarity with the beleaguered Palestinian residents of Gaza. An attempt by the parliamentarians to lead a protest march through downtown Cairo the following day, however, was thwarted by security services.

“As the people’s representatives, we expressed the anger of our constituents,” Hamdi Hassan, an MP for Muslim Brotherhood, which numbers roughly one-fifth of the assembly, told IPS. “The Arab regimes are keeping quiet while the Zionists are perpetrating a holocaust in Gaza.

“The latest events prove that the Arab governments are totally out of touch with the will of the people,” added Hassan, who participated in the parliamentary sit-in. “Arab regimes are merely following the dictates of U.S. policy in the region, while the Arab people want to see the liberation of Palestine.”

Hassan went on to enumerate the opposition’s demands, namely, “greater efforts by President Mubarak in his capacity as head of state to stop Israeli aggression against Gaza; the halt of Egyptian energy exports to Israel; the withdrawal of the Egyptian ambassador to Israel and the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Egypt; and an official reassessment of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Camp David peace agreement.”

The Labour Party’s Hussein was no less critical of Cairo’s feeble response to Israeli belligerence.

“Official reactions to the Israeli massacres in Gaza have hardly been appropriate, and betray an allegiance to Washington and Tel Aviv,” he said. “And by keeping the border closed to the besieged Gazans, Cairo has become a partner to Israel’s crimes.”

Critics also point to the government’s muted response to the slaying of a 13-year-old Egyptian girl in the town of Kerem Abu Sallim near the border with Israel on Feb. 28, reportedly the result of cross-border Israeli gunfire. According to reports in the local press, the girl succumbed to injuries after being shot in the head not far from an Israeli watchtower.

“The foreign ministry threatens the Gazans — using very tough language — not to approach the border,” said Hussein. “But when an Egyptian child is killed by an Israeli bullet, there isn’t a word of official condemnation.”

According to the Brotherhood’s Hassan, popular anger over continued Israeli aggression in Gaza is fast approaching boiling point.

“If the massacres continue, reactions by the opposition will move beyond demonstrations and sit-ins,” he said. “While one phase of Israeli violence in Gaza has just ended, I fear another will soon begin.”

Sure enough, Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles rolled into the Gaza Strip again on Tuesday (Mar. 4) night in what Israeli defence officials described as “pinpoint operations” against local resistance fighters.

While Arab leaders have made some tentative steps away from Washington’s control in the past few months, apparently they still have far to go before connecting with their populations’ desires. It’s the same thing here. What Americans want and what Americans get are two different things, even when we elect our ‘opposition’ party into power. A great many leaders seem to be heavily insulated from the masses, insulated by layers and layers of blood-soaked capital.

I don’t see this ending well.