Hundreds of supporters rallied in Harvard Square last Saturday to show solidarity for the Egyptian revolt against President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorial rule.
The crowd marched from Harvard Square to Boston Commons, up to the Statehouse and then to Faneuil Hall — a nearly five mile trek. Along the way, protestors waved Egyptian flags, shouting, “down, down Hosni Mubarak,” and “President Obama, you should know Hosni Mubarak’s got to go,” a dig at the United States’ political support for the Egyptian leader. Cars driving by honked and waved in support, and pedestrians cheered on the crowd.
At other times, the chants echoed those heard throughout Egypt, including, “Muslim, Christian, we’re all Egyptian.”
Massive anti-government protests in Egypt began last Tuesday over widespread unemployment, poverty, corruption and Mubarak’s three-decade autocratic rule. Inspired by the successful uprising in Tunisia earlier in January, thousands of Egyptians peacefully took to the streets in an attempt to topple the Mubarak regime.
Despite the ongoing demonstrations, which have escalated since last Tuesday’s “day of rage,” Mubarak has refused to step down. And to the dismay of human rights advocates, the government has cut off Internet and telephone services, and the pan-Arab news network al-Jazeera in an effort to thwart the protests. While the police have ruthlessly fought back against civilian protesters — firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons onto the crowds — the military has shown signs of support by protecting protesters against these attacks.
Mubarak, formerly vice president of the country, came to power when President Anwar Sadat was assassinated. Since then, he has been a close ally of the United States, and a recipient of billions of dollars in annual American aid.
In Boston, demonstrators took aim at U.S. financial support by chanting, “not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Mubarak’s crimes.” One man held a sign reading, “Uncle Sam, stop funding Mubarak repression 1.5 billion a year.”
Many of those in the streets were Egyptian American, showing support for friends and family abroad. Two brothers, Abdullah and Abdurrahman Osama, attended the rally together. “As an Egyptian American, I have never been more proud of my countrymen, fighting for their God-given human rights,” said Abdullah. “By going to the streets here in Boston, hopefully they can see that we are behind them 100 percent.”
Abdurrahman explained that he came out “to appeal to U.S. Senator John Kerry (D – MA) and other representatives to unequivocally stand on the side of freedom and democracy.”
Demonstrating was a family event for the Osamas, not just in Boston, but across the world. Their younger sisters, Mariam and Iman, attended rallies in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. on the same day, while their cousins living in Cairo were part of the initial protests — one was even part of the human shield guarding the national museum from looters.
Mariam Ismail, who spent much of her childhood in Egypt, came to the rally from Sharon, Mass., even though her doctoral dissertation was due in three days. The 26-year-old explained that since her youth, poverty and corruption have gripped the country. “It [i]s no longer the Egypt that I grew up in and was so proud to be a part of,” she said. But now, “people are finally speaking up. They want the truth. They want equality. They want their Egypt back. I want my Egypt back.”
“President Obama needs to know he can’t support both Mubarak’s dictatorship and democracy in Egypt,” Ismail continued. “Protesting here in America is not only to show my support to the Egyptian people ... but to also send President Obama a loud and clear message that he has to do something now.”
But the majority of the protesters were not Egyptian, or even Arab. Nadeem Mazen, a first-generation Egyptian American said, “There were people marching today without a trace of Egypt in their blood, but they were chanting as hard as anyone else, completely immersed in the human rights action.”
“As an Egyptian, I feel even more connected because I have friends and relatives to be proud of,” he continued, “men and women who are putting their safety on the line in an attempt to secure Egypt’s future, people who are keeping the flame lit for pro-human rights actions worldwide.”
Those actions were demonstrated Tuesday as Al Jazeera reported that more than a million protesters flooded into central Cairo, turning Tahrir Square in the Egyptian capital, into a sea of humanity in a massive show of protest.
Packed shoulder to shoulder in and around the famed Tahrir Square, the mass of people held aloft posters denouncing the president, and chanted slogans “Go Mubarak Go” and “Leave! Leave! Leave!”
Similar massive demonstrations calling on Mubarak to step down are also being witnessed across other cities, including Sinai, Alexandria, Suez, Mansoura, Damnhour, Arish, Tanta, el-Mahalla and el-Kubra.
Tens of thousands were reportedly marching in Alexandria while the number of those protesting in Sinai was estimated to be around 250,000.
Tuesday’s protests were by far the biggest since street demonstrations broke out against Mubarak’s rule last week.
“The crowd is very diverse — young, old, religious, men, women — and growing by the minute,” Al Jazeera’s online producer said from Tahrir Square. “They’re chanting the same slogans they’ve been chanting all week. Someone actually hung an effigy of Mubarak from a streetlight.”
Organizers had called for a march by a million people on the day, but the turnout surpassed all expectations.
Soldiers deployed at the square did nothing to stop the crowds from entering.
They have formed a human chain around protesters, and are checking people for weapons as they enter. Tanks have been positioned near the square, and officers have been checking identity papers.
According to reports, the military police have placed barbed wire around Mubarak’s residence in Masr el-Gedidah, a suburb east of Cairo.
Al Jazeera correspondents said the mood at the Tahrir Square was “festival-like.”
“It is peaceful, people power that has united here in the heart of Egypt’s historic square,” reported one correspondent.
An Al Jazeera correspondent in Cairo said that there were reports that “thugs in certain parts of the city have been trying to stop people from driving into Cairo.”
She said that “increasingly large pockets of pro-government protests” are also taking place at various locations in the city.There are fears that if the two sets of protesters meet, a violent clash could erupt.
Gigi Ibrahim, a political activist, told Al Jazeera the protesters will not be satisfied until Mubarak steps down.
“... Every day there are more numbers on the street than the day before. I think the protests are gaining momentum. The people ... will literally not leave until Mubarak steps down,” she said.
In turning out at Tahrir Square and elsewhere, the protesters overcame various odds. Authorities had stopped all train traffic from Monday afternoon in a bid to deter people from joining the protests, but they came out in very large numbers nevertheless.
State TV has started showing footage of the protests in Tahrir Square, though it continues to focus on how the protests are hurting Egypt’s economy.
Protest organizers had called for an indefinite strike to be observed across the country on Tuesday, the eighth day of an uprising that has claimed at least 150 lives.
Al Jazeera contributed to this report
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Hundreds of travelers left blockaded Gaza for Egypt on Sunday, in one of the sporadic openings that enable students, patients and others with Egyptian visas to cross the border.
About 1,000 university students and holders of foreign residency permits were eligible to cross, and by mid-afternoon Sunday, about 600 people had made the trip, border officials said. More »
CAIRO - Egypt's leading democracy advocate made a forceful call Monday for the nation to boycott November's parliamentary election, saying they were certain to be rigged and urging his young supporters to be patient and plan for a lengthy struggle.
Nobel laureate Mohammed ElBaradei told about 200 activists gathered a sunset Ramadan meal that participating in the vote would go against "the national will" to transform Egypt into a genuine democracy. More »
CAIRO - Thirty years after Egypt signed a historic peace treaty with Israel - the first Arab country to do so - many here still question whether the 1979 deal with the Jewish state delivered the benefits Egyptians believed it was supposed to.
The Israeli government marked the March 26 anniversary with a reception last Wednesday. Egypt, a U.S. ally and a regional heavyweight, barely acknowledged it. More »