Today the Western Massachusetts Coalition for Palestine and several co-sponsoring organizations held a rally and March in Solidarity with the Egyptian People from the Haigis Mall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to the Frost Library at Amherst College. I was assigned to cover the event for my Multimedia Journalism class.
I must admit that at first I was a little wary. I arrived at the Haigis Mall around 12:45 p.m. and I saw that about half of an estimated 40 people present were participating; the other half were reporting. It was an overcast day and it had just started to drizzle. I walked by a young man passing out signs in Arabic, and when a Smith student asked what they said he replied, “I don’t know my friend made them and I can’t read Palestinian”.
I walked around a bit and stopped to chat with several people. There were men and women, about a third were over the age of 40 and the rest were in their 20s. I spoke to five Smith girls, three who studied at American University in Alexandria and two who studied at American University in Cairo. They all knew people back in Egypt, some who are content to wait out the last 8 months of Mubarak’s presidency and others who are in the heart of the protest for him to step down immediately.
By 1 p.m. the crowd had doubled and lots of people had signs, flags, and even a few megaphones. As the group began to walk towards Massachusetts Avenue they went through nine pre-written chants, the most popular of which was “No justice, no peace. U.S. out of the Middle East”.
I recognized a girl from my Press and the Third World class last semester. Her name is Rahmah Pauzi and she is a junior journalism major on government scholarship from Malaysia. She asked me if I had ever been to a protest before and I said I hadn’t really, aside from taking a few pictures and a video of Egyptian-American Protestors in front of the White House last weekend. She described to me a few of the protests she had been to in her lifetime. Malaysia went through reformation in 1999, so she was seeing large protests by the time she was ten.
We walked down Mass. Ave and continued along North Pleasant St. into the center of Amherst. As Rahmah and I began talking about Egypt’s struggle for democracy she said, “For me as an outsider, I know how someone superior dictates to you what is right and what is wrong”. I just can’t imagine living in a country without freedom.
She continued by explaining to me that as much as the United States may want to make things right, this is a fight for the Eygptian people. It’s their revolution–not ours–to fight.
Others at the event were angry with the annual $1.3 billion in military aid that is given to Egypt from the United States and believed that general awareness of oppression crimes in Egypt were clouded because Egypt is considered a strong ally for the U.S. in the Middle East.
Once we arrived at the steps of the Frost Library the rally was in full swing. The group had chanted nearly the entire way and the energy was apparent as people packed in elbow-to-elbow. Though I could be awful at approximating crowd sizes, I would guess there were at least 200 people waiting to hear the seven speakers.
The second speaker was Dooler Campbell, a member of Solidarity Bridge who went abroad to study Arabic at American University in Cairo. When she was there, anyone who asked about Mubarak would respond, “we can’t talk about that here, there are people around”. She spoke of the legitimate fear Egyptians had under Mubarak’s Emergency Law, which allows the police to arrest people for any reason at any time and hold them indefinitely. Freedom of expression and assembly was limited at best.
In the end, the cold-to-the-bone rain didn’t put a damper on the rally; it charged the atmosphere. By the end of her speech Dooler Campbell declared “…the fact that Egyptians now are not afraid, are not afraid to speak out against the government…that’s their victory. They’ve already won because they’re no longer afraid.”