Anti-war rally sponsored by State of Egypt in Cairo
Egypt's ruling party holds large anti-war rally Cairo, Mar. 05, SPA (Saudi
Press Agency) -- Half a million Egyptians took part in a state-orchestrated
demonstration against war in Iraq on Wednesday, with thousands of workers
bussed in from various public companies. "Long Live Hosni Mubarak!" the
crowd chanted, referring to the president, "No to War!" The rally was called
by the ruling National Democratic Party, which sent the president's son,
Gamal Mubarak, head of the NDP policy committee, and Information Minister
Safwat el-Sherif, to host it. Loyalty to Egypt is "above political parties,"
el-Sherif told the huge crowd from a podium in an empty lot next to Cairo
stadium. Guest speaker Nuaman Gomaa, the leader of the opposition Wafd
party, said the rally proved that "all Egyptians, government and opposition,
say 'no' to any aggression against an Arab country." Representatives of the
Muslim and Christians faiths also condemned the looming conflict, with Sheik
Ibrahim Atta of Al-Azhar, the highest Islamic authority in Egypt, saying
that war on Iraq would be a "threat to the whole Arab nation."
Scores of riot police were on hand to control the crowd and formed a phalanx
in front of the podium. The protest drew heavily on popular sympathy for
Iraq and antipathy toward America, which Egyptians regard as pushing for war
and supporting Israel in the Palestinian conflict. But none of the
demonstrators chanted slogans in favor of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein or
carried anti-American placards or banners. Most banners had a political
slogans such as "No to Destruction. Yes to Peace." Protesters at a similar
demonstration in the same place last Thursday yelled "Down with America!",
waved Iraqi flags, and kicked effigies of U.S. President George W. Bush.
That demonstration, called by opposition groups who obtained special
approval from the authorities, drew 100,000 people. While Wednesday's rally
was the biggest anti-war protest held so far in Egypt, there was clear
evidence it had been organized by the state.
An employee of a state television channel, Raga, who declined to give her
surname, said instructions came from the top: "We received a warning from
the head of the channel that whoever did not join the march would be
questioned for disobeying the manager's orders." Public sector companies
bussed their workers in from various parts of the country. The busses
carried numbers to help employees find them afterward. Gomaa Ibrahim, a
worker at the Cairo Company for Oil Refining, said: "The company sent twenty
buses and asked us to join the march. It is my first time here." Elsewhere
in Cairo, students at the American University in Cairo held their second
demonstration against the war in seven days. As usual, the protesters
confined their show to the campus.
The students waved Iraqi and Palestinian flags and carried placards with
slogans such as "No to War" and "No to Iraq's Invasion." Outside Damascus,
Syria, some 5,000 Palestinians held a similar protest in the Yarmouk refugee
camp. Their banners read: "No to war against Iraq" and "No to US
intervention." An official of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of
Palestine, Maher Taher, said the demonstration sent a message to Bush that
he would "never be able to rule the Arab people. We will resist and fight
until we obtain our rights."