Paul Jay talks to Sam Husseini in Cairo, Egypt
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. Now joining us from Cairo, Egypt, is Sam Husseini. He works with the Institute of Public Accuracy. He’s a writer on political affairs, and he’s now an activist involved in the thousand-plus delegation of people from North America that went to Gaza but are now stuck in Cairo. Thanks, Sam, for joining us.
SAM HUSSEINI, JOURNALIST, WASHINGTONSTAKEOUT.COM: Good to be with you, Paul.
JAY: So give us some background for people who don’t know about this story at all. Start from the beginning.
HUSSEINI: This march, the Gaza Freedom March, it was largely composed of Americans, but, for example, over the last several days you’ve had the French, which are about 300, camped out in front of the French embassy, as well as people from Australia, from Turkey, from some 40 countries, including US writer Alice Walker, [inaudible] the anticorporate globalization prominence leader, and others around the world.
JAY: So something like 1,300 people in the delegation you went with. You’re in Cairo, and if I understand it correctly, the Egyptian authorities have so far have not allowed you to move towards the Gaza border. Have I got it right?
HUSSEINI: Totally preventing us from moving. There were arrangements made with busing companies that—they pulled the plug on all of that. That sparked a series of demonstrations here in Cairo, and everybody turned. The officials here in Cairo immediately marginalized, penned off, and cornered the demonstrations. Almost total media blackout here in Cairo. They have done everything in their power, short of beating people up wholesale, in order to undermine this effort to break the siege of Gaza, to allow Gaza simple things. It’s not—the people in Gaza emphasize there they don’t want to be a charity case. They simply want the freedom to trade, to travel, things that people, even oppressed, even poor people, take largely for granted.
JAY: What happened today at the US Embassy?
HUSSEINI: Today at the US Embassy some 30 of us got into the grounds of it. We simply went there to say we want to meet with our embassy officials. We’re US citizens, and we have a right to meet with embassy officials. And we were immediately penned in with US officials [inaudible] later learned—.
JAY: Penned in by whom? By Egyptian authorities or American?
HUSSEINI: By Egyptian authorities. We were outnumbered. Basically, riot police totally surrounded us and penned us in. People tried to stay in an area near the street so that they would be visible to the public at large here, ordinary Egyptians. Several of them were dragged from where the street was to this penned-in area with these bars all around us. I questioned and challenged and have some footage on my blog challenging the Egyptian officials, and they said, “Oh, we’re just doing this [inaudible] it’s what the Americans told us to do.”
JAY: Explain to us the position of Egypt in this, ’cause for people who aren’t following this issue, it might even be a little surprising. In theory, Egypt is an Arab country and should support the Palestinians. It’s supposed to be Israel that’s responsible for the blockade. But what exactly is Egypt’s role in all this?
HUSSEINI: Well, Egypt borders Gaza. Gaza, you know, one side of it is to the [inaudible] two sides of it are surrounded by Israel, but there is a portion of it that borders Egypt. And Egypt has, especially over the last two years, but continuously, prevented normal trade from going in and out of Gaza, that they have in effect done the dirty work of the Israelis and the United States in terms of allowing humanitarian things in, construction material. I mean, Gaza was bombed a year ago. I mean, right now you have Netanyahu in Cairo on the anniversary of the beginning of the bombing of Gaza. Today, after the embassy protests at the US embassy there were protests in downtown Cairo that included several leftist groups in Egypt, as well as the internationals. So you saw a rather striking, unique protest that was very mixed, with flags of various countries—Canada, South Africa, countries around from around the world as well. It was dominated by Egyptians denouncing the Mubarak government, because they see it is totally complicit in the siege of Gaza, with Netanyahu, the Israeli government, as well as the US government, which is basically backing the whole thing and attempting to tear Gaza apart, stirring increased turmoil between Hamas and Fatah, for example.
JAY: I understand that you couldn’t have an effective blockade of Gaza without the collaboration of Egypt.
HUSSEINI: Exactly. And, I mean, it’s escalated. I mean, the latest thing is that there are tunnel builders. And I met one of the people who got out. A person from Gaza who got up through the tunnel was here. The Egyptians are calling in the US Army Corps of Engineers to build a wall beneath the ground to prevent these tunnels from happening, which are—I mean, they’re probably smuggling some contraband, but they’re also smuggling just, you know, foodstuffs, just necessities of life that we basically take for granted. I mean, it’s not simply activists who are saying that Gaza is basically a prison.
JAY: So Egypt now has, if I understand correctly, offered buses or allowed to let 100 of the 1,300 proceed into Gaza. And as we speak, there’s a debate going on amongst the 1,300 whether to accept this or not. What’s the issue? What’s the debate about?
HUSSEINI: The debate is whether we, you know, accept this. And some of the organizers are saying it’s a de facto—has been accepted. Others are saying, no, we can back out of this, as to whether or not we should just accept 100 and then hopefully protest for more. But the fear is that because there was such a media blockade on the facts, that, you know, if there are a few happy pictures of some internationals going in and going around Gaza, that Egyptians will, you know, say, “Oh, we’re the good guys. We saved the day. We allowed these people in,” where because there was very little coverage on the Arab satellite channels for the first three days of this, you had, you know, an incredible series of events: you know, 1,300 internationals in Cairo; you have hundreds of people outside the French embassy blockading the street. I think this is quite unprecedented. And it was virtually blacked out in the Arab press until the last 24 hours. You finally had a decent Al Jazeera report, and now all the other satellite channels—Bahrain, Libya, and other satellite channels—are chiming in on this. And Egypt is being seen in the Arab world as the weak link, as basically—and not only a police state but a puppet state, of just simply doing the bidding of Israel and the United States.
JAY: Okay. Well, I guess all focus now is on the Egyptian government, and perhaps that’s one of the accomplishments already of this delegation to put the light on the role of the Egyptian government. Thanks so much for joining us, Sam.
HUSSEINI: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.