Egyptian authorities announced on Tuesday evening that they would only allow 100 people to enter Gaza for a freedom march. About 1 300 protesters had planned on marching to Gaza, which shares the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
The controversial decision was met with angry debate. The offer — made by Suzanne Mubarak, wife of Egypt President Hosni Mubarak and the chairperson of the Red Crescent — was accepted by one of the march organisers, Code Pink, a US anti-war group that is mainly composed of women.
This caused divisions not only within the group of international delegates but also within the Egyptian government. According to a Code Pink press statement: ‘The [Egyptian] Foreign Minister is enraged and feels that the president’s wife undermined his ‘no’ to all delegates by allowing some to go forward to deliver humanitarian aid under the auspices of her leadership as the chair of the Red Crescent.â€
Many of the delegates from 43 countries who have converged on Cairo over the past two days for the march have decided not to send delegates to the Rafah border crossing on Wednesday morning.
The South African delegation, led by Judge Siraj Desai, opted not to send delegates, saying it would be a ‘sell-out positionâ€, and that it ‘dilutesâ€ the political campaign against the occupation of Palestine.
Other countries who have decided against sending delegates include Canada, Greece and France. ‘We do not accept this outcome,â€ Desai said in a heated meeting with Medea Benjamin of Code Pink at a downtown Cairo hotel. ‘There is enormous international solidarity that was compromised.â€
Haroon Wadee, a coordinator of the SA delegation, told the Mail and Guardian that ”international solidarity is crucial to freeing the Palestinian people. We don’t want to see this diluted. In going from sending 1Â 400 people to sending 100, we are not only diluting the group, but we are diluting the message.â€
Benjamin said the Egyptian government had made it extremely difficult for delegates to communicate and coordinate their actions.
”We’re not calling this a victory, we’re calling it an opportunity to take the process forward,â€ she told the South African delegation.
‘We’ve forced [the Egyptian government] to make a concession.â€
After months of discussions with the organisers, the Egyptian government announced last week that they would not allow any of the contingent through the border due to what it termed, ‘the sensitive situation in Gazaâ€.
This led to a number of large international protests against the Egyptian government in Cairo since Monday.
Earlier on Tuesday, the South African delegates found a large police contingent awaiting them outside their hotel in the morning, who then questioned and accompanied them for most of the day.
The group visited political counselors Selly Ramakgopa and Stefan Greyson at the South African embassy, where they requested that the embassy put pressure on Egypt to allow them to open the borders to the protesters.