By Brant Ozanich
A few thousand people gathered in Civic Center Feb. 5 to stand in support of the Egyptian people and demand an end to the regime of Hosni Mubarak, who has held power for nearly 30 years.
The revolution in Egypt, inspired by a similar revolution in Tunisia earlier this year, has been gaining support on an international level, catalyzing more protests in other Arab countries including Algeria, Jordan, Yemen and Syria.
“This revolution is changing hearts. It is not just changing politics,” said M.A. Azeez, an Imam from Sacramento. “It isfrom the womb of suffering and pain that any dawn can be engendered. We have to be strong, we have to be steadfast, and we have to stay on the streets until all of our demands are met.”
City College’s Muslim Student Association is one of the many groups in support of the Egyptian protesters. The MSA is a diverse organization of students that offers services and networking as well as a space for prayer at Ocean campus in the Martin Luther King Jr. Center.
“We want to make sure Obama stands on the right side of history. He has an amazing opportunity to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim people,” MSA member and City College student Mokhtar Alkhanshali said.
Alkhanshali and the rest of the MSA denounce injustice everywhere in the world, but have a personal connection to the protests in the Middle East and North Africa. They plan to hold a rally at City College or SF State within the next few weeks if the protests in North Africa and the Middle East continue.
“It’s important for me because I’m Muslim, I’m an Arab, I’m from the Middle East and I want to speak about my narrative and what my people are going through,” Alkhanshali said. “I want people at City College to have the opportunity to hear that.”
The Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition of San Francisco provided a sound system and flat-bed truck for the Feb. 5 rally, with organizational help from the Arab Resource and Organizing Center and UC Berkeley’s Muslim Student Association.
“The large number of organizers were not affiliated with any group,” rally organizer Mohammad Talat said. “Mostly they were students here on exchange, studying in the U.S. for graduate school.”
Amid shouts of “Down, down Hosni Mubarak” and “No justice, no peace,” the crowd marched to City Hall where Supervisor John Avalos (District 11) spoke and joined the march across Market Street, past the new Federal Building and back to UN Plaza.
“We’re talking about decades of fear, decades of repression and a spark that has led people to the streets. All around the world we’re standing in solidarity with the people of Egypt,” Avalos said. “This is not just about Egypt, but about all of humanity. There is no higher cause in the world right now.”
San Francisco’s rally was part of worldwide demonstrations that echoed demands from Tahrir Square in Cairo, the focal point of Egypt’s revolution.
“The problem in Egypt has never been just a dictator, but instead a dictatorship, a system of repression and terrorism,”
a recording of Mumia Abu Jamal, activist and death row inmate, played to the crowd on Feb. 5. “[The dictatorship] must be sternly fought for the light of freedom to dawn over Arab skies.”
The popular uprising in Tunisia began after Mohammed Bouazizi, a street vendor, set himself on fire Dec. 17, 2010 in protest. Nearly a month of violent skirmishes between protesters and police led to the ouster of Tunisia’s former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and sparked the revolution in Egypt.
“Tunisia was the wick to the powder keg,” Abdel-Malik Ali told The Guardsman in an interview on Jan. 29. “For the government to force someone into that desperation, it was just too much to take.”
Egyptians took to the street on Jan. 25, the “National Police Day,” calling for democratic elections and protesting civil rights abuses, record unemployment and inflation in a day that was dubbed the “Day of Rage.”
Protesters and police have been clashing constantly across the country since the Jan. 25 day of action, with the military occasionally intervening to protect protesters from police and other Mubarak supporters.
Throughout the revolution, there has been continuous occupation in Tahrir Square by thousands of protesters, as well as massive showings of protesters in other major cities throughout Egypt.
As of Feb. 5, news agency reporters have counted more than 150 killed in the fighting between protesters and police forces or Mubarak supporters, according to Al Jazeera English.
According to reports from Egypt, the pro-democracy supporters are continuing to protest, and are said to have retained their morale after a large majority of Mubarak’s cabinet has stepped down or stated they will not run for reelection in September. Mubarak has also said that he will not seek re-election.
“He may try to wait until September, but what the Egyptian people have started will never be stopped,” said Hassan Shallal, an Egyptian PhD student at University of the Pacific who has lived under the Mubarak regime. “They now know how to protest and cannot be silenced.”
Alex Emslie and Matthew Gomez contributed to this report.
Overseas reporting compiled from Al Jazeera English, The New York Times, The Associated Press, The LA Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Reuters and The International Business Times. (1019)