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“Very bad Europeans”

January 28, 2014 at 2:22 am

By Yvonne Ridley

I have never met Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit but he thinks that I am a very bad European; that’s me and 1400 other peace activists from the Gaza Freedom March who are trapped in Cairo on New Year’s Eve. Aboul Gheit let us know of this unexpected demonisation via a statement to the local media after telling them that 100 “good Europeans” had been found to send to Gaza. The lucky hundred had been “selected” because they were truly the only peaceful members of the Gaza Freedom Marchers’ delegation; the rest of us were conspiracists and anarchists, the media was told.

Although we’ve never met, it is clear that he has a long distance relationship with the truth. His government’s treatment of the Gaza Freedom Marchers in Cairo and the latest Viva Palestina Convoy heading for El-Arish after being refused a ferry at Aqaba is shameful, and his betrayal of the people of Gaza is unforgivable. Not content with digging himself into a very deep hole, it seems he is still digging… but sadly, not for Gaza’s victory or freedom. The feckless politician delivered a serious propaganda blow to the already damaged reputation of his government and if I were Hosni Mubarak, I wouldn’t even put him in charge of a cabbage patch.

He obviously thought that by sending 100 “good Europeans” on two buses to Gaza the world’s media would overlook the fact that a 250-vehicle mercy convoy has been forced to make a 72-hour detour from the Port of Aqaba to El-Arish because of him. And he thought – very foolishly – that the remaining 1300 Gaza Freedom Marchers would slip out of Cairo and return quietly to the 42 countries from which they came. His plan back-fired spectacularly when the 100 “good Europeans” decided to boycott the buses provided by Aboul Gheit’s ministry. Desperate to drag a victory from the jaws of defeat, Egyptian security officers pleaded with anyone, just anyone, to get on the bus to Gaza. No doubt a few of us “bad Europeans” would have been able to get on board as the security officers began corralling people on to the buses despite their protests that they didn’t want to be among the chosen few. And to add to the Foreign Minister’s total humiliation, the very brilliant and courageous Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein really rained on his parade when she announced that she was not leaving her 1400 comrades behind. Once she refused to get on a bus that was it; Aboul Gheit’s plans for a spectacular end-of-year-show turned into a farce. To revive a colourful US presidential election image – it didn’t matter how much lipstick the Egyptian Foreign Minister tried to put on this pig, it still looked like a pig! As a result the official buses left half-empty, and several hours late, bound for the Gaza border; despite desperate attempts to pick up passengers on the way, no one wanted to be seen as a stooge of the Egyptian government. Spaniards and Brits who had earlier been put under ‘hotel arrest’ in Al Arish for daring to leave Cairo were told they could get on the buses as they passed through en route for Gaza, but nobody wanted a ticket.

At this stage you would have thought that there might be some humility or even apologies coming from the Foreign Ministry, but the reaction towards those of us who want to show solidarity and give aid and comfort to the good people of Gaza is nothing short of astonishing. And if by showing compassion to my brothers and sisters in Palestine the Foreign Minister thinks I am a bad European”, then what does that make him?

If anyone translates this article into Arabic for his benefit, Aboul Gheit may well have me deported, so – for the record – I am not in the least insulted that he thinks I am a “bad European”. Being labelled as such by this weasel politician is a badge of honour for all of us, and that includes the many American citizens among the Gaza Freedom Marchers. The Foreign Minister will, of course, be very aware that his government receives nearly $2 billion in aid from the US, and so he’s probably too afraid to be overly critical of our American comrades.

I spent much of Tuesday with hundreds of stranded French activists who have set up a makeshift camp outside their embassy in the Egyptian capital. The atmosphere at the French camp, surrounded by hundreds of Egyptian riot squad officers, was just plain wicked… they are indeed very, very, bad Europeans and I’m proud to be part of their resistance. Better bad than sad.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.