By Lucid and the Ugly Truth, WeAreChangeToronto.org
July 17, 2011 Queens Park, Toronto, CANADA
Arab Solidarity Committee Press Statement
“All of the recent Arab revolutions have something in common. They all want freedom, equality, democracy and most importantly human dignity. This event was held not only for the memory of the brave who fought for their liberty as the first people to take to the streets and break their silence to speak out and shout “We want freedom”, but also for the people who continue to struggle, fight and die for the liberation of their people.”
Sunday’s rally at was held at Queen’s Park, organized by the Arab Solidarity Committee, a collective of community groups from Middle Eastern Countries, notably Egypt, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain and Tunisia. It’s purpose was to show unity among nations amidst the ongoing Arab Spring Revolution.
This July represents a milestone date for the Arab Solidarity Committee here in Toronto after nearly 6 months of organizing and community mobilization. They have seemingly perfected the art of the solidarity rally with poetry, singing and lively chanting set to the rhythm of a tabla drum. Bright red flags fluttered in the summer breeze, one for every country. It represented a celebration of free-speech and political activism, seen as a shining hope for the future of the Middle Eastern region for peace and prosperity, to honor the power of peaceful protest in overcoming tribal war, poverty and imprisonment imposed for generations by the regressive dictatorships.
It all began in late January. Over live feed webcams, reports of the Egyptian military opening fire upon unarmed protesters were putting all the media in a frenzy. I remember arriving late one Friday evening to the Toronto Anti-War Coalition offices, not really having a good understanding of what exactly was going on. All I knew was it was big. I remember about 20 of us hastily assembling posters to picket rods by the hundreds. There was a sense of serious urgency and it had the feeling of being something dangerously subversive.
We gathered the next day down at Yonge and Dundas Square, a convenient parking-lot sized ‘cultural center’ in the downtown core where the Arab Solidarity protests would make their mark. In winter, permitting was typically not an issue, and it gave us a quarter of an acre to amass in large numbers and march with pickets and flags.
Coming from an anti-war background, I was dealing with a feeling of displacement among the protesters, because in my mind, I didn’t know what exactly I was doing there. What did the demonstration mean to me as a native born Canadian? It was too early in the stages of the Egyptian Revolution for any of us to really know. We simply acted for the moment because we felt then that it was the right thing to do.
“For many generations it was a dream to see Arabs fight for justice and freedom. Today here in Canada, we’re seeing the dream come true.”
Progressively over time it came to be known as the the Arab Revolution, or Arab Awakening as the entire world tried to come to grips with this strange new phenomenon sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. An ever expanding and unstoppable series of protests that mounted into an organized and sustained people’s revolution, driven predominantly by the grassroots and opposition parties. They finally settled on the name, the Arab Spring, a name that pays tribute to Prague Spring, (a mass protest movement that led to the liberation of Czechoslovakia from the Soviet Republic in 1968)
Numerous factors for protests include issues such as the human rights, corruption, economic decline, unemployment and extreme poverty. In nations rich in resources an elitist military class serving to guard the lavish lifestyle of an autocratic dictatorship and monarchy system came to be seen as an anachronism, in the eyes of today’s 21st century tech-savvy generation.
Harkening back to 2009 with the April 6 Youth Committee, Egyptian student and labor organizers attempted to push for strikes, they were seen as pioneers in developing methods of mobilization through the internet. But it was shut down. In the re-emergence of the new uprising though, they created the popular slogan, seen on posters at the many mass sit-ins; “Game Over.”
The people had finally seized on their strength in numbers, but the regional leadership recognized this threat. The crisis’ quickly escalated and entire nations were thrown into chaos. Clashes between police and demonstrators happened routinely, and in in many occasions, it cost both parties their lives.
As of May 2011, the demonstrations resulted in overthrow of two heads of state: Tunisian President Zine El Abine Ben Ali who fled to Saudi Arabia. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned after 18 days of massive protests, ending 30 year presidency.
The ramifications of these two successes led to a change in perception of the long oppressed Arab / North African nations. With the exile of Mubarak there was a sudden power shift. Egyptians were freed to lend aid the Libyans in their subsequent uprising. For the first time in decades Palestinian refugees approached the border fences of Israel en-mass, braving the machine gun wielding Israeli troops.
Yet the Arab Revolution, largely peaceful continues to be met with brute force. The deployment of military, in the case of Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and Libya for example, has ratcheted up the death-toll in the thousands. The killing of unarmed civilians has alerted human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who have called on the UN and the West to put pressure on these states until the killing stops, and national democratic dialogues begin.
To make matters worse, US and NATO responded by launching air strikes over civilian populated centers in an all out war against Muammar Gaddafi the dictator who vowed he would relinquish his control so easily, nor bow down to NATO demands. Rumors of a ground invasion and escalation of wider regional wars abound.
The solidarity protests at home are meant to draw attention to these issues, and the persistence in which they have been carried out, has made a successful impact in terms of educating, informing and unifying supporters and wider communities. But the people of the Arab Spring are not asking for intervention, they are simply asking for our understanding of their cause and when necessary, donations of humanitarian aid.
Representing Egypt: Wael, Dalia and Nourhan
“I had the honor of witnessing the Egyptian Revolution being born in the streets of Cairo, the city where I come from. I saw brave men and women face down one of the most brutal regimes in the world, which was Hosni Mubarak’s. People faced bullets for the chance of freedom chanting [in Arabic] ‘we are peaceful.’
“The whole world witnessed in shock how the situation escalated and how the regime revealed it’s ugly face, giving orders to kill peaceful protesters in cold blood, sending armored vehicles to crush demonstrators and releasing armed thugs to terrorize our neighborhoods, attack foreign reporters. They wanted to send fear into the peace-loving nation but the Egyptians defied the regime and showed what a brave nation Egypt is.”
“We continue down the road we started on at Tahrir square in the heart of Cairo. Through peaceful means we managed to topple Mubarak, who managed to keep his safe for 30 years. We willingly sacrificed our lives to write with our own blood a new chapter in the glorious history of our beloved country. Under the name of January 25th that will be the day the Revolution started and a day that will be celebrated for generations to come as a day of freedom, liberation and diginty.”
“We couldn’t have done that without your support, the people of the free world. Marches were held in many places around the globe in support of our fight for democracy. You inspired us all and gave us the power to move forward towards victory.”
“The People now are facing a brutal summer but still they are marching in thousands and millions in the streets of Cairo and all other cities.”
Representing Libya: Wafa and Salma
“Today marks the 5th month of the Libyan uprising although our protest did start on February 15th by the families of the Abu Salim prison victims. For those of you unfamiliar with Abu Salim, the Gaddafi regime killed over 1200 innocent prisoners on June 29, 2996. These were also innocent individuals who were fighting for their basic human rights.
Our revolution started in the eastern city of Benghazi, and like all other Arab revolutions, started peacefully. But unfortunately those protesters were met with brute force by Gaddafi soldiers. However that didn’t deter our freedom fighters and 3 days later Benghazi was free and In šāʾ Allāh all of Libya will be free soon.”
“The Situation turned from one that was dire to one of a humanitarian crisis as the Gaddafi forces used snipers and war planes to quash protests. Libyans in Libya and around the world urged the US to implement a no-fly zone. On March 13th the Arab Federation stood in solidarity with the people of Libya and voted in support of a no-fly zone. 4 days later the UN implemented a no-fly zone. The International Court issued an arrest warrant for Gaddafi on June 27, because like other governments of the Arab Spring the Gaddafi government has committed countless crimes against humanity…”
Representing Syria: Noura and Zahir
“… When Syrians had enough of this [40 yeas of Baath party state of emergency rule oppressive dictatorship] and wanted change from the humiliation and ill treatment, of the status quo, the government made a few changes; Lifting the emergency law, releasing political prisoners, offering citizenship, but this was still not enough. There is still no justice and where there is no justice there will never be peace. The protest keeps going and so does the government’s crackdown and denial of what they have been up to in Syria.
Since March, 0ver 1300 people have died and over 10,000 have been arrested, tortured and their families may have no idea what their conditions are. Some return alive but with evidence of extreme torture all over their bodies, some dead, with evidence of extreme torture before death. This is exactly why we’re here today. But Syria is not the only one crying because of oppression. Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Palestine are also crying and dying.
We are blessed to be in a country like Canada where we have our freedom of speech and basic rights and more, but our families and friends are still suffering and dying back home. We need to unite in mind body and spirit to stand against the monster of oppressive dictatorship. We need to stand by the oppressed all over the world and show them that they will never be alone.”
Speaking on the behalf of the palestinian refugees: Shefa
“When they first asked me to speak I had to ask myself how do I give justice to speak about 63 years of oppression in these next few minutes. 63 years of torture, 63 years of mass murder and most importantly, 63 years of being ignored. The time is now to speak for the voiceless. The time is now to end the Palestinian struggle for freedom.
So far I will say this, whether it’s Israel’s Netanyahu, whether it’s Obama, whether it’s Gaddafi, wether it’s Salik, whether it’s Bashar, let’s say this to them, ‘the people united will never be defeated.’
Do not be fooled by the Zionists, the ones who would dehumanize and argue with old pieces of history and bring religion and race to the question. We fight for humanity and justice, no matter who you are or where you’re from.”
Quoting from a Palestinian woman living in Gaza, in an open letter to the solidarity activists: “You demonstrate that religion, nor race is important when it comes to standing up for the rights of human beings. And for every step you take, justice and humanity wins. I want you to trust that your actions are making a difference in changing the violence we see here in our land. Your solidarity is helping fuel our nonviolent fight. Palestinians face many kinds of violence and torture however being ignored is the worst kind of punishment of them all. Those who refuse to see and hear us are just as bad as those who occupy us.
And so I would say that the Palestinians are honored to have so many activists around the world risk their lives, their time and money to stand up for Palestine.
They sabotaged our Flotilla, they shoot us when we hold up a flag, they displace us from our homes but all the sacrifice has never gone to waste because Israel, we can see you, the world can see you and you can’t hide from us.”
From January until now, the Arab Spring Solidarity Rallies have become almost ubiquitous in towns and cities across Canada and the rest of the world and one cannot forget to mention of course the social networking sites such as facebook, or youtube. Massive demonstrations have taken place in Spain, the UK and now Greece, drawing inspiration and learning from the success of the Arab protests in their own battle against austerity and political isolation. In Toronto, over the last several months at least, the weekend rally down at the local Parliament building is becoming somewhat of a tradition and We Are Change Toronto have been covering the events from the day one.
In the beginning, I was skeptical but now hopeful. Outsiders can criticize these protests as a waste of time but to that I would answer that the power of protest comes from within. Solidarity protests will undoubtedly continue in the midst of the unresolved conflict. The issues upon which the Arabs are demonstrating for are universally important to us all. So I would encourage everyone to get out to the next one, embark on the journey with us. For we may be diverse, but no longer divided, united we are strong, and in time we shall prevail. But don’t simply take my word for it. See for your self because seeing is believing.
Video: “Grand March In Solidarity with the Arab Revolutions Part 1″ The Ugly Truth Productions