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Pee before demonstrating

“They grabbed me the moment that I arrived at the demonstration. I just had time to shout Gaz… and the police jumped on me,” tells a left-wing Egyptian demonstrator who wanted to protest Israel’s offensive in Gaza recently. He was kept with some 60 others for, “just 12 hours, it was not even a real arrest.”

The Egyptian authorities are determined not to permit Gaza demonstrations in the capital for fear that they may turn against the government, which is being accused of doing too little to help the Palestinians. It’s a bit of a departure from he way things were a few years ago during the intifadah. Then anti-Israel demonstration were the only kind that were allowed.

In the meantime Egypt went through a period when the opposition had a bit more leeway. Demonstrations against the government were more frequent for a between 2005 and 2007, inspired mostly by the Muslim Brotherhood and the secular Kifaya umbrella movement.

Demonstrators like the one quoted above got plenty of practice getting arrested. “In the beginning you get a bit roughed up. When they arrest you first they hit and kick a bit and you struggle but then you are put all together in a holding tank, that’s OK,” he explained. “But you cannot eat, drink or go to the bathroom for the whole time. The first few times that was difficult. For the new people it is tough. Nowadays I don’t eat or drink at all before a demonstration.”

The mood in Egypt is certainly more feisty than usual during this Gaza crisis. An editor at one left wing newspaper chose to show his anger over the violence by taping an improvised Israeli flag to the floor at the entrance to the newsroom, a vague echo of the Iraq-Bush shoe trhowing incident. The editor-in-chief shrugged laconically. “It’s an expression of anger but of impotent anger.”

And during a football match between a team affiliated to the army and another that’s backed by a petrol company one scoring player lifted his shirt and instead of doing the usual victory dance showed another T-shirt with the text, “God is with Gaza”.

Then there was the senior Muslim Brotherhood official who said that president Mubarak “hates Hamas” because he is afraid that the movement will spread its ideology of resistance to Egypt. But he blanched when asked whether that applied to his own movement. “Of course not, we will never take up arms against the government. We are not under occupation.”

In all, Egypt, and Arab anger at the country, unexpectedly provide a bit of zing during this catastrophe.  But many expect things to return to their normal boring self soon enough once the Gaza crisis is over.
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