CodePink's Response to the Controversy in Cairo
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Tweets from Egyptian blogger @sandmonkey (and emails from others) have been sent to CODEPINK regarding our donation of money to buy flowers for the protesters in Tahrir Square, asking that we stop fundraising because our gesture of solidarity could be misrepresented by the authorities and could put the Egyptian movement at risk.
Within hours, we removed the donation page from our web site and have worked to make clear our intentions. Since then, @sandmonkey wrote on Twitter, thanking CODEPINK "for their prompt response & for their understanding of the situation."
A Bit of Background
Last week, when Medea Benjamin and the CODEPINK delegation asked people whom they met in Tahrir Square how we could show support for the uprising, several suggested that we purchase flowers for Friday’s “Day of Departure.” The scene in Tahrir Square, with the exception of when it was marred by violence on Thursday, has been festive, defiant and wonderfully communitarian and democratic. We thought that offering flowers on Friday’s “Day of Departure” would bring more color to the peaceful and creative scene that has inspired people around the world.
The fundraising was never intended to be more than a day-long project to show our support for the Egyptian movement, and when it was pointed out that our gesture was being misinterpreted, the request for donations was taken off the website.
Why Was CODEPINK in Cairo in the First Place?
CODEPINK was scheduled to lead a delegation through the Egyptian border to Gaza from January 30 – February 6, following the second anniversary of the Israeli assault on Gaza. As the Egyptian uprising began, the Rafah crossing into Gaza was closed, and the delegation has been caught up in the breath-taking people's movement in Egypt. On Monday, January 30, CODEPINK sent an email to our members to join human rights groups in telling President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Congress to stop funding the Mubarak regime ($1.6 billion a year), to call on Mubarak to resign, and to expressly say that our government stands with the Egyptian people. This petition has received more than 4,000 signatures and we’ve generated hundreds of emails directly to Obama. CODEPINK activists also joined demonstrations in cities around the U.S., from Portland, Maine to San Francisco, California standing in solidarity with the Egyptian people.
CODEPINK activists in Cairo continued to join demonstrations throughout the week, and held a large pink banner saying "Solidarity with the Egyptian People! Codepink.org" in Tahrir Square which appeared on Al-Jazeera coverage. When CODEPINK received word that the delegation had been asked to help deliver flowers to the Friday demonstration, we sent out an email alert asking for donations for flowers.
Delivery of the Flowers
Over the weekend the delegation in Cairo worked, against all odds, to deliver flowers to the square. Medea recounted this experience in an email: “Praying that no thugs would beat us up along the way, we piled the flowers in our arms, grabbed our ‘Solidarity with Egyptian People’ banner, and headed toward the square. People along the street started clapping, smiling, giving us the thumbs up. ‘Free, free Egypt,’ we shouted, as we were swept into the square by a sea of people. They were hugging us, kissing us, snapping our photos—and crushing us and the flowers. … We began throwing roses, carnations, gladiolas and marigolds into the cheering crowd who yelled out, in Arabic, ‘The People, United, Will Never Be Defeated.’… One of the young pro-democracy organizers looked at us while the General (Hassan El-Rawani, the head of the army's central command) was speaking [to the crowd] and laughed. ‘It’s crazy how they try to blame this purely Egyptian uprising on foreigners,’ he said. ‘Perhaps they’ll try to say that these flowers are part of some American plot to incite the masses.’”
Indeed this is how the Egyptian government is spinning the story. But we know this isn’t the truth, and this is a learning moment for movement-building. Despite allegations by Glenn Beck and others that the millions of pro-democracy demonstrators are led by militants, extremists (and codepinkers!), in fact they are predominately young people sick and tired of being unemployed in a repressive police state. As an Egyptian woman wrote to Medea: “The protestors are being supplied food and given medical support through generous civil society donations. …What the protestors need is the exposure of the atrocities that are taking place. … To show the world what this regime is doing until now is the biggest help.”
An Inspiring Movement by the Egyptian People
Medea wrote to the CODEPINK team on Sunday evening, February 6: “Just got back at 11:30 PM from the square, where thousands upon thousands are still there--singing, talking, sleeping, praying. … I am so grateful to behold this, as it will stay with me the rest of my life. … everywhere I walked tonight, people came up to say, ‘Thank you, thank you for being here, for supporting us, for showing solidarity.’ … It's an old government trick to try to divide people and turn solidarity into something negative. But it is really a beautiful sentiment, and an essential part of what it means to be human.”
Acclaimed Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif sent Medea this message: "Something wonderful is being born here: an inclusive, grassroots, democratic movement which is - even in this time of extreme crisis - enacting ideals of non-violence, creativity, courtesy, public service… what can I say? This revolution is not just Egyptian; it belongs to everyone in the world who believes in the possibility of a better way for us all to live together."