FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Gaza Was Cairo, Egypt Was Palestine

A dear friend of mine from Gaza told me that he hadn’t slept for days. “I am so worried about Egypt, I have only been feeding on cigarettes and coffee.” My friend and I talked for hours that day in early February. We talked about Tahrir Square, about the courage of ordinary Egyptians and about Hosni Mubarak’s many attempts to co-opt the people’s revolution. We were so consumed by the turmoil in Egypt that neither of us even mentioned Gaza.

The siege on Gaza – and on the whole of Palestine – is a constant factor that unites most Palestinians. However, the genuine solidarity that the people of the Gaza Strip felt when Egyptians took to the streets on January 25 surpassed even the political urgency around the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Ordinary Gazans danced the night away when Mubarak was removed from power on February 18. Although lifting the siege is a Palestinian priority, those who raised Egyptian flags, shed tears and subsisted on coffee and cigarettes for nearly three weeks were hardly making the connection between the siege and Mubarak. While Mubarak was loathed to the core – his decision to block the Rafah border at a critical time victimized thousands – the bond that united Egypt to Palestine runs much deeper than the sins of a senile dictator, or even a terrible siege.

The story, in fact, starts well before 1948, the year of the Palestinian Nakba. Egypt and Palestine have for long reflected the state of the other: in defeat and triumph, in despair and hope. The valiant youth of Egypt are now the harbingers of hope for their country, for Palestine and for the entire region, although things haven’t always been so promising.

Al-Nakba represented heartbreak to the collective conscious of Arabs, but Palestinians and Egyptians were affected the most.

In 1948, Arab armies entered into a halfhearted battle in Palestine. They were under-equipped, with only a limited mandate provided by self-serving leaderships. Most Palestinian villages were already depopulated by Zionist militias. The local resistance was mercilessly smashed, and the roads out of Palestine were filled with weary refugees. The Arabs were defeated. Ordinary Egyptians fumed as their Palestinian brethren were humiliated and Palestine was lost.

The defeat in 1948 led to serious introspection in Egyptian society. The internal crises, the poverty and the lack of social justice could no longer be ignored. Following the defeat of the Egyptian army in the south of Palestine, Egypt quickly descended into turmoil, and was on the verge of revolution. There was little in the way of funds to be channeled to Gaza’s sizeable refugee population. Much of Egypt’s wealth was squandered by King Farouk on his own family. Indeed, the misery in Gaza was an extension of the suffering in Egypt, and in some strange way, the failed Egyptian military intervention in southern Palestine had much to do with the revolution that followed in Egypt in 1952.

 

Gamal Abdel-Nasser, who toppled the monarchy and became Egypt’s president, was an officer in the Egyptian army in 1948. He crossed into Gaza from Sinai by train in order to defend Palestine. He was stationed in Fallujah, a village located to the north of Gaza. His unit repeatedly tried to recapture some of the lost areas in the south, even when military wisdom pointed to the unfeasibility of such an effort. When it was discovered that many Egyptian army units were being supplied with purposely-flawed weapons, shockwaves spread throughout the army, but it was not enough to demoralize Nasser and a few Egyptian soldiers. They stayed in the Fallujah pocket for weeks, and their resistance became the stuff of legend.

The building in which Nasser and his unit stayed still stands in today’s Israel. It is surrounded by fences, like a surrealistic piece of living art. Nasser returned to Egypt after a territorial swap – Fallujah for the small town of Beit Hanoun, north of Gaza, which was under Israeli control at the time. Bitterness, anger and grief accompanied him on his way back to Cairo, also through Gaza.

Nasser marched to Cairo, and in 1952, along with a few army officers, he overthrew the king and his government. Palestine was cited by Nasser as a key reason behind his rebellion. The defeat of Palestine had signified all the ills that afflicted Egypt under the King and his royal family.

Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, saw in Nasser a hero and liberator. And why wouldn’t they? He was the man they waved to as he passed by Gaza with his fellow officers following the Fallujah battle. It was a rare moment of pride and hope when the officers crossed with their weapons, and huge crowds of refugees flooded the streets to greet them. The refugees adored Nasser and they placed framed photographs of him in their tents and mud houses.

This is merely one episode to demonstrate the intrinsic, almost organic relationship between Egypt and Palestine. The relationship withstood many difficult events that followed, including the defeat of 1967 (where the rest of historic Palestine was lost), the death of Nasser, and the signing of the Camp David agreement between Egypt and Israel. Saddat was an anomaly, Palestinians argued. Camp David was the exception, they said. Mubarak was not Egypt. Indeed, the siege was seen as dishonoring a legacy that Palestinians are determined to remember with fondness. Egypt stands for shared history, for heroism and sacrifice.

On March 24, the Middle East Monitor reported that Egyptian Foreign Minister, Dr Nabil El Arabi had sent a message to his counterpart in Gaza a few days earlier. In the letter he stated that lifting the Israeli-imposed siege of Gaza – supported by the discredited Mubarak regime – was a priority for the new government in Cairo: “We are acting to open the border at Rafah and facilitate an easing of life for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”

El Arabi’s position is consistent with the wishes of the Egyptian people, a position that was necessitated by the historic solidarity between both nations. It is for similar reasons that Palestinians didn’t get much sleep for 18 days, a period of waiting that culminated in a rare moment of joy when Egyptians won their freedom. In that moment, Gaza was Cairo, Egypt was Palestine, and both peoples were one.

RAMZY BAROUD is editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London). His newbook is, “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).
.

 

 

 

More articles by:

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB.

March 21, 2019
Daniel Warner
And Now Algeria
Renee Parsons
The Supreme Court and Dual Citizenship
Eric Draitser
On Ilhan Omar, Assad Fetishism, and the Danger of Red-Brown “Anti-Imperialism”
Elizabeth Keyes
Broadway’s “Hamilton” and the Willing Suspension of Reality-Based Moral Consciousness
David Underhill
Optional Fatherhood Liberates Christians From Abortion Jihad
Nick Pemberton
Is Kamala Harris the Centrist We Need?
Dean Baker
The Wall Street Bailouts, Bernie and the Washington Post
Russell Mokhiber
The Boeing Blackout
William Astore
America’s Senior Generals Find No Exits From Endless War
Jeff Hauser – Eleanor Eagan
Boeing Debacle Shows Need to Investigate Trump-era Corruption
Ramzy Baroud
Uniting Fatah, Not Palestinians: The Dubious Role of Mohammed Shtayyeh
Nick Licata
All Southern States are Not the Same: Mississippi’s Challenge
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Sly Encouragement of Lawless Violence
Cesar Chelala
Public Health Challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean
March 20, 2019
T.J. Coles
Countdown to “Full Spectrum Dominance”
W. T. Whitney
Re-Targeting Cuba: Why Title III of U.S. Helms-Burton Act will be a Horror Show
Kenneth Surin
Ukania’s Great Privatization Heist
Howard Lisnoff
“Say It Ain’t So, Joe:” the Latest Neoliberal from the War and Wall Street Party
Walter Clemens
Jailed Birds of a Feather May Sing Together
George Ochenski
Failing Students on Climate Change
Cesar Chelala
The Sweet Smell of Madeleine
Binoy Kampmark
Global Kids Strike
Nicky Reid
Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: Requiem for a Fictional Party
Elliot Sperber
Empedocles and You and Me 
March 19, 2019
Paul Street
Socialism Curiously Trumps Fascism in U.S. Political Threat Reporting
Jonah Raskin
Guy Standing on Anxiety, Anger and Alienation: an Interview About “The Precariat”
Patrick Cockburn
The Brutal Legacy of Bloody Sunday is a Powerful Warning to Those Hoping to Save Brexit
Robert Fisk
Turning Algeria Into a Necrocracy
John Steppling
Day of Wrath
Robin Philpot
Truth, Freedom and Peace Will Prevail in Rwanda
Victor Grossman
Women Marchers and Absentees
Binoy Kampmark
The Dangers of Values: Brenton Tarrant, Fraser Anning and the Christchurch Shootings
Jeff Sher
Let Big Pharma Build the Wall
Jimmy Centeno
Venezuela Beneath the Skin of Imperialism
Jeffrey Sommers – Christopher Fons
Scott Walker’s Failure, Progressive Wisconsin’s Win: Milwaukee’s 2020 Democratic Party Convention
Steve Early
Time for Change at NewsGuild?
March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail