Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Arabic Blogs on Crackdown on the Sudanese Refugees

On New Year's Day I posted in toto a first-person account of an incident that occurred in Cairo when authorities expelled a group of Sudanese refugees from their encampment. Today I came across a post in English at The Skeptic, a blog I have been following for a few weeks, that provides English translations of several blogs in Arabic commenting on the incident. [My name is Elijah Zarwan. I'm not looking for a soapbox. I hope this blog will give people who otherwise wouldn't meet a chance to talk to each other. The name is an attempt to entice critical thinkers to challenge me when I'm being an idiot.]

Anyone who has the time should plow through this material and try to get a feel for what is going on. I can't fully grasp everything I am reading, but I know this much: Something happened that is terribly wrong. Actions and reactions of officials, bloggers, journalists and the individuals directly involved present a passionate mix of emotional expressions that has all the makings of an explosion. I don't think that what happened will soon be swept under a rug.

If this event is canned into a "story" rather than the more important social and political signal that it seems to be, then that story fades into obscurity among those of Sharon's coma, domestic issues in the US, the kidnapping of Jill Carroll, and who knows what else. But I don't think this event is merely another story. Something more is at work here, though I can't say exactly what...

Manal and Alaa's blog is first:

The scandal is that people have started to believe what the newspapers say

In the two demonstrations that we staged to protest against the massacre, we had lots of debates with people in the street. They repeated exactly what the media say, so much so that at first I thought they were all informers.
“Do you believe what TV and newspapers say when they talk to you about government promises and tell you how you’re doing as Egyptians?” I asked them.
“No, of course not,” they all said.
So for fuck’s sake, why do you believe them when they talk about refugees?
The other problem is that people have got used to being morons. One guy told me that the refugees had opened up the stomach of a police officer. Insteading of abusing that animal of a police officer who deserved far more than having his stomach opened and calling for Tanzim al-Jihad to resume their armed operations against the security forces, I told myself it would be better to debate with him. So I asked him, “The four-year-old girl who was killed, did she mutilate a police officer?”
“Of course not,” he said, but blamed her family for exposing her to danger.
“That’s exactly the line the Israelis use to justify killing Palestinian children.”
This caused complete chaos. They were about a million responses to what I said. The simplest was that “Israel kills children when they’re going to school, not when they’re at a protest,” but really it became clear they had no response and they all fell silent […]

Next, Bint Misreya posted a poll (37 respondents) asking what caused the deaths in the crackdown. The results are were dismaying:

What caused the deaths?
A) The refugees stampeding
B) Violence perpetrated by the security forces
C) Fighting between Security and the Refugees

43 percent: refugees stampeding.
41 percent: violence perpetrated by security forces.
16 percent: fighting between security forces and refugees.

The always incredible Nora Younis deserves credit for translating a lot of the testimonies the Nadim Center collected.

They stepped over everything that moved. They squashed it. Women, children, it did not matter. We had no chance to negotiate. The water cannons started a short while after the warning. We wanted to know where we are going. We asked for somebody from UNHCR. At once the attack started. Beating from all sides...

I fell to the ground. I was holding a child. I was almost dead. They dragged me like a dog. When I regained consciousness my hands were tied. They hit me with an electric stick. I lost consciousness again. When I awoke I looked right and left. I heard people talking. I opened my eyes but could not see properly. My eyes were covered with blood. Then I realized that I was surrounded with my Sudanese colleagues. Except they were dead. I found myself in the morgue. Me and the dead alike. I tried to raise my head but couldn’t. There were two doctors saying those are dead people. Then somebody said: what shall we do? One of them is alive. Another voice said: kill him too. Another came towards me with a syringe in his hand. Then a Sudanese visitor entered the morgue. The doctor with the syringe removed the syringe and stood aside. I waved to the visitor. He came. I told him help me to my feet. When I stood up I saw children, women and children dead all around me. The visitor cried and left.

They took me and put me in the waiting room. Then thy put me on a trolley and took me upstairs. The ward was full of officers and guards. They recorded our names. There were five children. Two of them were covered in a blanket and the others were carrying them on their shoulders. When I saw them I stood up. Despite the pain I carried them and put them on a bed. They were somewhere between life and death. Their ages ranged approximately between 1 and 4 years.
When we left the camp, they dropped us on the streets. Every 10 km they would drop five people: injured, naked, penniless. Even on our way out of the bus they would beat us. We had to walk to where we sought to spend the night.

This is gritty stuff. This is the stuff that revolutions are made of. And what I have copied is only a small part.
As we sit in the safety and comfort of a secure economy and social environment that, despite various shortcomings that we imagine are serious, it is easy to turn away from real human suffering at its most fundamental.

In the face of these descriptions I feel very sad and helpless.

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