Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Galloway's Gaza mission runs into protests

-Taken from 'The Guardian'
-Cairo - March 2009

George Galloway's high-profile mission to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza has run into controversy, just as his convoy reaches the final leg of its 5,000 mile journey.

Egyptian activists who had been planning to welcome Galloway's Viva Palestina trucks as they cross from Libya into Egypt today will instead be staying at home, after allegations surfaced that Galloway was planning to take part in official receptions with the unpopular Egyptian government, despite having recently called for it to be overthrown.

Rumours that Galloway had agreed to meet Ahmed Ezz, a steel magnate who is a close associate of President Hosni Mubarak and has been caught up in several corruption scandals, caused an outcry among groups opposed to a president Galloway has dismissed as a tyrant.

The mile-long convoy of 110 vehicles left England on 14 February and travelled through Europe and North Africa. Egyptian opposition groups had been preparing a "red carpet" welcome for Galloway and his caravan, impressed at the British MP's forceful denunciations of Mubarak's stance on the Gaza crisis. The Egyptian government largely refused to open its Rafah border crossing with Gaza during Israel's recent 22-day military assault on the area, prompting Galloway to declare that the "dictatorship" of Mubarak was "jointly responsible for the murder of every Palestinian who has died these last two years".

Earlier this week, Saad el-Katany, an MP for the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, said Galloway's arrival and the issue of aid for Gaza had united Egypt's fragmented opposition movement. "Egyptians across the political spectrum welcome the European convoy," Katany said in a statement. The sentiment was echoed by Abdel Gelil Moustafa, a co-ordinator for Kefaya, the country's largest secular opposition force, who promised public receptions for the convoy at each of its stops in Egypt.

But yesterday the opposition mood soured after accusations that Galloway had planned to co-ordinate with the ruling NDP party and take part in a welcoming ceremony featuring Ezz. In a statement on its website, the Egyptian Popular Committee for the Support of the Palestinian People - an umbrella organisation of opposition groups - said it was cancelling its plan to receive Galloway's convoy.

Some activists are claiming that Galloway was allowing the aid convoy to be used as a propaganda stunt by a repressive government. Hossam el-Hamalawy, a prominent opposition blogger, labelled Viva Palestina an "ass-kissing carnival" and expressed his contempt at Galloway for being “more than happy to hug and embrace the worst elements of this Mubarak dictatorship.”

Speaking from the Libyan desert last night, where the convoy was making the final 150km drive towards the Egyptian border, one of the organisers of ‘Viva Palestina’ told The Guardian that any suggestion of Galloway ingratiating himself with the Mubarak regime was untrue. “We are totally not involved in the domestic politics of any of the countries we go through, particularly not Egypt,” said Sabah el-Mokhtar, a British lawyer. “Of course there is co-ordination with the authorities to get the necessary permissions to enter Egypt ... this is a sovereign state and with sovereign states you deal with them as they require, whether you like them or hate them.” He denied any arrangement had been made with Ahmed Ezz, insisting that “none of us have spoken to or co-ordinated with this gentleman on anything.”

Back in Egypt though, few appear to have been won round by el-Mokhtar’s response. “Arguably, coordinating with the regimes in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt is probably the only way to have such a caravan pass through the North African countries, and to ensure its entry into Gaza from Egypt,” said Per Bjorkland, an Swedish activist and journalist based in Cairo. “But if Galloway hadn't designed this campaign in order to ensure the maximum possible media attention for himself, he could have considered other ways to support Palestine – without becoming a propaganda tool for authoritarian regimes.”

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