One of the highlights of the International Women’s Day rally in 2012 in Toronto was a speech given by Yara Sallam. She is an Egyptian feminist and human rights activist who was projected by skype from Cairo onto a huge screen, and her words electrified the crowd.
She spoke of the victory of the people in Tahrir Square over the despot Mubarek and the fact that ordinary people through their collective strength can topple dictatorships.
As a woman leader in the events that unfolded in Egypt she broke through the Islamaphobia and anti-woman stereotypes that are perpetuated about Muslim societies in the Western media. Her lived reality in the previous months came through as she outlined the role of women in the events that led to the overturning of the dictatorship.
Her words gave hope to everyone in the crowd that change was possible. She was exuberant about the victory but also very realistic about the road ahead, and what would be required to bring democratic change that would benefit all the people of Egypt.
We have seen that the revolution has not been easy and the military is now back in control. Over 16,000 have been arrested including activists in the Muslim Brotherhood, trade unionists, secularists, journalists and socialists. The New York Times recently had an editorial denouncing the lack of democratic rights. Yara is well known and has received a number of international awards because of her human rights activism. She spoke out against the repression knowing full well that she might also feel its effects.
John Greyson and Tarek Lubani were detained in 2013 by the Egyptian authorities on their way through Cairo to the Gaza Strip. They innocently witnessed huge demonstrations in the streets and the violent response by the police and the military. After months on incarceration they were released only through the efforts of a broad international campaign.
Three Al Jazeera journalists, one a Canadian citizen (Mohamed Fahmy), were recently sentenced to long prison terms on non-existent evidence. The Canadian government has been very muted in its response saying that it does not want to be involved in “bullhorn politics.” In the meantime the journalists are jailed under very harsh conditions with little hope of reprieve. The Egyptian government has said that it is not intending to intervene in the courts. Mahienour El-Masry, a comrade of ours in the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists, has also been arrested and jailed for participating in a protest against anti-protest laws.
The American and Canadian governments provide billions of dollars in aid to the Egyptian government but are choosing not to use this to leverage the rights of the detainees. This is unacceptable and pressures must be placed on both governments to demand the return of democratic rights and the release of political prisoners.
Trade unionists have also taken the brunt of these attacks and it is the responsibility of labour activists in Canada to have resolutions passed in our locals and labour councils. We must demand that all charges be dropped against those imprisoned for breaking this anti-democratic law and ensure that people be allowed to engage in democratic protest. Activists should be able to be free from arbitrary arrest, physical violence and judicial harassment.
We have seen where international solidarity has worked in the freeing of John Greyson and Tarek Lubani. People`s freedom and sometimes lives are at stake and as trade unionists it is crucial that we do all that we can to support those imprisoned for expressing their democratic rights.
For more information visit Egypt Solidarity