Breaking Silence in Egypt: A West African Perspective

by Melinda Holmes on Monday, February 7, 2011 at 6:14pm

The following article was written by my neighbor in Cairo. Please feel free to forward it to anyone you feel would be interested. He is documenting and writing about the situation facing the refugee community now and the work that we, the few foreigners from the NGO community continuing to function here in Egypt, are doing.

Breaking Silence in Egypt: A West African Perspective 
By Mouctar Diallo.
Written on Thursday February 3rd 2011, at 05:15 am.
It is four in the morning. I reside about two blocks from Tahrir square. I cannot sleep with the sporadic gunshots ringing around me. I have Al Jazeera on and surfing the Internet to have some sense of freedom. I have a lot of activist and blogger friends experiencing a siege as I write. People I have known for the last four years. All of them, part of the amazing organic community who is putting pressure on the Egyptian government.
The fall of the Berlin Wall is a great comparison in terms of the potential magnitude of the ramifications of the current events on the region. The difference: the reunification of Europe was simple, predictable in terms of the direction the old continent took.
In the Middle East, things are extremely more complex.
The future seems obscure. Egypt, the center of Arab and Islamic culture a few decades ago, with its population representing a quarter of the Arab demography, is going to set the tone for the region. At the moment that leading role is pointing at more chaos, more radicalization and more violence to come.
Here, there is no leading figure capable of effectively maintaining the socio-political fabric. Political fragmentation is occurring at an incredible speed. This is especially true with the government strategy to create a “pro-Mubarak” movement to give the police forces the capacity to continue their repressive work with the assistance of thugs recruited in the slums around Cairo, a city of 18 million people. Consequently, gangs and vigilantes are controlling the streets; some to practice all kind of pillage, others to protect their properties. Thus far, they are using knifes, wood, steel, chains and many other types of medieval weapons.
What will happen when the use of the barrels of firearms expands beyond the security forces and the army as Al Jazeera is currently showing? There are too many unknowns for now and probably still after the uprising becomes successful. For, undoubtedly, it will be successful.
The Black Africans, in this disorder of things, are the silenced community. Of the four years I have spent in Egypt, racism has been a constant companion, at all levels of the Egyptian social structure. This constancy of racial prejudice during times of peace cannot be imaginable during the current period of violence and suspicion. This is not to say that the racist behavior has to be generalized to all Egyptians, but the facts are the facts. See for yourself.
There is a considerable sub-Saharan African community in Cairo: refugees, students, migrant workers, international bureaucrats and government or political officials and their families. I spent about half of yesterday at the airport. I saw those with the financial means attempting to leave the country.
But there are other members of this robust community. Cairo is home to a significant refugee community from various countries. The bulk of them are from sub-Saharan Africa mainly Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Their whereabouts and welfare should be of public concern in these difficult moments. Their injuries and deaths (if any) should not be devaluated when considering the growing number of victims of the Egyptian State’s repression. Racism is as virulent in the Middle East as in the U.S. in the 1960s.
I was told, by a friend working at AMIRA, an organization involved in the relocation process of the refugees, that some Sudanese and Eritreans have been arrested and chased from their apartments. She also mentioned how it has been more difficult for them to feed themselves since the protests started. With some friends, she was working on getting some groceries to some Somali refugees. Prior to his departure for Turkey, another acquaintance and employee of the American University in Cairo, shared with me how he had to financially assist the Sudanese refugees he had befriended. Unable to work, deprived of any assistance in this time of chaos, their survival capacities have been substantively undermined. Abdul Kader, one of the leaders of the Somali refugee community in Cairo told me that their vulnerable financial situation has now been aggravated by pressures put on them by landlords, who themselves are strapped in an economy that has come to a halt. Even still, the landlords are pressuring the refugees to vacate their living quarters.
It does not stop there. Two Somali refugee women have been sexually abused in their home at El Ashra two days ago in the heat of the uprising. The Somali community leader, Ali Dahiradin, received the report this afternoon. The women have been beaten and sexually abused by a gang of young and armed Egyptians. Dahiradin was vexed, relaying to me that the women are complaining that there is no justice and that they cannot go to the police.
Even as I have ventured out, dedicated to my passion of documenting society, to capture these ongoing events, I have to deal with some remarks from some of the protesters. At the moment, it will not be fair and ethical for me to further comment on the faith of the sub-Saharan Africans, not knowing all the details. So far, I know that many are exiting the country and I am now thinking about it myself.
As everyone, I hope things will get better. But the reality is actually worse than what is shown on TV. Once again, the Media is exposing its weaknesses to manipulations through different political agendas defending different political and economic interests. Many have been hurt; many are unaccounted for; people are being killed. My utmost consideration and respect to the Egyptian people braving the state and its rigid structures of oppression and exploitation.

Egypt and the region will never be the same. The multitude are already on the move in Algeria, Jordan, Sudan and Yemen, whatever their specific differences.
It is now five fifteen. The call to prayer is being interrupted by the gunshots killing the children of Egypt in a place supposedly incarnating freedom, Tahrir Square. Their spilled blood will certainly give it back its symbolic grandeur as a space dedicated to liberty. As I am about to put my forehead to the ground, let us all pray to the all Mighty for the souls of those that fell today to the bullets of the wicked.

Mouctar Diallo
MA Candidate
Department of Political Science
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
The American University in Cairo

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