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the August 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48, No.
Send Money, Drugs, and Convoys
Steve Negus, Cairo
Times (English-language weekly), Egypt, May 24-30, 2001
Fighter-bombers may be screaming through the sky over Nablus,
but all is quiet in the streets of Cairo. The wave of demonstrations
that broke out in the first months of the Al-Aqsa Intifada
has died down. The boycott of American and Israeli goods appears
to have fizzled, its main effect being the running out of
town of a supermarket chainSainsburyswhose
main connection to Israel was a slightly Jewish-sounding name.
The Arab street, it seems, is these days about as effective
a check on Israel as the Arab League. Which is unfortunate,
but understandable. Months of protest marches and manifestos
appear to have not made a single iota of difference to either
Israeli or Egyptian policy. When October runs into May and
there are final exams coming up, its easy to see why
enthusiasm for a campaign that yields nothing more tangible
than tear gas, beatings, and the risk of arrest might wear
The demonstrations are importantthey remind the world
that Arab public opinion continues to be incensed by what
goes on in the territories. But outrage deprived of constructive
channels also gives way to the ridiculous (like the endless
flood of statements demanding that Arab states or international
institutions do things that theyre clearly not going
to do) and sometimes the downright uglylike the [Egyptian]
Pharmacists Syndicate campaign against [the U.S. pharmaceutical
corporation] Eli Lillys distribution of free [psychiatric]
drugs to Holocaust survivors [living in Israel].
Admittedly, ordinary citizens are not exactly encouraged to
support the Palestinians in meaningful ways. Several different
laws and decrees restrict nongovernmental aid work or fund
gathering, and activists who distinguish themselves in assisting
others can find themselves accused of trying to diminish the
prestige of the state. Back in the mid-90s, the Doctors
Syndicate ran a fairly substantive aid program for Bosnia.
But many of its more active members were thrown in jail in
the 1995 crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. The syndicate
has run one aid convoy to the Palestinian territories since
the new Intifada and plans to put together another one. Its
careful to make sure that its contributions, such as ambulances,
address genuine needs within the territories. But the level
of activity is far short of what went on at the height of
the Bosnia war.
Into the gap has come a group calling itself the Popular Committees
for the Support of the Intifada. It cant get official
approval, but it can work without it. It functions without
an office of its own, or a budget. It does so by taking contributions
in kindmedicine, for example. It claims several hundred
active members, and in cooperation with the Doctors
Syndicate, it has been able to run LE1 million [US$ 258,065]
worth of supplies to the Palestinians since it started work
in October. Forming a popular committee is not something that
just anyone is advised to try at home. The movement has tied
in some ministries and also draws upon the skills and knowledge
of experienced figures in the Egyptian human-rights movement,
who are adept at doing good without getting permission, while
remaining on the sunny side of the Tura Prison door [notorious
for detaining political prisionersWPR]. Its
not easy for Egyptians to support the Palestinian struggle.
You have to be resourceful. It probably helps to be connected.
But its not impossible.