Egypt protesters abroad: ‘We are their lungs through which they breathe’

“As we stand here now, there are hundreds of our friends in Egypt being beaten and arrested inside Egypt.” Just steps away from the White House, dozens of Egyptian protesters organised a pause in solidarity with political prisoners in Egypt.

Rasha Badawi, one of the co-founders of the April 6 Youth Movement, says that demonstrators in Egypt are being assaulted and arrested: “While we stand here safe, they are not safe anywhere in Egypt.”

The participants chanted slogans calling for freedom, human rights and the release of detainees, and the departure of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. But organising a pause near the White House is not only for solidarity, it also has a political dimension.

During the last G20 summit in France, the US President Donald Trump asked before his meeting with al-Sisi, “where’s my favourite dictator?” in reference to al-Sisi. Participants in the pause considered the word dictator a recognition by the US President that al-Sisi is a dictator, and that Egyptian regime is repressive, but Trump stuck up for him nonetheless.

During the solidarity pause, participants demanded that Trump take al-Sisi to live with him in the White House. Egyptians are tired of dictatorship.

Rasha Badawi indicates that she and her son and daughter live in America after her life in Egypt became impossible due to security persecution.

Rasha explained the purpose of the pause, saying pressure of any kind affects the lives of Egyptians because it makes the Egyptian regime feel that the world is watching, and that it has rejected its human rights violations.

“Demonstrating in front of the White House is particularly important, because it delivers requests to the US administration to stop its support for the dictatorship in Egypt, stop US aid, or use it to improve the conditions of Egyptians.”

“We are also sending a clear message to the US administration. Your support for a repressive regime is an indirect co-oppression of the Egyptians. When the US president says al-Sisi is his favourite dictator, that means that he knows he’s sitting next to a dictator.”

Rasha faces charges of treason from al-Sisi supporters because she is demonstrating against the Egyptian regime outside her country. Treason is a crime in Egypt, and the sentence is life imprisonment at least, even the death penalty.

Many supporters of the Egyptian regime demand that opponents abroad do not oppose the regime outside Egypt, just inside, so as not to be a tool in the hands of the regimes of the country in which they live.

But Rasha considers that these claims are unrealistic: “How do we oppose inside [when] we have 60,000 detainees? How can we oppose from inside Egypt [when] we have 2,000 detainees in just one week just because they intended to protest?”

“Those who ask us to oppose from inside Egypt want us not to oppose, or want us to be new figures among the detainees.”

“Can we organise such a pause like this in Egypt? [When] al-Sisi arrests young people for their opinions on Facebook or Twitter? Unfortunately, opposition from within is not an option,” said Rasha, referring to demonstrators outside the White House.

Rasha cites another example: “The group of politicians and journalists arrested in the case known as the Alliance of Hope, they were not planning any demonstrations, they just wanted to go to elections. Imagine! Even elections or [exercising] natural rights in Egypt is forbidden. How do you want me to oppose inside Egypt?”

Hend Nafea agrees with Rasha: “I demonstrated in Egypt. What happened? I was imprisoned and tried, and I have now been sentenced to life! I miss my homeland so much. I hope to visit my family, but it is impossible under the current regime in Egypt.” 

The participants believe this is giving motivation and hope to the oppressed in Egypt to demand their rights: “The world did not forget you, it hears your chanting.”

It is not only solidarity with Egyptians inside Egypt, but also in attracting outside attention, not only from the US administration, but from people and bystanders.

Rasha explains: “Many stopped and asked what we are doing, and about our cause. When we explain to them, they sympathise with the Egyptians, and participate with us on social media to pressure international regimes to stop their support for the al-Sisi regime.”

“Al-Sisi suffocates demonstrators and the press inside Egypt and those who post their opinion on social media are being arrested. They cannot breathe. We are their lungs abroad through which they breathe.”