‘Protect our children’

US: Chicago school protest 27 March 2013

It’s hard to imagine the mayor of a major US city moving to close dozens of schools located in some of the most violent areas of the entire country. It’s even harder to imagine that mayor having his office announce the mass closings — the biggest ever in US history — while he was away on a ski holiday with his family. But Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel is a special kind of mayor.

Last Thursday Emanuel’s office announced that the city plans to shut 54 schools, nearly all of which are located in poor Black and Latino neighborhoods, in order to cover a $1bn deficit. Karen Lewis, the outspoken leader of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, blasted the move as “racist” and “classist,” and so did many other teachers, parents, school faculty, and others on Wednesday during a protest against the closings (images above).

Read a full report of the protest by The Guardian’s Gary Younge.

Al-Assad in Hamra

The chants of “with our souls, with our blood, we will redeem you oh Bashar,” have become as regular as the ringing of the bells at St. Francis church on the main strip in the Hamra area of Beirut. Every Sunday the upscale neighborhood where Lebanese and foreign tourists can be seen sipping coffee in one of the many sidewalk cafes is transformed into a rally in support of Bashar al-Assad and his embattled regime.

The mood was different today. The hundreds of protesters, both Syrian and Lebanese, were angry and more defiant than normal. Yesterday, the Arab League suspended Syria and called on the regime to stop the violent crackdown against ongoing anti-government protests that began in March. Many protesters in Syria have called for action and solidarity from foreign governments, while the government and its supporters claim the eight months of demonstrations are a “conspiracy” by Western powers.

The weekly protests, that I’ve written about before, happen while Syrian activists seeking refuge in Lebanon say they’re under attack and don’t feel safe. (For more read this report on AJE: Syrian activists’ dangerous haven in Lebanon)

Lebanon: al-Assad in Hamra – Images by Matthew Cassel

Beirut Solidarity with Syria

A pro-Bashar protester carries a Syrian flag outside the Syrian embassy in Beirut. (image: Matthew Cassel)

In Beirut, showing solidarity with Syria is easy as long as it’s with the regime and not the people protesting in the streets.

Today, a call went out by activists in Beirut for a 5:00PM demonstration in solidarity with protesters in Syria. I arrived right on time thinking there would be a small group of solidarity protesters gathered. As usual, there were plenty of plenty of uniformed Lebanese security forces, along with plainclothes officers, Lebanese and also Syrians from the embassy. I heard a demonstration coming from around the corner and thought maybe it was the solidarity demonstration that had been called for. But as the demonstration neared I heard, “God, Syria and Bashar [al-Assad] only!” A group of around 75 Syrians, mostly workers in Lebanon, came carrying pictures of their president and marched to the front of their embassy like they’ve been doing regularly over the past few weeks.

Wondering where the solidarity protesters were, I looked around and found a dozen or so activists who I recognized off to the side. Some told me that people in civilian clothes were calling them “agents” (meaning Israeli agents) when a few of them tried to gather outside the embassy minutes earlier. As I stood with them, three men carrying cameras and wearing civilian clothes walked up to us. Two took still pictures and a third shot video. The activists were clearly offended, some walked away covering their faces and others shouted at the men to stop taking their picture. After one of the men persisted, a female activist went up to him and demanded that he delete her picture.

The man walked away into the crowd and the woman chased after him, at one point even kicking him in his ass, literally, as he tried to get away. He eventually tried to make his way into the embassy when she grabbed him. She called for the police to intervene, but none of them did. Finally, she made a big enough scene that a high-ranking officer came over and took them both off to the side where she made the man delete the images he had taken of her.

At one point three activists (see below) were brave enough to pull out signs and were immediately shouted against by the pro-Bashar crowd. After ten minutes or so they left, and so had the others who had come out for the solidarity demonstration. Walking away one of the protesters told me, “that’s the last time we’ll try to demonstrate outside the Syrian embassy.”

Pro-Bashar Syrians chant against three people demonstrating in solidarity with protesters in Syria. (image: Matthew Cassel)

Two of the demonstrators in solidarity with demonstrators in Syria. Sign on left reads, 'No to violence, No to repression, No to extremism.' (image: Matthew Cassel)

Back in Cairo

Protests are continuing around the region, especially in countries like Bahrain and Yemen despite the uprisings in both countries receiving little coverage in most international media. Having just returned to Egypt from Tunisia, I can tell you that things are far from static in either of these two countries as various groups and individuals fight to deepen their respective revolutions. In the middle is Libya, where deadly battles wage on across the country. In Cairo on 12 March Libyans and their Egyptian supporters held a protest outside the Arab League in support of the ongoing uprising in Libya:

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

Meanwhile, just a 10 minute walk from the Arab League, Egyptian Coptic Christians continue a sit-in protest outside the State TV building in Cairo after one of their churches was destroyed in the Helwan area outside Cairo. (more on this: “Copts and Muslims clash in Cairo,” Al Jazeera)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

Lebanese demand the fall of their [sectarian] regime

“The people demand the fall of the regime,” has been a popular Arabic slogan for the masses across the Arab World who have taken to the streets recently in protest against their oppressive autocracies. Lebanon, however, is unique from other Arab countries in that it does not have one central figure governing the country. Instead, Lebanon has a number of political leaders who all represent one religious sect or another in a complex sectarian political system that the French colonialists helped established in 1943 (Wikipedia entry on the politics of Lebanon).

Today, Lebanese activists called for their own march to topple the regime. The march was held under the slogan, “the people demand the fall of the sectarian regime,” and brought out hundreds of protesters despite heavy rains that flooded the streets. While Lebanon is certainly not Egypt, it was an impressive display of angry Lebanese fed up with the sectarian government which they see as the major impediment to unity and stability in their war-torn country.

The protest started near the site where the 1975-1990 civil war began in the Ain al-Rammaneh neighborhood, and marched down the former “Green Line” in Beirut that separated Muslim West from Christian East.

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

The protest moves in front of a building still bearing scars from the civil war (image: matthew cassel)

'the people demand the fall of the sectarian regime' (image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

Lebanese protest against sectarian political system (Reuters)
The long march for secularism (JustImage.org)

The day after

I’ve never been one for national flags, but Egyptians waving them the day after deposing their dictator of 30 years didn’t bother me too much.

Saturday, 12 February:

Tahrir Square (matthew cassel)

(matthew cassel)

Activists drive around encouraging others to volunteer and help keep Cairo clean (matthew cassel)

(matthew cassel)

A volunteer directs traffic near Tahrir Square (matthew cassel)

Qasr al-Nil bridge (matthew cassel)

Sunday, 13 February:

Despite the 48 hours of celebrations, the revolution seems that it’s far from over. Egyptian workers are now organizing in their respective sectors for better pay, more rights, and against their corrupt union leadership. Protests happened across Egypt today, including one that I couldn’t believe. On 28 January I watched violent clashes when the police tried to repress the people’s uprising that became a nationwide movement that day. The police failed and the uprising surged ahead, but not before more than 300 were killed by the police and other branches of the Mubarak regime’s security forces.

But now, after the people’s victory, thousands of police are organizing for their rights and join in the larger revolution. My jaw dropped as I followed police across the Qasr al-Nil bridge where on the 28th they used all kinds of force against unarmed demonstrators. Today they chanted, “the police and the people are one,” playing on an earlier chant by protesters that went: “the army and the people are one.” There are a number of strikes and other worker-related actions planned in the coming days. It looks like the workers’ movement will be the new phase of the Egyptian revolution.

From repressing protesters to becoming one ... (matthew cassel)

24 hours in Cairo

Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian dictator who was hated by his people and backed by the US government for the past 30 years, is gone.

Thursday, 10 February:

Children at Tahrir Square hang out near pictures of some of the 297 people killed by Mubarak's forces since the uprising began (matthew cassel)

A man holds a poster of one of the women killed by Mubarak's forces in recent weeks. Although he didn't know her, he told me he felt she was his daughter. (matthew cassel)

An example of Egyptian humor: 'New from Kentucky, the leave combo.' Mubarak propaganda tried to make people believe that protesters were living well over recent weeks in Tahrir and eating free KFC. (matthew cassel)

Mubarak's speech on Thursday night (matthew cassel)

Protesters watch Mubarak's speech closely. The young man on the left has been protesting non-stop since January 25, while the man on the right was a political prisoner for 14 years in Mubarak's jails. (matthew cassel)

Protesters react to Mubarak announcing he will not leave office (matthew cassel)

Friday, 11 February:

The next morning, hundreds of thousands came to Tahrir to take part in Friday prayers and then continued protests against Mubarak (matthew cassel)

Protests began immediately after prayers ended (matthew cassel)

Protesters then marched to the building for the Egyptian state TV (matthew cassel)

Soldiers guarding the TV building clearly did not want to use violence against protesters. Some soldiers even started crying as the situation intensified. (matthew cassel)

Sign on the right reads: 'leave oh Mubarak' (matthew cassel)

A flying 'V' near the TV protest (matthew cassel)

Victory (matthew cassel)

Tahrir Square after news of Mubarak's resignation (matthew cassel)

(matthew cassel)

Tahrir Square post-liberation (matthew cassel)

And of course …

From left to right: the mother, uncle and sister of Khaled Said. The young man who was killed last year by Egyptian police in Alexandria. His death was a large part of the reason for the January 25th uprising that eventually led to the ouster of Mubarak (matthew cassel)

“Leave before the Saidis come”

(matthew cassel)

A rather large man (pictured above) stopped me in Tahrir yesterday and started shouting, “Lave before the Sa’idis come!” His threats were directed at Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who he said should leave office before the Sa’idi people from Upper Egypt (a largely rural area of southern Egypt) come and really mess him up. As he spoke a crowd gathered around us, most were smiling and welcoming the lone Sa’idi man to Cairo. His loud threats were enough to make me feel a bit worried. I keep wondering what must be going through the mind of the 82-year-old president as he sees much of his country out in the streets every day expressing their hatred for his regime and calling on him to pack up and go.

The uprising is definitely escalating and taking on new forms. Yesterday, many of the labor unions joined in the struggle. Journalists are still facing many difficulties, and even those with credentials have been denied from covering factories on strike, or different cities like Alexandria and Suez where protests are ongoing, like the ones in Cairo.

The below are some images from Tahrir Square yesterday:

Protesters walk past a poster of a man killed by state security forces during pro-democracy protests (matthew cassel)

Protesters read Arabic newspapers pasted on a wall at Tahrir Square (matthew cassel)

'Revolution Hospital' (matthew cassel)

He stopped me and said, 'Take my picture smoking a joint in Tahrir Square' (matthew cassel)

Egytpian Christians march through Tahrir Square (matthew cassel)

Tens of thousands remain at Tahrir throughout the night (matthew cassel)