BEIRUT: Several hundred people gathered outside the Egyptian Embassy over the weekend in support of the current uprising against President Hosni Mubarak.
The embassy, located near Cola, was heavily guarded by riot police and cordoned off with barbed wire, but the demonstrations which took place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday remained peaceful, as protesters shouted, “Down with Mubarak!” and “Egypt is an Arab, not a U.S. state!”
They also burned an American and an Israeli flag and held giant banners, displaying pictures of Mubarak wearing an American army helmet and marked with a Star of David on his forehead.
“The protests are spreading. First Tunis, then Egypt, and now Jordan and Yemen too,” said Bassem Sheet, one of the protest organizers. “The Arab street is crying out for change, the people are sick and tired of these regimes.
“The wave has started but the battle has only just started too. We are here to show our support to the Egyptian people so that they can grow more confident and help others to do the same.”
The demonstrations in Egypt began on Jan. 25, a national holiday commemorating the police forces, when thousands took to the streets in Cairo and other cities across the country. The protests have since gathered pace, with over 105 people now reported to have been killed and thousands continuing to defy curfews put in place by the army.
The protests were apparently inspired by the recent Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, which began when Mohammad Bouazizi – an unemployed 26-year-old – set himself on fire in December in protest against high unemployment and poor living standards after he was refused a license to sell his produce. The incident sparked a chain of similar suicides and mass protests, culminating in President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fleeing to Saudi Arabia after 23 years of rule on Jan. 14.
“Mubarak is a dictator. They’ve had 30 years of being suffocated by him, and for the first time they’re able to take a breath of fresh air and I want to be able to join them in celebrating that,” said Malak a 19-year old student who would not give her last name.
Organized by a collection of independent activists, leftists, bloggers and a select group of Arab nationalists, the two-day protests were also used as a venue to voice concerns about the political situation in Lebanon.
“I’d like for [protests] to happen in Lebanon. But we’re too busy following our religious leaders to think about us and what we actually need,” said Malak. “Why is politics still based on religion here? People look at me and they see a sect. I want to live in a country where people see me and they see a citizen.”
Imad Bazzi, a blogger and human rights cyber-activist, said that the embassy protest showed another message of solidarity with the people of Egypt. “I’m hoping that soon the Lebanese people will revolt to overthrow the current corrupt elite of both March 8 and March 14,” he said.
With many countries in the region experiencing similar problems to those in Egypt and Tunisia, such as high youth unemployment, rising food prices and a growing disconnect between those in power and the rest of the population, beliefs are riding high that the unrest could spread even further afield.
“The heavy police presence here today just illustrates that the authorities are scared,” said Sheet.
Widespread economic reforms need to be taken immediately if further displays of public disorder are to be avoided, he said.
“The violence [in Egypt] is a legitimate answer to violence from the state but of course we advance peaceful protest whenever possible,” said an organizer and renowned blogger, Kohdor Salameh. – Additional reporting by Simona Sikimic