Yesterday lunch-time a little of the Egyptian revolution came to London’s Trafalgar Square, when thousands of people came together to celebrate the fall of Mubarak who had fled Cairo some 24 hours before. Called by Amnesty International and supported by the TUC, the gathering was called in solidarity with the people of Egypt and in the wider Near and Middle East and North Africa, who are demanding the end of repression and torture and for decent human rights, and reform.
Salil Shetty the general secretary of Amnesty kicked off the celebrations by stating that across the Middle East and North Africa and in other parts of the world, ordinary people who held little hope of a better future just two months ago, now know that change is possible. The people of Tunisia had showed the way with their jasmine revolution.
An international trade union speaker reminded us of the role played by Egyptian trade union members in leading the fight for jobs and better pay and working conditions. In Egypt the gap between rich and poor was obscene with a busman earning as little as £42 per month.
Another early speaker was NUJ president Pete Murray. He welcomed the revolution and reminded us of the dangers journalists both local and international had faced when trying to report events in Egypt. One journalist had been shot dead and many had been harassed and held by the authorities and even beaten before being released. (Ahmad Mohamed Mahoud, a photo journalist with the paper Al-Ta’awun, was shot by a sniper while filming confrontations between the security forces and demonstrators from the balcony of his home near Tahrir Square in Cairo,) Pete was proud of the role played by those journalists who sought to bring us news of the uprising. He concluded with a quote from the nineteenth century writer and poet Shelley taken from the poem ‘The Mask of Anarchy’, written following the Peterloo massacre in 1819. Pointing towards Whitehall, Pete repeated the concluding words of the poem: ‘Ye are many – they are few’.
He was followed by speakers from Algeria where protesters were that day facing a ban on demonstrations and a massive force of riot police. Hundreds had been arrested.
Young Egyptians took to the stage telling of their vision for Egypt’s future, one where human rights and freedom of expression were respected. The Square vibrated to the chant ‘1-2-3 Egypt is now free’ and just after 2.00pm the solidarity demonstration came to an end.
London was not the only city holding a demonstration, with 33 taking place in 15 different countries. It was a demonstration I will never forget and am proud to have been a part of.