CAIRO: An Egyptian activist group has cancelled its involvement in a Palestine aid convoy because of alleged coordination between the convoy organizers and members of Egypt s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).
“After two meetings organized in preparation for welcoming the Viva Palestina convoy . one of the groups involved [in the meetings] learnt directly via British MP George Galloway that coordination has taken place with the NDP, who will welcome the convoy, and that secretary of the [NDP s] Policies Committee Ahmed Ezz will take part in this, a statement issued on Monday by the Egyptian Popular Committee for the Support of the Palestinian People reads.
“It had been planned that two buses would move from outside the Lawyers Syndicate on Wednesday. . This latest information has however resulted in the cancellation of Egyptian popular movements plans to receive the European delegation, the statement continues.
The Viva Palestina aid and solidarity convoy started its journey in the UK on Feb. 14, 2009 and has so far crossed through Europe, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.
The convoy, which is now made up of some 300 vehicles, is currently in Libya and due to cross into Egypt on Friday.
However, in a telephone interview with Daily News Egypt from Libya, Sabah El-Mokhtar, a British lawyer, and one of the organizers of the Viva Palestina convoy, denied coordination with any political parties in Egypt.
“With the greatest respect to him, none of us know who this Ahmed Ezz is. We are not involved in the domestic politics of Egypt and categorically deny that we have coordinated with political parties, said El-Mokhtar, who is also the head of the Anglo-Arab Lawyers Association in the UK.
The Egyptian Popular Committee for the Support of the Palestinian People explains in its statement that the decision to cancel involvement with the convoy is based on the position of the Egyptian government towards the Rafah Crossing and Gaza solidarity activists.
“The ruling NDP took the decision to close the Rafah Crossing in the face of the suffering of the Palestinian people both before and after the savage war in Gaza, refused to allow food and clothes to go through the Crossing, consistently took positions weakening the resistance and the right of the Palestinian people to liberation, detained hundreds of protestors expressing solidarity with Gaza, and handed down prison sentences via military courts to people demanding the opening of the Rafah Crossing, said the statement.
El-Mokhtar, however, emphasized that they have to deal with the state s authorities in order to get through Egypt.
“Our coordination has been with these bodies only, he said. “If a state wants to send representatives to greet the convoy, that is entirely a matter for that state. In the states we have passed through already, like Algeria, we were greeted by many people and sometimes we didn t know who they were – whether they were official figures or not.
He also said that the convoy has “indications that the Rafah Crossing, which is currently closed, will be opened in order to let the convoy into Gaza.
Attempts by Egyptian activists to deliver aid to Gaza have been repeatedly thwarted by the Egyptian authorities.
Most recently, two activists, Magdy Hussein and Ahmed El-Douma, were convicted of illegally crossing into Gaza by a military court and imprisoned.
“[Opening of the Crossing] is obviously a matter for the Egyptian authorities. We are in contact with them and have sufficient indications that the border may be opened, El-Mokhtar said.
“We hope that the authorities will understand that we have zero political allegiances. We are a civil society group based in the UK delivering humanitarian aid to our brothers in Gaza.
Writing on his blog “Egypt and Beyond Swedish journalist Per Bjorklund quotes news sources which would seem to indicate that Galloway has coordinated with the Libyan regime via its Qaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation.
Bjorklund is critical of what he terms Galloway s becoming a “propaganda tool for authoritarian regimes .
Galloway has in the past been a vocal critic of the Egyptian regime; earlier this year he called on Egyptians to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak.
“Arguably, coordinating with the regimes in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt is probably the only way to have such a caravan pass through the North African countries, and to ensure its entry into Gaza from Egypt. But if Galloway hadn t designed this campaign in order to ensure the maximum possible media attention for himself, he could have considered other ways to support Palestine – without becoming a propaganda tool for authoritarian regimes, Bjorklund writes.
“This is particularly offensive in the case of the Egyptian regime, since it was widely criticized in the region for its stance during the war, its participation in the blockade, and the heavy crackdowns on pro-Gaza demonstrations.