Home > About Us > Egyptian and American activists call for the suspension of US military aid and shipments of tear gas

Egyptian and American activists call for the suspension of US military aid and shipments of tear gas

March 20, 2012

December 4, 2011

On November 29th about 25 protesters met outside the offices of the Egyptian Consulate in New York. They carried banners and shouted slogans in English and Arabic. Protesters called for an end the military government in Egypt, as well as US military aid to Egypt. The organizers placed special emphasis on US made tear gas, singling out one of the manufacturers for criticism.

When protesters arrived they found police had already designated a fenced in area on the street for them. Initially overcast, it began to rain shortly after they arrived, reducing their numbers to 16. The weather, other commitments, and a variety of protests had a negative impact on the numbers said Winnie Wong, a protester at the event. She added, “It doesn’t matter if there’s like 3,000 people or 25 people. It’s symbolic.”

Protesters addressed both the vehicle traffic on the street and the second floor consular offices when they chanted. At one point a worker opened the shade and peered out before disappearing just as quickly. This was the only response to their protest. “Hey Obama can’t you hear? People are dying in Tahrir,” was one of the phrases heard. Another was, “Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Tantawi’s gotta go,” a reference to Field Marshal Mohamad Hussain Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the de facto replacement for deposed President Mubarak. In a comment directed at police brutality and US military aid they shouted, “Not another nickel, not another dime. No more money for the army’s crimes.”

“We are working on the same cause. We’re fighting the same corruption and the same system,” said Shimaa Helmy, 21, an Egyptian activist who is working to bring Egyptian and American protesters together. John Penley, an American organizer at Tuesday’s protest said, “The Egyptian delegation came to Zuccotti Park, and we wanted to return that gesture by coming here today.” Tuesday was just one of many events when these groups joined forces to protest, including the protests of November 25th and 26th.

Egyptian activist Shimaa Helmy chants in Arabic and English facind the offices of the Egyptian consulate in New York whilst standing in the rain on November 29, 2011.

“Yesterday, tonnes of the tear gas was stopped from being unloaded at the port in Egypt,” said Mr. Penley, referring to port workers who reportedly refused to unload the shipment they knew would likely be used in Tahrir Square. He continued saying, “Did the US taxpayers pay for it?” This is a question raised by some recently. Just a few days prior to this, a reporter asked the same question to the US State Department spokeswoman, and it was raised yet again during the daily briefing on November 29th. US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, “No U.S. security assistance funds have been used for the purchase of tear gas by the Egyptian Government. We have approved previous licenses for the export of tear gas to the Egyptian Interior Ministry, and that was paid for with Egyptian funds.” While it may very well be Egyptian money buying the tear gas, protesters called for the immediate suspension of tear gas shipments to Egypt, citing human rights violations and misuse of tear gas.

Protesters in New York also raised moral and legal questions about sending weapons to Egypt. “It’s disgusting, the weapons that are being used on people in Egypt. And it makes me embarrassed and sad that they come from the United States,” said an American protester who identified herself as Shannone from Islip, Long Island. She drove over 50 miles to attend Tuesday’s event, and stood for more than an hour in the rain. Some of the protesters made reference to a female doctor, Rania Fouad, who died in Tahrir Square allegedly due to the use of tear gas. However, with allegations of a more potent type of tear gas in use, most protesters were quick to assign blame to the tear gas manufacturers. Mr. Toner, during the briefing, addressed this as well: “It’s not a necessarily stronger brand. It’s the type of tear gas that’s used by (inaudible) forces around the world.” He added that, “We certainly would condemn the misuse – any misuse of tear gas anywhere that could result in death or injury.”

The Guardian newspaper, in an article on November 21st, cited Professor Alastair Hay of Leeds University, who stated the tear gas was standard issue and that studies conducted by the US military indicated that some people involved in “physical activity” sometimes needed “intensive care afterwards.” Two days later, on November 23rd, the Guardian published another article on this topic, citing people who claimed to be suffering serious side effects from the gas. It quoted Ramez Reda Moustafa, a neurologist at Cairo’s Ain Shams University: “The type of gas used is still uncertain but it is certainly very acidic and is not the regular tear gas used in January.” The Guardian also quoted Ahmed Salah, a protester, as saying some gas canisters were unmarked or labeled with CR, but could not confirm his claims.

There have been physical injures and deaths in the Egyptian protests, but concerning tear gas, American officials say they are not convinced it is the cause. “We haven’t seen any real concrete proof that the Egyptian authorities were misusing tear gas,” said Mr. Toner in the same briefing. Protesters in New York were insistent in calling for an end to the use of tear gas and other weapons in Egypt against protesters, with Ms. Wong, mentioned earlier, saying, “It’s a chemical weapon.” On December 1st, a group of Occupy Wall Street and Egyptian protesters traveled to Pennsylvania to protest one of the companies involved in the manufacturing of tear gas being sent to Egypt, Combined Systems Incorporated. They have also held rallies at CSI’s office in New York.

An Egyptian expresses her anger during the demonstration.

There was, according to PressTV and the video footage they posted, an incident where “private security guards grabbed” protesters attempting to block the entrance “and shoved them to the ground”.

Staff Reporter,

Civis Journal

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