A couple of months back, I wrote a post called “A Tale of Two Protests”, about an anti-DRM protest in New York City and a protest held by Sudanese refugees outside the UNHCR compound in Cairo. The post got more attention than I’d hoped, but mostly due to a perception that I’d taken an unfair swipe at my friend Cory Doctorow, which wasn’t my intention. I’d hoped, mostly, to draw people’s attention to the situation these refugees were experiencing, facing discrimination and violence in Egypt and looking for a safer refuge. I suspect my tactics probably failed and that very few of the folks who came to complain I was unfair to the DRM protesters went on to learn more about the refugee situation in Cairo.
The refugees were in the news again this weekend, as Egyptian state security violently cleared them out of the park in front of the Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque where they were staying, killing at least 27. My friend Elijah Zarwan was flying back into Cairo (where he lives) when he started getting ” a string of increasingly distressing text messages” about the violence. My friends Manal and Alaa, who never shy away from the scarier sides of Egyptian politics, were at the park snapping photos – they’ve blogged about the situation extensively, though only in Arabic. (I hope Elijah or others will translate some of these posts soon.)
Adding inhumanity to injury, the Egyptian government has announced that it plans to deport 645 of the protesters it didn’t kill to Sudan. Human Rights Watch is demanding that Mubarak investigate the use of force by the Egyptian forces – Egyptian authorities are saying that the refugees were killed in “a stampede”. I predict loud, angry noises from UNHCR, which was evidently promised by the Egyptian government that the protesters would not be deported.
Elijah, who has spent a great deal of time talking to these refugees, taking photos and documenting their stories, tells us that he feels guilty he couldn’t do more:
They have been expecting this situation for a long time. I should have been there when this happened. I should have spent more time recording their life stories. Now they’ll be impossible to find, impossible to talk to.
I feel guilty, too. After one post talking about the story, and the lack of media coverage around it, I haven’t written about it subsequently… until people got killed. In other words, I’ve basically done what I always complain mainstream media does – focused on a story only when it turns violent.
Update – BBC is reporting that UNHCR in Cairo is now meeting with as many refugees as possible to decide whether they qualify for asylum, or whether they’ll be termed economic migrants and deported.