… My heart’s in Accra Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

January 4, 2006

A Tale of Two Protests: an update on one

Filed under: Africa,Blogs and bloggers,Developing world,Media — Ethan @ 7:24 pm

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.


  1. […] I wrote a couple of days back about my sense of guilt at not covering the plight of Sudanese refugees in Cairo more carefully. Thinking about stories that I – and others – haven’t covered closely enough in Africa, two come to the front of my mind: Darfur and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. A few links on both subjects: […]

    Pingback by …My heart’s in Accra » DRC - 3.8 million dead. Darfur? — January 6, 2006 @ 8:42 pm

  2. Those translations are coming, man. I haven’t forgotten you!

    Comment by Elijah — January 15, 2006 @ 1:43 pm

  3. […] Elijah translates comments and responses to Alaa’s post, as well as other posts in the Egyptian blogosphere on the issue. It’s required reading if you’re concerned about the situation in Cairo, or in larger issues of human rights in Egypt, racial tension between Arab and Black Muslims or issues concerning refugees from Darfur. […]

    Pingback by …My heart’s in Accra » Elijah on Sudanese refugees in Cairo — January 18, 2006 @ 3:06 pm

  4. […] Another major blogger event occured on New Years’ Eve, 2006. Thousands of Sudanese refugees had been staging a sit-in outside the UN offices in Cairo. With the end of the North/South war in Sudan, the refugees were to be resettled in Sudan. But many feared repercussions and retribution and weren’t willing to return. They were camped out in a park in a wealthy part of Cairo, near the UN, and had been experiencing racist harrasment. Alaa and others had received information that the police were to clear the park, and on New Years Eve, resulting clashes killed 50 refugees. As I noted on this blog, the event was barely a blip in global media attention. But Egyptian bloggers covered it closely, reporting via SMS to a virtual newsroom set up around Alaa’s server. And support from the blogosphere continued after the protests, raising money to support the refugees. […]

    Pingback by …My heart’s in Accra » Alaa on Egyptian blogs and activism — September 17, 2006 @ 2:02 am

  5. […] In smart-mob scenarios, mobile phones function as an impromptu broadcast network – if activists had access to radio stations with sufficient footprint, they could achieve similar goals by broadcasting information about rallies over the airwaves. Other activist uses of mobiles take advantage of the ability of mobile owners to create content as well as forwarding it. Activists with the pro-democracy Kefaya movement use mobile phones and their cameras to document demonstrations and other news events, including a government crackdown on Sudanese protesters in Cairo – they call, text or use MMS to send messages to the administrator of the Kefaya blog, which compiles reports into blog posts much as a newroom turns field reports into finished articles. […]

    Pingback by …My heart’s in Accra » Draft paper on mobile phones and activism — April 9, 2007 @ 5:11 pm

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