Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March-April 2012, Pages 46-47

Southern California Chronicle

Egyptian Americans Celebrate Revolution, Call on Congress to Stop U.S. Aid to Military

By Pat and Samir Twair

altEgyptian American Organization board members (l-r) Wahid Boctor, Aza Akkad and Dr. Faiza Shereen. (Staff photo S. Twair)

One message came through loud and clear Jan. 29 at the Egyptian American Organization's "Spirit of Tahrir" celebration in Los Angeles: "Do everything you can to persuade the U.S. Congress to withhold aid to the Egyptian military."

More than 250 prominent members of Southern California's Egyptian-American community gathered in the UCLA Faculty Center to honor the January 25 Egyptian Revolution and to communicate via Skype in Cairo with author Ahdaf Soueif and activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah.

Soueif, whose latest book is titled Cairo My City, Our Revolution, said she hasn't written fiction since the unfinished revolution began. "Hosni Mubarak may be gone but the military regime continues," she remarked, "even though it takes a nip and tuck here and there to satisfy the people."

Stating that a Muslim Brother is now her representative in parliament, even though she is secular, Soueif said there is fear that the overly religious will try to take over, and many Egyptians are watchful for this. Responding to a question about gender issues, the writer for The Guardian noted that any time the regime harasses women it backfires. "Look how Samira Ibrahim took her suit against virginity tests to the court, and she won."

Soueif said pressure must be put on London and Washington to stop supplying weapons to the Egyptian military. "The next battle will be with the military to hand over power to the people," she concluded, lamenting the absence of leaders to articulate what Egyptians want.

El-Fattah, a prominent blogger, was temporarily jailed Oct. 30 for "inciting violence"—charges he denies. "We continue the revolution by challenging the military and demanding due process for the imprisoned, instead of five-minute trials," he stated. "The struggle is getting results. The military lifted the emergency law before the first anniversary of the revolution."

When asked how American Egyptians can help, El-Fattah reiterated: "Stop U.S. aid to the Egyptian military."

Dr. Faiza Shereen, a professor at Cal Poly Pomona who has written a play, "The Country Within," introduced the incoming EAO board.

Gaza Children's Art Show

altGaza children’s art admirers (from l) Dr. Laila El-Marayati, Amani Jabsheh and Dr. Diane Shammas. (Staff photo S. Twair)

Drawings from the exhibit "A Child's View From Gaza," banned by Oakland's Museum of Children's Art (see November 2011 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, p. 43) were on view in Los Angeles at the Levantine Cultural Center (LCC) from Jan. 17 to Feb. 17 in an exhibit organized by LCC founder-director Jordan Elgrably, Amani Jabsheh and Dara Wells-Hajjar. On Jan. 27 the drawings were displayed on the auditorium walls of the Hollywood Women's Club for a reception featuring the music of Musa Naser and a buffet of Arab food. Speaking were three American women activists who've visited Gaza since Operation Cast Lead, Israel's land, sea and air attack of the unprotected Palestinian coastal enclave from December 2008 to January 2009.

More than 200 people came to view the 24 drawings by Gazan children aged 7 to 14 who created the images in six centers offering art therapy classes in the aftermath of the Israeli onslaught. Skies are filled with helicopters shooting missiles, firework explosions are actually white phosphorus raining down—even though Israel denies having used it—apartment buildings collapse from tank bombardments, Israeli troops threaten Gazans cowering inside their homes.

"Imagine," said Dr. Laila El-Marayati, who treated the traumatized survivors of war, "just imagine the screams and terror as children see enemy troops entering their towns and camps. The ongoing Israeli embargo of building, medical and educational supplies means that hospitals can't be repaired, and there are no parts for broken medical equipment."

altGaza child’s drawing of an Israeli soldier. (Staff photo S. Twair)

The KinderUSA chairperson described Gaza's education problem as systemic. Classrooms are overcrowded and operate in three shifts a day. Only 40 percent of Gaza's children attend school, she noted, and many toil at menial jobs to help put food on the table.

Educator Dr. Diane Shammas has traveled to Gaza three times since 2009 to analyze trauma directly linked to post-traumatic stress disorder from coping with life lived during bombing raids.

Kristen Ess-Schurr, who reported from Gaza for Pacifica radio affiliates, noted that the high percentage of anemia in children is because they are too apprehensive and tense to eat, many fearing they will be targeted by Israeli snipers.

"Fatalities draw media attention, so troops shoot at the knees of children," Ess-Schurr stated. "After a little girl was fatally shot, the soldier claimed there was a bomb in her backpack." Another hazard for children is undetonated bombs. The journalist criticized Israel for not permitting nutritional foods to enter Gaza, instead sending in Israeli-made junk food.

During the question-and answer session, Elgrably asked what Americans can do to help Gazans. "Go to Gaza," responded Dr. El-Marayati.

MPAC Hosts 11th Confab

altDr. Maher Hathout (l) and Dr. Cornel West at MPAC’s 2011 convention banquet. (Staff photo S. Twair)

Television host Tavis Smiley introduced iconic civil rights advocate Dr. Cornel West as keynote speaker at the Dec. 17 banquet of the Greater Los Angeles Muslim Public Affairs Council's 11th annual convention.

In keeping with the convention theme "America's Role in a Changing World," West urged the audience of several hundred young Muslims and community leaders "not to become well adjusted to injustice" in a U.S. plagued by decrepit housing and an industrial prison complex.

"I want to see Muslims lead the way as Martin Luther King Jr. did," stated the former Princeton University professor, who now teaches religious philosophy and Christian practice at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

"The healthy future of the American democracy depends more on what prophetic Muslims do in the next decades," West said. "It's not a matter of integrating into a burning house—it's a matter of becoming a fireman or firewoman and putting the fire out."

Also receiving a standing ovation at the banquet in the Los Angeles Convention Center was State Sen. Ted Lieu, who in early December publicly criticized Lowes for pulling ads from the cable TV series "All-American Muslim" in response to criticism from a Florida right-wing Christian group. The politician had changed his schedule to address MPAC on the need to stand against all forms of bigotry.

The convention's Plenary I focused on "U.S. Policy, Potentials and Pitfalls." Plenary II explored the topic of "Islamic Movements: Help or Hindrance?"

BDS Program at USC

alt(l-r): Omar Barghouti, Fred Moten, Angela Davis and emcee David Lloyd. (Staff photo S. Twair)

"Our South African Moment: Divestment from Apartheid in South Africa and Israel" was the title of a Jan. 12 program at the University of Southern California featuring activist Angela Davis, poet Fred Moten and Omar Barghouti, founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).

Moten, who teaches at Duke University, allowed that some Israeli scholars are documenting forms of repression of the Palestinians, but added that "what is missing is a record of resistance by a people who are creating beauty, building homes from rubble and loving their children under the thumb of oppression."

Explaining that the Palestinian struggle makes him feel his humanity, Moten noted how unfair it is for his half-Jewish child to be welcome to enter Israel, but a child of Palestinian parents born abroad cannot visit his ancestors' homeland.

Davis showed slides from a trip she took in June to occupied Palestine and called on African-American USC students to join campus Palestinian organizations. Progressives should put pressure on the Obama administration to soften its blind support of Israel, she urged, and to stop being defensive about ubiquitous claims of being anti-Semitic.

Barghouti described as Israel's biggest injustice its denial of refugee rights and racist laws that distinguish and favor Jews over non-Jews. The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli apartheid practices discriminating against the Palestinians began in 2005. One of its major successes, Barghouti noted, was when dock workers worldwide respond to a BDS call to stop loading and unloading Israeli ships.

Pat and Samir Twair are free-lance journalists based in Los Angeles.