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Egypt: Pro-Palestine protest erupts in Cairo's Tahrir Square

A march in solidarity with the Palestinian victims of Israeli air strikes reaches Tahrir, demanding the opening of Rafah crossing and chanting against the Sisi government
A protest march in Cairo on 20 October against the Israeli air strikes on Gaza (AFP)
A protest march in Cairo on 20 October against the Israeli air strikes on Gaza (AFP)
By Ayah El-Khaldi in Cairo

A march in solidarity with Palestinians reached Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday demanding the opening of the Rafah crossing to allow aid into Gaza amid an ongoing Israeli onslaught in the besieged Palestinian enclave. 

Thousands of people broke through security barriers to reach the iconic square, the epicentre of Egypt's 2011 pro-democracy revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak. 

Some people were heard chanting anti-government slogans and invoking Arab armies to act to stop the Israeli bombing of Gaza.

Lawyers and pro-Palestine activists posted footage on social media showing thousands taking part in the protest, carrying Palestinian flags. 

The Israeli military has killed more than 4,200 Palestinians since the conflict started two weeks ago, according to the latest tally by the Palestinian health ministry. At least 1,524 children and 1,032 women are among the dead. 

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The latest Israeli military operation against the Gaza Strip started after the Hamas-led surprise attack on 7 October. At least 1,400 have been killed since the assault was launched, with more than 200 others taken back to Gaza as prisoners of war and civilian hostages.

Protests across the Arab world erupted earlier this week following the Israeli bombardment of al-Ahli al-Arab Hospital in Gaza that killed at least 471 displaced Palestinian civilians and patients. 

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Israel denied responsibility, claiming a rocket belonging to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad failed to launch properly and hit the hospital. But Palestinian officials, the health ministry, and Arab governments blamed Israel for what they considered a war crime following days of several other deadly aerial attacks on residential buildings. 

On Thursday, another Israeli air strike killed at least 16 displaced Palestinians sheltering in a church in Gaza, according to the Palestinian health ministry.  

Popular mandate for Sisi

Friday's protests in Egypt started after noon prayers across the country, including in Cairo, Alexandria and Sinai.

In Cairo, the largest protest began from the courtyards of Al-Azhar Mosque, one of the Sunni Muslim world’s most esteemed religious institutions.

'We want the border to be opened immediately so aid can reach people in Gaza'

- a protester in Tahrir Square

Protesters then marched to Tahrir Square despite a heavy police presence. Dozens of people scuffled with police and broke through the barrier to reach the square, according to a Middle East Eye correspondent in Cairo.

Protesters raised slogans affirming they were genuine and not staged by the government, as pro-government media figures had led calls for the protests to provide President Sisi with "a mandate to protect the land of Egypt from dangers and war with Israel, and end the peace process".

"We want the border to be opened immediately so aid can reach people in Gaza," one protester told MEE from Tahrir.

"God is alive, the voice of the people is still alive, the voice of the resistance is still alive," some chanted.

Protesters demanded the closure of the Israeli embassy and the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador. They also called for the peace treaties between Egypt and Israel to be scrapped.

Some denounced "cowardly" Arab leaders and praised Palestinian resistance groups. "Resistance is the solution," some chanted. "The people want the fall of Israel," others chanted, invoking the famous chant of the Arab Spring protests: "The people want the fall of the regime."

Sisi had on Wednesday warned that "millions" of Egyptians will protest against any displacement of Palestinians to Sinai, a proposition suggested by Israeli officials and commentators to clear the densely populated Gaza Strip of civilians while the Israeli army launches its military operation against armed Palestinian groups.

Popular protests have been largely crushed since Sisi became president in 2014 in the aftermath of his military coup against his democratically elected predecessor Mohamed Morsi. 

Israel attacks Rafah crossing for fifth time

Several countries and aid organisations have been sending cargo planes and trucks to the Rafah border crossing for days but none has been allowed to enter so far as there are no assurances from Israel that the convoys would not be attacked. The crossing is currently the only gateway to Gaza that is not controlled by Israel. 

Israel bombed the crossing at least five times since 7 October, on both the Egyptian and the Palestinian sides. The latest attack was on Friday on the Gazan side, according to Middle East Eye correspondent. 

Repair work at the Gaza-Egypt Rafah crossing was being conducted on Friday morning to allow the entry of aid trucks but it wasn't clear when that would happen. An Egyptian official told MEE that his government is "waiting for an OK" from the Israeli side before allowing the entry of aid.

tahrir protest 20 october 2023
Security forces stand in Tahrir Square as thousands stage a pro-Palestine protest on 20 October 2023 (MEE)

Meanwhile, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday that there are "restrictions" imposed on aid deliveries to Gaza.

Speaking from the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing, Guterres said aid trucks need to move in as soon as possible. 

“We are actively engaging with all the parties in order to clarify these restrictions so we can have these trucks moving towards where they’re needed. We need these trucks moving as soon as possible,” Guterres said.  

“We have two million people here who are suffering tremendously. There is no water, no food, no medicine, no fuel. Gaza needs everything to survive.”

Egypt's foreign ministry spokesman on Friday also blamed Israel for "targeted attacks, refusal of aid entry,  and recently insinuating Egypt's responsibility for obstructing third-country nationals exit."

Additional reporting by Shahenda Naguib

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