In the streets in Cairo, Damascus and Jerusalem

protest - Ofer Vaknin - 18072011 Tent city on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv
Photo by: Ofer Vaknin

It is Friday – Tahrir Square day; during the week the prime minister appointed a new cabinet – even though he was in and out of the hospital, suffering it is said from stress and exhaustion – the people have not responded very favorably. After prayers today they expressed their feelings:

Demonstrators chanted against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). “We do not want military rule,” and “Down, down, Field Marshal,” in reference to head of the SCAF Hussein Tantawi, could be heard. In a sermon delivered to the square, Imam Mazhar Shaheen of the Omar Makram mosque said the cabinet reshuffle failed to meet the expectations of protesters, who want members of ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s regime out of politics. “The last time we met, we had hoped that the government would answer and implement our demands,” said Shaheen, who has been giving a weekly sermon in Tahrir.  Al-Masry Al-Youm, 7-22-11

There were not a million, nor indeed even a hundred thousand people in Tahrir today in Cairo, so it maybe a stretch to say the Egyptian people responded to the government’s moves during the week.  The crowds are getting smaller, so drawing any conclusions from their behavior is much less valid than it was a week or a month ago.  In fact, one might ask at this point, if this crowd does not simply represent traditional “mal-contents” who can never be satisfied.  To force any further compromises from the government is probably going to require much more participation from the people of Cairo – a few thousands people do not constituent a movement – when the numbers begin, as they did in February, to approach a million governments listen.

By contrast, in Syria over a million people are said to be involved in the post-pray demonstrations this week. Last Friday, more than 30 demonstrators were killed; the Syrian police and military have not willing, as they do in Egypt, to step aside and give the demonstrators freedom to express themselves – today however, it was the reported the police and army are not visible at all.  Regardless of the response of the army, the demonstrations continue to grow in size and intensity – and the death of demonstrators only seems to add more fuel to the fire.  Assad may or may not feel enough pressure to consider stepping down, but these demonstrations are certain to bring about some changes – what kind of changes and when is the 64,000 dollar question.

There is one more demonstration this week that fits into the Arab Spring – in Tel Aviv.  The demonstrators in Israel have created a tent city to protest the lack of affordable housing, jobs and other basic necessities.  There are other tent cities around the country, including one in Jerusalem .  There have been tent cities in Israel before in the 1980s and 90s; those demonstrations were driven by immigrants protesting a lack of housing, jobs and discrimination in Israeli society in general.  The tent cities today are being built by middle class and university educated young Israelis, not disenfranchised, uneducated immigrants who barely spoke Hebrew.

And that is their connection with the Arab Spring – like the students in Egypt, the Israelis are protesting a lack of future.  It is much more important than a lack of housing and of jobs – they don’t feel they have a viable future.   As much as political freedom, economic freedom has been at the core of the protests in the Arab world – people feel disenfranchised and without hope – without a future.  Now the for the first time in the modern history of the region, Israelis and Arabs have taken to the streets for the same reason and from the same point of view they are protesting the same things.

“Here are the people who were told, ‘Listen, if you be good kids, and you go to school and go to the army and do your service and pay taxes, then everything will be okay.’ And then they’re discovering that they’re doing everything they were told, and are good kids, and everything is not okay. They’re going into debt, and they can’t get the basics. I’m not even talking about being close to what their parents had, or what they were used to, growing up. They’re not even close to it,” Eidelman says. Haaretz, 7-22-11

The Israeli demonstration has another similarity to the Arab demonstrations – the Israelis are choosing Shabbat – the day of prayer – for the call to action: “We are announcing a massive demonstration on this coming Shabbat,”  organizer and freelance filmmaker Daphni Leef said. Using Friday (Saturday in Israel) as the day of demonstration has a practice reason, people who have jobs do not lose wages, but it also has a religious one.  That day connects the people with their religion which, in Israel and the Arab world, is at center of the national culture. Of course, someone is going to say to the young Israelis – “tell your problems to Palestinians who have no houses, jobs, freedom of movement or futures.”   The situation in Palestine and the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians is not changed by a demonstration or two.  But it is clear from the demonstrations in Israel that the Israelis are following the events in the Arab countries, just as other Arabs are watching and starting their own protests.  Transcending old governments and old polices is at core of the protests from Tunisia to Syria, that desire for change reached into Libya, Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen and now it may be entering Israel.



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