As Ramadan Begins, Arab Militaries Strike Back

August 1, 2011

“While they were hitting me I told them I’m pregnant, they shouted: who’s the father, then hit my stomach with his stick”

— Egyptian woman in Tahrir Square Aug. 1.

Egyptian demonstrators rally in downtown Cairo's Tahrir square on July 29, 2011. © Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

This was a weekend Arab armies struck back.  In Syria, tanks attacked protesters in Hama, killing at least 100 according to Amnesty International reports.  The military was back in action Monday as well.

In Egypt, reports are coming in from Egypt that the military is clearing out activists from Tahrir Square after more than a week of protests calling for a faster pace of reform. All morning reports from Tahrir Square painted a picture of mobs of people picking out protesters, surrounding them, provoking scuffles and then turning the activists over to soldiers nearby.

Unlike in Syria, the violence doesn’t appear to involve shooting, and no deaths have been reported, but there have been reportedly large number of arrests and social media was reporting eyewitness accounts of several injuries.

“Army took someone’s phone and smashed it. ‘by what law are you taking my phone?’ she asked. ‘by my law’ he screamed,” tweeted one Egyptian woman. 

All this occurred on the first day of Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month.  And it is extremely depressing.

The “But” here may not seem promising, but it’s worth noting: Nothing that occurred this weekend (including strange news about divisions among Libyan rebels) should undermine hope about the direction of the uprisings throughout the Arab and Middle East world.  Progress was never going to be linear or quick, and the overreaching arc of the movement still leans toward justice.  The fact that thousands are still bravely putting their lives on the lines in the streets of Egypt and Syria point to the fact that the people are not going home anytime soon.

Which means they need our support.  Two new Amnesty International actions are meant to show solidarity with the activists as well as take creative steps toward helping real change.

In Syria, an Amnesty International online petition drive is pressing the rising powers of Brazil, India and South Africa to show they will use their new international influence for human rights by pressing the UN Security Council to take action against the violence of the Assad regime.  You can add your voice here.

In Egypt, a new action focuses on the key role Egyptian women played in the uprising and concerns that they are now being marginalized.  The action calls for specific and concrete steps to ensure women’s full political participation and their guarantees for their economic, social and political rights. You can take the action here.

Be certain: The Syrian and Egyptian militaries haven’t crushed the hopes of the activists.  As long as they stay in the streets, the activists win.  What they need most from us now is to know that they are not alone.  The best way to keep them in the streets against the pressures of the army is act in solidarity with them.