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January 3, 2010

Gaza Freedom Marchers in Cairo

Yvonne Ridley

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I've never met Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit but he reckons I am a very bad European along with the 1400 other peace activists from the Gaza Freedom March who are trapped in Cairo on New Year's Eve.

Yvonne RidleyI've never met Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit but he reckons I am a very bad European along with the 1400 other peace activists from the Gaza Freedom March who are trapped in Cairo on New Year's Eve.

Gheit made this unexpected demonization via his Foreign Ministry to the local media after telling them that 100 "good Europeans" had been found to send to Gaza.

The lucky hundred had been "selected" because they were the only truly peaceful members of the Gaza Freedom Marchers delegation, whereas the rest of us were conspiracists and anarchists, the media was told.

As I say, I've never met the man but he obviously has a long distance relationship with the truth.

His government's treatment of the Gaza Freedom Marchers in Cairo and the latest Viva Palestina Convoy heading for Al Arish after being refused a ferry at Aqaba is shameful, and his betrayal of the people of Gaza is unforgivable.

Not content with digging himself into a very deep hole, it seems he is still digging ... but sadly not for Gaza's victory or freedom.

The feckless politician delivered a serious propaganda blow to the already damaged image of his government, and if I were Hosni Mubarak, I personally wouldn't put him in charge of a cabbage patch.

He obviously thought that by sending 100 "Good Europeans" on two buses to Gaza the world's media would overlook the fact that a 250-vehicle mercy convoy has been forced to make a 72-hour detour from the Port of Aqaba to Al Arish because of him.

And he foolishly thought that the remaining 1300 Gaza Freedom Marchers would disappear quietly out of Cairo, and return to one of the 42 countries from which they came.

His plan back-fired spectacularly when the 100 "Good Europeans" decided to boycott the buses the next morning. Desperately trying to drag a victory from the jaws of defeat, his security officers pleaded with anyone, just anyone to get on the bus to Gaza.

I bet a few of us "Bad Europeans" would have been able to board either bus as the security officers began corralling people on to the buses despite their protests that they didn't want to go.

And to add to his total humiliation, the very brilliant and courageous Holocaust hunger striker Hedy Epstein really rained on his parade when she announced she was not leaving her 1400 comrades behind. Once she refused to get on either bus that was it. His spectacular end-of-year-show turned from a show stopper to a farce.

To revive a colourful USA presidential election image - it didn't matter how much lipstick the Egyptian Foreign Minister tried to put on this pig, it still looked like a pig!

As a result the buses went off, half empty, and several hours late, bound for the Gaza border and despite desperate attempts to pick up passengers on the way it seems no one wanted to be seen as a stooge for Gheit.

Spaniards and Brits who had earlier been put under 'hotel arrest' in Al Arish for daring to leave Cairo were told they could get on the buses to Gaza. No one wanted a ticket.

You would think at this stage there might be some humility or even apologies being issued from the Foreign Ministry, but the FM's reaction towards those of us who want to show solidarity and give aid and comfort to the good people of Gaza is nothing short of astonishing.

And if he thinks I am a "Bad European" for showing compassion to my brothers and sisters in Palestine, then what does that make him?

Of course his reaction to this column if anyone translates it for him, will probably be to have me booted out of Egypt for daring to hold up a mirror to his rather foolish visage.

And just for the record, I am not insulted in the least that he thinks I am a "Bad European". Such a label from this weasel politician is like a badge of honour for me and my fellow Europeans - and let's not forget the large American presence among the Gaza Freedom Marchers either.

Yes, Ahmed Aboul Gheit will be acutely aware Egypt receives nearly two billion dollars in aid from the USA, and so he's probably too afraid to take a pop at our American friends in the FGM.

By the way, I spent much of yesterday with hundreds of stranded French activists who have set up a makeshift camp outside their embassy in the Egyptian capital.

The atmosphere at the French camp, surrounded by hundreds of riot squad officers, was just plain wicked ... they are indeed very bad, bad Europeans, and I'm proud to be part of their resistance. Better be bad than sad.

British journalist Yvonne Ridley is a founder member of Viva Palestina, George Galloway's RESPECT political party and a presenter for the Rattansi & Ridley show and The Agenda on Press TV. She and film-maker Warren Biggs are making a documentary about the Gaza Freedom Marchers.

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