The ongoing violence in Egypt comes at a terrible human and social cost. But despite numerous setbacks along the way it’s starting to look like there is a real chance for positive change to come about from the situation.
I’d like to acknowledge that we are meeting on Aboriginal land and I pay my respects to elders past and present.
There is a spark spreading across the Middle East and it has been lit by the fires of injustice, repression and cruelty.
Like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Hosni Mubarak is an aged dictator who has led a brutal regime which has persecuted its opposition, oppressed and murdered its minorities and practiced torture on a regular basis.
In the wake of events in Tunisia this spark has led to a popular democracy movement that is pouring onto the streets across the region in Yemen’s Jasmine Revolution and protests in Algeria and Jordan.
The yearning of workers, students and activists for an end to despotism and inequality has come to a head in Egypt and nothing less than success like that in Tunisia will satisfy the protesters.
How much longer can this 82 year old American puppet fend off the protesters and who will the army support are the big questions that will decide the outcome of the current demonstrations?
This morning we saw film of protestors embracing the army and sitting on tanks and we must hope that this will become an alliance for change.
The Mubarak regime receives over $2 billion a year in military and other aid from the US and is famous for its role in the extraordinary renditions of the Bush years.
Our own Mamdouh Habib has described in detail the horrific torture he received under rendition in Egypt before being taken to Guantanamo Bay by the US.
The State Security Investigations, the infamous SSI have a record of human rights abuses that have been highlighted in the latest report by Human Rights Watch, which reports the ongoing practice of disappearing dissidents, refugees, Coptic Christians and workers for months on end while they are tortured for crimes they are never charged with.
This government by terror is typical of despotic regimes throughout history but usually at some point the people rise up against such oppression. What we don’t know at this point due to the extraordinary censorship that Mubarak has instituted, such as shutting down the internet and mobile phones, is how close the demonstrators are to bringing him down.
We have heard that there have been up to 70 deaths and thousands of casualties but the communications blackout is making it hard to know if the Mubarak regime will survive. At this point he still stands defiantly against the demonstrations.
What is happening in Egypt offers a glimpse into the potential future for so many of the despotic regimes in the Middle East where dictators and royal families rule over underprivileged populations who are discovering they have nothing more to lose and that there is a chance for change.
The overthrowing of the Tunisian leader Zine al-Abadine Ben Ali has given hope to progressive forces throughout the Middle East and in Egypt in particular. Hope that democracy and social justice can overthrow 30 years of despotism and brutality.
This revolt against autocracy has the potential to change the face of many of the countries in the Middle East and it could bring to power governments that are not in the pockets of the US.
Governments elected by popular forces calling for democratic freedom and an end to oppressive regimes.
How the US and Israel will respond to these events remains to be seen but so far President Obama has not supported regime change and has lost the opportunity to support the fight for real democracy and reform in Egypt.
Instead of continuing its hypocritical support for corrupt and autocratic regimes the US now has the chance to promote real grassroots democracy but as usual the superpower baulks at helping people’s movements it can’t control.
Of course an end to the Mubarak regime may change the countries position on Palestine and bring into doubt the regime’s peace agreement with Israel.
Fear of radical Islam will be a strong influence on any US reaction although the demonstrations have shown no religious identity with demonstrators calling only for freedom and democracy.
The role of Mohamed ElBaradei and the National Association for Change is another important element as is the role of the Muslim Brotherhood. And their role in future events will influence any alternative government if Mubarak is overthrown.
We rally here today in solidarity with those protestors in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries who are rejecting autocracy, despotism and years of fear, poverty and inhumane treatment.
We rally in hope that there will be democratic change and that the fire and anarchy that is being reported in Cairo today will not lead to a wave of repression that will save the status quo.
Mubarak must go, the SSI must go, the people of Egypt must be given the chance to decide their own future their own foreign policy and their own economic justice.