The Arab world mobilizes in solidarity with Gaza

Tens of thousands of citizens protest from Egypt to Yemen and from Jordan to Iraq in support of the Palestinian people and against the Israeli blockade and offensive

Guerra de Israel en Gaza
Followers of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah demonstrate in Beirut in support of the Palestinians of Gaza and Hamas, on October 13.ZOHRA BENSEMRA (REUTERS)
Marc Español

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From Egypt to Yemen and from Jordan to Iraq, thousands of people took to the streets this Friday or took to social media across the Middle East to show their commitment and solidarity with the Palestinian cause and denounce the total blockade and offensive launched by Israel in the Gaza Strip following the attack on Israeli territory by Hamas a week ago. The demonstration of brotherhood exhibited over the last week in the region — in contrast to the lukewarmness shown by the region’s governments and at times in defiance in banning demonstrations — has once again reflected the broad and sustained social support for Palestine, despite the acceleration over the last three years of the normalization of diplomatic and economic ties between Israel and several Arab countries. Protests also responded in some cases to calls for mobilization by Hamas leaders following prayers held after noon on Friday.

In Egypt, despite the fact that demonstrations are effectively banned, hundreds of people protested Friday at the Al Azhar mosque in Cairo, the capital, one of the most respected institutions in the Sunni Islamic world. In the last week, Al Azhar, which has maintained a forceful stance against the Israeli attacks on Gaza and has criticized the West, has called on Arab and Muslim governments to adopt a unified position of denunciation and to send humanitarian aid to Gaza, disassociating itself from the most vacuous officialist discourse.

On Wednesday, 10 prestigious Egyptian human rights organizations signed a joint statement calling on the government and the international community to do what they can to deliver urgent aid to Gaza, open humanitarian corridors, and force Israel as the occupying power to lift the siege on the Strip, establish safe zones for civilians inside, and prepare for a truce. Throughout the week there have also been small solidarity protests in front of the Cairo journalists’ union and on the campus of the elite American University in the Egyptian capital. According to a poll conducted by an Egyptian polling center between Monday and Tuesday, 82% of those surveyed considered the Hamas attack justified. Some 88% did not believe Israel has the right to respond.

In Jordan — where a large portion of the population is of Palestinian origin — at least hundreds of people demonstrated on Friday near the Al-Huseini Grand Mosque in the center of the capital, Amman. There was also a march towards the border with the West Bank, which was met by police with tear gas, according to images spread on social networks and local media. The Interior Ministry had informed on Thursday that no congregations would be allowed near the border. Other pro-Palestinian rallies took place in Amman on Saturday, the day of the Hamas attack, and Tuesday.

Both Egypt and Jordan have tried throughout the week to curb through diplomatic channels the spiral of violence in Gaza. Both countries have also reiterated that the only way to ensure peace and stability in the area in the long term is through a solution based on the establishment of a Palestinian state and an end to unilateral Israeli acts. The two countries are forced to maintain a difficult balance between their good relations with Israel and the West, broad social support for the Palestinian cause and limited levels of popular approval, and in recent days both Egypt and Jordan have been concerned about a possible internal contagion of the conflict.

Mobilizations over the escalation between Hamas and Israel and the siege and devastation of Gaza have also occurred in countries that have recently re-established or normalized diplomatic relations with Israel, such as Turkey and Bahrain. Several Turkish cities have in the past week been the scene of protests in solidarity with Gaza and the Palestinian people, including Friday in Istanbul. A group of demonstrators led a march west of the Bahraini capital, Manama, on Saturday, despite the country’s ban on protests.

Iraq and Yemen have hosted two of the largest demonstrations in the region. In Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, thousands of people gathered Friday in Tahrir Square to pray and participate in protests in solidarity with Palestine. Influential Iraqi cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who on Monday called for a large demonstration, thanked those who eventually attended the early Friday afternoon protest. Thousands of Yemenis also marched through the iconic Yemen Gate neighborhood in the historic center of the country’s capital, Sana’a, controlled by the Huthi movement. Local media reported other protests and displays of solidarity in Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Iran on Friday.

It is precisely the leaders of the countries that do not maintain diplomatic relations with Israel who have also adopted a more clearly pro-Palestinian discourse and, in some cases, open support for Hamas. The Iraqi government spokesman, Bassem Al-Awadi, declared last Saturday that the attack on Israel is the “natural result of the systematic oppression” to which the Palestinian people are subjected. And Syria considered the Hamas operation an “honorable achievement” and defended the resistance to the occupation “in all its forms.”

Although there have been no major protests, the deteriorating situation in Gaza has also put the spotlight on the United Arab Emirates, which normalized relations with Israel in 2020 under U.S. mediation, and Saudi Arabia, which is in the process of doing so. Both countries have called for a halt to the violence, but Riyadh has been more forceful in pointing to the occupation, the violation of the rights of the Palestinian people and Israel’s “systematic provocations” as sources of instability, while Abu Dhabi has adopted a more friendly position towards Tel Aviv.

Social networks have also been filled with messages written from the region to express solidarity with Palestine, denounce the devastation that Gaza is suffering, and criticize Western complicity, its double standards with respect to other conflicts such as Ukraine and the dehumanization of the Palestinian people.

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