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600 in Support of Egyptian and Tunisian People at Dundas Square In Toronto

Freedom! Democracy, always Democracy!” Says Organizer Ahmed Khalif

by Megan Kinch

Demonstraters held homemade signs in many languages. (photo credit: Paul Kellogg)
Demonstraters held homemade signs in many languages. (photo credit: Paul Kellogg)
Around 600 braved the cold weather in Dundas square, at the heart of downtown Toronto (photo credit: Minus Smile)
Around 600 braved the cold weather in Dundas square, at the heart of downtown Toronto (photo credit: Minus Smile)
Many demonstrators made thier own signs. (photo credit: Banafsheh Beizaei)
Many demonstrators made thier own signs. (photo credit: Banafsheh Beizaei)
This sign compares the relative freedom to demonstrate in Canada to the severe repression in Egypt. One woman told me "I am here to express myself , secondly to support my family, my friends and my people.” (photo credit: Taylor Flook)
This sign compares the relative freedom to demonstrate in Canada to the severe repression in Egypt. One woman told me "I am here to express myself , secondly to support my family, my friends and my people.” (photo credit: Taylor Flook)
People chanted "let the tree of freedom grow" and other slogans, alternating between Arabic and English. (photo credit: Banafsheh Beizaei)
People chanted "let the tree of freedom grow" and other slogans, alternating between Arabic and English. (photo credit: Banafsheh Beizaei)

On Saturday, Dundas Square in the centre of Toronto filled with 600 people demonstrating in solidarity with ongoing revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. The focus of protest was the Mubarak regime in Egypt, whose despotic regime has cause the Egyptian people to rise up in huge protests after the inspirational revolution in Tunisia.  People chanted, alternating in Arabic and English “The people want to make the regime fall”, “Down, Down with Mubarack” and “Revolution until Victory”.

Hanan, holding a sign which said “long live Egypt free forever” told me: “I am here to express myself , secondly to support my family, my friends and my people.” The homemade posters and banners contrasted with the corporate logos that blanketed Dundas square. After a man handed this reporter a bookmark for Israeli apartied week, a security guard questioned me “Is that guy with you?” and told me that this space was “just for your guys and not for anyone else”. Nonetheless, the square filled with people from many different organizations, and those with no organization at all, handing out flyers, leaflets and posters in Arabic and English.

Banafsheh Beizaei from the Toronto Young New Democrats came to Canada from Iran seven years ago. She told me: “ I find what is happening in Tunisia, Egypt and everywhere else in the region very exciting and I’ve found its had a huge impact on the mindset of Iranian and Arab youth that I know here. My classmates, people who’ve never even expressed any interest in politics, are coming. I am sorry not to go to the steelworkers rally [in support of locked out workers in Hamilton] but I decided to come to this one instead.  A solidarity rally like this is very important- this is more than in just one country. It’s hope for the whole region. It has an impact even here in Canada”.

A squad of bicycle police was near the square, backed up by two police mounted on horses, but without riot gear. There were however no provocations from police.  Many people brought children and babies in carriages to the Dundas square. Protesters in Egypt face 1.5 million soldiers and heavy state repression, including an attempt to cut off the entire countries internet.

Even though the mainstream western media has been hyperbolic regarding the importance of twitter and facebook in organizing the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, today’s event in Toronto does show how social media can be used to connect people, especially in the beginning stages of organizing.  The demonstration was organized through what was originally a small group of friends who created an event on facebook, which grew to almost 2000 people. Originally the facebook group was titled “In solidarity with the people of Egypt” but was changed to include support for the movement in Tunisia as well.

Organizer Ahmed Khalif walked ebulliently through the protest with a Canadian flag draped across his shoulders. He told mediacoop: “There is not East and West there is no “they hate us because of our freedom” all this is gone, now we know that ‘they’ love freedom just like we do.” When asked where he hopes this goes he replied “Freedom! Democracy, always Democracy!”.

Participants waved flags from many countries including Egypt and Tunisia but also Lebanon, Algeria and Iran and Canada. Others came as internationalists, including members of socialist groups such as Fightback and International Socialists. A large contingent of them were with the Worker Communist Party of Iran/Iraq, familiar from their visible presence at the G20, who gathered across the street and also protested in support of the ongoing revolutionary movements. The grassroots nature of the protests was visible in the homemade signs, but also in the enthusiasm and goodwill from participants, which included people of many ethnicities. Elias handed out cookies from a bag “I’m here to learn more about what’s going on. I’m half Egyptian and we felt really useless, but I had this bag of cookies so I came”.

The solidarity demos in Toronto were joined by similar spontaneous demonstrations across the country in Ottawa, Vancouver and Montreal.  Additionally, a demo in solidarity with the Tunisian revolution held in Montreal on January 15, 2011 drew 6,000 people.

Arash Azizi from Mobareze, an Iranian Communist Group, handed out flyers and papers in English, Farsi and Arabic. He said : “This is unprecedented. In my own lifetime, and the lifetime of my father and my grandfather, in the history of the modern Arab world it was the first time that popular revolution, as opposed to coup d’états and the like, the direct power of the working people brought the government down in Tunisia, and it seems projected to do the same in Egypt. This is the reason behind the euphoria and the massive sense of elation and emancipation in the Arab world. For the first time they have seen that they can do this with their own popular power.”


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Topics: Solidarity

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Megan Kinch (Megan Kinch)
Toronto Ontario
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is a writer and editor with the Toronto Media Co-op.

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