BY ANTHONY LAURENCE
The hour-long meeting was accompanied by a protest of about 50 people, occasionally interrupted by car horns in support of the demonstrators as they shouted, “America, America can’t you see? Egyptians demand democracy! America, America don’t you know? Military aid has got to go!” Although the frigid cold numbed many fingers and toes, it could not deter the determination of the dedicated protesters chanting on the street median.
Despite McCaskill’s inability to attend the meeting, she forwarded her message through Sherod, who outlined the senator’s understanding of the seriousness of the Egyptian protests and her belief that the situation should be approached with caution.
“Why do we have to proceed with caution when it is clear that Mubarak is a dictator?” Rahman asked.
Sherod replied that she did not have an answer. Rahman sighed, and passed along her own message to the senator.
“I suggest McCaskill speak to her constituents in the Senate and force Mubarak to step down because he is a dictator,” Rahman said. “The people of Egypt are all human beings. They have minds, they have hearts and they should not be treated like they have been over the past thirty years.”
According to the Associated Press, the United States has given Egypt $36 billion, mostly in military equipment including American-made F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters and deadly M1A1 Abram tanks, making Egypt the United States’ second largest recipient of foreign aid. With almost $2 billion a year in arms sales to Egypt, the United States supplies a disconcerting 80 percent of Egypt’s armaments, which in turn established the Egyptian Army as the tenth largest army in the world.
The St. Louis Instead of War Coalition organized the protest in order to address their concerns regarding recent unrest in Egypt. Colleen Kelly, the organization’s outreach coordinator, explained how setting up the meeting and protest was a way to let the people’s voice be heard.
“I think people are feeling incredibly frustrated with U.S. foreign policy, particularly how the United States approaches the Middle East,” He said. “We are supporting the regime in Egypt which has created a huge obstacle for the people over there seeking democracy and democratic reform.”
Sherod wrote down two pages of notes during the meeting. Some activist said they left with a sense of disapointment.
“I didn’t feel good at the end of it. I felt good about how we expressed ourselves, but I ended up with the same feeling about how useless it is to communicate with politicians,” said Khaled Hamid, one of the meeting attendees. “The more significant aid creates the façade of legitimacy that the United States has given to the Mubarak regime. The aid does not help the people, it helps Mubarak.”
The activists’ discontent and disillusionment has not taken away from their passion of the political process. The St. Louis Instead of War Coalition said they will plan more protests if Senator McCaskill does not change her policy towards U.S. aid to Egypt.
Rahman said she was not entirely satisfied with the meeting.
“When I see reality and whom we are up against and seeing how greed and money is valued over the blood of innocent brothers and sisters, I get pessimistic,” she said.
Despite Rahman’s despondency, she said she still maintains a degree of optimism.
“I still go out there and do my work hoping that something good will happen by the will of God,” she said.