New York – Tomorrow, November 27th, War Resisters League, a US-based antimilitarist organization founded in 1923, recognizes Asma Mohammed and the Suez Port Workers with its 2012 Peace Award. Exactly one year ago, on November 27th, 2011, Asma Mohammed, customs officer at the Adabiya Port of Suez, Egypt, refused to process a 7-ton shipment of US-made tear gas coming in from the port of Wilmington, North Carolina.
This refusal came in the wake of unprecedented use of tear gas use against protesters around Tahrir Square during “the battle of Mohamed Mahmoud,” where dozens died directly from inhalation of the gas. Mohammed’s refusal triggered the formation of Egypt’s first post-revolution port worker union, the General Independent Union of Port Workers, starting in Suez but quickly spreading across Egypt as part of theskyrocketing of labor activism following the uprising that began in January 2011.
As Mohammed, member of the union’s women’s committee says: “I said ‘No, I refuse—because I don’t want to be the cause of someone’s pain or death.’ So in solidarity with me, or with the cause, my co-workers said ‘No, we’re not going to work on it either.’”
War Resisters League, while honoring the courageous spark of a new labor movement and co-founder of the independent port worker union, is building a campaign against tear gas, both internationally as well as within the US, where it is often used against activists, including prisoners. “This award, first given in 1958, is about recognizing the leadership in places affected by U.S. militarism and reflects WRL’s legacy of supporting people coming together and taking matters into their own hands,” said Ali Issa, War Resisters League National Field Organizer. He added, “This is also directly connected to WRL’s new effort to end the use of tear gas globally as protesters around the world—including every week or so in Egypt—continue to be gassed indiscriminately.”
Mohammed also notes this took place during the moment of the ongoing Arab Spring, about which she comments: “The Arab people now want to be the decision makers. Just as the American people should be the decision makers and affect their government in the decisions it makes. We also want our rulers to know that we are the ones that are going to influence things. And they’re not going to understand that until governments of the world begin to act according to that logic.”