Dogs eat meat- that is a fact. When you serve them with fillet, they eat it all because it is a steak and tender and afterwards nothing remains; not a trace that in that plate once lay a piece of meat. But when you serve them meat with bones, they eat all the meat and leave the bones. After their meal you can salvage the bones remaining. I am sitting here in Cairo International Airport waiting to board my plane home and wondering if the situation I am leaving behind in Egypt resembles the case of a dog entrusted with priced meat.
It is fact, militaries are powerful and they thrive on that power. States that are weak militarily are scoffed upon hence the mockery directed towards the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey in the 20th Century) as “The weak men of Europe”. In a democracy, the power of the military is measured in comparison to their military power against other nations’ military power. However when that power gains excess domestically and the military is involved in politics, the might of the military is exercised against a nation of unarmed, defenceless civilians. The result will be something quite similar to serving a dog with fillet- where you are left with nothing to salvage.
I came to Egypt a couple of months after the Revolution. I found in Egypt a nation hopeful, eager and ready for change and for transformation. I leave behind a nation in a state of comatose, a depressed youth, heartbroken and growing more and more agitated as the Egyptian army displays itself for what it really is…just another brutal, African army that follows its interests and not those of the people it pledged to protect. The nation is reeling from the shock of their experiences and every individual has had to confront the reality that activism and the fight for a democratic Egypt can be attained at the cost of their own lives. The people believed that given its history, the Egyptian army would set a precedent of leading a successful transition but how can the transition succeed when the guarantours of its success are sabotaging it. Or are they?
On the day of the Maspero massacres (the death of 26 political activists and injury of 300 other at the hands of the military forces in front of Maspero-the state television building in Cairo as they were protesting the burning of a Coptic Church in Merinab Village, Aswan-Upper Egypt) Egypt woke up and it was just another Sunday, another day in the lives of a great nation that is charting its own history towards freedom, dignity and equality.
When the demonstration also started it was just another protest; as has been the culture since the January 25 Revolution. The procession began in Shubra and continued all the way to Maspero. Little did the protestors know that just a mere few hours away 26 of them would be dead, 300 injured and many of them would lose a friend, a sister, a brother, a daughter and a son at the hands of the army that the people entrusted with their ticket to democracy.
Simmering tensions between Christians and Moslems in Egypt have always existed, with Christians feeling like second class citizens in their own country because they cannot practice their religion, build and renovate religious buildings and carry out their religious practices as freely as Moslems do. In 2011 alone, 3 other major incidents of attacks on Christians by Muslims and vice versa have been recorded. First was the bombing of the Two Saints Church in Alexandria on the eve of the New Year. 100 people were injured and 23 died. 51 others were injured and 6 died when Orthodox Christians and Muslim Salafists fought in March in Cairo. In May, 242 were injured and 15 died in a bomb blast that destroyed a church in the Imbaba surbub of Cairo. The Maspero massacres make the 4th religiously aligned attack.
The broadcasting of the massacre on state television was biased and instead of relaying the Christians’ fears that the army is there to protect everyone regardless of their religion, the army presented itself as the poor-weak and Muslim army being attacked by uncontrollable and unruly Christians. Of course this was a lucrative call on those who already harboured ill feelings towards Christians to use this opportunity to attack them. What game the army was playing out when it created this antagonism between Christians and Moslems one cannot understand. Since when has a national army been religiously aligned and since when has the mighty Egyptian army which has threatened war against Ethiopia over the Nile and war against Israel (and indirectly the US because it always backs Israel) been overpowered by an insignificant fraction of a mere 8 million Christians?
Yes, with this incident the Supreme Council of Armed Forces showed its inability to manage the pressing problem of intolerance that Egypt faces if it is to transform into a democratic society. Such intolerance exists at religious, racial and gender levels characterised by tensions between Muslims and Christian Copts, racism by Arabs against Africans and even Nubians within their own country and sexual harassment and maltreatment of women, respectively. Intolerance towards dissenting political views is still rife as prisoners of conscience still languish in prison. One of them Maikel Nabil Sanad, has been on a hunger strike for 45 days following his three year sentence to imprisonment for criticising the army.
The SCAF is guilty of many other violations some of which are still ongoing. It started with the virginity testing of protestors, then came the military trial followed the violent dispersion of demonstrators from Tahrir Square resulting in the injury of many. Then there were the several declarations of a state of emergency and imposition of curfews. It seems the tricks have gotten worse and dirtier with time.
I look at this scenario and ask myself, is Egypt going back to the days of Mubarak? Has the situation become worse than it was under Mubarak’s rule?
I however conclude that there is hope Egypt. In the aftermath of the Maspero massacres the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (ruling authority) called for speedy investigations into the clashes. It tasked the government to speedily form a fact finding committee to investigate the case and institute legal action against those responsible for directly inducing or meting out the massacre. It promulgated an anti-discrimination law that forbade discrimination on the basis of religion. These actions might not have been as far-reaching as most Egyptians would have wanted in addressing the problem of peace and security in Egypt, but I can imagine they are more than what the nation would have received from a Mubarak government that was not accountable to the people and did not care what the people thought of it. The implementation of these laws remains to be seen.
The incident at Maspero met with intense debate and discussions both private and public concerning the ability of the SCAF to lead a democratic transition. Under the Mubarak regime there was no room for such public debate and criticism. There has been great improvement in the exercise of freedom of expression. Some people have seen the religious strife as a setback to the democratic transition where the focus has shifted from pushing for elections and other democratic reforms and turned to questions of security and peace amongst Egypt’s citizens. However the realisation that these events must not sidetrack the drive for democratic transition is by itself a commendable development.
Yes the future is uncertain, and yes progress in consolidating the momentum set by the January 25 Revolution remains unsatisfactory but I have hope for Egypt.
The dogs may have eaten some of the meat, but there are always the bones to salvage and redirect the path towards democracy.