Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1231, (29 January - 4 February 2015)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1231, (29 January - 4 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

An elusive dream

Four years after people stood shoulder to shoulder to demand greater democracy and an end to the police state unity has become a questionable dream, writes Dina Ezzat

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh was shot dead in central Cairo while taking part in a procession of 20 activists who had gathered in Talaat Harb Square and were heading to Tahrir to lay flowers in memory of the protestors killed during the 18-day uprising against the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

The Socialist Popular Coalition, to which Al-Sabbagh belonged, accused police forces of killing the activist in cold blood. Footage of the fatally wounded Al-Sabbagh being carried by a friend as security forces continued to fire rounds at the unarmed protestors was soon circulating across the Internet.

The Ministry of Interior’s response was to fall back on its default position that security forces are never to blame. Al-Sabbagh, it claimed, was killed by a Muslim Brotherhood member who had infiltrated the march to discredit the police. The backlash was immediate.

“I could say a great deal against the Muslim Brotherhood but the killing of Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh is the doing of the police and I am not going to turn a blind eye to it,” said Ramy Kamil, a member of the Maspero Youth Union, a Coptic activist group formed after the 25 January Revolution.

His reaction was typical. Activist groups from across the spectrum pointed out that Talaat Harb Square, indeed the whole of Downtown Cairo, was fully under the control of police forces when Al-Sabbagh was killed.

On Monday the exchange of accusations between those who said the police had shot Al-Sabbagh and those who were clinging to the official account that the Muslim Brotherhood had framed the police to score political points was swinging firmly in favour of the first camp.

The Ministry of Interior was forced into a U-turn. Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim duly called a press conference at which he promised there would be no impunity for any police officer or soldier proven guilty of wrongdoing in the killing of Al-Sabbagh.

Al-Sabbagh’s killing in cold blood is a tragedy for her family, friends and colleagues. It is also an event that attracts symbolism, and in so doing becomes a catalyst for many things.

Comparisons were made between the attention accorded to Al-Sabbagh’s murder, which eventually drew words of condolence from Ibrahim at his press conference, and the killing 24 hours earlier, at the hands of the police in Alexandria, of a 17-year old girl, Sondos Reda, during a march protesting the “persecution” of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Cracks also began to appear among those who support the current regime, some of whom say the police went too far when they targeted a non-Islamist activist, and others who argue that mistakes happen and the real blame, in any case, falls squarely on the shoulders of those who choose to protest.

But polarisation has long been the only game in town. The loose coalition that orchestrated the 30 June demonstrations demanding Mohamed Morsi’s removal is fracturing. One camp, led by the Wafd Party, insists the way forward is to hold the long overdue parliamentary elections.

A second camp, including the vast majority of parties formed in the wake of the 25 January Revolution, announced on Monday that it would boycott legislative elections if the president does not move to sack the minister of interior and to amend the protest law.

The leader of the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party, Mohamed Abul Ghar, penned an open letter to the president asking him to end police aggression and review the protest law.

“We cannot continue moving in this direction,” wrote Abul Ghar. “The 25 January Revolution was about a call for democracy: though there were disagreements along the road, and despite the political polarisation for which the Muslim Brotherhood is mostly to blame, the majority of Egyptians remain united in their call for democracy and development.”

Ibrahim’s promise that there will be a full investigation into Al-Sabbagh’s death was reiterated by Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb during an interview on state television. As yet there has been no statement from the presidency on Al-Sabbagh’s killing.

But then words, say many high-profile activists, are no longer enough. What is needed is to implement concrete steps to halt the return to the police brutality that characterized the Mubarak years.

Coptic activist Mina Thabet argues that it would be a mistake for the state to use the polarisation that exists between supporters and opponents of the Brotherhood as an excuse not to take action to halt “the descent into practices that recall the pre-25 January era.” Failure to act now, he warns, will fuel anger, the consequences of which are unpredictable.

 The big mistake that Mubarak made in January 2011, says Thabet, was to assume the public’s fear of the Muslim Brotherhood allowed him to ignore all their other demands.

Ziad Baheddin, a minister in Hazem Al-Bebalwi’s post-Morsi cabinet, goes even further. Reform of state institutions, including the police, and a complete revision of the protest law, are only part of what needs to be done, he says. Action must also be taken to end the divisions that now constitute a serious threat to society and to the possibility of long-term stability and prosperity.

“Societies that are so divided do not move forward. And I am not just talking about the political divisions here. I am also worried about widening socio-economic gaps,” said Bahaaeddin.

Bahaaeddin, who supported all-inclusive political dialogue and favoured consensus over confrontation, often found himself at odds with Ibrahim during his time in Al-Beblawi’s cabinet.

Mohamed Othman, a leading member of the Strong Egypt Party, which called on Morsi to step down and then declined to acknowledge the 3 July political dispensation, argues that such are the divisions rending Egyptian society that it may soon be impossible for the various splinter groups to agree on what actually constitutes a consensus.

In a series of articles appearing this month in the independent daily Al-Shorouk, political commentator Ahmed Abdel-Rabo argues that it is the Islamists, with the Muslim Brotherhood at the forefront, who must shoulder the lion’s share of the blame for the way the 25 January Revolution’s demands for bread, freedom and social justice became lost amid political and ideological infighting.

But there is fault, too, with the way leading figures of the revolution failed to agree among themselves on the path that needed to be taken after Mubarak’s ouster. Today, Abdel-Rabo argues, all parties need to acknowledge their mistakes.

In a front-page editorial, Ahmed Al-Sayed Al-Naggar, chairman of Al-Ahram, argued that a necessary first step is to ensure that those responsible for killing of Al-Sabbagh — “a peaceful demonstrator who was only carrying flowers to remember those who fell during the days of the January Revolution” — are brought to justice.

No matter the extent of the disagreements between them, wrote Al-Naggar, Egyptians who rose against the “authoritarian regime” of Mubarak and the “Fascist regime” of Morsi “will not accept to live under the rule of a state that turns its back on the freedom, democracy and development demanded by the 25 January and 30 June revolutions.”

“It is not yet too late — though the last chance is near — to bridge the gap between the state and the revolution,” said Al-Naggar.

On Tuesday evening friends of Al-Sabbagh announced that the Interior Ministry had ordered the cancellation of a condolence ceremony at the Omar Makram Mosque in Tahrir Square.

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