Despite the difficulties ahead, Egypt and the aspirations of its people will prevail, writes Ismail Serageldin
The Egyptian revolution corrected its path on 30 June 2013 when unprecedented numbers of Egyptians — in their tens of millions — having individually signed declarations asking president Mohamed Morsi to step down took to the streets and said “No” to the rule of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi supporters were a much smaller minority, and were largely concentrated in two squares in Cairo and Al-Qaed Ibrahim Mosque in Alexandria, with scattered gatherings elsewhere. In the face of this overwhelming public disavowal of the government, and in the absence of a formal procedure to impeach the president, the army joined the leaders of the opposition, religious leaders of the country and the judiciary, to force a change of government. It was no coup; it was a genuine people’s revolution.
After Morsi was toppled and the interim government was installed, people were ready to start a new chapter. But the escalation in rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood continued, and calls for fighting, violence and attacking “the enemies of Islam” emerged, even calling for shahada (martyrdom) for the reinstatement of Morsi. The Brotherhood having lost their bid to entrench themselves in power, tried to argue that the people were split and the army had sided with their opponents in a brazen coup, and was using violence against Morsi supporters. Having failed to mass the larger numbers this time, the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to turn to violence instead, while maintaining their demonstrators in the streets to show the world that it is a case of the military using force against civilians. They have now fully activated their allies in Sinai, and a large-scale military operation there is probable.
Regretfully, violence reared its ugly head in what was largely a non-violent revolution since 25 January 2011 and renewed 30 June 2013 by largely peaceful demonstrations. Some 50 people were killed in front of the Republican Guards complex. We need a full investigation to clarify what happened, and find the guilty in this and all the other acts of violence since 25 January 2011. Every attack, every death, has to be accounted for professionally, transparently and in the context of the law.
26 July was a historic day as, in response to General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s call, even more Egyptians took to the streets everywhere to show the world their support for the interim government and to give the Armed Forces and the police a clear “mandate to fight terrorism and violence”. The mood at these demonstrations was generally quite festive, and General Al-Sisi became everyone’s hero. Morsi supporters remained entrenched in the two squares in Cairo and Al-Qaed Ibrahim Mosque in Alexandria, with very minor showings in other cities.
But soon violence erupted again, and an exchange of gunfire started in several places. Casualties fell from both sides, and from the police. For the first time bullets hit the glass of the Alexandria Library’s glass façade and the blood of a man was spilled on our steps where the revolutionaries of Egypt had previously made human chains to ensure that throughout all events since 2011 not a stone was thrown at this iconic building. Although the Alexandria Library was not a target, and the bullets were straying from street gunfights, it was still a sorry day for all of us. A historic and largely joyful day for most Egyptians was marred by the horror of the violence, the agony of the wounded, and the grief of death.
Egypt has turned a page and is writing a new chapter in the history of its second revolution. Sadly, part of that is now written in blood. Along with others, I decry all loss of life, and I warn that censorship is still a breach of free speech that should be resisted. I have called for national reconciliation of all Egyptians. That is the path for the future. But emotions are running high, and few are willing to listen to this appeal at present.
But the amazing spirit of the Egyptian people will transcend that moment, and in the largely non-violent way that has been distinctively theirs, they will find a path towards national reconciliation. My faith in the Egyptian youth is enormous. Our nation will ultimately find its unity and its strength in openness, freedom and the rule of law.
The writer is director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.