Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1177, (19 December 2013 - 1 January 2014)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1177, (19 December 2013 - 1 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Paying the price of revolution

Since the beginning of the revolution of the Egyptian people against corrupt rule, and through its successive phases, and still now, Egypt’s youth has borne the brunt of state violence, writes Nasser Abdel-Hamid

Al-Ahram Weekly

The majority of the Egyptian people paid a heavy price for the 25 January Revolution, whether they actively took part, or suffered the consequences of the deterioration in security and economic strains, or lost a loved one or had to rush to a wounded son or daughter’s side. Most people bore these sorrows and difficulties with fortitude. They were conscious of the catastrophic conditions bequeathed by the Mubarak regime and they looked forward to the transition from tyranny, dependency, corruption and injustice to an era in which the values of freedom, prosperity, equality, social justice and human dignity would prevail.

Nevertheless, it was Egypt’s youth who paid the largest portion of the bill of the revolution and its aftermath. They are the ones who spearheaded the revolution, who braved the assault in the “Battle of the Camel”, who lost their eyes or were paralysed for life, who died on 28 January 2011. They were also the fuel of the ongoing battle, since February 2011, to fulfil the aims of the revolution, to bring to account the perpetrators of crimes and corruption from the Mubarak regime, and to lay the foundations of the modern, civil democratic state.

It was not long before the violence against the youth resumed. March 2011 brought the phenomenon of virginity tests, the strip-searching and beating of detainees in the Egyptian Museum, and other human rights abuses against young men and women in the wake of every peaceful demonstration or rally that would be disrupted with excessive force. This was when Samira Ibrahim began her two-year long struggle through the courts to end the practice of virginity tests.

During that period youth were also subjected to another form of violence. It was psychological in nature and took the form of an unprecedented wave of slander and defamation campaigns targeting young male and female revolutionaries. Many, for example, were accused of being in the pay of “foreign agendas” and using such gains to purchase fancy cars or villas. Many members of the public were taken in by such lies and fabrications, so often were they repeated. In some cases the victims of these campaigns found themselves violently confronted by friends or neighbours. However, the crimes and excesses of the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF), which governed the country during that period, eventually alerted the people to the truth. That the state at the time did not take a single action against a single individual who was the object of those vilification campaigns further exposed the falsehoods for what they were: a tactic in a war against the January revolution and the revolutionary youth, and another bid to restore the past.

November 2011 held a greater shock for the youth. The clampdowns in the demonstrations that centred on Mohamed Mahmoud Street in central Cairo claimed around 3,000 casualties in a single week. Among the countless injuries, hundreds lost an eye, sometimes both, from birdshot pellets fired directly in their faces. It was the largest scale of violence the youth had encountered since 28 January 2011. They withstood the onslaught with amazing courage because they realised they were up against a drive to decimate their ranks, break the revolution and steer it in a different direction. They understood the nature of the battle unleashed against them and the extent of the danger to the revolution, its causes and the nation, and they were prepared to make the highest sacrifices. They ultimately won that battle for the revolution, at great cost. Through their persistence they forced SCAF to set a date for presidential elections and to hand over power to a civil authority.

Numerous stories illustrate the spirit that prevailed throughout the Mohamed Mahmoud Street events. Ahmed Harara was determined to take part in the protests against military rule in spite of the fact that he had lost an eye on 28 January. He was blinded in the other eye in November. Reda Abdel-Aziz rushed to the aid of a colleague who lay sprawled on the ground, having been shot by a security officer. He saw the officer point his gun at him. He thought that if he stared directly into the eyes of the officer, the officer would shrink from pulling the trigger. He was wrong. He was blinded in both eyes that day. These and countless other stories — the motorcyclists who raced in from adjacent neighbourhoods to help transport the wounded, the deaths, the beatings, the tear gas asphyxiations — tell both of the protesters’ bravery and the level of brutality they faced.

Barely a month later came a similar confrontation in front of the Cabinet Office building. In the interim and afterwards, the protesters who had been arrested met further violence and abuse from the moment of arrest, through their detention in state security or military camps, to their trials. Even after their release, many continued to bear the heavy psychological scars of these experiences. Some felt that their lives had been totally destroyed.

Violence also came from another direction: paid thugs dressed as “vigilant” citizens. The first Abbasiya clashes set the pattern. Revolutionary youth were caught in a vice. On one side, they faced the army; from the other side they were attacked by thugs. Many protesters were wounded. Many were arrested. The scenario would subsequently be repeated in Abbasiya and elsewhere.

Revolutionary youth began their battle against the Muslim Brotherhood regime not long after Mohamed Morsi assumed power. Even before Morsi’s notorious constitutional declaration in November 2012, protesters rallied on two successive Fridays and found themselves attacked by gangs unleashed by the Muslim Brotherhood regime. Again, many were wounded.

Morsi’s authoritarian constitutional declaration sparked the largest anti-regime demonstrations since the January revolution. Hundreds of thousands of protesters converged in Tahrir Square and then in front of Al-Ittihadiya palace in Heliopolis. A large portion of youth, determined to sustain the momentum of the protest, decided to stage a sit-in in front of Al-Ittihadiya palace. They did not waver in their resolve when they learned that the Muslim Brotherhood had sounded a call to arms.

Many young men and women died that night. Hundreds of others were wounded in the clashes with an organised gang operating under the protection of the regime. Moreover, much to the horror of the Egyptian public, dozens of young men and women had been dragged off to barricaded locations where they were subjected to horrific forms of torture until morning. The torture and murder fuelled further demonstrations that lasted three weeks. It was the first nail in the coffin of the Muslim Brotherhood regime. It had been driven in by revolutionary youth and their steadfastness in the face of systematic violence and brutality.

The youth persisted because the revolution’s goals and principles were still at stake. It was a collection of innovative young men and women who spearheaded the petition campaign against the Morsi government and who mobilised the people in what was known as the Tamarod (Rebel) movement. The movement culminated in the 30 June revolution and the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood regime.

Recently, however, the current authorities issued a “Protest Law”. This combined with the possibility that the 50-Member Committee charged with amending the 2012 Constitution would incorporate into the constitution a provision allowing for military trials of civilians sparked anger among broad segments of youth. They staged a new round of demonstrations. Many activists were arrested and 25 are still in detention. Once again we heard the familiar stories of beatings and other forms of physical abuse against women in police stations or during their transport from these stations. One police transport truck released its charge of female detainees in the middle of the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road, bringing to mind the practices of the Mubarak era.

Why has all this occurred? The demonstrations had been totally peaceful and had not obstructed traffic. The reason was that the protesters had not complied with the new law requiring them to notify the Ministry of Interior in advance of a planned demonstration. Yet, according to that very law, violators should be subject to no more than a fine and not be subject to arrest. The police violated the very law that they were claiming to enforce.

It is impossible to predict when this violence and illegality will end. It is impossible to understand how a government, a third of the seats of which are held by ministers with histories of political activism or affiliation to political parties and movements that had been in the opposition, and had long pressed for democratic change, could treat youth and protest action in this manner. Surely some of them must have at least been struck by the inconsistencies. Yet, instead, some justified the police actions and denounced the protesting youth as unaware of the needs of the moment. Some of them went so far as to accuse the young activists of “conspiring” against the post-30 June roadmap.

Youth continue to pay a toll that keeps adding up with every successive phase. In spite of the changing governments and the outlooks of ruling authorities, there remains a constant: the tendency to regard the revolutionary youth as a perpetual nuisance whose spirit needs to be broken.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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