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Egypt: Today’s kings are tomorrow’s prisoners

16th Jul 2013

By Sarah El Sirgany


Cairo, (Al-Akhbar): The only lesson that has been hammered in over and over again during the past two and half years is that nothing remains the same. Today’s kings are tomorrow’s prisoners. But it’s a lesson that everyone has been intent on not learning.

The rotation of power in Egypt sure fails to awash some institutions with change. Some hold on to power and try to wrestle control behind the scenes. Upheavals, however, have presented numerous opportunities for constructing a “New Egypt.”

After Mubarak’s ouster, every chance the military council and the Muslim Brotherhood got to write the rules and set the precedent, they did so with the perspective of someone eternally in power. No thought was put into the possibility of being subjected to these rules as outcasts, or at least as part of the opposition.

When the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly opened the door for military trials of civilians in the new constitution, there was an understanding that the Islamists defending this document would be immune to these unjust tribunals because they were in power. In the first confrontation with the army after Mursi’s surprise ouster, his supporters now face the prospect of military tribunals.

Over 200 Mursi supporters were detained after the shooting outside the Republican Guard headquarters last week. Article 198 of the now-suspended constitution – which was reiterated in vaguer terms in Article 19 of the temporary constitutional decree – allows the military to put them on trial since the incident involved one of its institutions.

Away from written laws and policies, the discourse adopted by rulers and their allies failed to set a precedent of wise governance and societal principles that would outlive their rule.

The Brotherhood regime issued no safeguards for religious freedoms. Along with its Salafi allies, they pushed a more exclusionary rhetoric that defined faiths worthy for practice and citizenship rights based on their understanding of their brand of Islam. Now, as the scales are tipped, bearded men are now victim to street discrimination. The sectarian discourse nourished under Brotherhood rule is now aimed at its Islamist supporters.

This failure to learn can be interpreted as a power race blinded to the changes in societal dynamics and psyche that have taken place through and after Jan. 25. Islamists tried to replicate the playbook of their predecessors, complaining along the way that the objecting public used to accept such practices before, while adamantly ignoring the newfound thirst for change.

The factions of this public, or “al-shaab,” that many claim to solely represent are complicit in this failure to learn. Each side’s wide support bases that have risen to power borrow from their leaders’ discourse. With the exception of a small minority of voices, justifications for abuses have shifted with alliances. Yesterday’s self-proclaimed idealists turned into condoning violence and promoting hate speech they once criticized the Islamists for.

The old regime loyalists that once based arguments against anti-military street action or the methodology of what they deemed as “disruptive protests,” found no problem in taking to the streets themselves when they opposed the regime. The Islamists that had suffered from police torture found no problem justifying it when Mursi was in charge and impunity to police violations was rampant. In the background, the old regime supporters switched from cheering brutal crackdowns on protesters to condemning them as power moved to the Islamists.

In December 2011, in the face of rising censure of army abuses, writer Lamis Gaber wrote an infamous column “Down with human rights.” After Mursi’s ouster, some of those that helped expose these abuses adopted the same anti-rights stance when the people in question were their adversaries.

Many fail to recognize the contradiction in their arguments or acknowledge that their words will very soon be used against them once the inevitable change of power takes place. Rights activist Ghada Shahbender honestly spoke of the “dilemma” of trying to defend a faction implicit in recent crimes and which had campaigned against rights groups. Away from such thoughtful debate, the issue transcends the “double standards” label to reveal consistent failure to look beyond the present moment and immediate consequences. The race for a share of power without pushing for the principles that would guarantee a better future for all, whether as rulers or subjects, is a trap some are now easily falling into.

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Sectarianism in the Middle East and its rise in the UK, Standpoint, Sahar TV. Interview 29 May 2013 and aired on 12 June 2013

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