Regimes who kick historical precedent to the curb side are destined to be kicked by that very giant to the same curb. Two years ago, when Abdel Fatah El Sisi decided, along with a cadre of hawkish aides, to sidestep international law and political rational to decimate an encampment in Cairo, he made such an error.
Two years on, and Egyptians, many unbeknownst to them, are paying the price. More menacingly than simply being the bloodiest massacre in modern Egyptian history, with nearly 1000 perishing, Rabaa has paved the way for a systematic denudation of the rule of law in Sisi’s Egypt. In this jungle, masquerading as a modern state, the gun rules: those possessing it govern and those holding the gavel aid in the carnage.
The sit-in raged throughout the Cairo heat, since shortly after the military takeover in July 2013 had arrested then president Mohamed Morsi and many others in his Islamist ruling circle. With the summer’s oppressive heat, pressure also mounted on the De Facto ruler, Sisi, to bring an end to a sit-in that had disrupted the lives of local Nasr City residents among accusations that it was armed.
For all intents and purposes, the sit-in had become a symbol of the division tearing the fabric of Egyptian society apart. Recognizing that millions stood behind a policy of ‘fighting terror’, as evidenced by large supportive crowds on July 26th 2013, Sisi, supported by an interim president who rubber stamped any and all decisions, moved for the most virulently unequivocal solution on the 14th of August 2013: shoot them out.
Massacres preceded Rabaa and others followed it but that day, unlike any other, has set the tone and Sisi has since refined the art of the national Carte Blanche in two significant ways: harnessing the power of the judiciary to eliminate, largely, Islamist opposition; and extrajudicial killings. The public’s reaction to the Rabaa massacre still remains shocking to many, perhaps even to the men who ordered it. Yes, there was some noise from Egyptian non-governmental human rights circles, some denunciations from some governments but the demonstrations that followed were largely Islamist in nature – contrary to what the Islamist camp has repeatedly argued.
Most glaringly, missing from the public equation was any, implicit or explicit, opposition to the violent events of Rabaa by the Egyptian mainstream, be it the populace or the media. In the circle of power, Mohamed El Baradei, interim Vice President at the time, was the rare voice of reason who removed himself after that particular atrocity. On the street level, quite the opposite happened. Regardless of class and education, variations on ‘why didn’t they kill more?’ ‘They should have gone in with tanks’ were the governing rhetoric. Two years later, it is still shocking to pen the words as it was experiencing them. It is these sentiments, emblazoned in cruelty, which represent a steely thread around the neck of human rights and a unified Egypt until this day.
The last two years came with repeated promises of stability and security by Sisi. Those two things are not only missing in action but have been replaced by a resolve towards both sanctioned, and unsanctioned state violence. This past week saw seven prisoners alone die in Egyptian prisons (with three more dying of heat in a Shoubra Khyma precinct as a result of a heatwave as of this writing). Those seven are what the Ministry of Interior admits have died, but social media rumbles of more suspicious deaths virtually every day. There are no definitive facts indicating that those deaths are byproducts of torture, a well-documented phenomena where both the police and the army are involved. Instead, medical neglect is often said to be the reason for the deaths, including of Essam Derbala, former head of the Shura Council for Gamaa Islamiyia and Sheikh Morgan Salem of the Salafiya Gihadiya.
But the state violence borne of a highly accommodating public – one that is deaf, dumb and mute, when it is Islamist blood being spilled – is, generally, anything as subtle as medical neglect. El Watan, Al-Masry Al-Youm and Veto, three local papers, screamed “Nine terrorists exterminated” shortly after Sinai State militants executed a frighteningly, well organized, attack on Sheikh Zuweid, in northern Sinai. While the remainder of local media eschewed the term ‘exterminated’, the close proximity of some of these papers to security apparatus lead some watchers to speculate that the term emanated from within the apparatus. It is a telling verbal faux pas. But not an executional faux pas, for this was no accidental shooting. The nine men deemed ‘terrorists’ by the state were, in fact, according the Muslim Brotherhood conducting an organizational meeting for the group’s central Delta sector. According to the state narrative, Special Forces went to make arrests after a tip lead them to a 6 October City apartment where they encountered gun fire and responded in kind. You can accept narrative at face value but it is worth asking:
-Why weren’t any security forces injured, let alone killed?
-Bullet entry points (some to the top of the head of the deceased) shed light on a different narrative.
-The number of rifles, we are told, confiscated were only three, said a highly pro government daily, The Cairo Post, which begs the question: why such overwhelming force that kills all present?
-Finally, we come to the issue of all the deceased being finger printed. Government argues that was a post-mortem act but the families of the deceased say otherwise. Why no investigation of such a questionable high visibility mini massacre?
On a day of the sexiest story of the Sisi tenure, the new Suez Canal opening, there was a closing of a chapter for five Egyptians in the rural environs of Fayoum. To watchers of Egyptian terror theater the killing of five so called ‘terrorists’ outside Sinai was an immediate red flag worth investigating. A local paper did just that and the results were revealing of a police force taking matters into its own violent hands. “Where is the law? How come a defendant is shot in cold blood at the crime scene?” said the nephew of one of those killed by the police to the Daily News Egypt. Another nephew asserted bluntly ‘’the five men were blindfolded and shot, after two hours [of torture].” This narrative, while horrific, should come as no surprise to those monitoring police actions. There have been numerous other situations, with fewer victims, were the police enter the confines and by the time they depart the ‘terrorist’, with appropriate weaponry beside him, is terminated. In effect, Egyptian security forces are killing whom they wish, when they wish and how they wish.
Extrajudicial actions, an embodiment of lawlessness and vengefulness by a police force on the war path due to its embarrassment during the revolution, are capped off by enforced disappearances that number near 200. But it is how the judiciary is used as a weapon which continues to draw domestic and international attention. With a fierce justice minister Ahmed El Zend, under a cloud of suspicion for some colorful land purchases and an ongoing feud with the central accounting arm, declaring the judiciary “working day and night to purify” Egypt of political Islam, there is no doubt of the governing agenda.
A mere glance at the mass death sentences, often in the hundreds, led by judges such as Nagy Shehata, has left many observers shaking their heads at the judgments. This militant approach, if you will, has not spared but instead focused its politicized stare on the upper echelons of the Muslim Brotherhood- including the deposed President Morsi himself. Should Egypt take the final step and execute Morsi, and some observers feel that in the heated environment after the assassination of the General Prosecutor Hisham Mubarak that Sisi gave such hints, all bets will be off the table.
In becoming the muscular arm of the governing strongman, the judiciary both carries out a Rabaa-style violence of rhetoric and employs a condescension vis-a-vis its Islamist opponents that does not speak of justice, as a goal, but bellows of retribution. For the nation to move forward, the judiciary needs to approach all defendants on equal terms regardless of political affiliation. Innocent until proven guilty is not an option- it is a must.
Make no mistake, Rabaa was an unprecedented massacre but its reverberations, both judicially and extra judicially, have Egypt within instability’s crosshairs. Such structural issues cannot be wished away, not even a January 25 revolution could solve the issues at hand. Nothing short of a deep rooted and long term operation on the Egyptian body politic can rescue Egypt.
Say a prayer for both Egypt’s dead and its living.
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