Violence Clouds Upcoming Elections

Tear gas in Tahrir.jpg

Less than five days before the first post-Mubarak elections, the situation in Tahrir Square is the worst it has been since Mubarak stepped down on February 11 earlier this year. The level of force and the brutality of the security forces surpass anything that was seen in a single incident during the 18-day uprising. The final number of those killed is unconfirmed as the events continue to unfold, but it is over 30 and the number of injured is over 2,000.

Field hospitals set up by volunteer doctors and nurses in the square have been directly targeted with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas forcing them to move to multiple locations including the Omar Makram Mosque and later the Qasr el Dubara Church. Eyewitnesses report that security forces consistently target the head and torso of protesters. Ahmad Harara is a protester who lost his right eye on January 28 amid violent clashes with police forces orchestrated by Mubarak’s interior minister Habib el-Adly. Harara lost his left eye on November 19 during violent clashes with security forces orchestrated by the army. A real crisis is taking place as you read these words, nothing short of urban warfare against civilians.

As it has been the case during Mubarak’s tenure and during the 18-day uprising, the SCAF is using state media and the security apparatus against the very civilians they should serve. In addition to the violent crackdown on protesters, journalists continue to be targeted and activists detained. A sweeping media campaign is taking place, in which generals appear on television shows denying any wrongdoing. As was done during the 18-day uprising, officials claim that hidden agendas, paid wrongdoers and foreign agents are behind every violent incident since February. Contrary to those statements there is mounting evidence, including images and videos incriminating police and army forces in every incident – most notably the massacre at Maspero, when a predominantly Coptic protest was targeted last October.

These appearances by ex-regime sympathisers and army generals in the media have attempted to further divide the population and to incite violence between Egyptians. During the Maspero Massacre, state TV directly incited violence against Coptic Christians by claiming they were attacking the army. Now, state TV is inciting violence against anyone who is facing the army forces in Tahrir Square by making the same claim. On the other hand, officials have shown a complete evasion of responsibility towards the state and the people.

In addition to high-profile clashes, there has been an unending stream of individual cases, such as last week’s death of an army officer who is associated with the 6th of April Movement, and the death of Essam Atta in police custody. Atta was given a prison sentence in a military court. He died when prison officers sodomised him with a water hose until his heart stopped. He was 23 years old. Atta is only one of nearly 13,000 prisoners sentenced in military tribunals since February, in what is deemed systemised political revenge. In all these incidents, big and small, officials claimed that investigations would take place. There has not been a single report from any investigation nor a single official, soldier or officer implicated in any of those events.

Many believe that the upcoming elections are the only way out of this political crisis. However, there are some important questions: How can these be free elections when there are thousands of political prisoners? How can these elections be secured when the Ministry of Interior has not been reformed and continues to focus its power against political activity rather than crime and security? How can these elections be reliable when the transitional government that is overseeing it is completely toothless and has proven itself unreliable? And finally, do the elections even matter so long as the SCAF retains an unshakable iron fist on the country’s politics? Democracy does not only mean counting votes. Lest we forget, Mubarak too held elections.

Egyptians in Tahrir Square are not facing a fascist regime. The SCAF lacks an ideology shaping its actions and decisions. This absence of a clear ideology makes the fight for Egypt’s freedom even more difficult. The attacks on Egyptians’ sovereignty and freedom are ad hoc and is largely driven by a regime that is fighting to protect its assets and its grip on power and economy. Many high-level officials are marred in secret deals related to everything, from manufacturing and trade to land sales and development projects to weapon deals. Finally, the United States’ annual financial aid to the military over the past 40 years has been unsupervised by civilian society.

Until these words were written, there has been no official statement from the US regarding the violence. And previous statements have only called for "restraint on all sides". This is not a call for the US to intervene in Egyptian domestic affairs, to the contrary. The US has been involved in Egyptian domestic affairs for the past 40 years with its support of dictators, and now gives unshaken support to the very institution that is hindering any hopes for true democratic transition in Egypt.

At the core of the present crisis is the definition of the very term "revolution". For the people willing to give their lives in Tahrir Square in the face of unrestrained violence, "revolution" implies a radical change in the political culture that has dominated this country and held it back from its potential. The army generals continue to speak about the "January 25 Revolution" in the past tense, as if it were limited to the 18-day uprising. These unfolding events should be a clear wake-up call that the revolution is just beginning.

This piece was originally published on Al Jazeera on November 22, 2011.

Mohamed Elshahed is a doctoral candidate in the Middle East Studies Department at New York University. He currently lives in Cairo, where he is conducting dissertation research on urban planning in Egypt. Mr. Elshahed has a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and a Master in Architecture Studies from MIT. Follow him on Twitter @Cairobserver.

Photo Credit: Reuters





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