"Masr bitifrah" - Egypt is celebrating - so I am told, but any celebratory feeling I might try to engender is mortally wounded before it takes root. I suspect that will be the case for some time.
Most of the time, I am an academic and an analyst. For both of those professions, the idea of impartiality is sought after tremendously. However, the best of us in those professions freely admit that impartiality is impossible to attain in its entirety, because none of us come to the analytical table without preconceptions and prejudices. Our careers are partially spent recognizing, accounting for and correcting those preferences as much as possible in our work.
So it is with total transparency that I unreservedly acknowledge that I am not neutral when it comes to Egypt. Anyone who is genuinely neutral would have to be incredibly detached. I am not detached. I might try to be - and I try to identify my own lack of detachment, and account for it when I do offer my analysis - but it is not possible to care deeply about a place and a situation over a long period, and simultaneously remain indifferent.
It is corny and banal to divulge this, but the truth is that the analysis I have always offered on Egypt is borne out of love and sincere concern. When so many celebrated the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11, 2011, I was in Tahrir Square alongside them. When the square was cleaned the following day, I cleared it alongside many others.
With hopes and dreams soaring during those early heady months when it seemed like anything was possible, I had an optimism that might have been tempered by my academic training, but I had that optimism nonetheless. When the Muslim Brotherhood infuriated so many who supported the revolution, I felt their anger against the group’s venal policies.
More than four years on, however, my enthusiasm is even more mitigated. When one sees the insistence that Egypt is celebrating, and one truly wants what is best for Egypt, one really wants to join in.
However, one is held back, not because one has anything against further economic prosperity for Egypt, but because one doubts whether this is the way to go about it. One is constantly reminded that there are so many structural problems in the country that have yet to be addressed, and perhaps most of all, that the lack of accountability for so many sad, terrible and horrific days remains.
On Aug. 8, with the completion of the Suez Canal construction, I really wanted to be happy for Egypt. However, I was reminded that two years ago, an event took place that will forever overshadow Aug. 14 for Egypt.
The lack of accountability for so many sad, terrible and horrific days remainsH.A. Hellyer
I went to the Rabaa sit-in before security forces dispersed it. It called for the reinstatement of President Mohammad Morsi, and when I went to it, I did not particularly like what I saw. I could never remotely compare it to Tahrir Square during the 18 days of the revolution, for many reasons.
However, regardless of whatever else one might say about Rabaa, it was overwhelmingly unarmed. That made the nature of the dispersal wholly unjustified, and the use of force entirely disproportionate, to say the least. Incidentally, if there had been any real evidence that the sit-in was an armed headquarters in Nasr City, as various sycophants claimed, I find it very dubious that the security forces would have waited six weeks before targeting it.
There are many questions to be asked about the instrumentalisation of Rabaa for various ends, but the fact remains that hundreds of unarmed civilians were killed that day by the security forces. No one can deny that - even the Egyptian state’s own quango confirmed that.
The Human Rights Watch report was good, but one does not need to rely on it alone. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies - two of Egypt’s best civil rights organizations, which were pilloried by the Brotherhood while it was in power - were likewise very clear.
Around 1,000 people were killed in Rabaa that day - even the public indications of then-Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi, whose cabinet presided over the forced dispersal, makes that evident. To this day, no one has been held accountable for that, and it does not look like anyone will be anytime soon.
It has been two years since that grievous day, and the wound that seared through the body of the Egyptian soul remains unhealed, untended to, and unimaginably painful for so many people.
The repercussions are yet to be completely felt, but it would be utterly naïve to presume that there will not be ramifications, which are likely to be felt for a generation. Some think we have seen those consequences come to pass already - I think they are wrong, and that concerns me to no end.
Egypt can and should give many ‘gifts to the world,’ but the gift a nation can give humanity has little to do with a piece of engineering on a waterway, and everything to do with the virtues it adheres to.
I have no doubt that Egyptians will do great things, and that this phase in their history will pass. However, I find it difficult to assume that this phase will not see Egypt getting worse before it gets better. If Egyptians want to overcome that, the solution has always been about reform and accountability so the horror of Rabaa never happens again. That would be an excellent ‘gift to the world,’ not least to Egyptians themselves.
Dr. H.A. Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, the Royal United Services Institute, and the Harvard University Kennedy School, previously held senior posts at Gallup and Warwick University. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer.