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Accountability is a joke in Egypt

Many have spoken about the need for reconciliation in Egypt, as well as inclusion. It is important in a certain way

H.A. Hellyer

Published: Updated:

Recently, a Tunisian friend caused me to laugh, but also almost cry, by the means of a game on her phone. The game apparently gets updated every-time something horrific happens in Egypt – and the different levels all representcertain events or themes in the Egyptian revolution, and turn them into games with characters. This includes sexual harassment, the Battle of the Camel of 18 days and so on. It is peculiar to treat these events like games, but at least it’s just a video game. What is far more atrocious is when real life is even more outrageous – and that is what it looks like in Egypt, as Egyptians approach the remembrance of Mohammad Mahmoud this week. It’s an event that is being turned, utterly, into a joke – when, really, it ought to be treated with deep respect. But then, no one seems awfully surprised. Accountability is a joke and has been for years. At some point, transitional justice needs to be taken seriously – otherwise, guaranteed, instability will remain. In the meantime, the tragic nature of Egypt’s transition continues.

The clashes in Mohammad Mahmoud in November 2011 happened only nine months after Field Marshal Tantawi ousted former President Hosni Mubarak. Upon orders of the then Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the police and the interior ministry clashed with protesters in Tahrir Square and one of the roads that led off of it, Mohammad Mahmoud. Over the course of six days, security forces killed dozens, and injured many more hundreds. The cause of the protesters is not particularly relevant (although it was hardly objectionable): What was relevant, and what remains as such, is that unarmed protesters, without weaponry, take to the streets, and are killed by state forces – with, more or less, impunity. The Muslim Brotherhood, which was then on a rise politically, opted not only to stay away from those protests – but called those therein “thugs” bent on sowing “chaos” in Egypt.

This year, it appears the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of the military and security establishments are competing for the Spectacularly Ironic and Shamefully Incongruous prize. I assure you, no pun intended

H.A. Hellyer

A year later, when Egyptians went out to protest against that impunity, a Muslim Brotherhood-led government deployed that same security sector – which ended up killing yet more unarmed protesters, including the now iconic “Jika.” This was the same Muslim Brotherhood that had won a presidential election only a few months before on the back of promises to hold to the revolution of the January 25 and yet they engaged themselves in paltry, if any, attempts on security sector reform. That movement would pay the price for that short sightedness – but so would the rest of Egypt. It was not revolutionaries who died in Mohammad Mahmoud – nor was it Muslim Brotherhood supporters who would later die in Raba’a – it was Egypt that died, and died again.

The January 25 revolution purposively began on “Police Day” and was aimed, in no small degree, at regaining the dignity of a people who had been brutalized by the Egyptian security sector. It was that revolution that opened the way for the Muslim Brotherhood to take power – and yet, it betrayed that very sentiment against the police in a very short time. If that was despicable, however, it is hard to find suitable vocabulary to describe what is happening this year. This year, it appears the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of the military and security establishments are competing for the Spectacularly Ironic and Shamefully Incongruous prize. I assure you, no pun intended.

The Muslim Brotherhood and the pro-Mursi movement are calling on people to descend on the streets to remember the martyrs of Mohammad Mahmoud – martyrs that they betrayed wholly two years before. More bizarre, however, is a campaign calling for supporters of the army to descend on the streets to also remember the martyrs. If that was not bizarre enough, the banner the latter are supposed to gather under is: “The people, the police and the army are one hand”. The same “police,” one assumes, that killed some of the “people,” under the watchful eye of the “army,” two years ago. It seems that in Egypt, the likes of Bassem Youssef is no longer needed in order to find satire – you need only look at real life and see satire hidden under everyone’s noses.

In Tahrir

In Tahrir Square, meters away from where people were killed in Mohammad Mahmoud, a new monument is being built – ostensibly to the martyrs of the revolution. One wonders: which martyrs? Who is a martyr now? Which revolution? The one which was against the police, or the one where police joined in? And then, I smile: Because that same monument, which is yet another example of irony in Egypt, will be a target for revolutionary graffiti artists for many moons to come.

Many have spoken about the need for reconciliation in Egypt, as well as inclusion. It is important in a certain way – but it must be underpinned by accountability, rather than creating new ways to avoid accountability. In the end, revolutionary progress in Egypt will be judged by reform of the security sector – it will not be judged by the security sector re-forming the revolution. The same issues that brought people out on the streets in January 2011, and onto Mohammad Mahmoud later that year, still exist in Egypt – and the only way to avoid further instability in Egypt is to begin, finally, a serious, and comprehensive, process of transitional justice. Otherwise, Egyptians will just have more levels on that smart-phone game and the tragedy of Egypt’s transition will continue to deepen. Egypt has earned the right, through the blood of those who died in Mohammad Mahmoud and hundreds of others, to do so much better.

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Dr. H.A. Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, the Royal United Services Institute, and ISPU, previously held senior posts at Gallup and Warwick University. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer.

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