January 18, 2019

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  • Op-ed: A bitter reconciliation

    Clashes in Cairo between pro and anti-Morsi protesters were violently crushed by police leaving seven dead and over 240 injured late Monday.

    BY REHAM BARAKAT Cairo – As I write this article on a tepid Ramadan night in Cairo, I cannot help but feel that Ramadan this year does not emanate any sense of peace and tranquility. I say this as I follow news of clashes in Cairo between pro-Morsi supporters, police and exasperated members of the local community where it has been reported that last night 7 people were killed, over 200 injured and more than 400 arrested.

    I can already hear the voices of those who were against the June 30 protests that led to the removal of Morsi, yelling out: “I told you so. If the protests hadn’t taken place, none of this would be happening. The country would at least be stable. Did the Armed Forces have to get rid of Morsi and ruin the country and what frail form of democracy we had in Egypt?” These statements are fired by people in Egypt who are certain that what took place in Egypt between June 30 and July 3 is undoubtedly a coup and cannot be perceived any other way. And moreover, what happened was unacceptable in a country that is supposedly on the path to democracy.

    Similarly, I can also hear the remarks of anti-Morsi groups observing the ongoing violence in some parts of the country as they scream out: “You see, we were being led by a bunch of criminals and thugs. Look at what they are doing. They are ruining the country just because they refuse to believe that they are no longer in power. Thank God we got rid of them. They are demonic, they are bloody, they are terrorists.” These statements are made by Egyptians who have a profound hatred for the former regime and all its affiliations. They are the ones who filled the streets between  June 30 and July 3 in what I believe to be the “Revolution of Hatred.”

    Then there are those in the middle. They are the ones who were anti-Morsi but were staunchly against the interference of the Armed Forces and the manner in which Morsi was removed. These are the analysts that loathe the military in all its form and are still waiting for justice for those who were victim to acts of violence by SCAF during its two-year tenure prior to Morsi’s reign.

    The fascinating thing about this group is that there are several questions that they are incapable of answering. For example, Morsi and his government were obviously failing miserably at running the country, a fact that was made abundantly clear by several economic, social and political indicators (whereby several individuals from this group all nod their heads), so what was the alternative solution to the protests and the interference of the Armed Forces to solve the problem? Silence. I think there has only been one seemingly courageous answer and that involved stating that Morsi should have been left to fail. What the consequences of that should be are also unclear, but at least it is an answer of some sort.

    Similarly, with regards to the unclear and very vague events of the killings that occurred at the site of the Republican Guards, the eternally repeated question remains: If I were an American and I approached the Pentagon what would the reaction be in the United States or any other country? When is the use of violence by the army legitimate and when is it disproportionate? Like most of us, we do not have the full picture as to what happened on that day of the Republican Guard killings but to my mind these questions are still valid regardless of who started firing live ammunition that day.

    I do not condone violence of any sort. In fact in a very extreme manner I am a naïve pacifist who believes that armies should not exist in the first place and that money spent on arms could be put to better use, but in the wretched world we live in today, armies do exist and they unfortunately have rules in all parts of the world and someone needs to answer the question as to what should happen to people who attack military sites and zones so that we do uphold all values of human rights, but nobody has.

    This is Cairo today. Endless discussions, endless arguments, endless buoyant insults being hurled from one group to another, endless questions and endless anxiety about the future. There are parallel universes all within the same realm and concept of time and space. On the one hand, we have a new interim Prime Minister who has just sworn in a new government, while on the other we have pro-Morsi supporters still holding protests in the hope that Morsi will be reinstated. We have individuals who are relieved that the Muslim Brotherhood are not in power, yet afraid of what their followers might do. We have pundits from all across the nation, media and globe still bickering about whether what happened between June 30 and July 3 was a military coup or not. It’s a never ending cycle of stress, noise pollution, air pollution, social media pollution, news pollution and analytical pollution. And no-one is actually trying to solve the real problem at hand.

    This is the problem of how are to appease the pro-Morsi supporters and get them to accept the status quo that their leader is not coming back to power, and how are the anti-Morsi supporters going to reach out to pro-Morsi supporters to hold their hand and agree to rebuild the country on neutral, civilised ground?

    There has been talk of a national reconciliation initiative which will include dialogue with all the political forces, Islamists included. But the question still remains: are pro and anti-Morsi supporters willing to partake in this dialogue on a large scale when on a small scale within groups everyone is becoming more biased day by day and insistent on their point of view as though they are the ones who have access to the absolute truth. How can we have dialogue when no-one is willing to view the other side as a human being in the first place, let alone view them as a fellow Egyptian who shares the country with them and will have to share the country with them whether they like it or not.

    To my mind, that completely goes against what Ramadan is supposed to be about. It is supposed to be a month of introspection, reflection, compassion for the needy, a reaching out to the spiritual dimension of life that is beyond all the material and petty elements of this transient life that we are all forced to journey through side by side.

    But this Ramadan leaves the taste of tear gas and bullets in one’s mouth. It’s a month where we wish those who have power would use their wisdom and some sense of justice to create some platform for the beginning of some form of peace. It’s a month where we wish there would be some reconciliation on a small and large scale in the name of progressively moving forward.

    But like I said, I am a naïve idealist and all I see today is a very tense picture ahead of police and army helicopters circling the skies like hawks on the look out for the next move of the pro-Morsi supporters who are facing a very bitter reality, while analysts (me included) just move our jaws, or our fingertips across screens, twitter and Facebook accounts and bellow out our irreconcilable opinions.

    Reham Barakat is a Cairo-based commentator and creative writer.

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