December 12, 2019

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  • Op:ed: In Egypt, Only the Dead Know Who is Right

    Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim (center) at the funeral of police officers on Aug. 15. Police has been instructed to use live ammunition to protect state buildings. Hundreds of protesters and tens of police have been killed since then.

    BY DEENA DOUARA Cairo – I think, perhaps, amid all the emotion, one can make a calculated decision on where to stand on the violence in Egypt.

    I understand both arguments.

    Security forces are massacring mostly peaceful demonstrators with impunity, ushering in the type of force we sought to overthrow in 2011, the type of brutality we despised for years, that made martyrs of young faces now rendered across Tahrir Square.

    Or, Morsi supporters are being dealt with after firing first, attacking police stations and churches, threatening to “burn” Egypt. They are terrorists seeking to rip apart — both literally and metaphorically — a country they have little regard for. Western media favours the Brotherhood, either due to an overarching agenda or for naively believing their victim act, not having lived through their duplicity, divisive rhetoric, years of past and present violence.

    I commentate on TV, on Facebook, in conversation, and every word feels like a decision, a stance that causes outrage. Strangers, sure, but also family, friends, people who once respected me who no longer will, claiming that I don’t know what I’m talking about, am lacking the right information, am neglecting what the “majority” of Egyptians are thinking and feeling.

    Many have taken an “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” approach, mimicking George W. Bush’s oft-mocked phrase and grouping together nuanced opinions beyond pro-military or pro-Brotherhood.

    As with religion, only the dead know who is right.

    Knowing then that the “facts” change frequently, that “many fingers,” as Egyptians say, may be involved in the destruction of our country, what stance do I take?

    I can defend the killings and support the military, but my voice will change nothing on the ground. My words will not convince the U.S. to preserve aid. The arguments used may help rally Western sentiment against Islamists, which despite a near-consensus about media bias, I don’t believe most Westerners have had trouble doing on their own. It’s been suggested to me that, as a mere 10-15 per cent of Egypt’s population (the speaker’s estimate), can’t the military just “get rid of them?”

    On the other hand, I can condemn the killings, guessing but not knowing, that of the 900 or more estimated dead so far, most were not armed, not terrorists, some not even Morsi supporters. Again, these words will change little. I might have it wrong. It may be that those doing the shooting — using lethal force, aiming at heads and chests — had little choice; felt they were doing right by their countrymen to avoid Egypt’s being sold out — to Israel, to the U.S., to the Gulf, to a dream of a larger Islamic Ummah where anyone who disagrees are “kuffar” (infidels).

    But I will risk being wrong to preserve my humanity. In the end, that is all I can really affect. So when things change and police target people who dress like me, I can be consistent in my condemnation of violence. I can have called out corruption and brutality in the Mubarak years and in the years of struggle and revolution without taking it all back now because I dislike those dying anyway.

    I won’t have dishonoured victims of virginity tests and other atrocities by heroizing the bodies responsible.

    I can use the same logic when I stand against U.S. strikes or “retaliations” on the Arab world, without contradicting myself. I can hear Islamophobia and not wonder if I’ve contributed to that rhetoric. When I visit Egypt, I will not look upon grieving faces knowing that I suggested it was OK to kill their husband, father, daughter or son, calling him a monster without ever having met him. If Islamists overthrow a president I elect, I will not be hypocritical when I cry foul; I will not have to contort my words to explain why it’s different this time and why my family does not deserve to be killed because they are blocking traffic. And we will, and have, blocked traffic.

    When punishment against “terrorists” begins to encompass wider circles of opponents, as they had for years, as they do in nearby and neighbouring countries, I will not feel culpable. The crackdown on journalists has already begun.

    When I begin to lose people I love to acts of extremism, I won’t regret having condoned the very acts that made spurred their extremism.

    My stance, then, is not based on a conviction that I am able to distinguish between fact and fiction, between action and reaction, but based on a calculation of how I will best preserve my humanity. So even if time or information proves me wrong, I don’t think it can prove me immoral.

    And that, to me, is more important than being right.

    Deena Douara is a Canadian-Egyptian writer and communications consultant. This article was first published on the Huffington Post and is republished with permission.

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