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Category Archives: Social Movements

Day under the Egyptian Sun


As I write this piece, the Egyptian army is claiming to have ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Morsi insists he is still president and that he is open to negotiations. He had only been in power since 30 June 2012, following what has been known as Egypt’s first ‘democratic’ election.

Everything about this situation defies all the obvious definitions we have come to know as questions are buzzing around; was the ousting of Morsi a revolution or a coup or… Who knows???

Democratic election? Was the election that led to President Morsi’s election democratic? Many of the anti-Morsi protestors will tell you it was not. The US government will say it was. What would make the election democratic or not?

Was it competitive; did all parties and candidates enjoy fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly, and movement? Did they have the necessary to voice their criticisms of the government openly? Did they manage to bring their alternative policies and candidates to the electorate?

Was it periodic, oh well since this was the first such election that really doesn’t count does it.

Was it inclusive; did all eligible and willing voters vote? Were any religious, racial or ethnic minorities excluded? Were women included? Were all interest groups included?

Was it definitive; was a leadership of the government chosen? Of course, there would not have been a President Morsi had that not happened.

So then was the election democratic: I don’t know…

Others argue these events oust a “legitimately elected leader.” Who confers legitimacy on a leader? Who elects a president?  Is it not the people, the same people who have decided that he is not living up to expectations and have decided to remove him? If these same people with the right to choose a President were now describing him as “a political despot who was peddling religious fundamentalism to consolidate his power base,” did he still remain “legitimate?”

Oh but wait, there is a Constitution. Constitutionalism demands that the President should be removed through a democratic election but neither through a mass protest nor through the solicitation of the military’s strength. In terms of the law he obviously remained legitimate because he could only be legitimately removed through another election , but politically was he still legitimate? I don’t know that either…

To throw in another spanner, was the Constitution itself a legitimate document? Is it legitimate when citizens are trashing its provisions and crying foul about the process through which it came into being? Is it legitimate when citizens are crying foul about its provisions and crying foul about the implementation of some of its provisions? Is that Constitution binding or do the people have a right to demand a re-write of the Constitution-for the people, by the people, of the people? Again, I don’t know…

Is this a coup? The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines a coup as “a sudden, violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group, the chief prerequisite of which is control of all or part of the armed forces, the police, and other military elements.” Was it sudden-yes. Was it violent-well four people died and a whole lot more injured.  Was it illegal-in terms of the constitution-yes. Did it result in the seizure of power from a government – yes. So was it a coup-hey, I don’t know…

Is this a revolution? Again the Encyclopaedia Britannica says a revolution occurs when “large numbers of people working for basic social, economic, and political change organise and execute a major, sudden alteration in government.”  Were there large numbers in Tahrir-the images speak for themselves. Were they asking for social-economic change- bread, butter and bedding issues do sound economic and social to me. Were they asking for political change- definitely, against arbitrary arrests and other rights violations.

Late on 3 July, a number of civics in Egypt including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies described the mass uprising as “tantamount to a genuine popular referendum by which the majority of Egyptians rejected all policies seeking to undermine rights and liberties in the name of empowering a single political faction to monopolise state institutions, undermine the rule of law and judicial bodies, disregard court orders, harass and prosecute political opponents, and restrict the media and freedom of opinion and expression.”

Many are giving these events many terms; counter-revolution, popular uprising, invited coup, popular coup, a coup within a revolution, a revolutionary coup.  What it all adds up to is that there is nothing defined under the Egyptian sun.

 

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Two struggles, One story


*The following post is based on a video that my colleagues and I- at the 2013 School of Authentic Journalism  produced- which we released today*

In 1985, in one of Africa’s most beautiful countries, but with arguably one of the ugliest histories ever recorded, Mkhuseli ‘Khusta’ Jack waged a war against a government devoid of humanity, a government that did not see anything wrong with segregating the majority of its population or deliberately keeping them rooted in poverty because they were black. Young and energetic, Khusta led an economic boycott of downtown white-owned businesses in Port Elizabeth to leverage black people’s demands for better treatment -humane treatment by the apartheid government of South Africa.

In the dizzying heights of Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2000, Oscar Olivera together with others waged a popular resistance that came to be known as the Cochabamba Water Wars- a struggle against the privatisation of Bolivia’s water; including its rain water.

Both men mobilised, they rallied their people to take a stand, they stood their ground. They took a risk; their activities were daring, after all they were dealing with life and death matters. But what choice did they have? Was a life without water a choice? Was a life without freedom, dignity and justice a choice? And so they sacrificed; not only their time and energy but their lives; and they both won. Two heroes. Two histories. Two continents.  Two lands. One Story. One common thread- civil resistance- a testimony of the strength of strategic organising and community mobilisation.

 Here is their story …

 

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We are all Munyaradzi Gwisai


*This article was motivated by the call by Kubatana for Zimbabwean human rights activists to stand in solidarity with Munyaradzi Gwisai, and 5 of his colleagues who have been convicted for watching videos of the Egyptian Revolution in February 2011*

Munyaradzai Gwisai

The decision passed against Zimbabwe International Socialist Organisation leader, and my former lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, Munyaradzi Gwisai and five other activists to me only serves to show the ineffectiveness of the law as a tool for delivering real justice in today’s Zimbabwe. Comrade Gwisai, as he likes to be addressed stemming from his socialist background, was found guilty of “inciting public disorder”, after he, together with his counterparts organised a film screening and subsequent discussion on the Egyptian uprising in February last year.

The decision by the Court is not only perveted to the extent that it fails to defend the fundamental rights of freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of expression but it also sets a terrible precedent that legitimises the systematic persecution through prosecution of ordinary Zimbabwean citizens for innocent acts such as discussing politics, current affairs and airing their grievances with the state of affairs in the country. The right to freedom of assembly is a crucial as it allows us as individuals or as groups to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend our common interests.

Why am I so surprised when for years we have been moving towards this- a complete stifling of our voices. A systematic, determined strategy to scare us off from saying what we really think and pretending we are living in Disneypark. If Gwisai has been convicted just for watching the videos and discussing them, how much more so will it irk the government to know that I specifically went to Egypt during the Revolution to experience and understand how they did it so I could be better informed and also better inform my Zimbabwean colleagues about what it means to exercise our freedom of expression in a repressive environment.

Gwisai’s conviction is a travesty to justice and I am not afraid to say so. For the rest of Zimbabweans out there, do not be fooled to think there can ever be another way of exercising your freedom of expression which will not expose you to reprisals. There is nothing like ‘responsible exercise of freedom of expression.’ It is either we cower behind our curtains and pretend all is well out there or we continue to speak our mind boldly and probe and question what we do not like until something gives. That is how the Egyptians did it and that is how we can reassert our dignity.

It is a misconception to imagine that when the Egyptian Revolution began the people in Tahrir Square wanted to get rid of Mubarak. No, the majority of them did not even think that was possible. They understood the repressive nature of the police and they knew Mubarak had established a strong military system that would be difficult to overthrow. All they wanted was to reclaim their dignity. They needed him to make concessions to ensure that their socio-economic situation improved. They also needed to reassert their right to choose their own leaders, something that Mubarak’s presence at the helm of the Egyptian ‘throne’ was denying them. They needed to ease him out slowly but get guarantees that things would improve. So yes that is what they were asking for at the beginning.

But guess what, thinking that he had all the control and power in the world, Mubarak in his misguided arrogance refused to budge and refused to negotiate with the masses or to allow them the least sort of decency and dignity. So the people became angrier and angrier and angrier. And with the growth of their anger also came the rigidness of their own position and demands until their final and unmoving demand was for Mubarak to step down. Today we speak of him and not about him. That is the power of a people’s freedom of expression and that is why our own government in Zimbabwe is stifling us.

Only 5 months prior to the beginning of the Arab Spring, with the first of these protests in Tunisia, on 30 September 2010, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) had passed a Resolution on “The Rights of Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association.”This Resolution recognised the valuable contribution that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association have in building sustainable democracies. Most significantly, the Resolution introduced the mandate of a Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association with the responsibility to “study trends, developments and challenges in relation to the exercise of these rights, and to make recommendations on ways and means to ensure the promotion and protection of these rights.”This development was a milestone achievement in the history of the fight for freedom of assembly providing protestors with an invaluable tool to defend civic space and promote the respect of peaceful protests by state machinery.

And then came the Spring, a spring of expression, association and assembly. Thousands took to the streets in Tunis, Cairo, Tripoli, Benghazi, Damascus, Beirut, Lilongwe, Manzini, Dakar, Kinshasa and many other parts of the African continent and the world. One thing to be understood is that these people took to the streets not because it it was fashionable to do so but because they had similar concerns. The reasons for demonstrating included demands for political, social and economic reforms and in some cases the total dismantling of political  regimes. The responses of the states were all the same- violent – with variations only in the degree of violence from one place to the other. The governments’ attitudes towards the demonstrations were that they were ‘disturbances to public order.’ The responses ranged from arrests, detention and harassment of perceived organisers of the protests to violent disruption of gatherings employing excessive force, including the use of teargas and live armour against the protestors. The pictures of Syrian armoured tanks being used to shoot at protestors, and the use of snipers to shoot into crowds of protestors in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Yemen reflected the nature of the responses by governments’ in particular to protests.

Of course, these responses were unwise, if not completely foolish reflecting authorities’ aversion to  the free exercise of the right to peaceful assembly. But squashing people’s voices does not make the problems go away. It only makes the masses more agitated and desperate to be heard. Why governments, including my own can not get this, and concede to demands by citizens to say their mind, I can never understand.

Yes we may be stifled today, but history has proved, human beings are like gas. The more you suppress it the higher the chances that when it finally pops open that window of escape, it will completely blow you away-like the Egyptians blew away Mubarak, the Tunisians-Ben Ali and the Libyans-Muammar Ghadaffi!

 

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Zimbabwe to Egypt: Reflections from Tahrir Square: Part 2


2012 is here. 2011 is gone and oh what an interesting year it was. One that gave birth to a spring of consciousness; birthed the Arab Spring in which Tunisia and Egypt successfully toppled their presidents although all evidence on the ground indicates that the struggle to topple the regimes that these individual leaders had established is far from over. In 2011 the African continent saw rising movements of citizens, disgruntled by their circumstances with massive protests seen in Swaziland, Uganda, DRC, and Sudan among others. Beyond the African borders, 2011 birthed the Occupy Wall Street movement against a capitalist world order in which the rich keep getting richer and the poor poorer.

When I wrote the first part of this blog I was standing right in the middle of Tahrir square, like a sponge soaking in the air of revolution. I bore witness to a historic movement of grassroots masses who came together driven by their quest for a new political and economic dispensation.

In Tahrir, in front of the Mogamma

Today I am standing 5297 kilometres away from Egypt, Cairo and Tahrir Square, in Harare, living the realities of a repressive regime devoid of respect for political freedoms and civil liberties. At the same time I am witnessing the erosion of the gains of the Egyptian Revolution.

In Harare, I see the continued harassment and arrest of human rights defenders. On 5 December 2011, Fadzai December, Molly Chimhanda and Gilbert Mabusa of the Media Monitoring Project in Zimbabwe, an organisation that promotes freedom of expression and responsible journalism in Zimbabwe were arrested and spent over 2 weeks in custody for doing their work . The arrest of journalists, civil society actors and trade unionists continues in clear violation of freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the rights to peaceful assembly and association. For what, I ask? For speaking on behalf of the silenced masses? For demanding social justice? For demanding a decent life?

The Zimbabwean Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, turns ordinary citizens who possess protected information, even unwittingly, into common criminals, but exempts intelligence agencies such as the CIO from public scrutiny. In a similar mode, South Africa, in its Protection of State Information Bill/ Secrecy Bill threatens to take South African access to information back to the era of apartheid characterised by a tendency to outweigh state interests over freedom of expression and transparency in access to information.

In Cairo I still hear the endless massacre of unarmed protestors at the hands of the military. I hear the almost unbelievable tales of women stripped naked and assaulted by the “moral” police [SCAF] which at one point made forcible virginity testing of female protestors in detention the norm. And I wonder when the SCAF chose to descend from its high moral ground to the extent of stripping the sacred bodies of women bare. The war against Egyptian citizens in Tahrir continues as the struggle for basic freedoms and democratic transformation continues  Reports of attacks on journalists reporting this violence perpetrated by the military against protestors also continues.

In May 2011, Kenya deported an English human rights investigator, Clara Gutteridge, for her investigations into Kenya’s counterterrorism-related rights violations in both Kenya and Uganda. On 26 June 2011 , Kenedid Ibrahim, the president of the Djiboutian Journalists Association, was threatened and insulted by the minister of communication for questioning the suspension of his fellow journalists.

In Burundi lawyers Suzanne Bukuru and Isidore Rufyikiri, president of the Burundi Bar Association, were arrested for expressing dissenting voices against the existing political order in July 2011. Bob Rugurika, the chief editor for Radio Publique Africaine, a private radio station and Patrick Mitabaro, the editor in chief for Radio Isanganiro, faced criminal charges for doing their work and ‘insulting’ the judiciary. September 2011 saw 2 Ethiopian journalists charged with terrorism for their reporting. In October Alaa Abd El Fattah, an Egyptian blogger and human rights activist was arrested because he criticised the military and its violent conduct against protestors that resulted in avoidable deaths.

On 19 December 2011 Daniel Dezoumbé Passalet a Chadian human rights defender was abducted for falsely accusing the government in an interview on Radio France International in which he exposed human rights abuses in Chad. The Sudanese government spent the months of May to December 2011, on journalists’ and human rights defenders’ tails to prevent its horrendous deeds in Abyei, Southern Kordofan and The Blue Nile states from being exposed.

So yes, from Cape to Cairo, all places in between and beyond, politics continues to carry with it one common denominator: an alarming and indeed embarrassing display of lack of intellect among the politicians.

Well here is the thing written clearly in these examples; fear of free speech, collective expression and social unrest remain incumbent governments’ worst fears. This is why they will do everything in their power to avoid or disrupt these freedoms from being freely exercised.

But, and this is a big but, they are ignoring a basic understanding that; the desire by citizens to be able to express themselves without censure and the trend of groups with similar concerns regarding standards of life, quality of leadership and character of governments to come together, is intrinsic in the organisation of society.

These freedoms encourage diversity and divergence of views and policies. This is why individuals and organisations that raise difficult policy issues for the state and challenge the status quo are often the target of state sanctions. Indeed freedoms of expression and association are as old as human existence. As a consequence, dissenting voices and social unrest are natural parts of societal organisation. It is impossible and improbable not to have some level of social protest at a given point in time. If only governments would realise this then they would not waste so much time, energy and resources suppressing dissenting voices.

If I were an African government, I would take the time to listen to these voices and devise strategies of anticipating and responding to most of them constructively since it is always up to the state to address the grievances of each grouping. This should be done within a reasonable timeframe and budget, taking precautions not to give other groups the impression that they are being discriminated against or that their requests are less important.

If I were an African government it would be prudent for me to realize that protests are part and parcel of pluralism, pluralism being that word that philosophers, or make-believe receptors or scholars of philosophical studies, in my view, would describe as a theoretical standpoint that identifies peaceful coexistence of different interests, convictions and lifestyles as core components of a democratic society. One of the earliest positors [at least the documented ones] of the importance of pluralism, James Madison argued that suppressing pluralism breeds factionalism, which in turn grows into visible fights that can destroy a political entity, a state or a system.

The tendency by governments to want to assimilate all divergent views into mainstream views but mostly to display intolerance for all views contrary to those of the political elite trigger protests. As I always like to emphasise, I love my country, I love my continent, I am African from the tips of my toes to the roots of my hair. I am a true daughter of the soil and I am patriotic in defending the interests of my nation but that does not translate into me being a ZANU-PF supporter. I am simply me.

I believe in the protection of fundamental freedoms, human rights and the opening up of the political space to allow divergent political standpoints to thrive. That does not make me an MDC supporter. I am still me, a Zimbabwean who loves her country.

So this year begins with my lessons learnt from Tahrir Square; that freedom, when demanded by the oppressed, will have to be given, even at the price of bloodshed and lives. Surely political leaders should know this by now. Why do they keep bloodying their hands?

 

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Of bloggers, activists, expectant mothers and military rulers: Free Alaa!!!


Better days, Alaa, Manal, Sem sem and I ...April 2011

Throughout the time I spent in Egypt, one recurrent question from people outside Egypt struck me the most: Had the Revolution brought about any meaningful change? My very first impressions upon arriving in Egypt were that indeed the Revolution had changed many things. I had read about the Mubarak regime which sounded pretty much like my own government. The Egypt of Mubarak was one of violent repression of dissenting opinions, arbitrary arrests, bloody dispersions of any forms of protest, strict censorship of the media, demonisation of non governmental organisations and the general suppression of the masses’ freedoms and rights. Indeed Mubarak was famous for being a ruthless dictator who would not stop at anything to consolidate his reign on power.

So when I found Egyptians able to demonstrate and camp in Tahrir Square in the aftermath of the Revolution I thought things had changed. When one of my friends asked me whether the January 25 movement in Egypt was in effect a Revolution I answered yes and based my judgement on the characteristics of the movement. I argue that it was an initiative by the masses (1), which grew out of disaffection with the governing authority (2); it overthrew a government (3) and brought about change (4). Now I look back at that response and wonder if my assessment may have been premature. Was there a real overthrow of a government and has there been any real change in Egypt? Mubarakism persists even after Mubarak has gone.

I witnessed the smear campaign against the NGOs as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces discredited them as agents of the West the same way Mubarak denounced and harassed them. That rang an alarm bell in my head because in my country, NGOs are also called stooges of the West. I witnessed the death of 26 protestors at the hands of the military as it exercised disproportionate force against unarmed civilians and again the alarm bells went off and I could smell doom coming.

I witnessed the political space closing up again and the ability to speak freely, assemble freely and associate freely that had characterised the period immediately after the revolution dissipated. Maikel Nabil an activist and blogger was subjected to military trial for writing a blog refuting the belief that was prevalent during the Revolution that the military and the people were one. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison and an additional fine of 200 Egyptian Pounds. He subsequently went on a hunger strike and has since been moved to a psychiatric hospital.

What I had not envisaged was that my very own dear friend and one of Egypt’s most prominent younger generation bloggers and human rights activists, Alaa Abd El Fattah ,would become a victim of the system just as he had done under Mubarak. I had also not anticipated that his arrest would come at a time when his dear wife Manal Bahey El Din Hassan is due to deliver their very first child/son Semsem.

In 2006 Alaa was arrested on spurious charges and spent 45 days in detention. On October 30 2011, just 6 days ago Alaa was summoned by the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces at their C4 headquarters for investigations. Alaa stands accused of inciting violence among the protestors who were expressing their anger at the burning of a church in Aswan on 9 October. The clashes between the military and the protestors that followed hose protests now famously known as the Maspero attacks (named after the state television building in front of which they took place) resulted in the death of 26 people.

It is then quite ironical for the military to charge Alaa with inciting violence when they are on record for calling people to come and defend the oh-so-vulnerable army from uncontrollable and rowdy Christians on state television. It is also ironic coming from the military which according to most video footage and eyewitnesses is clearly responsible for the death of the 26 protestors. To add insult to injury the same indictment investigating Alaa also contains the name of Mina Daniel, one of the protestors who died during the clashes.

Alaa refused to answer to the charges by the military for many reasons. First, exercising his right to remain silent and not give any evidence that could incriminate him. Second, challenging the legitimacy of the military to investigate him given that they are also an accused in the matter and therefore placing questions on the independence and impartiality of the investigations. Third, questioning the legitimacy of the military to investigate civilians in a civilian matter when the ordinary channels and ordinary courts are there to exercise this function.

For refusing to answer, Alaa was thrown into a jail cell at the notorious Bab El Khalq prison where he later explained in a letter addressed to the press was a tiny 6 x 12 feet roach infested cell which he shared with 8 other detainees. Today marks the 6th of the 15 days that he has been ordered to remain in detention. It appears this period may be extended in order to force Alaa to cooperate with the military prosecutors.

Alaa’s arrest and detention is a tragic occurrence bringing to light the reality that the Revolution in Egypt is far from accomplished. It is clear that the real reason for his arrest is that he denounced the SCAF and unequivocally placed blame on their shoulders for the Maspero massacres. It is also his vocal stance against the SCAF stating that the military rulers are doing all they can to erode the gains of the revolution. Alaa is among 12 000 other individuals, many of them human rights defenders and activists that are being subjected to military trials a culture that is not only a clear violation of their right to a fair and transparent trial but also a gross travesty to justice in itself.

Taking advantage of my proximity to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights I filed a complaint regarding Alaa’s detention with the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa. The Special Rapporteur has since sent a letter of allegations to the Egyptian Head of State with regard to the arrest and detention of Alaa Abd El Fattah and Bahaa Saber by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. I await the result of that enquiry and hope Alaa is released before SemSem (Alaa’s unborn son) comes into the world lest that little boy also grows up thinking it is normal for his father to be a political detainee the way Alaa did with his own father.

 

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Justice or no justice?


Egyptians are angry, so very angry that they are dragging their former president through the criminal courts. The trial of  Hosni Mubarak on charges of corruption and for conspiring to kill protestors who are popularly known as the martyrs of the Revolution, made headlines on many news stations across the globe.

Mubarak denied all charges meaning that his plea was that of not guilty. The implications of that plea are grave. The prosecution has to establish the link between Mubarak’s actions or failure to take action and the crimes that he is said to have committed. That is not an easy task. There is thus no guarantee that the trial will result in a successful conviction because the outcome is based on the evidence. So no matter how much Egyptians may be convinced that Mubarak was corrupt or that were it not for him snipers would never have shot at protestors, their convictions will come to naught if no convincing evidence is put to the judges to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.  Criminal justice is also slow and very expensive. The hiring of lawyers and the charges of the court could be costly.

The most worrying element for me is even if Mubarak were to be found guilty the criminal charges against him are specific to particular incidences of corruption and specific incidences of killings. The trial will not likely reveal details of the repression of the regime which must be exposed if Egypt is to move on. The trial will not expose the structures of corruption and so these will remain standing even after Mubarak is convicted. It will not show who was responsible for all the human rights violations that took place in Egypt during Mubarak’s reign. It is with this in mind that I ask myself if the prosecution of Mubarak, his sons and the six associates is the best way for Egyptians to express their anger.

When crimes are committed and justice is never served, the wounds of those against whom the crimes were committed never heal and that is why transitional justice is relevant. Transitional justice is not just an idea. It is the lived experiences of many countries that suffered under repressive regimes and then found ways of moving forward post-conflict. Transitional justice seeks to help societies to find ways of reshaping them, to prevent recurrence of atrocities committed in the past, to reaffirm victims’ dignity and to expose the truth of what exactly happened because victims have a reciprocal right to know.

By victims I mean the actual people who were killed, beaten, tortured, mutilated, abducted, unlawfully detained, disappeared, harassed, subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment and had all sorts of terrible things done to them. These are the primary victims. I also refer to secondary victims; the people who were close to those who directly suffered. They witnessed the atrocities committed against their loved ones and some of them live even today with the trauma of not knowing the fate of their husbands, sons and relatives.

I wonder then if a trial that addresses one incident of corruption and the killing of a few protestors during the Revolution is the best answer when so many years of repression remain mystical. Is it not prudent to deal with the issues in a more holistic manner than to focus on a single incident?

Reconciliation is key if Egypt is to move forward. But there cannot be reconciliation without justice. And that justice cannot be achieved through the trial of Mubarak, his two sons and a few associates for an isolated incident. Justice lies in the nation of Egypt coming together to chart a process in which they will formulate a strategy to deal with their past. Such a strategy must not only focus on addressing the violations committed during the revolution but also the trends of violations that prevailed throughout Mubarak’s rule.

Truth-seeking must be a central part of that strategy. The victims need to know how certain crimes were committed, who committed them, what happened to their loved ones. In knowing the truth and exposing the systematic way in which certain crimes were committed; history will correctly record the violations and the victims can begin to deal with their losses and come to terms with their experiences.

Victims must receive reparations. Reparations can be in the form of restitution, compensation or reintegration.  Restitution involves restoring the victims to their previous circumstances before the violations were perpetrated against them. Those who lost their jobs or property for merely opposing the regime could be reinstated. Compensation must be given to the victims for the harm they suffered. Such compensation may be in the form of money, goods, symbolic acts significantly recognising the wrongs of the past or some other form such as the building of memorials. Reintegration would be the process of bringing society together, rebuilding trust between individuals who previously were on opposing sides. In the context of Egyptian society it would involve rebuilding relations between the perpetrators and the victims especially the police and the general public, between Copts and Muslims and recent events show the need for mending the relationship between the army and the revolutionaries.

 

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Zimbabwe to Egypt: Reflections from Tahrir Square


 

As a Zimbabwean, an African, a black person and a woman, I cannot help but wish my life were different. No, I do not wish I had a different nationality-I love my country and all its beauty. I do not wish I were anything else but an African- I love the diversity that makes our continent what it is. I do not wish to be anything other than black- in fact I love being black because I do not believe in the stereotypes attached to being black.  I am not barbaric! I do not eat human flesh! I do not live in a jungle! I am not ignorant though I do not claim to know everything there is to know in this world! I am not poor even though my bank account is empty! As one of my professors always said whereas some subscribe to the “I think therefore I am” theory by Rene Descartes as an African I believe “We are therefore I am.”Hence money does not make me rich, family does. When I have no family then I am poor.  When I wear something black there is definitely a difference between my skin complexion and that piece of clothing and I see the same difference when a ‘white’ person wears a white dress so maybe that label should be changed to dark skinned and light skinned instead. I love being a woman, ask any woman who is comfortable in her skin and she will tell you she does not wish to be recreated any differently.  The reason I wish my life were different is that I hate the negativity attached to these identities that make my life more difficult than it should be. As a Zimbabwean I face repression from my own government. We cannot express ourselves freely, assemble freely, associate freely and choose who we want to govern us freely. As an African our nations are subjected to global politics characterized by the paradox of ‘equal’ nations yet some are more equal than others.’ This has caused untold suffering, particularly, to the African peoples through skewed negotiations on climate change. We constantly fight the war on the patenting of life saving drugs as against free and easy access to medicines. We are victims of conflicts fuelled by the availability of arms and weapons supplied by developed nations, the so called ‘War economies.” As a black person I am constantly made to feel I need to measure up to something. I still have not figured out what that something is since I certainly do not feel I am lacking in any respect. As for my struggle as woman, that cannot be told in this short space. I will leave it for another day and forum.

Where am I going with all this? Well here is my story…

Today I spent an hour in Tahrir Square, mingling with the thousands of Egyptians who were gathered there. Some were just sitting and discussing the recent developments in the country including the acquittal of some and conviction of other perpetrators of human rights violations during the |Jan|25| protests. Others were chanting slogans making demands from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces to implement the reforms that have been demanded since the Revolution began. Yes, there were factions in the Square. I came across one stand comprising youths that cried out “Allah Akbar” an Islamic phrase loosely translated to mean “God is the Most High.” I also found another one where they were playing Christian gospel music. It was clear there were different groupings in the Square but guess what, they were all in the Square. They could have chosen to assemble in different squares but they did not. They came together, putting aside their differences for a greater purpose which was to put the message across clearly to the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces that this new earned right conceived during the Revolution shall neither be aborted nor miscarried. I also met a 14 year old blogger- yes fourteen. Before he has even reached the legal age of majority he understands that politics and political participation affects his life and impacts on his human rights. He does not shy away from it because ‘politics is a dirty game’-no. He takes charge and makes legitimate demands from the politicians in his country. I spent quality time with my close friends Alaa Abd El Fattah and Manal Bahey El Din Hassan who have been blogging for years at http://manalaa.net , exposing the Mubarak regime for the dictatorship that it was. Alaa got arrested several times by the police and today he stands with the rest of the Revolutionaries celebrating the fruits of his and many other people’s hard work.

I walked within that Square for an hour and in all that time I did not get sexually harassed, neither did I hear any man whisper the obscene things that I am usually subjected to on the street. I was treated with respect and I did not feel conspicuous as a dark-skinned person amongst the crowds of light-skinned people.

What did all this mean to me?

As Zimbabweans, Africans, black people, women we can change our future. It takes patience, persistence and perseverance but it not impossible. Let history be remembered as the hair we shaved off our heads but let it not determine the kind of new hair we grow on our heads. Black people let us not remain victims of perceptions created ages ago and sustained for generations by people who suffer from a misplaced superiority complex. Africans let us not let the ghost of colonialism haunt us forever. Zimbabweans let us not pay for not having been born when the war of independence was fought. Women, let us stand strong against the skeleton that patriarchy has since become. We have been eating off the flesh of these things and I am sure pushing over the bones will not be such a hard task.

Back to Tahrir Square and Egypt…

Many people have argued that the culture of protests has become almost maniacal in the Arab world. Others argue that they have not seen how protesting has helped the Egyptian people and I quote my colleague, Paul speaking of the revolutionaries and the ousting of Mubarak (Paul and I studied for the Bachelor of Laws Honours Degree at the University of Zimbabwe)

“I do not see any good results coming from them. And do u believe they are the ones who removed him from power? I do not think so that is why they back in the streets bcoz their revolution was not home grown”

Well here is what I think. Protesting helped Egyptians get rid of a despotic government whose corruption had reached chronic levels. It ensured that their demands for justice against the perpetrators of human rights violations during the |Jan|25| protests were heard. Protesting ensured that property and money worth thousands of dollars belonging to the state which had been siphoned by the President and his wife was returned and handed over to the State. Through their concerted effort, Egyptians are setting a culture which if entrenched will see better respect, promotion and protection of human rights. How? Every time they gather in protest they are asserting their right to peaceful assembly and association as well as their right to freely express themselves. Every time they make political demands pertaining to law reform, constitutional amendments, as well as the formation of political parties and their participation in elections they are asserting the right to participate in the governance of their country. It definitely is not as simplistic as it sounds but this is one step (or however many it may be) positively taken and it is gaining momentum each day. The police and military authorities still resist this culture but their resistance is becoming weaker each day. The weaker it becomes the more entrenched these freedoms will be in Egyptian society, spelling a progressive realization of their rights.

It is also many steps ahead of the Zimbabwean scenario where attempts to hold peaceful protests are crushed every time. In Zimbabwe, we have a security system that harasses, arrests and detains lawyers for demanding the sanctity of the profession that they chose. Our system finds a group of brave women (the Women of Zimbabwe Arise-WOZA) as criminals yet these women are constantly advocating social justice. The Egyptians have certainly gone one step ahead in this regard and the more they gather in Tahrir Square and hold their peaceful protests with no interference from the state apparatus, the higher their chances of sustaining this exercise of their right.

No sexual harassment for an hour?

Yes, I have discovered that Egypt is one of those places where being a woman is particularly difficult. The way you dress, walk, talk and laugh is so scrutinized that you cannot help but be very self conscious. Men whisper all sorts of obscenities to you as they pass by. Others stalk you. Some even try to grab you and run-in public! Yet today I was in that Square and for a whole hour none of that happened yet there were thousands of men there. Why-I asked myself? The obvious answer is because the Revolution birthed a new culture of respect for women with leading figures like Dr Laila Soueif emerging as lead figures at some defining moments of the Revolution http://articles.latimes.com/2011/feb/13/world/la-fg-egypt-revolutionaries-20110213. Harassment of women was viewed as unacceptable behavior and hence that perception holds true. Yes-it might only be wholly observed in Tahrir Square and at moments such as the one I experienced today but there is no doubt with time it shall cascade down to the everyday lives of Egyptians. It will take time but as always everything that is good comes through hard work, perseverance and persistence.

A 14 year old blogger? Wow!

My first thought was; I am 27 and I have done close to nothing to share the knowledge I have on human rights, democracy and democratization, good governance and women’s rights? ZIP!! And I am very ashamed to admit this. My second thought was I wish I knew a 14 year old blogger in Zimbabwe, let alone one who blogs on human rights and political participation. It is this kind of awareness that we need to build in our youth in Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa. A youth that is not polarized on political grounds. A youth that resists state patronage. A youth that questions policies and practices that do not benefit the wider population. We do not want a youth that is used to terrorise communities, or to rape women and girls, or to force communities to support a party or a government they clearly loathe. It is time that our 14 year olds developed an interest in the things that shape their future and the future of their countries rather than concentrating on figuring out how to put a condom on!

There is more but for now I will end here.

 
 
 
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