This fuckery must end! #freealaa

Activism, Africa, Democracy, Human Rights

They are the most adorable couple I have ever met. Each time I think about them I am reminded that true love exists. They fell in love when they were teenagers and have not fallen out of it since. Over a decade now they have been together, more than a decade in which so much has happened.

We met; 2009, February. They were geeks; total computer/techy/nerdy geeks; -both of them. They knew stuff I didn’t know then and still don’t know now. Stuff about technology, hacking, security online, open software blah blah blah. I was a novice, I had no Twitter account, all I did was post pictures on Facebook, I had no blog, did not know anything about anonymity online or all that other stuff that techies know. So they made me open a Twitter account and start a Blog page; sadly both were to remain dormant for the next 2 years because I was still gripped by technophobia. Slowly and surely they coaxed me out of it and today I have blossomed-slightly-with a whole lot more to learn -in this technology business.

Our shared passion was activism as we found common ground in our fight for freedom, justice and equality. We shared our experiences; they shared what was happening in Egypt and I shared my Zimbabwean story. We compared notes and concluded Bob and Mubarak were having the same note-sharing exercise. Systemic repression of political freedoms, police brutality, enforced disappearances, ceremonial elections; the scenes were too similar; at least Bob pretended to care about the women.

2010 we moved to South Africa. We shared so many good times, playing playing tennis on Wii in their house, eating the spicy shawarmas, celebrating the world cup-some matches in the fan parks- others in the stadiums-all thanks to Alaa’s running around to get us the tickets.

2011 when all was good and we had no premonition things would turn out this bad

2011 when all was good and we had no premonition things would turn out this bad

Beginning of 2011 we met again. We were happy, genuinely happy. I found out Dodou (their son) was on his way, ecstatic to becoming an aunt. It had been Manal’s idea that I should go learn from Egypt. She sold it and I bought into it, brilliant idea, I thought and so I prepared to do the prophesied trek: Cape to Cairo.

A few months later, we all stood in Tahrir Square. They were heroes and heroines among their peers; a family of revolutionaries that have refused; through generations to sit and watch as injustices unfold. I left several months later, they stayed home, to continue the fight.

November 2013, the police raided Alaa and Manal’s home and arrested him, accusing him of  inciting illegal demonostrations. June 2014, Egyptian courts sentenced Alaa and 25 other people to 15 years in prison in a kangaroo fashion trial that handed down judgement in default; talk about fair trial! Today Alaa sits in a prison cell, while Manal is raising their child alone. 2 weeks ago Alaa’s dad passed on and he was not there to bid him farewell.

I am angry at all the injustices that have befallen my friends, angry on  behalf of that little boy who is growing up without his father; and even more angry that Alaa is now without his father and was not given the chance to say goodbye, detained on nonsensical charges.

What kind of fuckery is this; that gives certain individuals who call themselves politicians the power to mess with other people’s lives!  What idiotic nonsense is it that they actually can and always get away with these bullying tactics across borders and oceans? Where is justice when we need it; when those who fight for the welfare of every citizen are thrown into the dungeons of despair while the greedy fools who purport to have the masses’ interests at heart loot away?

 

Day under the Egyptian Sun

Activism, Africa, Civil Resistance, Democracy, Social Movements

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.

The unsung ones

Uncategorized

The unsung (s)heroes/heroines

The typical freedom fighter who is often arewarded after a struggle is one who holds the gun, stands at the forefront of the struggle and raises a voice speaking out against the injustices of an era. More often than not that freedom fighter is the man who stays in prison, is tortured and subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment yet he still stands firm against the ideals and policies of the regime he opposes. Indeed these men are brave men. Their role in challenging the status quo is an indisputably pivotal one in shaping the world into a better place.

However my heart bleeds for the forgotten freedom fighters…

The women who may not go to the warfront but are still drawn onto the battlefield. The women whose souls are battered as their bodies are turned into war zones as men rape them and mutilate them to exact revenge against their enemies. The women whose children die in their arms from hunger, starvation and disease yet they soldier on. The women who endure the long nights and dark days without their husbands, sons and brothers. The women who are left behind to wonder if they will ever see their loved ones again and who are often given the burden of taking care of the children, the elderly and the disabled under harsh conditions. Yes, these women’s role is huge yet it is often never recognised. They remain unsung heroines of the struggles for political freedom, for peace, for justice and for human rights.

At this moment my heart stands with a sheroine, Manal Bahey El Din Hassan, my friend, whose husband Alaa Abd El Fattah is being held by the Egyptian military rulers at Torah prison. Alaa stands falsely accused of inciting violence among protestors that led to the death of 26 people on 9 October. Yes for refusing to be tried in a military Court I salute him. For criticising the army and the violence it incited and executed at Maspero I also salute him.

But I salute Manal more. Right now she is heavily pregnant about to give birth to their first child. She is facing the difficulties of her final term of pregnancy alone, without her husband. Alone she stands firm and is continuously fighting the military and its policy of subjecting human rights defenders and political activists to military trials on trumped up charges.

Even her husband in a letter he wrote to the press acknowledged that while he is in prison his wife is out there;

“whom I will leave alone in the last days of her pregnancy and will leave her alone to oversee the workers who are preparing Khaled’s (their unborn son) room, I who shall be detained and she who shall be burdened while she is running around for my demands, my sustenance and my visitation permits as well as the campaign that was founded for my case.”
(Full article available at http://sultanalqassemi.blogspot.com/2011/11/egyptian-activist-alaa-abdel-fattah.html)

My heart also stands with Jenni William a Zimbabwean human rights activist and social justice champion whose struggle for social justice has landed her in prison many times. In her prison diary entitled “Reflections after my 39th arrest” Jenni writes

“My name is Jenni Williams, national coordinator of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). I am persecuted for being a human rights defender, just getting over my 39th arrest and recovering from my 3rd stint in a Zimbabwean jail as an unconvicted prisoner. Arrested on the 21st of September World Peace Day, I spent 2 days in horrific conditions at Bulawayo Central Police and then 10 days at Mlondolozi female prison in Khami complex. This brings my tally to 73 days of my life spent in jails wearing the bright green dolly rocker tunic of a remand prisoner. Despite so many arrests, the state has been unable to criminalise my right to peaceful protest so they through a particular officer with personal grudges have now resorted to criminal charges of kidnapping and theft.”

She denounces the dreary conditions in remand prison and says
“I ask us to think and try to find other ways than to send someone to a prison that cannot feed them in a country that will not reform or correct them. Instead of prisoners coming out as reformed members of society they re-enter society as hardened criminals with little hope of being reformed.”
(the whole entry is available at http://www.kubatana.org)

Many more women out there have taken the same role and time and time again their efforts have never been fully recognised for the sheer bravery they represent. These women are brave beyond measure and today I salute them and recognise them as true (s)heros.

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

Democracy, Human Rights, Social Justice, Social Movements, Transitional Justice

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.

Did they entrust fillet to the dogs?

Africa, Democracy, Governance

Dogs eat meat- that is a fact. When you serve them with fillet, they eat it all because it is a steak and tender and afterwards nothing remains; not a trace that in that plate once lay a piece of meat. But when you serve them meat with bones, they eat all the meat and leave the bones. After their meal you can salvage the bones remaining. I am seating here in Cairo International Airport waiting to board my plane home and wondering if the situation I am leaving behind in Egypt resembles the case of a dog entrusted with priced meat.

It is fact, militaries are powerful and they thrive on that power. States that are weak militarily are scoffed upon hence the mockery directed towards the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey in the 20th Century) as “The weak men of Europe”. In a democracy, the power of the military is measured in comparison to their military power against other nations’ military power. However when that power gains excess domestically and the military is involved in politics, the might of the military is exercised against a nation of unarmed, defenceless civilians. The result will be something quite similar to serving a dog with fillet- where you are left with nothing to salvage.

I came to Egypt a couple of months after the Revolution. I found in Egypt a nation hopeful, eager and ready for change and for transformation. I leave behind a nation in a state of comatose, a depressed youth, heartbroken and growing more and more agitated as the Egyptian army displays itself for what it really is…just another brutal, African army that follows its interests and not those of the people it pledged to protect. The nation is reeling from the shock of their experiences and every individual has had to confront the reality that activism and the fight for a democratic Egypt can be attained at the cost of their own lives. The people believed that given its history, the Egyptian army would set a precedent of leading a successful transition but how can the transition succeed when the guarantours of its success are sabotaging it. Or are they?

On the day of the Maspero massacres (the death of 26 political activists and injury of 300 other at the hands of the military forces in front of Maspero-the state television building in Cairo as they were protesting the burning of a Coptic Church in Merinab Village, Aswan-Upper Egypt) Egypt woke up and it was just another Sunday, another day in the lives of a great nation that is charting its own history towards freedom, dignity and equality.

When the demonstration also started it was just another protest; as has been the culture since the January 25 Revolution. The procession began in Shubra and continued all the way to Maspero. Little did the protestors know that just a mere few hours away 26 of them would be dead, 300 injured and many of them would lose a friend, a sister, a brother, a daughter and a son at the hands of the army that the people entrusted with their ticket to democracy.

Simmering tensions between Christians and Moslems in Egypt have always existed, with Christians feeling like second class citizens in their own country because they cannot practice their religion, build and renovate religious buildings and carry out their religious practices as freely as Moslems do. In 2011 alone, 3 other major incidents of attacks on Christians by Muslims and vice versa have been recorded. First was the bombing of the Two Saints Church in Alexandria on the eve of the New Year. 100 people were injured and 23 died. 51 others were injured and 6 died when Orthodox Christians and Muslim Salafists fought in March in Cairo. In May, 242 were injured and 15 died in a bomb blast that destroyed a church in the Imbaba surbub of Cairo. The Maspero massacres make the 4th religiously aligned attack.

The broadcasting of the massacre on state television was biased and instead of relaying the Christians’ fears that the army is there to protect everyone regardless of their religion, the army presented itself as the poor-weak and Muslim army being attacked by uncontrollable and unruly Christians. Of course this was a lucrative call on those who already harboured ill feelings towards Christians to use this opportunity to attack them. What game the army was playing out when it created this antagonism between Christians and Moslems one cannot understand. Since when has a national army been religiously aligned and since when has the mighty Egyptian army which has threatened war against Ethiopia over the Nile and war against Israel (and indirectly the US because it always backs Israel) been overpowered by an insignificant fraction of a mere 8 million Christians?

Yes, with this incident the Supreme Council of Armed Forces showed its inability to manage the pressing problem of intolerance that Egypt faces if it is to transform into a democratic society. Such intolerance exists at religious, racial and gender levels characterised by tensions between Muslims and Christian Copts, racism by Arabs against Africans and even Nubians within their own country and sexual harassment and maltreatment of women, respectively. Intolerance towards dissenting political views is still rife as prisoners of conscience still languish in prison. One of them Maikel Nabil Sanad, has been on a hunger strike for 45 days following his three year sentence to imprisonment for criticising the army.

The SCAF is guilty of many other violations some of which are still ongoing. It started with the virginity testing of protestors, then came the military trial followed the violent dispersion of demonstrators from Tahrir Square resulting in the injury of many. Then there were the several declarations of a state of emergency and imposition of curfews. It seems the tricks have gotten worse and dirtier with time.

I look at this scenario and ask myself, is Egypt going back to the days of Mubarak? Has the situation become worse than it was under Mubarak’s rule?

I however conclude that there is hope Egypt. In the aftermath of the Maspero massacres the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (ruling authority) called for speedy investigations into the clashes. It tasked the government to speedily form a fact finding committee to investigate the case and institute legal action against those responsible for directly inducing or meting out the massacre. It promulgated an anti-discrimination law that forbade discrimination on the basis of religion. These actions might not have been as far-reaching as most Egyptians would have wanted in addressing the problem of peace and security in Egypt, but I can imagine they are more than what the nation would have received from a Mubarak government that was not accountable to the people and did not care what the people thought of it. The implementation of these laws remains to be seen.

The incident at Maspero met with intense debate and discussions both private and public concerning the ability of the SCAF to lead a democratic transition. Under the Mubarak regime there was no room for such public debate and criticism. There has been great improvement in the exercise of freedom of expression. Some people have seen the religious strife as a setback to the democratic transition where the focus has shifted from pushing for elections and other democratic reforms and turned to questions of security and peace amongst Egypt’s citizens. However the realisation that these events must not sidetrack the drive for democratic transition is by itself a commendable development.

Yes the future is uncertain, and yes progress in consolidating the momentum set by the January 25 Revolution remains unsatisfactory but I have hope for Egypt.

The dogs may have eaten some of the meat, but there are always the bones to salvage and redirect the path towards democracy.

Rationalising sexual harassment in Egypt

Africa, Gender, Human Rights, Violence Against Women, Women

Before I came to Egypt I was warned several times to be prepared to face sexual harassment. However the warnings had not prepared me for the reality that I have had to live with, in the past 6 months. Sexual harassment in Egypt is chronic and it has to stop. It does not matter whether you are black, white or everything else in between, just being a woman makes you a victim.

The first one slid his hands onto my lap, groping at my thighs and touching my breasts. Lesson Number one- never sit in the front seat of a taxi in Egypt unless you have other people you know with you in the same car. He was a taxi driver. I had not given him permission to touch me. I walked out of a moving taxi. My body is my sanctuary and if I cannot have total control over it then what am I-A tree that bears fruit but cannot eat of it?

The second one stalked me. I remember he was smartly dressed in khaki pants and a sky blue shirt, but beneath his neat exterior lay a rotten mind and rotten intentions- to harass me because I am a woman.

The third one grabbed my buttocks as I made my way into the subway station. I shouted at him and he ran away. Of course he had to, I was furious to say the least. I used to be feisty but Egypt has turned me into a fierce tigress. That is the only way to deal with a culture that is so pervasive it is almost normal.

The fourth, fifth and hundredth all whispered obscenities in my ears as they passed me by. They whistled and passsed snide remarks as I passed by. They ‘accidentally’ brushed their hands against my breast and my behind as they passed and when I turned my head to ask they raised their hands to say ‘I did not mean to.’ Of course what they all did not mean was to get caught and be embarrassed for it.

The one who drove me to write this story also grabbed my buttocks on the subway on the morning of Tuesday 4 October. A few hours earlier someone had stolen my purse and all the money, bank cards and identity documents in it were gone. I was already upset so I turned and shouted. He showed no remorse. In fact he had an evil sneer on his face, showing satisfaction for having accomplished what he wanted, he had made me upset and so derived power from knowing that he had made me upset. Passersby looked at me as if I was the crazy one. Coupled with the racism I face in this country I retreated from Cairo and took days to find myself again and rebuild my strength. I also took time to reflect on the levels of sexual harassment in Egypt and I tried to rationalise it. I reached one conclusion; there is no rationalising such a terrible culture.

Could it be religion? I ask myself. But what religion condones the degradation of women and their treatment as mere sexual objects? What Deity condones the mal-treatment of half of its creation? If it is about Islam and its demands on how women should dress then I do not understand the patterns of harassment because whether dressed in a Jalabiya (long robe) and Burka (head cover that leaves the eyes out only) or tight skinny jeans, the men still harass you. If it is about Christianity, then these people are reading the wrong Bible because the word of God in Deuteronomy says “Do what is right and good in the LORD’s sight, so that it may go well with you.” If they believe that harassing women is good and right in the sight of the Lord, then I cannot stretch my tolerance to accommodate such misogynistic tendencies.

Maybe it is a lack of education but even the educated ones do harass women. Besides one does not need to be educated to know what respect for another human being entails. It should be one of those innate values that transcend religion, culture, education and gender.

Maybe it is a way of redefining their masculinity. I know under the previous regime men were humiliated, suppressed, denied room for expression and personal growth and so they could not provide for their families, they could not voice their opinions out of fear of arrest and detention. So maybe the whole political, socio-economic context emasculated them and made them feel worthless but how does harassing women make you more of a man. Does it not actually make you less of a man and a coward if you spawn your anger and frustrations on a ‘weaker’ sex? As one of my friends Christele Diwouta pointed out when they pull women down because they think it makes them better than us that confirms that they are already beneath us. That makes them cowards. What man calls himself a man when he derives a sense of worth from belittling women. That is pathetic.

I have a right not to be subjected to unwanted sexual advances. I have a right not to be leered at and treated like a sexual object. I have a right not to cower and wonder what a man will say when he passes me by. Real men treat women with respect. Real men protect their womenfolk. Real men do not hiss like snakes to express their interest in women, they engage them in decent conversations. So I declare today to all the men who sexually harass women in Egypt and anywhere else in the world. You are not real men. You are unknown creatures. You are diseased and you need healing. You are cowards!

Justice or no justice?

Social Justice, Social Movements, Transitional 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.