Letter from Cairo: To whom the gallows beckon?


One single trait seems to unite almost all the news we have been hearing and reading since the start of the revolution: they all trigger conflicting reactions within a very limited time span so that the way you respond to a piece of news the moment you hear it is the exact opposite of how you would feel about it 15 minutes later.

The former president inaugurated this trend when, in a speech he had to give after it was clear to him that protests had reached a point of no return, he said, in response to demands that he steps down, that he did not intend to run for another term anyway. Amazing! Nothing could be easier. The man is staying till September and after that we can have “fair” elections.

Let’s go back home and celebrate our two-day revolution that made the miracle of forced the three-decade ruler to decide not run then make it look like this was his original intention to save face. “He couldn’t stay against the will the people. He realized he is no longer wanted” some even went as far as saying. I am not going to say how emotional the Egyptian people are and how gullible they can be, and I am not going to go through how much several of them were touched to see his health deteriorating and his voice shaking because this wasn’t what it was all about.

True, several people sympathized with him, but even many of his staunchest opponents who would have accepted no alternative to his immediate resignation, ones who are known to be immune against all kinds of blackmail, had for a few moments thought that his declaration was quite an achievement. “What? Are we going to wait till September? Hell no!” was the reaction after those moments were over. “He won’t run, but his son will,” was the reaction of the moments after the moments. “Not running my a**! Of course he will. The likes of him will cling to power till their last breath” was when obscenity started becoming the inevitable reaction.

A similar scenario happened when the former interior minister was handed 12 years in jail for financial corruption. “Justice is finally served” and “for the first time in Egypt, a top official as powerful as Habib al-Adly is tried and sentenced to jail” were the typical reactions you would find on social networking websites and media outlets. Then came another reaction that was seemingly no different from the first ones, but in reality was the reason for igniting its reverse counterpart: “Now, the martyrs can rest in peace for the murderer who killed them is now paying for his crimes.” “But wait a minute… he is in fact going to jail for money laundry. You got to be kidding me!” Suddenly, the verdict that was heralded as one of the revolution’s most crucial achievements turned into a shameful setback that started drawing angry reactions from all over the country. “12 years? Is the new version of the capital punishment nowadays?” “What logic on earth is it to press corruption charges against the monster who ordered firing at the peaceful protestors and was the direct reason for the death of many of them?”

The list went on endlessly as the crowds cheered when the former president was placed under hospital arrest then started demanding that he be put on jail with the rest of the “gang” and when the millions his wife decided to waive to the state were welcome as a partial rescue of the crippled economy then it was made obvious that this was nothing but a bluff to evade prosecution… same with incarcerated business tycoons-cum-political hawks who offered skyrocketing sums in return for amnesty. A wave of enthusiasm also swept the country when the army started referring “thugs” and regime “remnants” to military courts, then all woke up to the revelation that activists and peaceful protestors were placed in the same ranks and cries of indignation at the principle of having military trials for civilians regardless of which category they belong to and regardless of who exactly decides who belongs to which category started resonating everywhere.

News of sentencing to death a policeman proven guilty of killing 18 peaceful protestors and injuring another 15 on January 28, aka Friday of Fury, unleashed another spat of mixed reactions and again put into question the validity of similar decisions that seem to be meant to distract and/or pacify the public rather than see justice duly and properly served. Local and international media dubbed the sentence, the first of its kind since the start of the revolution, a “historic” one that demonstrates the state’s unrelenting determination to hunt down each and every one of those criminals who murdered unarmed civilians in cold blood. The sentence, they added, constitutes a crucial step towards making the Egyptian people rest assured that the blood of their compatriots was not spilt in vain. The euphoria that accompanied the news was heightened by the fact that the defendant is not a high-ranking policeman—he is, in fact, not strictly a policeman, but rather some kind of assistant and not a graduate of the Police Academy—which, many argue, shows how all members of the former regime’s notorious security system, regardless of their position. Well, I guess they meant that nobody would have taken notice had the suspect’s name not been mentioned at all and had he not been tried.

As usual, the cheers of joy faded into mumbles of frustration as the excited crowds took some time to reflect on what such a verdict may imply. Turns out one little piece of information was lost to the recipients of the news or rather overshadowed by this kind of ecstasy that makes you sometimes unable to see the little, yet perhaps extremely critical, details. The man was tried in absentia… indeed, he was not there to be interrogated, bring witnesses, or tell his version of the story… he is at large in fact and his whereabouts are still unknown. The culprit’s family staged protests in front of the Ministry of Justice demanding to know on what basis their son was handed the capital punishment out of all sentences when he did not present himself to the court and wanted the investigation into the shootings reopened. The family’s concerns are now voiced by a large portion of Egyptians who are questioning the legality and fairness of the verdict. Contrary to the argument that prevailed upon the announcement of the verdict, the fact that the defendant is a low-ranking policeman casts more doubt on both the trial and the ruling. The scapegoat strategy, first adopted when Mubarak sent to jail several top officials and business tycoons in the hope of fooling the protestors into thinking that reforms are being implemented, reemerged as several questions were asked: Why start with leveling charges against someone who is nowhere to be found while dozens of his colleagues are already in custody and can be summoned to court right here and now? How did the court manage to verify that the defendant’s victims were indeed peaceful protestors and not thugs like the ones who attacked all police stations across the country? In other words, are we sure this was not an act of self-defense? How about reports that the police station in which this policeman worked was not among those that witnessed remarkable protests?

Now, time for the million-dollar question: The former minister of interior, the architect of all sorts of police brutality in the country and the number one culprit not only in killing protestors but in the entire post-Friday of Fury turmoil that saw prison gates opened and criminals given free hand to steal, terrorize, and rape… how come he is not being tried for the lives he took, the people he tortured, and the atrocities he committed over two decades against the citizens he was supposed to protect?

For those who are not familiar with the barbarities perpetrated by his Excellency and who do not want to get into too many details and waste so much time investigating the man’s horrendous curriculum vitae, just Google the name Khaled Said and let me know if you do not think he should have been hanged a million times for that only.

By the way, I am generally not a supporter of the capital punishment and I wish the day would come when it will be abolished in Egypt even though I realize how far-fetched that is. However, as long as the capital punishment is enforced then at least hand it to those who deserve it and not to those who are easier to sacrifice. Maybe this policeman deserves the punishment he got, but definitely not more than his superior and absolutely not before him.

If you set the gallows, make sure you think carefully before you decide who mounts them. Otherwise, we might fall into the trap of mock trials and summary executions which marred the noble cause of dozens of revolutions around the world and of which our blessed, bloodless revolution should always stay clear in order to remain one of the noblest and most peaceful in the history of mankind.

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Sonia Farid

I teach for a living... write for a life!

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