Egypt's 'Honorable Citizens'

Imagine a man is going home one evening and suddenly, as he’s going up the stairs to his apartment, he sees a criminal trying to rape a woman. The girl calls for help and tries to escape but she can’t and the attacker rips her clothes off. The man’s reaction to the crime taking place before his eyes would be one of the following:

1. The man rushes to save the woman from being raped, even at the risk of his own life. In this case he would be a brave man, chivalrous and honourable.

2. The man refrains from helping the woman but rushes up to his apartment and calls the police. In this case he would be an ordinary man who is not exceptionally brave but at least feels a responsibility to try to prevent the crime.

3. The man goes up to his apartment, resumes his life, completely forgets about the crime, and leaves the woman to her fate. This man would be a coward with no conscience.

4. The man not only refuses to try to save the woman but also insults her while she is being raped before his eyes and accuses her of being a slut who likes being raped. In this case the man would give an ugly example of human behavior and in my opinion would need psychiatric help.

Unfortunately some Egyptians have recently adopted this fourth shameful way of thinking. Policemen and soldiers have committed heinous crimes against demonstrators at the Maspero building, in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, and at the Cabinet building. All kinds of crimes have been committed against Egyptian citizens in broad daylight: they have been blinded by shotguns and killed by live ammunition, and girls have been stripped by soldiers and dragged along the ground. All these crimes, which have been recorded on videotape, have raised a storm of anger toward the military council, both in Egypt and around the world, but some Egyptians continue to play down the crimes—and some even blame the victims. The military council loves those people who refuse to speak the truth and justify the most heinous crimes, and in its statements it calls them “honorable citizens.”

To the military council, honorable citizens are those who agree with everything the council does, support its plan to undo the revolution and turn a blind eye to all the heinous crimes for which the council is solely responsible, politically and legally.

How is it that can we watch with our own eyes an Egyptian woman being stripped and dragged brutally along the ground by army troops, and then “honorable citizens” blame her because she was wearing a gown with press-studs rather than buttons? How can we watch our mothers and sisters being dragged along the ground under the boots of soldiers, and then one of these “honorable citizens” comes out and asks us to forget these crimes and look to the future?

These “honorable citizens” are a strange phenomenon in Egyptian society. I have tried to understand them and I have found that they fall into five categories:

The first category is like the loyal minister. Hosni Mubarak’s concept of a minister was the same as that of the military council. The first task of any minister can be summed up as defending the decisions of those in power and justifying their mistakes and their crimes. So when all these heinous crimes were committed against Egyptians, not a single minister objected or offered his resignation because they understand well that their task is to obey the orders of the military council. Prime Minister Ganzouri did in fact promise to provide demonstrators with full protection, saying even that he would not allow them to be abused verbally (let alone physically).  Ganzouri gave this promise in front of the world’s cameras and then the massacres of demonstrators took place in front of the Cabinet offices. But Ganzouri was not embarrassed in the slightest simply because he considered himself to be serving the military council.

The second category is the opportunist liberal. This type of “honorable citizen” is common among university professors, intellectuals, and professionals. The opportunist liberals consider themselves more entitled than others to a life of comfort and ease, and are prepared to lie and cheat, cooperate fully with State Security, write reports on their colleagues and voluntarily offer their services to the authorities. They not only turn a blind eye to the heinous crimes committed by the police and army against demonstrators but they are also fully prepared to create political justifications for these crimes. For them, allying oneself with the military council is sensible, because whatever changes take place the military council will still be able to give them the privileges they want.

The third category is the hateful extremist. This type of “honorable citizen” embraces an interpretation of religion that inspires hatred and violence rather than love and tolerance. The extremists’ mistaken understanding of Islam drives them to show hatred and contempt for all those who disagree with them. The extremists hate everyone except those who share their extremism, and they consider those who disagree with them to be misguided and sinful, or infidels, shameless degenerates or foreign agents plotting against Islam.

The hateful extremists need conspiracy theories in order to maintain their extremism. They firmly believe that Islam is the victim of internal conspiracies by secularists, liberals, and leftists, as well as of major foreign conspiracies by Western, crusader powers. No one can convince the hateful extremists that the liberals and leftists are patriotic Egyptians who paid a high price in the revolution. You cannot convince them that all Egyptians leaders, from Saad Zaghloul to Gamal Abdel Nasser, were liberals or leftists who believed in a civil state but embraced Islam as a great religion, not as a political program to be used to obtain power. The extremists cannot be convinced that Western governments are interested only in their own interests: the United States’ closest ally after Israel is the Saudi regime, which is the source of Wahhabism in the world; the Taliban movement was set up and supported for years by the CIA; and General Zia-ul-Haq, the former Pakistani president, was a CIA agent. The United States is hostile to Hezbollah and Hamas because they are resistance movements, not because they are Islamic. Whatever you tell the extremists, they will not listen, and probably they will insult you.

When millions of people across the world were moved by the video showing the innocent Egyptian woman  being dragged and kicked by a group of soldiers, on one of the Wahhabi channels I saw three well-known sheikhs mocking the woman and questioning her honor. These sheikhs behave like this to appease the military council. For them, such violence warrants anger only when the victim is a member of one of their groups. These sheikhs, who practice the worst kinds of chauvinism and moral decadence by making fun of a defenseless woman attacked by soldiers, still insist on speaking in the name of Islam, when they have nothing to do with any religion or humanitarian values.

The fourth category is the corrupt collaborators. Under Mubarak, Egyptians had three options: to emigrate, to take part in corruption in order to live, or to reject corruption and pay a heavy price. Thousands of Egyptians did not join the National Democratic Party but they did indulge in corrupt practices in their jobs. They convinced themselves that Egypt would never reform so they had to go along with corruption in order to live. These were the civil servants who took bribes, the teachers who formed private-lesson mafias, the doctors who sold banned medicines, the engineers who sold inspection reports, and so on. They hate the revolution because it reminds them that their corrupt practices were not inevitable but a choice, and because real democratic change will bring an end to the corrupt earnings to which they are accustomed. These people favor crackdowns so that things go back to how they were in the past and so they can resume their corrupt practices.

The fifth category is the frightened submissives. These people submitted to, accepted, and accommodated to the repression of the Mubarak regime. The submissives are frightened of any change that happens in Egypt because they feel that their security is much more important than their dignity. They refuse to sympathize with the demonstrators who are killed and the women who are abused because to do so would lead them to criticize the military council; and they are psychologically incapable of thinking in isolation from an authority that protects them, even if it also represses them and violates their human rights.

Heinous crimes against the demonstrators have proven that most Egyptians are still loyal to the revolution. They fully understand the military council’s repeated attempts to break the will of the revolutionaries and to reverse the revolution. But these crimes have also shown that the Mubarak regime produced mental and intellectual ailments that have made many Egyptians unable to see the truth and unwilling to take the ethical positions imposed by their responsibilities as humans.

Achieving the objectives of the revolution is the only way to build a democratic state. It will also ensure that Egyptians recover their mental and intellectual health, so that they can become truly honorable citizens.


Photo credit: Lilian Wagdy

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