Published on May 25, 2013
Incompetence and inefficiency are not enough to annul the mandate of the ruling president, gained at the ballot box. But continuing the system of torture used by the former regime is
Before midnight on Friday, 17 May 2013, I decided to go to Tahrir Square to sign the “Rebel” campaign’s petition, which asks for the withdrawal of confidence from President Mohamed Morsi El-Ayat. This was not an arbitrary decision, nor was it a product of the moment. It was the result of deep reflection as well as an appreciation for the importance of this campaign and what it calls for.
The story started on 25 January 2011, the day this revolution erupted. That day, I went to Tahrir Square to protest Mubarak’s policies, and in particular the policies of his interior minister, Habib El-Adly.
That day, I inhaled tear gas for the first time in my life at midnight, when we were attacked by hordes of police. Three days later, on the Friday of Rage, I marched with tens of thousands of my compatriots from Mostafa Mahmoud Square to Al-Galaa Square, where we clashed violently with police forces.
After a battle that lasted for longer than two hours, during which we were armed with nothing more than scarves, gas masks and vinegar bottles, we managed to overpower the police forces and to force them to retreat in the direction of Tahrir Square.
Then, I found myself once again at the frontlines on Kasr El-Nil Bridge, in confrontation with the police’s armored vehicles, which had unleashed water hoses and rubber bullets on us.
I kept returning to Tahrir Square, as well as other squares, not merely during the 18 days, but also during many of the subsequent events over the past two and a half years. And during these protests and demonstrations I was exposed, like many other citizens, to real and direct danger. I consider myself lucky that I have not even been bruised or wounded.
What constantly motivated me to return to the squares, and still does, is a deep feeling of rage at the practices of the interior ministry, and particularly at the numerous cases of torture that is systematically implemented within police stations across the country, and which in many instances leads to death.
I am a historian, and among my research interests is the history of torture in Egypt during the 19th century. I have spent many years in the National Archives, studying this abhorrent phenomenon. Yet I was appalled to discover that what the Egyptian police are practicing in the 21st century is much worse that what they had practiced two centuries ago. And what pushed me to participate in this revolution from its initial moments is my belief that I would not forgive myself if I failed to prevent this practice, or if I were too lazy to participate with millions of compatriots to demand to live in a country free from torture.
Yet I was sure, since the initial days of this glorious revolution, and since I became certain that the Mubarak regime was reeling, that Islamists were the strongest faction that were best poised to assume power if the regime were to fall. I was not happy with this realisation, for I was, and am still, convinced that the Muslim Brotherhood, the strongest Islamist force on the scene, is politically defunct, morally bankrupt, lacking in experience other than in mobilisation and organisation, devoid of historical vision, insufficiently connected to this country, and are not concerned with its development or prosperity.
Still, even before Mubarak’s fall I defended their rights to political participation and access to power. And on 9 February 2011, I wrote an editorial on CNN entitled: “Muslim Brotherhood should get seat at table,” in which I said; “so long as the Muslim Brotherhood is willing to operate under a new constitution that upholds the principle of equality of all citizens, irrespective of religion and gender, then it should be welcome to build a new Egypt, one in which all citizens will, at long last, enjoy freedom, justice and dignity.”
Two months later, I spoke on a famous programme on the BBC’s international broadcast, in defence of the rights of Islamists to hold power, saying: “Egypt is spacious enough to host us all, secular and religious, Muslims and Christians.”
And even after the Brotherhood won parliamentary elections, and after their presidential candidate was elected, I participated in a public debate moderated by prominent TV journalist Tim Sebastian, and I was against the motion that said that “Democracy has had a disappointing start in Egypt.”
This was last October, and up until that point I had been convinced that President Mohamed Morsi was the legitimate president of Egypt, and that even though I did not vote for him due to my conviction that neither his political experience, his mental capabilities nor his moral make-up qualifies him to rule Egypt, I still considered him not only to be a legitimate president, yet my personal president.
My respect for Mohamed Morsi stemmed from my awareness that his legitimacy emanated from the ballot box, from votes by citizens like myself, despite their different political inclinations. And I was looking forward to the day when another round of elections would come, and I would vote against him again, and hopefully bring him down, a thing which he makes easy for me by his poor administration and his deplorable record in the realms of security, economy, and politics.
Why then did I sign the “Rebel” petition that calls for withdrawing confidence from President Morsi? Why this determination that Morsi does not complete his presidential term, and to hasten another round of presidential elections? This stance does not represent “running away from serious and responsible talk, and an attempt to circumvent the rules of the democratic game,” as some have written, yet it is a form of holding on to the most important and noble demand that this revolution has called for — achieving dignity and putting an end to security violations, including torture and murder.
Some of those who have signed the petition are contesting the president’s failure in restoring safety, and some protest the collapse of the economy, while others object to the lack of sufficient change in Egypt’s foreign policy and the continuation of dependency on the United States and succumbing to Israel. I respect and appreciate these reasons, yet I do not consider them sufficient for calling for the immediate departure of Morsi.
What I regard as a fatal shortcoming by President Morsi is his failure to put an end to the torture practiced by the police forces. The subject of torture, for me, is not one point among a long list of demands. Stopping the practice of torture in Egypt is the key demand that drew me to Tahrir, and that urged me to participate in the revolution and risk my life to achieve it.
I expected that the Muslim Brotherhood, in particular, considering what they experienced in terms of oppression and injustice and torture at the hands of the past regime, would rush to restructure the security sector and put an end to the systemic torture still taking place in police stations, and to turn over those responsible for killing citizens to the authorities. Yet President Morsi and his Brotherhood opted to battle with the judiciary and the media, not the interior ministry, and they have turned a blind eye to daily horrors committed by the police.
I did not go to Tahrir to ask for free and fair elections only, and I did not participate in the revolution to replace the National Democratic Party with the Freedom and Justice Party, or to replace Mohamed Hosni Mubarak with Mohamed Morsi El-Ayat. This revolution started not to change the players, but to change the rules of the game, and the reason of my rebellion against the rule of President Mohamed Morsi is his acceptance of the continued existence of the same game with the same referee.
This is with respect to rebellion. As for my optimism, it emanates from these promising and concerned youth who started this creative initiative and posed a moral challenge to each of us: will you accept the results of the ballot box if it leads to the sacrifice of the most noble goal of the revolution, or will you reconsider, and re-evaluate what the revolution stood for in the first place? The reason for my optimism, then, is this youth, who have surpassed all the religious, political, media and academic elite, and reminded us, once again, that there is a revolution, and that its goals are noble, and that it continues.