Monday, July 8, 2013

Massacre

Today I had planned to writer about my experience staying in Tunis and watching events in Cairo from afar. However, events in Egypt have overtaken this decision.

The Facts: Today the Egyptian military opened fire on a sit-in organized by pro-Morsi forces at the Republican Guard headquarters in the early hours of the morning. During the clash, at least 51 people were killed, with 435 more wounded.

Photos circulating on the Internet of supposed weapons pulled off MB Members. The central items are tear gas canisters fired by the military, not hand grenades.
The details remain hazy. Videos supposedly shot during the clash shows that gunshots came from both sides but the Army did most of the shooting, which accounts for the casualties among the pro-Morsi demonstrators. Currently, there is no clear evidence of who shot first or what sparked the violence. Independent journalist, Sharif Kouddous, has reported that the majority of the victims had gunshot wounds to the head and chest, pointing to the fact that the army targeted the demonstrators with deadly force. In contrast, an Army spokesperson during a press conference this afternoon claimed that an armed group of terrorists attacked Republican Guard headquarters with live ammunition, bird shot and grenades. He went on to argue that "the Armed Forces have not taken any exceptional measures against any protester in the past days."

Accusation are flying fast back and forth. While it may take several days to learn the full truth about these events, the military's account seems to strain credulity. They have shown one video of protesters firing at the military that was clearly filmed in the daytime, not at 4AM in the morning. At the very least, the Egyptian military opened fire on its own citizens with complete disregard for the possible loss of life. At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood tried to build sympathy by circulating photos of dead children, which were clearly not from the demonstration. In doing so, they have further damaged their own credibility.

While this event has been horrific enough, the aftermath has been equally disturbing, revealing the deep political divide that is developing in Egypt. Some of the opposition has reached such a level of strident polemics against the Muslim Brotherhood that they are openly defending the violence against the MB, standing firmly on the side of the military. Their hatred towards the MB seems to excuse any act, no matter how brutal and violent. While there is plenty for which to criticize the MB, no one deserves to be gunned down in the street.

One of the other repugnant developments following this massacre is that the police and military are using it to white-wash their own deployable history during the revolution. They are trying to paint the armed wings of the state as the victims in light of this most recent violence rather than as the perpetrators. During the revolution, many Egyptians turned on the police after they brutally suppressed the demonstrations in the name of order, supporting the rule of Hosni Mubarak. The police are utilizing this massacre to try to regain their lost credibility, claiming they are defenders of the revolution as they try to strangle it. In addition, the crimes of the military are equally well known and I have discussed them previously. The army and police standing shoulder to shoulder today seemed to be declaration of war against a society free of fear.

Others in the West seem to comment with glib satisfaction about the violence in Egypt. Celebrating such a loss of life is repugnant regardless of the context. It is even more so when it is used to reinforce some kind of stereotype about the nature of "Arabs."

How does one make sense of such events? On many occasions the great Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, expressed the fact that poetry is necessary in a world devastated by violence and strife. He argued that "against barbarity, poetry can resist only by confirming its attachment to human fragility like a blade of grass growing on a wall while armies march by."

In bleak times like this, I turn to poetry although I am not poet nor do I have a poet's soul. Politics alone seem empty and devoid of answers. The Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani decried the violence of the state in the poem “Footnotes to the Book of Setback":

If I knew I’d come to no harm,
And could see the Sultan,
This is what I would say:
“Sultan,
Your wild dogs have torn my clothes
Your spies hound me
Their eyes hound me
Their noses hound me
Their feet hound me
They hound me like Fate
Interrogate my wife
And take down the name of my friends.
Sultan,
When I came close to your walls
And talked about my pains,
Your soldiers beat me with their boots,
Forced me to eat my shoes.
   ...
   Sultan,
Half of our people are without tongues,
What’s the use of a people without tongues?
Half of our people
Are trapped like ants and rats
Between walls."
  
If you would forgive my presumption, I would add to Nizar Qabbani's words...
If I knew I’d come to no harm
I’d tell him:
"Sultan,
You shot your brothers
Their blood pooled on the pavement
And you called them "terrorists"
You raped and beat your sisters
And you called them "whores"
You silenced your people with iron and steel
You are not fit to rule"

Nizar Qabbani finished the poem:
We want an angry generation
To plough the sky
To blow up history
To blow up our thoughts.
We want a new generation
That does not forgive mistakes
That does not bend.
We want a generation of giants

We now have an angry generation that has finally blown up history, sweeping aside the old tyrants and sultans. However, this upheaval can only create real change if the old despots are not replaced by new ones. This is not the first time that Egyptians have been murdered by their government. I implore those who read this not to forget such tragedies. Right now, I only hope that we can put history back together. The future remains unclear but as always I hope for the best.

The Revolution continues without me...