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Supporting justice in Egypt - is this possible?

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Is it possible today to stand for universal human rights in Egypt? Can those who do not support the cause of the Muslim Brotherhood be against the use of violence on Egyptian streets?

Dina El Sharnouby
9 September 2013

Recent political events since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi have precipitated a plethora of fundamental social and political problems. The clashes with the Muslim Brotherhood have left many confused in their call for social justice, democracy, and how to bring about change. Should they reconcile with the Muslim Brotherhood or support the dissolving of both the group and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice party? Given the many deaths and the violence that has spread through our streets, Egyptians have been challenged to work out the meaning of life.

Egypt is not only torn by its political disagreements but is driven by the underlying demands for "Bread, Freedom and Social Justice", the slogans of the 25th of January revolution. Overwhelmed by so many deaths, political actors and the population at large now wrestle with this important baseline for building a more just Egypt. And in this context, the release of ousted President Hosni Mubarak poses the biggest challenge. The many years of suppression, human rights violations, and the unequal distribution of wealth that united to bring Egyptians onto the streets on January 25th 2011, have hardly been reflected in Mubarak’s brief period of imprisonment.

The revolution since 2011 has shown that toppling a regime is much easier than building a new one. The simple logic of 2011 is being challenged in 2013 with these events concerning the Muslim Brotherhood. It is becoming hard to define who should be tried first, members of the Muslim Brotherhood who called for violence or those of the Mubarak regime who are the main cause of the very complex dynamics that we are in today. What does it mean to call for justice in this context? If instructions in particular courts of law and justice, media, and even political parties appear to have failed the 25th of January revolution, how can those important demands be raised by the general public?

The April 6th youth movement chose to remind us of the need to stand by the values of the 25th of January revolution, on Wednesday, August 28, 2013, when they staged a protest in front of the syndicate of journalists to critique the release of Mubarak, calling for him to be tried for the political corruption that he and his regime instigated over many years. But this simple reminder seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Instead some criticized the movement assuming that they were supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, simply because they protested at a time where the streets seem to belong to the Muslim Brotherhood. Even though the movement consciously chose a Wednesday instead of the Friday, to differentiate themselves from the Islamists, it did no good. In 2013, you are either with the Muslim Brotherhood, and take your claims to the streets, or against them, in which case you abjure street protest.

Is it possible today to stand for universal human rights in Egypt? Can those who do not support the cause of the Muslim Brotherhood be against the use of violence on Egyptian streets? and the many lives that were taken mostly from supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood? Is it possible for political parties, pressure groups, or movements, now at a very critical time, to hold together around a baseline for social justice, fairness and against violence?

While many disagree with the methods used by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in dissolving the Rabaa' and Al Nahda sit-ins, now a stand for social justice and peacefulness has become harder than it was in 2011. The binaries that have been created in the past few days give little creative opportunity to the general public for the different possibilities of change.

However, the courage to take to the streets on Wednesday against the release of Hosni Mubarak was at least a reminder by the 6th of April movement not to forget why the revolution started. Even though neither of the strategies of staging a protest nor the demand for fairer trials of Muabarak that the movement used were new or creative, the alternative to the stagnant political space is surely refreshing, with a glimpse of the possibility of dialogue and understanding among the different political actors.

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