A few weeks ago, one of the worst episodes of mob violence I have heard of in Egypt’s recent history occurred. Not too far from Cairo’s bustling in center, a man and two of his friends were brutally murdered by a mob. Their crime? They were Shia, followers of a certain religious ideology that wasn’t to the liking of their executioners. Days earlier, president Morsi had been present at a big open-air meeting with his followers and supporters to talk about Syria. In his presence, people came to the stage, inciting hatred and sectarianism. He did nothing.
Now, many bearded men (beards being trait marks of Muslim Brotherhood members in particular and Islamists in general in the public perception) have reported being harassed on the streets. The tide has turned and the Muslim Brotherhood is now in the shoes of the despised minority, the one vulnerable to mob violence. In fact, just a few days ago, they had to be escorted out of a mosque they were staying in since angry crowds had gathered outside threatening their safety. The very conspiracy theories they helped spread while in power are now being used against them, the rhetoric of inciting and condoning violence has continued, except now they are the object, not the subject of the hate speech.
Mohammed Morsi was the first elected president after the revolution, his victory came in a very polarized time where the votes were split 50/50. Instead of realizing the magnitude of the country’s problems, whether social or economic, Morsi completely ignored former promises for reconciliation and comprise and instead pursued a course that could eventually only lead to collision. After having alienated the judiciary and the media, the former president ultimately alienated the very democracy that brought him to power by issuing a Constitutional Declaration placing himself above judicial scrutiny and appointing a so-called ‘Private’ Prosecutor. He tried justifying this extreme disrespect for the very foundations of the state by claiming revolutionary legitimacy to do so.
And so, months later, the Army, in a turn of irony worthy of Egypt, proclaimed to be deposing the president with so-called revolutionary legitimacy as well. The legitimacy they felt was granted to them by the millions who took to the streets demanding the departure of the regime, in scenes reminiscent to those of January 25th, 2011.
As tragic as this rise of populism is, coupled with a rhetoric riddled with conspiracy theories and completely void of reason and realism, there is an important lesson to be learned. When liberals demanded a limit to state power, a fair Constitution that doesn’t discriminate and true protections for human rights, they were ignored. Those who were in power, the Muslim Brotherhood, likely never imagined they would fall from grace so soon. They never imagined that they’d be indiscriminately called terrorists and people would justify their indiscriminate killing. They probably didn’t imagine some would be asking for their political exclusion by law, such as the law they used in order to exclude old regime members when they came to power.
The golden rule goes like this: “Do to others what you would have done unto you.” The lesson out of all of this for Egypt is that the system is more important than the actors on the stage. With a system of checks and balances, decentralization, rule of law and respect for individual liberty, minorities have as little to fear as majorities. Their rights are considered as holy and they know that a safe, stable and prosperous future is dependent upon the reciprocity of those fundamental principles. Instead of falling into the pit of hateful vengeance, Egyptians need to step back, see what got us here and make sure they don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. For those who light fires are too often eventually engulfed by the flames themselves once the winds turn.
As an advocate for my generation, I see an obligation to protect the democratic process, with appropriate checks, regardless of who is in power.
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