Notes on Rabaa: revolt does not happen in a vacuum

  • August 17, 2014

Authority & Abolition

One year after the Rabaa massacre, Egypt’s prisons are full of dissidents of all political stripes. If we don’t stop this, we face a future of horrors.

This piece was originally published on Mada Masr.

I met Bassem Mohsen for a few moments in July 2013. He was upbeat and hopeful that the army had taken hold of power from the Muslim Brotherhood.

I remember being surprised by his quick optimism. He believed that these generals were different than those who had ruled during the period of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, following former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. After all, they had deposed our most recent nemesis, the Muslim Brotherhood.

My only and very brief encounter with Bassem left me disappointed. A mutual friend had told me about his constant involvement in all stages of the January 25 revolution. He had already paid the price — he was incarcerated, and then lost his left eye in the critical battle of Mohamed Mahmoud in November 2011. It made me angry that this popular sentiment of black-and-white thinking could be so widespread, even among the most outspoken proponents of the revolt of our times.

Less than a month later, the soldiers Bassem had cheered for carried out a crime as they massacred Muslim Brotherhood supporters at a sit-in at the Rabea al-Adaweya mosque. Thousands killed, thousands injured, thousands arrested — most of whom are still jailed today. The biggest bloodbath the Egyptian army carried out on its own population.

Four months later, Bassem’s body was transferred from his native Suez to Cairo’s Qasr al-Aini hospital after an army sniper’s bullet penetrated his forehead.

At the hospital, his friend Eno, overcome with sorrow, told me that Bassem had joined the Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators that day not in support of their cause, but out of protest against the police and military’s killing spree since taking power. I had been disappointed with what seemed to me Bassem’s simplistic analysis months earlier, but he clearly did not linger long in his short-sighted trust in the generals.

Unlike Bassem, I had opposed the military when they were celebrated into power on July 3. And again, unlike Bassem, I did not take to the street despite my rage at the horrors that ensued. After the decisive divide-and-rule tactic that the military and police generals carried out that July, I drew back, feeling with many around me that we needed to bide our time to be able to speak or to act again. Following a period of naive optimism, Bassem could clearly do no such thing. Injustice was injustice, torture and killing was just that, and he took to the street even if alongside his former enemy.

The coup that Bassem and I oppose not only eventually metamorphosed the Muslim Brotherhood into a terrorist entity, and condemned any other opposition with widespread popular blessing. This legitimization also opened a path of unprecedented police brutality.

Egyptians lost much support in the days following June 30, 2013, when they chanted into power the same police and military forces that they had chased out of it less than three years earlier. The widespread indifference toward the August 14 massacre that accompanied a rising fascistic spirit just confirmed that fall from grace.

One year after the massacre, Egypt’s prisons are full of dissidents and innocents of all political stripes. Every Friday, protesters take to the street against the newly gained power of the police and military. These are not just supporters of the Brotherhood. Hundreds of Bassems pass through the morgues, thousands fill the decrepit cells of the prisons — these are the “unknowns” with the courage to dissent. If these acts of protest are reported at all, the pro-military media will usually paint them wholesale as Muslim Brotherhood members, banned and thus deserving to be captured or killed.

Though I do not affirm the Brotherhood’s cause to return to power, I believe in their right to dissent. All those that risk their bodies, like Bassem, risk the bullet. I will by no means try to justify the shocking actions of Egyptians that started the morning of June 30, the rise of the fascistic, the acceptance of the torment of others. The most powerful tool to these ends is the discourse of terrorism that has fed into the deep fear in the hearts of so many living inside a regime of terror.

There is a vital lesson to be learned in Egypt: no revolt happens in a vacuum. Egypt’s revolutionaries cannot face the local police and military believing that we are unrelated to the incarceration of protesters in Bashar al-Assad’s dungeons, the neo-liberal policies spreading across the globe or black youths shot dead in the inner cities of the United States.

No revolt exists in a vacuum. And in this power balance we are all black, we are the underdogs, we are the wretched still trying to fight ourselves free from the stranglehold of the colonizer, metamorphosed into the prison warden in dark skin and leaders that are our kin, but still hold the whip over our heads. The lesson we must glean is that as our world becomes ever smaller, the weapons that your leaders grant ours are never to be trusted, and must be smashed.

The bombs dropping on Gaza are made far away, and the blood they shed is on the hands of those who do not stop them from reaching the mercenaries. The consequences of sealed borders preventing the dying from receiving some care lie on my shoulders. The twisted tales told by the agencies in your neighborhoods that falsify the history of the outcasts is a responsibility we must bare.

Like Bassem, we must find the courage to try and stop them, or else we prepare a future of horrors.

Rest in peace Bassem. We continue your struggle.

Philip Rizk

Philip Rizk is an independent filmmaker and member of the Mosireen independent media collective in Cairo.

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