As the first anniversary of the clashes of Mohamed Mahmoud approaches, my social media timelines are bombarded with the images of the martyrs who died there and how we should never forget until we get back their rights. As the pictures and the names keep rolling in, it becomes impossible to distinguish the faces and the names anymore, and all that you are left with is a blurry memory and a sense of helplessness and guilt for being alive and unable to get their rights back. You are then left with two questions: 1) how do we get the rights of the martyrs back and, more importantly, 2) what does that even mean?
When revolutionaries talk about it, it’s placed in the following context: desire for justice for those who died, a quest for revenge and accountability against those who killed them. However, nobody wants to publically admit that both are impossible at this point.
Judicial justice would require having real investigations into the conditions of their deaths from the day they died, which didn’t happen, and would also require non-corrupt police and judicial institutions to transact this justice, which we don’t have either, and it doesn’t seem like we will have any time soon, since we haven’t made any real efforts in that area for the past year and a half. And once you reconcile those two realisations, you are then hit with the third: in the context of the revolution, there is really no such thing as the rights of, or justice for, the martyrs.
When we went down in 18 days or in the subsequent events of the revolution, we knew that we were placing ourselves in the face of mortal danger, and we had implicitly reconciled ourselves with the fact that we might die for the cause of getting rid of Mubarak/military rule. We were soldiers in a war, not looking for martyrdom but knew that death was always a possibility with the regime we are dealing with. And we were also OK with that, if our death was the price that needed to be paid for a better Egypt: one with functional institutions, better governance, and a future
The supreme majority of us survived it physically mostly unharmed (psychologically most of us are still reeling), but there are those who didn’t and were martyrs for that cause, a cause that we are nowhere near achieving. And instead of focusing on it, we are fighting to bring their killers to a justice that is administered by institutions that facilitated their deaths.
The revolutionaries figured out before anyone else that most of our governmental institutions were mirages of the real deal and beyond reform, and set their sights at exposing them and destroying their credibility, which is fine, but only half of the equation. The other unfulfilled half was the building of parallel institutions with policies and methods that actually function to replace those that were being destroyed. And we had the people as well, some of the best young minds in their fields who wanted to do it, but they were dragged into protest, and then sit-ins, and then battle, reducing them to numbers and cannon fodder in battles that both sides would lose.
Those who attempted to build those institutions or form new ones were scoffed at, were told that this isn’t the time for such endeavors, labeled reformists or sell-outs, and guilt tripped into participation for their desire to not leave their friends and comrades alone in danger. And then, the inevitable conclusion: nothing got built, the institutions got destroyed, but with nothing to replace them with they were left to continue to function, and we ended up with even more martyrs on our hands.
You don’t destroy a state unless you are ready or willing to built one to replace it, the same way you don’t start a revolution unless you intend on ruling, but we had symbols and an intelligentsia who steered us to the path we were in, side-battle after side-battle instead of focusing on winning the war, because they simply couldn’t stop being the opposition. They had won, removed Mubarak, and were still protesting and making demands, instead of enforcing their will as winners.
We followed them because we couldn’t comprehend the truth at the time: they didn’t have the desire, capacity, knowledge or experience to rule or build institutions; they just wanted to stay as the opposition. If you think I am too harsh, consider this: they are the same people who told us to vote in for Mursi - a president whose values and goals have nothing to do with us or theirs- so we can oppose him later, and are now opposing him. Joy.
The martyrs wanted accountability, not just for their deaths, but for those who die daily due to our governments’ ineptitude. They wanted justice, not just over their murder, but for every single Egyptian who would survive them. They wanted not to be forgotten, but not as our fallen comrades, but as the price we had to pay for our complacency towards tyranny and corruption.
The martyrs died for a better Egypt, one that they entrusted us to build and wanted their memory to fuel our desire to do so, and we didn’t. And had we did, had we done the work, built the state we wanted, we could’ve had a shot to actually bring justice to their killers, instead of simply demanding it.
The battle to bring justice to them is a symptom of a disease, not the disease itself, and we occupied ourselves with the symptoms instead of treating the disease. We are not responsible for their deaths, we didn’t kill them, but we did nothing real to bring true justice to them, and that is our guilt. That’s what we have to live with.
(The writer is a columnist at Daily News Egypt, where this article was published on Nov. 12, 2012)