The ‘Right to Protest’ is fundamental, it is one of the very pillars upon which any democracy is built and to seek to undermine, or prevent citizens from exercising their natural and constitutional rights is a dangerous step on the road to autocracy.
It matters not whether the protest is justified, what matter is that citizens have the right to oppose, the right to challenge, and the right to demand change.
Numerous governments in numerous countries have sought to undermine such rights and prevent popular protest, and such governments have quite rightly received condemnation internationally for such actions. Conversely however, there are those Governments that appear to escape the ire of the international community, ministers seemingly be content to turn a blind eye where interests appear to compete.
There are those governments however who do not merely seek to restrict a constitutional and fundamental right, but actively seek to punish or in the worst cases, eliminate those that dare voice an opposing position.
There are then those governments that deem the massacring of civilians as a justified response to such protest. Such a step being beyond those words that would be used in ordinary discourse.
Appalling, horrific, shocking, are all such words that might be used, but somehow, they do not accurately convey the horror of what has been witnessed.
In this vein, how do we accurately convey or describe what the world witnessed 8 years ago in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square Square Egypt, and by extension, how do we go on to accurately vocalise our outrage at the fact that not one person has been held responsible for that which occurred and that which continues to occur in the Dictatorship that is today’s Egypt.
On 14 August 2013 tens of thousands of civilians took part in a ‘sit-in’ protest in Rabaa and Nahda squares in Cairo, their motivation being the coup d’état that forcibly removed President Morsi and his Government, Morsi who was imprisoned following the coup, and has subsequently died in prison, his treatment amounting to an extra-judicial killing, and therefore the responsibility of the State.
Whether President Morsi was a good president is immaterial, whether people agree with the policies of his party, and for that matter, the Muslim Brotherhood, is an irrelevance. The salient point is that citizens of a supposedly democratic nation were exercising their right to protest against the ignorance of democratic principles and the military removal of the first democratically elected President of Egypt.
The response of the Sisi regime was not to simply ‘break-up’ the protest, but to open fire and systematically execute those present, resulting in over 1100 deaths, 1100 prima facie counts of murder, 1100 citizens losing their lives for the crime of protesting and opposing that which was occurring in their own country.
8 years on impunity reigns supreme in Egypt, however the position is more sinister than it being a simple case of refusing to acknowledge and investigate that which occurred.
In 2018 the Egyptian parliament passed legislation that sought to prevent those responsible from being prosecuted for that which occurred, and grant them immunity for any crimes committed. Not only is there an accepted ignorance of that which occurred, but what can only be described to be a brutal regime has sought to entrench that impunity within the law.
A cynic might suggest that in doing so, Sisi has ensured the loyalty of those involved and thus furthered his grasp on power and tightened the protection of the military around him.
This does not help the families of those that were murdered however, nor does it help the tens of thousands of innocent civilians remaining in prison in conditions so inhumane as to amount to torture, their only crime being to have either opposed, or be seen as opposing, the Sisi regime.
It is in such situations where we look to the international community to bring its power, to use its influence to ensure that similar situations do not arise in the future, and further, that those that have arisen are punished accordingly.
Action has been taken in terms of North Korea with the imposition of sanctions, similarly, action has been taken in terms of Syria and the atrocities witnessed there.
Where are the sanctions or the ostracisation for Egypt. Is the erosion and/or complete removal of fundamental rights and freedom in Egypt less than that which other countries have sustained, I think not.
With the parallels between situations in various countries and the disparity between treatment by the international community, the hypocrisy of nations is laid bare.
The UK, the US, and the EU have once again been found wanting, and again, its rhetoric committing to protect and advance the human rights of people internationally has been found to be just that, words and platitudes without any action being taken.
If the leaders of the ‘western world’ wish to portray themselves as the protector of human rights then actions must follow its words, as their words thus far have been entirely meaningless.