We used to work together in the same company during the 25 January Revolution, a genius upper-middle class young man in his mid-twenties and I was his manager. We would run into each other in Tahrir Square chanting the same slogans of “bread, freedom and social justice”, and carrying the same banners demanding change.
After the curfews were over and everyone went back to work, we both belonged to those groups who would sometimes head to the square after we were done with work, and on Fridays. We would then meet at the office and have long conversations on the events unfolding in the country. We were also both a bit naïve with regards to the intentions of the armed forces, believing they did actually succumb to the “people’s will”, although he was a tad more sceptical than I was.
The difference between us, and it was quite minor back then, that he came from a family that believed in the Muslim Brotherhood and he was a religious young man, while I believed in a secular civil state. We never had a problem discussing such matters, and just as he was neither a hardliner nor ultra conservative, we agreed on the basis of democracy.
This young man didn’t always follow the Muslim Brotherhood’s instructions when it came to mobilisations. For example, he joined the protests during the famous Mohamed Mahmoud events in 2011 which the Brotherhood back then declined to join, for fear over the upcoming parliamentary elections. That is an important distinction for revolutionary Egyptians, as those who declined to join those events were the politicised hardline Brotherhood followers. He was not. He was considered to be the “good” youth of the Brotherhood, that refused injustices and rejected spilling Egyptian blood no matter whose blood it was.
His father was killed in the Rabaa [Al-Adaweya] sit-in massacre. For a while, the young man and his family struggled to get his father’s body to be buried. The ordeal took its toll on him, and the bitterness started. His younger brother who was a university student did not take all that very well, and started joining in the post-Rabaa massacre protests against the armed forces.
One day, the 19 year-old brother disappeared. For weeks, his family searched for him in every police station and detention facility and morgue. In that tour, they witnessed heartbreaking stories of young men and women being held; they also met other families looking for their sons and daughters. They saw mothers and wives crying over the tortured bodies of their dead loved ones.
Eventually he found his young brother, after weeks of torture at some detention facility. He could tell the torture was brutal by the marks on his brother’s face and body. They were then informed that the student was facing charges of terrorism and that his trial was due in a few days. By then, and because of the extended absence from work along with his psychological status, our friend was out of a job. He did not appear to mind the unemployment much, being too busy with his mother and sister who lost a husband/father and his tortured brother in detention facing terrorism charges.
The trial was postponed over and over, and for months the brother remained imprisoned in cells that are not fit for humans, and guards who enjoy mistreating detainees. All this time, our friend continued to suffer from harassment by the security forces for having a family of Brotherhood followers, on top of the ordeal to obtain permits to visit his young brother which always resulted in him seeing the deterioration of his brother’s physiological and psychological health.
The detained man’s university exams were upcoming and our friend was tasked with the almost impossible job to get him a permit to attend his exams. After much suffering, the permit was obtained and the student was accompanied to his exams with the worst examples of policemen. Harassing him, beating him on the way to the exam, insulting him and his family, and this was witnessed by our friend who was allowed to accompany his brother for a brief period. Neither him nor the brother could utter a word for that might mean he wouldn’t get to take his exam, and might also mean worse mistreatment once he got back to his cell.
The student succeeded in his exam but lost his future, for he was handed 15 years in jail for protesting amongst a bunch of other charges along with over 50 other accused during the same trial, one of the many travesties of justice in Egypt’s courtrooms.
Harassment of our friend and his mother and sister continued and so they fled the country. He remained on Facebook for a while and I could see the change.
My genius sweet colleague has become a bloody, vengeful, bitter man. He has joined the flock of those who rejoice at the murder of police officers, judges and soldiers. He is hailing the Almighty every time a death toll is announced. He is praying for God’s strength to be given to those “martyrs” dying for the cause. He goes on and on about jihad in Islam against those infidel murderers. He also calls for the heads of their supporters, from government officials to idiotic pro-army demonstrators. Right now, I do not think he minds killing his neighbour if he was a mere verbal supporter of the regime. Thankfully, he is not in the country and has been off Facebook for a while, because it is heartbreaking to read his posts and witness what he has become.
But can you, in clear conscience, blame him? How many times have we been told that violence breeds violence, and that injustice is the mother of terrorism? Dr Amy Zalman, the global terrorism expert, said that all terrorist acts are motivated by two things: 1. Social and political injustice 2. The belief that only violence or its threat will be effective, and usher in change.
Our rulers still deny this fact and continue to breed violence completely oblivious or uncaring of what that leads to. There are almost five million Brotherhood sympathisers in Egypt, given the parliamentary and presidential elections figures. The number might have decreased after the Brotherhood’s rule indeed, but how much? A few hundred thousands are enough to turn this country upside down. We should also count those who are not Brotherhood sympathisers but had their loved ones go through the same suffering. The families and friends of the tortured, murdered, unjustly imprisoned will be bitter enough to hate everyone else, and hatred is the root of evil. Does no one in this regime see that? Calls for dialogue and reconciliation are met with “supporting terrorism” accusations. It is baffling how the call for peace is deemed “terrorism” and the call for blood is viewed as the solution to end violence!
Rana Allam is former Editor-in-Chief of Daily News Egypt and commentator on Egyptian affairs