Umm…That’s Not Exactly How It’s Supposed To Work

In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful

This week, the Egyptian people went to the polls to vote on whether or not to change the country’s constitution to allow multi-candidate elections for the first time in Egypt’s more than 5,000 year history. I believe it was overwhelmingly approved by voters. It was a great day for Egypt and her Egyptians, and as an American of Egyptian descent, I can’t help but be both happy and proud of the people with whom I share a majestic ancestry.

But, for all the happiness I felt, it was not without some glitches, and it did not go exactly as I would have liked (to put it mildly). Daniel Williams, foreign service reporter for the Washington Post, wrote an article covering the events surrounding the vote on May 25, 2005. I’ll let him tell us what happened in his own words:

Officials of President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, or NDP,
led hundreds of young men who attacked anti-government demonstrators.
Journalists and witnesses at the scene of several incidents, including this
correspondent, saw riot police create corridors for stick-wielding men to
freely charge the demonstrators. Women were particular targets, with at
least five pulled from the mass of mostly male demonstrators on the steps of
the Journalists’ Syndicate in central Cairo and subjected to slaps, punches,
kicks and groping. The blouses of at least two were ripped.

The reporter witnessed one of said incidents, and he recounted it in the article:

At the entrance of the Journalists’ Syndicate building, which houses the
government-controlled union of reporters along with other professional unions,
Kifaya protesters had filled a marble staircase. The demonstrators shouted
“Enough!” and “Mubarak is a traitor.” They also chanted, “The Americans have
sold us out,” in reference to the Bush administration’s endorsement of Mubarak’s

Below on the street, riot police dressed in black stood in rows, helmets on
their heads and truncheons at their sides. Within a few minutes, marchers
appeared carrying banners decorated with NDP emblems and pro-Mubarak slogans.
The marchers shouted, “Come out, you cowards” and “We are Egyptians.” They also
shouted, “With our blood and with our soul, we will defend you, oh Mubarak.”

This correspondent saw police let the pro-government marchers approach the
Kifaya demonstrators. The police then pulled back from the building, apparently
to give the attackers more space to fit in front of the staircase. As the
pro-Mubarak marchers gathered for a charge, the Kifaya demonstrators chanted,
“Here come the thugs” and “Twenty pounds, twenty pounds,” the price they said
such provocateurs would receive from the NDP. Twenty Egyptian pounds is the
equivalent of about $3.50.

Finally, the pro-government marchers charged up the staircase. Whenever a
Kifaya activist was pointed out, young men would grab him and pummel him to the
ground. Eventually, Kifaya protesters were driven into the building. Some women
escaped out a side exit, but a group of young men set upon Rabaab Mahdy, a
political science professor at Cairo University, who had led some of the
anti-Mubarak chants and who stayed behind at the entrance to the building’s

The men pressed Mahdy against the shields of riot police, who refused to
either move or help her. The assailants slapped and punched her until she
slumped to the pavement. Some of her attackers appeared as young as 20.

“They put their hands in every conceivable place. I was basically sexually abused,”
she said later in an interview. Mahdy escaped when plainclothes officers
intervened and pushed her through the police cordon.

Umm, that’s not exactly how its supposed to work. Magdi Allam, an official of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, was quoted by the Washington Post as saying, “We cannot accept that the international media consider Kifaya [Arabic for “enough”] as representative of the Egyptian street. We have the right to demostrate in the same place.” I have no problem with that. I do, however, have a problem with beating up and groping supporters of the political opposition.

One of the pro-Mubarak organizers, Sameh Wekin, denied that his supporters hit women. But he did defend hitting the men: “We hit the rude ones.” His response reminded me of an Egyptian saying: “Al ‘uthru aqbahu min ath-thamb,” or “the excuse is uglier than the sin itself.” There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with one’s political or other views. There is something very wrong, however, with being violently disagreeable. What happened in Cairo is reprehensible, and authorities must do all they can to stop such violence, not goad it on and protect the perpetrators.

Attacking opposition supporters is immoral, illegal, and most importantly un-Islamic. That is not how democracy is supposed to work. Not by a long shot.


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