Against violence

It is horrific to watch military and CSF forces ganging up on defenseless citizens, on people who are actually running away without the least wish to engage in a fight. It is no less horrific, for me at least, to see civilians attacking soldiers separated from their group just as viciously. But security forces are armed and meant to maintain a degree of discipline, to follow some strategy towards a specific objective. That discipline is utterly lacking in the ongoing street-battles, nor is any strategic objective evident. This is mob behavior on both sides, creating a cycle of violence that threatens to undermine whatever chances Egypt stands of achieving some sort of equilibrium until an elected government takes charge, empowered by a new constitution.

Meanwhile, the rhetoric flies as to what the SCAF is up to, why such force is being used when it damages their already scarred image and does nothing to achieve the assumed goals of "protecting the state" or ensuring public order. Do they wish to emerge as heroes, by crushing an "insurgency" they’ve successfully rendered unpopular? Or are they slipping up while trying to put out fires on too many fronts? No one was better positioned to demand answers to these questions than the SCAF-selected Advisory Council. Yet these men and women of conscience have somehow decided the best way to display their moral fortitude is to resign. This indignant withdrawal from responsibility happens over and over: boycott the vote, stop the campaigning, resign from the committee and do what instead? Make noise.

It should be clear by now — although no one has bothered to mention it — that the right to peacefully protest will not be granted and must be won, but that this can only be done be excluding violence altogether from the equation. To continue to engage the security forces is to descend to their brutish level and offer them an excuse to strike harder still. The loss of lives, property and patrimony is nothing to those in power. It is the people who lose these battles in a thousand irretrievable ways. A peaceful alternative exists, but it will take more than rage and testosterone to get it going.

The young men who are soldiers and CSF members, many of them underprivileged and undereducated, have their own rage to discharge, and it is being cynically used as a weapon, pitting those who "belong" to the system against those who wish to challenge it.  It is painful to see, in the midst of a sadistic melee, a few soldiers attempting to cover a woman’s exposed body, or else to call off their fellows who seem to have gone quite mad. Notice how old men and women are generally left untouched. There is still decency in the ranks of these soldiers. Some know they’re being used and hate it. How many might disobey orders too morally repugnant to bear, if they could no longer be justified by a single thrown stone?

Passive resistance on a meaningful scale takes discipline, bravery and a commitment to shared values — just like an army. The values at the heart of the current conflict — for the right to peaceful protests, for due process in civilian courts and equitably applied justice — are wholly legitimate and widely shared. But if they are to be realized then the fragmented arguments circling them must transform into a concerted effort, a broad-based movement encompassing every element of the political spectrum. If nothing else, the recent violence has helped political opinion to coalesce in this regard; everyone condemns the SCAF’s actions, even though no one is confronting it publicly, face-to-face, with the facts in a way that cannot be denied.

People wanting to secure their rights must decide if sacrificing lives in this tragically inchoate fashion is the best way to go about it. Yes, you must fight and form an army of your own, but an army of lovers, lovers of Egypt, a nation of people whose essentially peace-loving nature has helped it last this long. (Ibn Khaldun’s concept of asabiyya, solidarity or group feeling, once so characteristic of Egypt, comes to mind.) It would take some time, leadership and work, but not much money. You’d spread the word, tell the truth and have the patience to wait for the right moments to act. You’d wear a sign that you belong, an indication that you stand for an Egypt where everyone is guaranteed basic rights, and a proof of your commitment to helping — not hurting — your fellows in these hard times and those harder ones sure to come.

I bet many Egyptians at home right now watching TV with dismay or disapproval would join that army. In fact, I bet millions already belong and would ask nothing better than to make it official. I wonder who will speak for them, who will have the courage — and the brains — to remind people of who they are, of their time-honored humanity and joie de vivre,of how much of it they’ve lost and are still losing through anger and divisiveness.

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