One Year After the Massacre: Hope for Egypt?

08/15/2014 05:06 pm ET | Updated Oct 15, 2014
Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Egypt's current rulers and many among their supporters seem to believe that it is possible to get rid of all those who constitute a thorn in their side and slaughter their opponents en masse, then live happily ever after.

They often stress that they are hopeful and remind pessimists that the glass is half-full, citing what they claim to be positive steps taken by the country's rulers to restore stability and boost the economy.

In their optimism, they echo statements by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and government officials, as well as the rhetoric used by pro-regime pundits whose interventions and analysis dominate TV channels owned by the country's most influential business tycoons.

It is understandable that many Egyptians are longing for stability after three years of turbulence. Since the January 2011 uprising, the country has suffered from an economic crisis and a high unemployment rate -- not to mention the recurrent protests that have disturbed citizens' daily routine and the violence that not only dominates the Sinai peninsula but also spills over to the capital and other major cities. Perhaps many Egyptians want to cling to hope against hope, leaving behind three years of deaths, mourning and instability. They remain proud about ousting a president who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood group, which is seen by some as a cult and a dubiously secret organization that wants to bring down Egypt, and look forward to a new, Muslim Brotherhood-free Egypt.

This hope is delusional and shallow. One year ago, on Aug. 14, 2013, Egyptian security forces killed at least 813 demonstrators who had camped at the Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square in protest to the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. The massacre, as it was labeled by Human Rights Watch, was backed by a considerable segment of the population, who took to the streets answering a call made by then-Defense Minister Sisi to hold mass demonstrations to give him the mandate to confront violence and terrorism.

One year on, the country is far from being safer, more stable or demonstrably able to find a way out of the economic crisis.

Even from a pragmatic point of view, with human rights violations and the necessity for justice put aside, no progress looms in the horizon. In the past year, the Sinai has been rocked by one bombing and militant attack after another notwithstanding the Ministry of Defense's operations against Salafi Jihadi groups in the peninsula. The latest such attack erupted last month when gunmen killed 21 Egyptian soldiers at a border checkpoint. Cairo and other big cities have witnessed a series of deadly attacks as well.

Moreover, sporadic anti-regime protests have not disappeared, even if they have significantly faded.

The rule of law, which has been propagated by the president and his supporters as an alleged justification for the authorities' crackdown on dissidents, is far from upheld. One particularly flagrant and ironic incident occurred when a number of pro-Sisi women were subjected to massive sexual assaults in the midst of celebrations of his inauguration.

On the economic front, the picture does not seem to be less ambiguous, not only because of the political instability that poses a challenge for economic development, but also due to the apparent absence of vision and the lack of transparency regarding the economy. Neither the president nor the prime minister, an engineer and former head of a state-owned contracting company, possess a proven background on economics. Despite its popularity and its reputation among many Egyptians for being one of the state's more efficient arms, the military -- from which the president hails -- has been the subject of a comical scandal when it, expectedly, failed to fulfill its promise of providing an alleged invention that would cure hepatitis C and HIV patients. The secrecy of the army's budget is protected by virtue of the 2014 constitution. In the past months, the military has been directly awarded several projects by the government, the latest of which has been the mega project of the Suez Canal expansion, which will be partially executed by the army. In a country that has been marred by prevalent corruption for over a decade, the military establishment (whom the government directly awards major contracts) subcontracts its projects to privately owned contractors by direct award of contracts, not through tenders.

It continues to enjoy significant popularity, though. The military and President Sisi have millions of Egyptians behind them. But their supporters do not constitute a comfortable majority. Egypt's social and political spheres are sharply divided. The president himself encourages this polarization by constantly addressing his supporters exclusively in his speeches and accusing his opponents of aiding a conspiracy to bring down Egypt.

While there is a considerable segment of Egyptians who do back the president and his controversial policies and measures against dissidence, many others reject the killing of fellow Egyptians. Sisi's supporters had better take note that the grievances of the victims' loved ones and sympathizers will not just vanish; the dark legacy of the Rabaa massacre will continue to haunt the country's future until justice is made.

The president, the military and the security apparatus -- as well the masses who back them -- need to realize (if they haven't already) that slaughtering hundreds of their opponents and detaining thousands more cannot leave the country safer or place it on a track for development. As a first step, they must acknowledge the crime committed against Morsi's supporters and see it for what it really is -- a massacre, one of the most brutal crimes in Egypt's recent history.

An independent investigation into the killing of Morsi's supporters must be conducted. The choice of the judges who will conduct this investigation and the judicial procedures via which it will be conducted must be agreed on by all sides. The judges who will carry out this investigation must enjoy immunity, judicial authority and full access to information, including about and through the military and the state's intelligence and security apparatuses. The findings of such investigation must be made public.

Additionally, the public must be informed about the results of all previous fact-finding missions that were formed to investigate the killing and abuse of scores of others protesters in separate incidents since January 25, 2011; those incidents, which are by no means comparable in magnitude and gravity to the Rabbaa massacre, occurred under the rule of both the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and former president Mohammed Morsi. Transparency measures must also adopted regarding the killings of tens of army soldiers and security officers in the past few years.

As Egypt continues to be mired in violence and injustice, no side has yet shown willingness for dialogue and reconciliation. Injustice breeds injustice and chaos because it pushes victims to seek justice outside the formal legal system and beyond a collectively agreed upon framework for the rule of law. So, the longer it takes for all sides to reach an agreement, which must involve holding those responsible for crimes accountable, the higher the price that will be paid by all Egyptians will be.