Cairo: Ideals that have fueled the revolutionary forces in Egypt are being continuously tested, especially when the question of how to treat enemies is posed: with the principles of equality and freedom revolutionaries paid blood for or with the same repressive practices of the regime they loathe?
This week, TV host Tawfiq Okasha, who has made a living out of selling falsities and baseless libelous accusations, is facing investigations. El-Faraeen, the channel he owns, has been ordered shut. He’s accused of insulting President Mohamed Morsi, incitement to kill the president, and an attempt to overthrow the incumbent regime.
Many people, including myself, would love to see Okasha off the air. The foul language he used against activists and politicians and the lies he spewed through the Faraeen are enough reasons. He’s been a corner stone in the battle against Egypt’s ongoing revolution. A proper investigation could probably link assaults on activists with his inflammatory incitement.
But Okasha isn’t being questioned for this. He’s facing a possible trial for taking on Morsi. The charges he’s facing could very much be applied on all activists, either now, in the future or in retrospect when protestors took to the streets against then-president Hosni Mubarak.
The paradox of turning a blind eye to, but also cheering for, the violations of the very same freedom of expression protesters have been calling for is undeniable. This stance is an indirect sanctioning of the consequent prosecution of activists and opposition politicians under the same pretext.
Egyptian activists were put to the test before and the majority aced it. When blogger Maikel Nabil was sentenced to three years in a military tribunal last year, they campaigned for his release. They put aside their disagreements with his pro-Israeli views and defended his right to freedom of expression.
Many are struggling with applying the same moral approach to Okasha, but a minority is speaking against the grain. It’s easy to see the underlying reluctance in their arguments — at the end of the day no one wants to lead a campaign in support of the man that has cussed them on air — but the righteous voices are there.
However, the argument of awarding your enemies the rights they’ve been denying you isn’t a simple black or white one, especially when put in the bigger regional context and in application in real life.
Syria is facing the same question. The regime’s violent response to the initially peaceful uprising forced protesters to take up arms. And now the Free Syrian Army, battling Bashar Al-Assad’s crackdown, is accused of committing atrocities not much different from the regime’s.
When Libya’s Moamar Qaddafi was killed by the fighters that arrested him, many cried foul. Journalists who have been on the frontlines in Libya last year told me they could nonetheless understand how this happened. The atrocities these fighters were subjected to led them to kill the dictator responsible for the death of their friends and their life-long suffering once they see him.
In theory, it’s counterproductive to use the same immoral and inhumane practices you have fought against and to abandon justice you’ve complained about its absence once you hold the gun. But in the heat of the battle, the moral lines are blurred and voices of reason are hushed by the brutality of the very same battle.
In Egypt, those trying to protect pro-regime thugs or thieves caught during protests were always a minority, their voices dwarfed by angry demonstrators who want retaliation for their fallen brethren.
In political battles, some activists see that the only way to uproot corruption is to use the same laws they want to abolish. The ideals they’ve been calling for can wait until the page is turned, and can’t be indiscriminately applied while the old corrupt regime is still in place, they argue.
They could be right, but this approach gets complicated — and dangerous— with the infusion of politics. Selective justice means the continuity of the oppressive regime, albeit under different leadership. The Muslim Brotherhood, to which Morsi is affiliated, suffered from the injustice of military tribunals but failed to abolish the practice once they held legislative powers, probably because their members were safe from these courts. The MB’s recent campaign against Okasha, although supported by other forces, isn’t driven by the love of factual and accurate reporting; the MB used similar treacherous rhetoric against rivals.
At one point, the debate shifts from idealism versus realism to that of opportunism. It’s difficult to go back to the altruistic principles once they’ve been sacrificed for momentary gains. And that’s only the first step in that downhill path.
During the fiercest security crackdowns on protesters over the past 18 months, graffiti of Friedrich Nietzsche’s words surfaced as people exchanged the Arabic translation of his quotation: “Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one.”
It might be difficult to apply but it’s important to keep reminding ourselves with it. Both the activists and the regime figures they are fighting are the product of the same rotten society whose injustice led to an uprising. Sometimes, the fight starts much closer to home, by preventing this sinister legacy from informing our stances.