What did the ‘revolutionary martyrs’ die for?

Amid continuing turmoil in Egypt, Al Jazeera asks if the demands of those who died in the 2011 revolution are being met.

Egypt protest
The 2011 overthrow of dictator Hosni Mubarak came at a high price - more than 800 people were killed [AFP]

Cairo, Egypt – Monday will mark one month since Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi was deposed, an ousting which has triggered four weeks of protests, sit-ins and clashes that have left more than 250 people dead.

His supporters – a coalition of Islamists lead by the Muslim Brotherhood – are holding vigils here in the capital, saying they will remain until Morsi is reinstated – while the government has urged them to clear out, saying their presence poses a threat to national security.

But this is only the latest instalment in the tale of Egypt’s upheaval, which started in the 2011 revolution that saw the overthrow of dictator Hosni Mubarak.

The crisis has polarised the country between Morsi’s backers and those who support the military, which, General Abdel Fattah El Sisi says, has a mandate to fight “terrorists”.

The political rift has left the faces and names of the January 2011 martyrs – who came from all walks of life and political affiliations – to fade into history, despite countless Facebook and YouTube memorials.

But some feel the struggle of those killed between January 25 and February 11, 2011 – the oft-cited “18 days” – remains alive.

“These protests are a reflection of not only the martyrs’ demands, but for the demands of the legitimacy of Morsi’s election,” said Walaa Sayed, a Morsi supporter who studies social science at Azhar University.

The 22-year-old student said that, while those killed did not die in order to create an Islamist state, “they died for freedom and liberty”.
‘My son did not die for this’

Still, there are those who believe that nearly 900 people died in those few days for such a state to be formed.

“When people revolted in 2011, they revolted against a corrupt regime and wanted to bring in a good regime,” said Hasan Ali.

“And when the people voted for Morsi, they voted for sharia, and sharia should be applied gradually in Egypt – that is our goal,” added Ali, a 46-year-old steel fabrication engineer.

But what do the families of those who lost their lives in those first 18 days think of this crisis?

Hasan Shehab, 52, whose son, Shehab Hasan Shehab, died in the unrest of January 2011 told Al Jazeera that, were it not for the June 30 uprising that toppled Morsi: “Egypt would be a failed state.”

A small business owner, Shehab told Al Jazeera that the Muslim Brotherhood was leading the country towards internal conflict and civil war.

“Egyptians feared each other, they were killing each other, and my son did not die for this,” said Shehab.

Shehab’s son was among the estimated 841 people who died in those first 18 days, when he was shot in the head, aged 22, in Tahrir Square on January 28.
His father, Hasan Shehab, rejects the notion that the military orchestrated a coup against Morsi.

“It was a popular uprising and Sisi’s intervention saved the country from a civil war,” he said.

No justice for the ‘martyrs’

Shehab, who voted for leftist Hamdeen Sabahi in the first round of the 2012 presidential election and boycotted the second round, said that the former Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Muslim Brotherhood had “some kind of agreement”.

“That’s why there was no transitional justice achieved,” he said.

The security apparatus, he said, withheld evidence implicating police in the deaths of protesters, but Morsi, said Shehab, failed to order an investigation into the killings.

But he hopes the interim government will do better.

“I’m optimistic about the new political arrangement, and the presence of ElBaradei and the new government is a good indication that transitional justice is being achieved now.

“Justice is two things: One part is the court ruling against the police who killed the marytrs, and the other part is echoed in the chant of the revolution: ‘Bread, freedom, social justice’ – something the new government can achieve.”

Instability, he said, will continue if justice for those who died in the revolution is not served – and Shehab does not feel that the current pro-Morsi sit-ins are “peaceful”.

A ‘deviation’ from the path

Tarek El-Khatib lost his 24-year-old brother, Mustafa El-Khatib, a law student at Cairo University, on January 28, 2011, when Mustafa was shot twice in the heart in Tahrir Square.

El-Khatib believes that Morsi’s election was “a deviation” from the revolutionary path his brother died for, and that his ousting was “a correction”.

But for El-Khatib, the results of this deviation and correction are mixed.

“The good thing is that when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power, it showed its true face to people. It showed that they were authoritarian exclusionists – the real face of political Islam,” said El-Khatib.

He was part of the investigation committee formed by Morsi to investigate the deaths of the protesters, but the committee’s final report was never made public.

“The bad part [of this ‘correction’] is the return of the old, dirty style of the Ministry of the Interior and the targeting of activists by secret police,” said El-Khatib.

While he is worried that the country might return to military rule, he said it remains too early to judge if this will happen.

The current polarised atmosphere can’t lead to transitional justice, said El-Khatib.

“There is clear evidence that there are members of the ‘deep state’ [a term used to describe covert intelligence operations and shadowy military involvement in the national economy] involved in the killings, and other people who are still holding influential positions,” he said.

He does not support a violent crackdown on the sit-ins, and is not optimistic about the present situation. People are unable to change the behaviour of the police and can’t affect change within the Brotherhood, “because the most moderate voices in the organisation are often marginalised”, said El-Khatib.

Follow @dparvaz on Twitter.

Source: Al Jazeera

More from Features
Most Read