The tragedy of Rabaa

The Rabaa massacre will haunt the people of Egypt for years.

A year after the Rabaa massacre, no one has been held accountable, writes al-Anani. [Reuters]

It was around 7am on August 14, 2013 when I turned on my TV only to become witness to the massacre of hundreds of Egyptian protesters in Rabaa Al-Adawyia and Al-Nahda squares in Cairo. It was as if I was watching a horror movie: Images of armoured vehicles, snipers, panic, bloodied bodies, and horror-stricken faces ran through my screen. This live show of death has been etched in my memory forever. Each time I recall that bloody day, I ask myself: Will Egypt ever heal from this wound and when?

Unattainable justice

A year after the Rabaa massacre, no one has been held accountable. In fact, justice is far from being delivered in Egypt under the current regime. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was back then the minister of defence, claimed that the Brotherhood sit-in was “a source of security threats, murder and victimisation” of Egyptian citizens and that it was necessary to disperse it.

Moreover, Minster of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim, whose forces conducted the massacre, defended the mass killing of protesters and praised his forces for the “self-restraint” they exercised during the dispersal of the sit-ins. And despite the reports, images, and testimoniesdocumenting the massacre, Sisi and Ibrahim are still denying any responsibility for it. 

Even after the recent report by Human Rights Watch was released, which clearly emphasises that Rabaa massacre was planned and “premeditated” and “likely amounted to crimes against humanity”, it remains unlikely that Sisi and Ibrahim will be tried or held accountable for their role in the massacre. The lack of interest and the absence of political will among Egypt’s international and regional allies are impeding any attempt to bring Sisi and his comrades to justice, at least as long as he is in power. In fact, giving the ongoing regional conflicts and warfare, it’s likely they will condone and tolerate Sisi’s brutal policies for the sake of illusory “stability”.

Moral betrayal

Rabaa clearly testifies to the moral and political bankruptcy in Egypt. In the aftermath of the massacre, the general public and the elite clearly crossed the fine line between politics and morals, competition and hatred.

Egypt’s Rabaa deaths ‘crime against humanity’

The moral betrayal of many prominent figures during and after the massacre was evident and vexing. Egypt’s so-called “civilian” elite were complicit in the bloody events at Rabaa and Al-Nahda and were even celebrating them. Many politicians, intellectuals, human rights and political activists have shamelessly called upon the “state” to eliminate their political foe: the Muslim Brotherhood. Even after a year, some media figures still publically defend the massacre and flagrantly call upon Sisi to celebrate it.

They consider Rabaa “a political victory” and give no thought to its devastating political and social consequences. Moreover, those activists and intellectuals who didn’t openly support the July 3 coup are still reluctant to acknowledge the massacre and argue it was the only “realistic” way to stop what they perceived the Brotherhood’s growing “fascism”. And while some have implicitly regretted what happened, others are still live in a state of denial.

Shattered society

Rabaa’s tragedy has deeply shattered Egyptian society and has traumatised many across the country, particularly the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. A year after the massacre the country is still divided and profoundly polarised. The political gap between the supporters of the incumbent regime and their opponents is wider than ever, while socio-economic divisions are deepening further by the day.

Over the past year the pro-regime media has recklessly ruined Egypt’s social fabric and poisoned social relations. Within families you will often encounter stories of separation, enmity and intolerance because of divergent political views. Public discourse and private talks have lost pluralism, tolerance, and the language of co-existence and understanding. Moreover, songs, cinema and television series have irresponsibly fuelled divisions by advocating the regime narrative justifying exclusion and oppression.

In a country where reconciliation has become a meaningless and “dirty” word, life has become unbearable for many Egyptians. The incumbent regime has built its legitimacy and garnered regional support based on the very idea of defeating the “threat” of political Islam in Egypt. It capitalises on people’s fears and their dire need for stability in order to close the public space and justify its authoritarian policies. Not surprisingly, the regime’s proponents are relentlessly attacking and vilifying political dissent in order to intimidate and silence it and to re-create the “republic of fear“. 

The Rabaa massacre was a milestone in Egypt’s political trajectory and it will shape its public memory for years to come. The agony and grief of those who lost family members and friends are still traumatising.

Rabaa’s deep wound will not heal as long as there is no justice delivered and those who committed this crime remain immune from prosecution.

Dr Khalil al-Anani is an adjunct professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC. 

Follow him on Twitter: @Khalilalanani