If the occupations that have sprung up across our globe are indeed inspired by Cairo’s Tahrir Square (as we say they are), then it is worth mentioning that a number of people who were crucial for the organization of the Tahrir Square demonstrations are now behind bars. In fact, over 12,000 of them have been imprisoned.
The Egyptian military has practiced systematic violence against protestors since the beginning of the revolution. Covert at first, repression escalated when the security services fired into crowd that had gathered in Tahrir Square in April. Particularly, they targeted a small group in military uniform who claimed to be splitting ranks and had come to the square for protection. In June, the military attacked a protest by the families of those killed during the revolution. In August, the square was forcefully evicted.
The strongest blow, however, was on October 9th, when hundreds of protestors who marched in solidarity with Coptic Christians were attacked in a night of bloodshed and violence. Twenty-eight peaceful protestors died, hundreds of others were injured.
The army announced its investigation into what became ‘The Maspiro Massacre’, and within two weeks summoned activists and bloggers Alaa Abdelfattah and Bahaa Saber to be interrogated as suspects for the violence that had occurred. Mina Daniel, an activist shot dead on that day, was designated as the prime suspect for inciting violence. Essentially, Mina was being accused of his own murder.
Abdelfattah and Saber refused to be interrogated by a body they deemed illegitimate. They argued that the military was too implicated in the violence to be able to properly investigate it. As a result, criminal charges (of inciting violence and stealing military equipment) were levelled against them. While Saber was let out on bail, Abdelfattah was detained for 15 days pending investigation.
Has anything changed since Mubarak, one asks? As a matter of fact, much has.
More and more arrested bloggers and activists are refusing to appear before military courts, demanding civilian trials where their cases will be considered objectively. For this, many pay with their freedom. But they insist they will not answer to an illegitimate body. We are not afraid to say it: the Supreme Council of Armed Forces is not fit to rule.
In Mubarak’s era, we were an opposition movement. We operated in the margins, creating spaces for dissent in make-shift theatres and online blogs, where we practiced our vision of democracy. Our spaces grew wider and wider until a nation revolted against tyranny and our vision took centre-stage. As the rallying cry of a popular revolution, our vision has legitimacy. Since January, we could no longer be branded as a marginal opposition movement. The only illegitimate body in Egypt today is the Surpreme Council – it rules but fails to deliver justice.
A ‘No to Military Trials’ campaign is one of many grassroots initiatives that have developed since the start of the revolution. It mobilizes lawyers and campaigners whenever protestors or civilians are arrested and tried by the military. The campaign demands fair investigations and trials. It is one example how we have taken justice into our own hands. While the military continues to lose legitimacy, civil society is trying to fill the void.
Alaa Abdelfattah is an activist, but also a friend. I personally believe that his incarceration is not only on account of his bravery, but is a reaction of the authorities to his incessant description of the revolution as ‘an opportunity to dream’. In one meeting a few months ago, he announced: “We have achieved the impossible and surprised ourselves…we have the opportunity now, like no other time to dream up our new country. Let’s not wait for experts and technocrats tell us how to do it. For, they have already failed us and we have done what they could never do.”
What connects Tahrir to Occupy Wall Street and Occupy London is our ability to create spaces to develop our dreams. Within the squares and the camps, we can imagine a different world. We can dream up alternatives and experiment with them in our daily practices. We meet people whom we would usually never meet, and tickle and trigger each others’ imaginations. This ability to dream, to imagine that another world is possible, is the biggest threat to any establishment, more so a military junta.
We are all implicated in the global web of power that works to keep us apart. A dream in one country is a threat to the world; and a threat to one dream, should mobilize us all in support of the alternative. Only then will our dreams prevail.