Hang together or hang them

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

July 12 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Opposites are attracted to Tahrir Square: Those who believe in reconciliation and those who advocate revenge.

Some want to draw a distinction in their lives under a barbaric regime and a new life centered on virtue.

Others want to settle the score by hanging. They want the perpetrators of the gross evil inflicted on society to be exterminated.

Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin tweeted: Chants from Tahrir. ‘Execution awaits you Mubarak. Interior ministry still thugs, people want country cleansed.’

The Soviet writer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn who spent much of his life incarcerated for advocating liberty addressed the issue from an icy Siberian gulag: If only evil people insidiously committing evil deeds could be separated from the rest of us?

But, he regretted, the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. ‘It is, after all, only because of the way things work out that they are the executioners and we aren’t.’

The British Anglo-Irish 18th Century parliamentarian Edmund Burke put it thus: All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Doing nothing to topple Mubarak was tantamount to complicity.

The Egyptian Revolution’s moral force — the righting of a wrong — was accomplished by the unequivocal riddance of an unscrupulous authoritarian and his cohorts.

To deploy violence to finish off the culprits is as ethically unsound as the perpetrators’ criminality. It sets the new era on a course that accepts violence as a way to achieve ends, which is precisely what the revolution aimed to stop

There is a secondary yet more salient reason for renouncing violence — the affect on children. Out of the womb, environment influences the brain mostly. Babes that are nurtured tend towards loving. Surrounded by violence, their gentle identity gradually diminishes.

Friday’s demonstrations in Tahrir, Suez and Alexandria appear to have been a triumph for the reconciliators. The police also took the hint and stayed on the sidelines.

In Through the Looking-Glass the White Queen offers to hire Alice as her lady’s maid and to pay her two pence a week, and jam every other day.

Alice says that she doesn’t want any jam today, and the Queen tells her: You couldn’t have it if you did want it. The rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday — but never jam today.

That’s what this protest is about. Nadia El-Awady tweets from Tahrir’s 37oC heat: Down with the military. Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has not met the revolution’s expectation.

Day by day the military and the interim government promises jam tomorrow allowing another jam-less day to pass. No wonder the people are skeptical.

On the night of June 28/29, security forces fired tear gas at 5,000 protesters. Clouds of tear gas engulfed Tahrir Square as the security forces battled to gain control of the square leaving 1,114 injured, according to the Ministry of Health.

An official fact finding committee found that thugs premeditated the clashes.

The police’s reversion to its old ways is probably the most uniting aspect of recent times. After that show of brutality at least 30 political parties and movements decided to participate in Friday’s protests.

But here’s another dilemma. Pitting the people against the army is a surefire losing strategy for all concerned. The military will prevail simply because they have more than 1.5 million armed, uniformed men under their command and will always justify their actions as maintaining security.

A win-win would be for the demonstrators to continue to exercise their ability to protest peacefully. That means controlling the thugs.

The military should round up the perps in their ranks and charge them, announcing that the prosecution files will be handed over to the prosecutor general for trials in regular courts.

That’s one way out of the impasse.

An African proverb sums it up: When spiders’ webs unite, they can catch lions. The lion is Liberty.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based writer. He can be reached at pjwcairo@yahoo.com or twittered @mohendessin

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