Peaceful Shaimaa only dreamt of a free country where justice and development are found; she was not given any repeated warnings before teargas and murderous bullets ripped through the air. The martyr Shaimaa El-Sabagh was part of a delegation, not a march, asserts the leader of the Socialist Popular Alliance (SPA) Party, Abdel-Ghaffar Shokr. The delegation was walking in pairs on the pavement, and she was carrying a wreath to place in Tahrir Square in honour of the memory of the revolution’s martyrs.
Bullets were not her method, but she was killed in cold blood by the same person who killed the martyrs she was going to honour, who sparked a great fire in the heart, and sowed the winds of violence.
Before the teargas and bullets, SPA Secretary General Talaat Fahmy went to the commander of the police force to inform him they were merely a delegation that will place a wreath in a symbolic and peaceful manner in Tahrir Square to honour the revolution’s martyrs. The response was Fahmy’s arrest, and teargas and bullets targeting the small symbolic delegation. Fahmy is still detained because he refuses to be released unless all his SPA colleagues who were also detained at the time are also freed.
We are all responsible for avenging Shaimaa’s death, and in the lead is the elected president who is in charge of protecting the lives of the people of this country against, at minimum, the abuse of power.
Shaimaa’s shocking death is another condemnation of the heavily flawed protest law, and a condemnation of brutal force to terrorise peaceful people who have nothing to do with violence. For those who do not know her, Shaimaa El-Sabagh was a leading member and secretary of popular action in the SPA, a partner in the 30 June revolution.
The party was created after the 25 January revolution, and is one of the parties contesting the upcoming parliamentary elections as part of the political system which complements the regime and its legitimacy through such participation.
Revising policies for arming police in charge of dispersing peaceful demonstrations is a very preliminary step, but a positive one in the investigation of this crime. The undisputable facts by eye witnesses who were with Shaimaa at the delegation and video footage of her murder clearly show the murderer, the abuse of power, and how the law is practiced. We expect a fair investigation and that the police will not be the ones gathering evidence as we saw in previous murders of revolutionary martyrs, simply because it is the suspect and naturally it will not provide evidence incriminating its own.
SPA leader Shokr said that the assistant minister of interior for human rights contacted him and said that the force and its weapons are available to the prosecutor, and anyone found responsible will be held accountable. However, relying on the suspect to provide evidence is certain to result in missing evidence. Everyone should understand that blood is a deterrent and anyone who is not deterred by it will be drowned in it. Innocent blood demands revenge against the killer and upholding the human and moral values it was spilled for.
The following is an eyewitness account posted on Facebook:
Zohdi El-Shami, a leading member of the SPA, said of the murder: “It is as if Fate wanted us to commemorate the anniversary of the 25 January revolution with new martyrs. Shaimaa El-Sabagh, our young colleague in SPA, yesterday joined the honour roll of patriotic martyrs. Shaimaa was with us and all she hoped for, like us, was to place a wreath of flowers in Tahrir Square in memory of revolutionary martyrs, but she ended up joining them. A treacherous bullet shot by the police a few metres away killed her and made her a martyr. Bullets and teargas were immediately shot within three minutes from our arrival in Talaat Harb Square, despite the peaceful nature, the wreath, the absence of any chants except ‘bread, freedom, social justice’. Two other colleagues were injured and seven were arrested, including Engineer Talaat Fahmy, the secretary-general of the SPA, whom we watched walk over to talk to the commander of the force in the square to reassure him who we were and our goal, which was limited to placing a wreath in honour of the martyrs. The immediate response was teargas and bullets without warning. This is how a martyr loses her life within a fraction of a second, but becomes a shining star in the heavens. We are heartbroken at your loss, Shaimaa. We will miss your smile. But we, citizens of this nation, will demand and insist on avenging you like all other martyrs. We will insist on a fair investigation to uncover the truth and the culprits. We will always remember you, Shaimaa.”
Bridging the gap between the state and revolution
After a great revolution on 25 January 2011, that overthrew a despotic, corrupt, oppressive unjust and failed regime, and after the second grand wave on 30 June 2013 against a failed fascist regime, the state that is being rebuilt must welcome the sons of its revolution with open arms, and take tangible steps to end policies belonging to the regimes that the people revolted against. Otherwise, it is creating a gap and acrimony with those who carried out the revolution, sacrificed, and paid for with their blood and that of their colleagues. A worse scenario is for the state to draw closer to the polices of the regimes that the people rose against, and become more connected to figures in the two corrupt regimes that the people overthrew under the pretext of seeking stability – which can never actually be achieved this way. And thus, have justification for continued tensions, simply because the state did not adopt the dreams of the revolution and did not have revolutionary trials for those whom the people rose up against for their corruption, oppression and injustice.
Egypt has one more chance to end this dilemma by bridging the gap between the state and revolutionary forces through sincere rapprochement, and a genuine partnership between the state and all active forces to take responsibility in addressing the challenges facing Egypt. Also, rebuilding based on the abilities, minds and funds of Egyptians inside and outside the country. This should be done without succumbing to the blackmail of symbols of corruption from the Mubarak era, or regional and international blackmail that precondition any financial assistance.
The murder of Shaimaa, the peaceful martyr who was carrying a wreath of flowers, also requires us to reconsider the protest law. It is a root of political evil because it restricts freedoms drawn up by a regime that came to power through peaceful demonstrations as a method of free expression and democratic change. It saved the nation from the tyranny of Mubarak’s regime, and the fascism of the Brotherhood regime, to build a democratic system and not to revert to the practices of the previous despotic and fascist regimes.
Need to revise the protest law and find justice for its victims
After the overthrow of Brotherhood rule and to confront demonstrations of violence and terrorism by their followers, a law regulating demonstrations was issued. It appeared to be a method to regulate the right to demonstrate to prevent the abuse of this right to carry out violence and terrorism. Although existing laws were capable of stiffly deterring anyone who uses violence and terrorism in protests, regulating the right to peaceful protest by law was acceptable. The law was disappointing, however, especially since those who issued it came to power through peaceful protests by millions of Egyptians, and now they were issuing a law that restricts peaceful demonstrations rather than regulate that right.
At the time, I wrote about the flaws in the law. Most notably, Article 10 that states that the Minister of Interior or Chief of Police has the right to reject, relocate or postpone permission for protests if he is privy to information that it threatens security and stability. This article transforms peaceful protest from a right that is practiced by just giving notice and according to certain regulations, into the power of the Ministry of Interior to permit or prevent it if there is information that the protest will not be peaceful. A decision that cannot be regulated because it depends on the ministry’s view of the demonstration, since the law does not require the authorities to provide any evidence of this information.
Article 11 regulates the police’s right to disperse a demonstration if it is no longer peaceful, in the absence of a neutral party deciding whether the protest has turned violent. Using a judicial delegate would be acceptable at the discretion of the police chief in charge. It would be ideal if this delegate is present from the beginning of the protest, and only he decides whether the protest is no longer peaceful, and thus the police have a right to intervene through lawful means. The penalties in the law are also excessively harsh and not proportionate to the nature and scale of the crime committed.
There are also serious flaws in applying the protest law. Demonstrations supporting the revolution against Brotherhood rule and supporting the resulting roadmap usually take place without permits and are protected, such as on 25 January 2014. However, opposition protests are slammed by the law whether they are violent and require confrontation with force and violence – even if the absence of the protest law –, or whether they are peaceful and organised by participants in the 25 January 2011 or 30 June 2013 revolution who are concerned or object to the performance of the government and president.
Since the constitution is the highest and dominant law above all else, it guarantees the right to peaceful protest and is contrary to the restrictions in the current protest law that requires core amendments.
Irrespective of the position on and criticism of the law regulating the right to protest, in practice it has been applied arbitrarily, which has decimated the 30 June alliance and eliminated the most loyal and active sectors of the revolution and its proclaimed goals. By that, I mean those who confronted Brotherhood rule outside Ittihadiya Palace in December 2012, who were martyred and dozens injured. They are quintessentially different from the masses that came out with them on 30 June in a safe celebration after the army and police declared they are protecting the squares and protests. Those were reveling crowds, not masses of freedom fighters.
In response to anger by many sincere young fighters seeking to achieve the goals of the January and June revolutions, the president asked Al-Ahram Establishment to sponsor conferences with youth to gauge their views and visions for the future of political, economic and social issues, and their participation in political life. Al-Ahram organised three conferences and reported the results to the president, including the ideas and visions of youth as a prelude for a concluding conference that will bring the youth and president together. We are still waiting for this to happen.
The views of the youth at Al-Ahram’s conferences on the protest law were very mature and responsible, varying between the need to repeal, freeze or amend the law to protect the right to peaceful protest since it is a fundamental constitutional right.
In the end, the vast majority adopted the position of the National Human Rights Council on this law as expressive of their own views. Namely, they agreed with the position of senior human rights experts whom the state appointed to the NHRC on this issue; what remains is for the presidency to take a stand regarding this provocative law.
They also called for amending the detention law, and releasing by presidential pardon all peaceful prisoners who were detained because of violating the protest law. Many of them said that peaceful protest is what toppled Mubarak’s regime, which President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi described as a despotic one; it also removed the Brotherhood from power and deposed Mohamed Morsi by the sweeping will of the people in the form of massive peaceful protests. So, how can they be banned by this law?
The manner of handling student protests is also a flashpoint between the state and young peaceful political activists. At the same time, everyone rejected all forms of violence and chaos, and said anyone who participates in such violent protests should be dealt with according to the law. They also agreed that very stiff common laws would be enough to deter from such protests, without the need to issue or resort to a laws restricting peaceful protest.
The vast majority of youth also said they felt bitter and angry about criticisms of the 25 January revolution and those who participated in it, which is unconstitutional and contradicts the facts and even the president’s positive attitude towards the revolution. However, the state has not taken any position on these attacks and inherent lies. The youth asserted that there is a systematic and organised campaign to incite against the revolution and malign those who participated in it, especially the youth. They demanded a clear position by the state and its institutions linking the two revolutions (25 January 2011 and 30 June 2013), and that the state’s continuous ambiguous position regarding attacks on the youth in the media belonging to the remnants of Mubarak’s regime and symbols of corruption, will further widen the gap between the state and youth.
This vision by the youth once again takes us back to the relationship between the state and genuine revolutionary forces that must come together as the foundation for building, instead of widening the gap. Otherwise, it would only lead to more tensions and turmoil that we hope Egypt can avoid by taking this only road by repairing relations between state and revolution, and distancing itself from the figures and policies of unjust, despotic and oppressive regimes.
The writer is the chairman of the board of Al-Ahram Establishment.