Political violence among citizens, which has been escalating for months, is less dangerous than violence which occurs between citizens and state institutions.
Working towards understanding the context of violence must be based on its rejection, with the intention of finding a way out of it rather than justifying it in a way that pulls us into a vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence that could lead to a societal battle, and the only way out is through building legitimacy rooted in justice.
Violence is not uniform; some of it is criminal, related to instances of murder or robbery or similar offences, and some of it is political, such as that used to attack the state and its institutions, because of the state’s failure to provide for the basic needs of survival, food, shelter, education, health care and security (such as blocking highways and railways following major accidents, as well as sit-ins and general strikes), or for its attack on people’s dignity (such as the successive confrontations resulting from the security forces’ assault on citizens), or that which occurs between different political factions.
The legend says that the scenario of civil war is impossible, but in reality there is no proof of its improbability, and the scenes of political violence among citizens is escalating, starting from the limited confrontations on the first anniversary of the January 25 revolution, and in the initial days of the convening of the new parliament, and then the reemergence of violence in the “balance sheet” protests that coincided with the end of the first 100 days of President Morsi’s term in office.
It was followed by the burning of party headquarters by the two rival political currents, then the Itihadiya (presidential palace) clashes, in which –for the first time- lives were lost, and finally the attacks associated with protests at the Brotherhood headquarters in Mokattam; for the first round against protestors, and the second from their side.
The reactions towards violence are evolving, starting from interventions to prevent confrontations and reconciliation between the two sides in the People’s Assembly incident, to attempts at placate matters in Tahrir Square, to turning a blind eye to the burning of party headquarters. Accusations of responsibility for the Itihadiya clashes bounced back and forth, and each side displayed pride at the “beating” that their rival received in the two subsequent Mokattam clashes.
The first time, Islamists shared a photograph on social networking websites of one of their rivals being beaten on the back of the neck, accompanied by profane sarcastic comments, and in the second round of clashes, activists exchanged a photograph of a Brotherhood member fighting the flames of a Molotov cocktail that had set fire to his garments, accompanied by a the sarcastic comment “grilled lamb.”
Each side uses labels and stereotypes that guarantee the unification of his side through ridiculing the other, so the block on one side becomes “militias” that can only be confronted with force, and on the other side, mindless “sheep”, who are better disposed of.
On the other side are the “Church” and “Copts” and “seculars” that reject the “Islamist” identity of the president and his party, rather than his policies or qualifications.
In both cases the problem shifts away from the political stance to societal existence, for each side believes that the existence of their rival is harmful, which could transform political violence to societal violence, a scenario that is doubly as dangerous in light of the deteriorated performance of security in the criminal division and the increased rate of crime, which indicates the normalisation of violence in society.
The result is that the numbers of fighters increases every time, while the number of peacemakers decreases, and that the geographical scope of violence extends beyond Cairo and large cities, and beyond its political context to society, and it turns to rejecting the existence of the other in itself, as demonstrated in the verbal and physical abuse against the leaders of different political currents for merely being sighted on the street or at shopping malls.
Political violence then is not a product of the moment; rather it is aggregate and cumulative, its parties exchange responsibility for the snowball effect, and they partake in the responsibility of the endurance of its motion, which is heading towards a sliding and accumulating societal warfare, and going forward is now easier than stopping or regressing. And it is the rulers, by definition, who are responsible for putting an end to this cycle.
To abandon this slide, the different parties need to sense that justice could be served without battle, and the first step for those in power, should they wish to retain their legitimacy, is to make the rival factions feel that they can achieve this justice through it.
The definitions of justice are plenty; some of them are broad (it is the state’s responsibility to provide the principal economic and societal rights), and in its simplest form, related to equality before justice, and it is all absent. The state was not able to convince the conflicting parties of its proficiency at finding it.
When the videos of torture at the presidential palace fences were disseminated, the criminals were not punished, and when statements inciting violence were issued, and others that open the door to sectarian violence by claiming that one side is composed of Copts (one hour after the clashes), and a third kind inviting protestors to use violence in response to the Muslim Brotherhood, charges were not declared against the source of such incitements, and they were not summoned for questioning.
That’s not to mention that the situation was different this time in the Mokattam clashes, because the state responded with serious criminal investigations, including orders for the arrest of defendants on charges of incitement and participation in the clashes.
The procedures are fine and well, yet the context in which they appear removes them from the realm of justice into injustice; the legal action was tainted by being limited to one snapshot in a scene of compound political legitimacy.
The judicial and legal institution appeared as one of the tools of the political regime; it set its criteria according to the will of that regime. Therefore, it became unlikely that other political factions would rely on it, and their faith in achieving justice through it became weak, if at all present.
Violence against citizens for political reasons is a crime with potentially severe implications, not to mention that the regime, that has lost its credit and the apprehension of the people, would not be able to stop it without building legitimacy based on justice. That justice, even in its limited symbolic definition, does not exist in implementing the law on a few and not on everybody.
Strict procedures will not be a reason for the regression of violence except if the investigations entailed all leaders suspected of being involved, and particularly the Muslim Brotherhood leaders, so that people sense that the rulers are not exempt from submission to the law.
The nations before you went to perdition because if a noble person committed theft, they used to leave him, but if a weak person among them committed theft, they used to inflict the legal punishment on him.