Many flags have been burnt in Egypt over the years, but we took no offence because they were the flags of countries whose policies we opposed. In a way, it was a strong expression of rejecting injustice. The flag most frequently burnt has been the Israeli flag, with the US flag coming in a close second.
However, Egyptians were shocked to see an Egyptian flag on fire in Egypt. It was odd, it was unexpected, and it was outrageous because the Egyptian flag remains a national symbol regardless of political or religious loyalties.
On an online news site, the young man Islam Abdel-Aziz who took part in the flag-burning episode during a violent demonstration in the Cairo Tahrir Square earlier this month, lamely justified the action by saying: “We wanted to burn anything so the smoke would repel the tear gas. It was done with good intention.”
His comments drew such anger that Islam later amended his statement. “It was not an Egyptian ‘flag’ that we burned, it was a cover on a gate, just a white-red-black banner with Sisi’s picture on it,” he claimed.
Facebook activists go viral
Video footage posted online showed demonstrators wrenching the 30-metre Egyptian flag hanging on the gate of the Tahrir Square car park and burning it. Egyptians went viral on Facebook, and accused the Muslim Brothers (MB) of the defamation. The MB never denied the accusation.
“Burning Egypt’s flag dishonours all Egyptians. I believe this was no coincidence; it was planned and its perpetrators were paid by a specific entity that wants to see Egypt in unending upheaval,” Regina Romani, a student, wrote. She added that anyone who burned the Egyptian flag did not deserve to live in the homeland.
Mohamed al-Badry, a lawyer, said that such behaviour was not new to the MB. “What do you expect from individuals who cheer for Ghana in a football game against Egypt? Or who wage violent protest in order to get into clashes against other Egyptians? They are indoctrinated and paid to obey orders from their superiors without discussion or understanding. Even though they are Egyptian in name they have neither belonging nor loyalty to Egypt,” he claimed.
Mechanical engineer Ahmed Abdallah was livid at the flag burning incident which, he said, was beyond doubt committed by the MB. “Such people should have been arrested from Day One instead of leaving them free to create crises and trouble.
Hoisting the national flag
“Hundreds of Egyptians have sacrificed their lives for this country, to hoist its flag high in honour,” said tour guide Samar Samir. “And now other Egyptians have been paid to burn that flag. This is not the first time the MB has dishonoured the Egyptian flag; they used to spread it in the street to sit on during their protests. They only respect their leaders and their principles; and their ill will for Egypt and its flag after the fall of their regime is all too obvious.”
Menna Abdallah, a student, says: “Burning Egypt’s flag is a disgrace, not for Egypt but for the people who do it. They aren’t worth the ashes of the burnt flag. It is an act to be expected from disloyal traitors, and if they carry on with such offensive behaviour the silent majority will speak out and might burn them just as they did the flag.”
Disgrace, but no penalty
General Ali Zein al-Abdeen, professor of criminal law at the Police Academy, told Watani that from a legal point of view there was no law that criminalised burning the flag, but added that it was an unethical and disloyal act. “The young men who burned the flag are definitely not loyal to Egypt. If we assume that they did that with ‘good’ intentions then they’re blind to the truth,” he said. “Unfortunately there is no law that bans burning the flag, and if a new law were passed it couldn’t be applied retroactively.”
It looks, for now, as though the MB has got away with it. But at what cost to the nation?
30 November 2013