Protest in peace

23-10-2013 07:27 PM

Youssef Sidhom

Ever since the revolution of January 2011, Egyptians have suffered from the uncontrolled chaos that ruled the free expression of opinion. Peaceful demonstrations turned into bloodbaths,

 denominational protests developed into sit-ins that blocked roads, impeded everyday activity and threatened with anarchy and violence. And once the Islamist president Muhammad Mursi was overthrown last July in the aftermath of millions-strong public protest and the subsequent intervention of the military, a tide of [Islamist] demonstrations erupted that ranted about ‘legitimacy’ and ‘peacefulness’ despite being seditious and armed to the teeth. They explicitly threatened Egyptians with terrorism they never imagined existed, roamed the roads and blocked them, besieged the residents of the areas in which they held sit-ins and held a number of them captive.
Such terrorism which adopted demeaning language, wreaked devastation on Egypt, and had no qualms about resorting to violence, torture and murder; deliberately provoked the police and army into side clashes, hoping to lure them away from protecting civilians and preserving peace and order. Egyptians bitterly suffered at the hands of the terrorists and vocally complained of what they saw as official reluctance to deal firmly with the Islamist terrorists, going as far as to allege that the State was “quivering” instead of working to defend its prestige. The hesitant official stance vis-à-vis the Islamists, mainstream Egyptians feared, practically invited them to carry on with their terrorism.
Amidst this wrenching scene, the government proposed a bill to regulate the right to demonstrate. Once passed, the law would ensure that demonstration would go back to being a civilised practice, as in all democracies. Egyptians heaved a sigh of relief as they foresaw an end to the ongoing chaos, terrorism and crime.
But a number of intellectuals, political movements and human rights groups began ranting and wailing over what they termed “burying freedoms”, “gagging mouths”, “hijacking freedom of expression” and “usurping the peace and safety of Egyptians”. The rejection of any regulation of the right to demonstrate is still ongoing in full force, as if the rule is to protect demagoguery and chaos rather than the security of citizens and their right to live and move safely, without being terrorised. 
Those who reject the new protest bill claim that the current laws are sufficient to regulate demonstrations and put an end to violations. If this were true, why does the State and its authorities fail to contain the chaos? The answer is that the State does not wish to resort to exceptional rules or emergency law to chase suspects. The objective is not to lie in wait for demonstrators in order to silence them or stand in the way of freedom of expression. Rather, it is to draw a clear, legal path for any group who wish to organise a protest. The authorities should be informed of the time and place of the intended demonstration, not for them to give consent or refusal, but to safeguard the path of the demonstration and the safety of civilians and public property, and to secure traffic flow. 
If demonstration is seen as free, peaceful expression of opinion that does not jeopardise public security and peace, then rejecting the protest bill in its entirety makes no reason. But if the objective is to attract public attention with loud sloganeering, turmoil in the street, and terrorising civilian, then ‘freedom of expression’ should stand no chance where State’s sovereignty and the rule of the law need to be upheld. Isn’t this the case with other world democracies? Isn’t this what we saw happen in the US, Great Britain, France, Germany, and even Turkey?
The right for peaceful protest—I repeat ‘peaceful’—is granted by all civilised States as long as the protestors abide by the time and place they are committed to, the protest remains peaceful, and there is no intention to turn it into a sit-in; any violation of these rules is dealt with very firmly. And when this happens, we never hear declarations by rights activists crying over lost freedom of expression or the slaughter of human rights.
The last thing we need now is academic rhetoric by human rights ‘philosophers’ against the protest bill. These are exactly the ones who should be well aware that the law comes to guarantee the right to demonstrate and to ensure the peace and security of Egyptians.
Vile terrorism; ineffective State
Throughout the four months since the 30 June massive protest which brought about the downfall of the Islamist regime, Egypt has witnessed a wave of terrorism that has targeted Copts, with the aim of penalising them for having joined hands with their Muslim fellow Egyptians to overthrow the Islamist president Mursi and rescue Egypt from the grip of the Muslim Brothers.
For this, the Copts were made to pay a dear price in lives and bloodshed, and have sustained more than their fair share of horrific terrorism. Their personal security, their homes, churches, property, and livelihoods were all targeted by the Islamist terrorists, yet the Copts never lost their faith in Egypt. They didn’t succumb, nor did they ask for outside protection. All they demanded was for the State to protect them so they would no longer be easy prey for the terrorists.
Last Sunday’s shooting in front of the church in Warraq, Giza, which left four dead among them two little girls and 17 injured, is unforgivable. It was a vile terrorist deed, among the ugliest attacks against the Copts. Yet equally ugly was the security deficiency that resulted in the failure to protect the Copts, and the quivering government that risked the Copts and the sovereignty of the State.
WATANI International
27 October 2013
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