A year after Rabaa massacre, Egypt has gone from bad to worse
Aug 19, 2014 12:51PM |EMAIL|PRINT
A year ago, hundreds of Egyptians were massacred by the police and army. Fast forward 12 months and itâ€™s clear that was only the beginning for human rights abuses, writes Rachel Williamson, freelance journalist in Cairo.
â€śMum, itâ€™s over. I will see you in heaven.â€ť
Those were the last words Mohammad Hussanâ€™s neighbour heard from her son on the morning of August 14, 2013. An hour later the boy was dead, his body lying somewhere in Cairoâ€™s Rabaa al-AdawiyaÂ square.
Itâ€™s estimated up to 1000 people were killed that day by Egyptian security forces determined to destroy Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Rabaa and Nahda squares.
In the 12 months since those protests took place, Egypt’s track record on human rights, democratic freedoms and economic justice has been in free fall. This is despite early hopes President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi would fulfil 2011’s promise of “bread, freedom and social justice” and start Egypt on a path towards a true democracy.
A 188-page investigation by Human Rights Watch said the â€śindiscriminate and deliberate use of lethal forceâ€ť on August 14 resulted in the largest killings of demonstrators in recent memory — worse than the massacres in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and in Uzbekistanâ€™s Andijan region in 2005, both with death tolls of up to 800 people.
Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth called the crackdown â€śone of the worldâ€™s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent historyâ€ť and â€śplanned at the highest levels of the Egyptian governmentâ€ť. The government responded by barring Roth and Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson from entering the country on Monday and by calling the report a â€śflagrant violationâ€ť of Egypt’sÂ state sovereignty.
The massacres were the start of Egyptâ€™s worst year in decades in terms of human rights, social justice and democratic freedoms, according to Amnesty International Egypt observer Mohamed Lotfy. The violations were extreme even compared to those committed under previous strongman Hosni Mubarak, he said.
In March and April 683 Muslim Brotherhood supporters were sentenced to death. All opposition newspapers have been closed and 11 journalists killed doing their jobs. Others, including Australian Peter Greste, faced show trials or areÂ still in prison. There are weekly reports of new prisoner deaths in police custody, and tens of thousands of dissidents have been jailed, effectively stamping out any moderate opposition groups, Lotfy says.
If human and political rights have deteriorated over the last year, so have hopes for economic justice — one of the key demands of the revolution. The founder of the Signet InstituteÂ think tank, Angus Blair, says Egyptian businesspeople were hopeful after Morsi was deposed theyâ€™d get a government focused on the economy.
A year on — and two months after Sisi was elected — Blair is surprised at the lack of an overarching plan to deal with the countryâ€™s myriad economic problems. Blair says businesspeople are â€śdisillusioned and disappointedâ€ť by the lack of willingness in government to affect real change.
Last year in Rabaa, two nights before the sit-ins were destroyed, geologist Mohamad el-Zahed, 49, happily chatted about his hopes for the growing protest movement. Heâ€™d been â€śdragged to the hard lineâ€ť by the military overthrow of his elected president, and it was Egyptâ€™s chance to fight for its democracy.
Days later those hopes lay smouldering in the ruins of the burnt out Rabaa mosque. One year on, even that freedom to protest has been taken away, and the government has successfully snuffed out any real hope for a just, democratic future.