For many Egyptians, the events unfolding in Hong Kong are depressingly familiar. As millions march through the streets to oppose state oppression and demand that their democratic freedoms be protected, I can’t help but see similarities to the atrocity that unfolded in Rabaa Square six years ago this month.
By: Yehia Hamid* in Newsweek on August 20, 2019
When people in power perceive peaceful demands for basic human rights and freedoms as a threat, they have a choice to make: They can yield to the collective will of the people—or break that collective will by force.
On August 14, 2013, the Egyptian security forces, following an order from General Abel Fattah el-Sissi, chose force. They opened fire on their own citizens in the streets of Cairo, massacring more than 1,000 people.
The protesters had gathered in Rabaa Square, as well as Al-Nahda Square, to peacefully demonstrate against the military’s recent takeover of the government and demand the reinstatement of President Mohammed Morsi. Following the tragedy, Human Rights Watch conducted an investigation and described what occurred as the “systematic” and “intentional” killing of “overwhelmingly peaceful protesters.”
The message of those in power was clear: There is no place for rebellion here. And they have been true to their word. Since 2013, more than 60,000 prisoners of conscience have been detained in Egypt and subjected to unspeakable atrocities. Not a single perpetrator was brought to justice.
Now, as China amasses troops on the border surrounding Hong Kong, my worries increase for the democratic protesters there, who show no signs of backing down.
Just this Sunday, organizers estimated that 1.7 million people broke a police ban and marched through Hong Kong, less than a week after protests led to hundreds of flights being cancelled at Hong Kong’s airport.
The government will say they are rendering a scene of anarchy, betraying the soul of their city. It will say that military intervention is necessary to put an end to the chaos.
Believe me, the chaos is caused by the broken system plagued by an absence of justice. And the only way out is replacing the system of absolute power with a system of justice and equality.
Atrocities committed by dictatorships against unarmed people cannot be forgotten nor forgiven. China, after all, is still haunted by the use of force to end the Tiananmen Square protest 30 years ago this summer.
The protesters in Hong Kong are being pushed further and further into despair. But justice will be served when we all rise, regardless of our ethnicity, religion or school of thought, to fight for democracy. We all must stand up to protect this freedom against anyone who tries to stifle it.
When we first took to the streets of Egypt in 2011, millions roared, “Bread, freedom and social justice!” And we soon heard our call echoed in Syria, Yemen and across the world. Justice and democracy demands that are as universal as the tyranny we are fighting.
The atrocity committed in Rabaa must never be allowed to happen again. The world must stand behind the protesters in Hong Kong and their right to freedom. A triumph for justice anywhere is a triumph for humanity everywhere.
*Yehia Hamed is Egypt’s former minister of investment and a Rabaa survivor.