On my way home today a crowd suddenly emerged out of the darkness. A large group of men. A teenager was at the front, his face contorted. I initially thought that he was chanting, and that this was another small demonstration.
But there were hands all around him, grasping, pulling and pushing his thin body. Behind him a man whipped him with a belt, and I realised he was screaming. Another boy was also being tugged along behind the first. His face covered in dirt and tears, he too was being beaten. My taxi passed, and they disappeared into the darkness. When I got out, I heard men saying that they were thieves.
The past few days have mostly been filled with stories of violence. The one which sticks in my mind most is a man who was set upon by a mob in downtown and accused of being a foreigner, and putting up anti-Mubarak posters. The person who recounted the incident says that when he arrived he found the man surrounded, with a gun pointing at his chest. The man was trying to tell the mob that he was an Egyptian artist. This was rejected by the mob. “He’s not one of us…look at him…he’s not one of us”.
Someone else, who lives in a building opposite the Interior Ministry told me about the snipers his neighbour watched shoot people from the Ministry’s roof on Friday 28th. When he himself returned, the lobby of his building was covered in police berets and insignia and pockets torn off uniforms; policemen and riot police soldiers had entered the building and begged residents for civilian clothing, knowing that if they went out in uniform they wouldn’t stand a chance with the crowd attempting to reach the Ministry.
A video appeared on the Internet this week showing pitiful, blindfolded men with their hands tied behind the back strewn on the ground, begging for clemency from military police soldiers who only interrupted the stream of vile insults they dispensed in order to beat the men.
One comment on the video reads:
Dool baltageyah w bayen awy mn shaklohom w taree2et kalamhom..f 7alal elly bye7salohom…3ashan law_ mat3amalsh m3ahom kda..7yo5rogo yesra2o tany w talet w rabe3
[It is clear from their appearance and from the way they talk that these men are thugs, and there is thus no problem with the way they are being treated. If they aren’t dealt with like this they’ll get out and steal again and again and again].
I think (hope) that the problem of violence can be partly addressed by law reforms. My own impression is that violence (from the police against certain groups i.e. criminal suspects, and members of the public against each other) is socially acceptable. The baffling result is that a couple canoodling in public will be interrupted by shocked and offended upstanding members of society who are meanwhile happy to ignore e.g. a large person casually waling on a smaller person who clearly cannot defend himself.
Violence is about power, after all, so the first step is to protect vulnerable groups such as e.g. school children (against whom teachers dispense corporal punishment despite this being illegal), street children, army recruits, prisoners and victims of domestic violence by tightening up legislation where necessary or making sure people who violate existing laws are punished.
A large part of the revolution was about resurrecting dignity. Maybe if the next generation – in addition to the knowledge that they are the product of a people capable of toppling a dictator – is repeatedly told that nobody has the right to lay a finger on them without their consent, ever, violence will become ugly and unwelcome and something to fight even when it’s happening to someone else – and maybe that way there will never be another Khaled Said.