What can other nations take from corruptible and repressive government actions similar to Egypt’s to prevent civil unrest that could lead to chaos?
Seeing the pictures of Egyptians protestors fire-bombing buildings and police vehicles is anathema to what civilized people refer to as peaceful protests and there is a tendency to condemn such actions by some before fulling grasping the historical conditions that have brought the people out into the streets in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.
For years there have been routine police, judicial and human rights abuses by Egyptian authorities that many around the world never see. Thus when police were sent out to address the swelling crowds of protestors the worst thing they could have done was to exhibit some of this repressive behavior under these very public circumstances. This attitude was displayed by Interior Minister Habib Adly who warned that “the security agencies are able to stop any attempt to attend” the demonstrations and called the efforts of the “youth staging street protests ineffective”, according to an interview released Tuesday with state-run al-Ahram newspaper. (3 dead after thousands protest in rare Egypt outpouring, by Ben Wedeman and Amir Ahmed, CNN, 1/26/11)
The reactionary steps by those who are supposed to “serve and protect” alienated them from the people. Water-hosing and tear-gassing crowds of boisterous protestors was a big mis-step on the part of the Mubarak administration. Once this course of action is taken violence on the part of protestors who are familiar with the police’s record of brutality is destined to escalate.
No doubt Mubarak felt justified to take action against these crowds because it was perhaps suspected by him that radical elements like the Muslim Brotherhood were inciting these protests. But this over-reaction is the fault of a government that has stayed out of touch with its legitimate citizenry and seems more concerned about staying in power.
The minor reforms that the Egyptian government have provided over the years have done little to break the pattern of corruption within their ranks. Faced with growing unrest from economic conditions in Egypt, it is no wonder that what seemed like a contained scenario in one of the more U.S.-friendly nations in the middle east blew apart shortly following similar unrest in nearby Tunisia.
When non-violent protests occurred in parts of the U.S. in 2009 by a rising Tea Party movement there was no intent of the police in these locales to do anything more than to ensure that any rogue elements that might arise respected human and property rights. We have laws that prevent police from imposing Marshall law style tactics against citizens who assemble to protest their government’s actions.
Not since Chicago in 1968 and the Kent State shootings in 1970 have authorities stepped over the limit to quell uprisings they viewed as politically unacceptable.
Lessons were taken from these tragic mis-steps that prevented a repeat when later war protests and anti-government crowds convened to vent their frustrations in various venues around the country since those years. There have been some arrests at times by police that have pushed the envelope when it comes to violating one’s civil rights. However such actions usually follow behavior from protestors who have stepped over a line, for a good cause or not, when their actions have violated accepted norms for peaceable protests or threatened human injury to some and property damage to others.
The right to peaceably assemble means just that. Shout all you want and parade up and down the streets but once a protest march turns into a mob that disregards the rights and property of others, civil societies expect the police to step in. The key here is to avoid zealous authorities to over-react and engage protestors that could in fact incite a disregard for innocent bystanders and property. Such seems to have been the case in Egypt and the consequences now have created a disdain for Mubarak and his government and support for the protestors, despite their damaging retaliatory strikes on police and public offices.
Let’s hope that someone like Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei steps up and prevents the legitimate protests from devolving into angry riots and thus robbing the movement for reform the legitimacy they have earned. The last thing Egypt or anyone wants is a total melt-down where there is no authority; allowing both criminal and radical elements to create further abuses on a public that is unprepared to deal with such destructive consequences.
Other nations in the middle east and around the globe need to take notice of Mubarak’s mistake, especially those regimes where repressive measures are used to hold onto power and the vote is denied citizens. The economic hard times that have hit global communities spur unrest. Failure for any government to recognize and act on this is inviting not only protests but violence that could worsen the socio-economic fabric of a nation, creating greater chaos that will make them susceptible to exploitation by bad elements within.