It will take a long time to process the public scene in Egypt yesterday. Whereas it is true that protests are no longer novel events in Egypt and that the country has been rife with protests for many reasons ranging from political reform to pay rise or even an unfair manager taking over a public hospital, rarely before have hundreds, perhaps thousands of Egyptians decided to publicly grief for the same reason. And it is no trivial reason such as losing World Cup qualifications; to protest brutal murder of Khaled Said at the hands of the police, and torture victims in general.
The Alexandria protests in which public figures such As ElBaradei, Noor and Sabbahi participated (or actually called for, can't tell) were massive. The location of assembly, Sidi Gaber, had been turned into a closed military area. Thousands of riot police were present and even tanks! Now, the Ministry of Interior knows quite well none of the protestors is armed with a knife, let alone machine guns. So the scene of tanks was quite bizarre as well as funny, and some protestors reportedly responded by taking pictures beside tanks and waving the victory sign. A scene from the occupied Palestinian land.
What I want to focus on, however, are the ensuing silent protests which took place in at least eight different cities. The protests have been announced online, particularly on Facebook. It was not one event planned by a certain movement or person. They were multiple events, in multiple places created by a Facebook page for Khaled Said. No one knows the administrator of the page. He or she just asked participants to silently protest in the downtowns of the cities wearing black. The "rules" also included not chanting or holding banners. And so they did, brilliantly organic they were. The young people particpating wanted to protest, but didn't want to get into scuffles or get detained. Not that all people who are unjustly detained are protestors, but so it goes. These revealing protests come after a long time of believing that no matter what we do, no one will listen, nothing will change. But blimey I can see change with my own two eyes seeing yesterday's protests. The Egyptian regime has generated a stubborn generation who swore to stand up against injustice, clearly realising that you do not have to be a political activist to be tortured. And since they didn't know the person calling for the protest, they don't always need a leader. All they need is to witness injustice. The number of Egyptians who are willing to sacrifice their personal safety is increasing, and one reason for this is, again, realising that you are not safe if you "walk next to the wall" as we say. Their act in this context may I say is an act of self-preservation. The regime has been pushing too hard, impoverishing us and slamming us if we as much as utter a moan of pain. They should have seen this coming.
Whereas this public outcry may not necessarily push towards a fair sentence for Khaled's murderers and a change of this system of torture all in all, especially given last Wednesday's phony autopsy report, it signals again a change of public attitude towards regime crimes. You wouldn't hear of a similar reaction 10 or 15 years back, when all our sources of information was government-controlled. But now torture is difficult to hide, and in this incident in particular Khaled's broken skull is screaming at us to stand strong against it.