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The day the Egyptian conscience died

August 14, 2018 at 10:54 am

Rabaa Massacre – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The Rabaa Al-Adawiyya and Al-Nahda massacres still linger in my mind, and my heart refuses to let them go. The five years that have passed were unable to fold them within its pages, as they were a chapter unlike any others; a chapter that is unmatched in Egyptian history. It is a dark place that covers its surroundings in darkness; a chapter where the Egyptian conscience died and was buried in front of the entire world.

The conscience of the mastermind behind the massacres has died, as has the conscience of the officers who carried them out, pulled the triggers and killed their unarmed and completely vulnerable fellow Egyptians who had nothing to protect them from the hail of bullets. The conscience of the Egyptians who incited the murders and took to the streets to sing and dance over the burnt bodies, singing Teslam El-Ayadi (“Bless your hands”) to the army, also died. So too did the conscience of those sitting in front of the television watching the fire and smoke fill the sky and the ground fill with the bodies and blood of innocent people and yet did nothing.

I can even say that the global conscience died in the aftermath of that fateful day, because the condemnation and disapproval of the massacres of the century so far were hesitant and muted. The late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia even supported the bloodbath. How could he not do so when he was the sponsor and main financial backer of the 3 July 2013 military coup in Egypt?

How can I forget what happened in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya and Al-Nahda Squares, the worst massacres in modern history, when thousands were killed in just a few hours? How can I forget the deception of the so-called “safe passage” which was the net in which they caught the unarmed protestors in order to kill them? How can I forget their brutal removal of the medical equipment used to treat the wounded in the field hospital? How can I forget their burning of the same hospital in order to incinerate the bodies of the martyrs inside? How can I forget their ruthless burning of Rabaa Al-Adawiyya Mosque? How can I forget the bulldozers that carried the bodies of the innocents to the dumpsters? How can I forget the brains that flew out of the heads of the victims? How can I forget the screams of the children and their fear and horror at the bullets and flames? How can I forget the elderly mother who cried as she held her son, “They killed you and they didn’t know that you were my rock after your father died”? How can I forget the young boy who stood in front of his mother’s body and said, “I beg you, wake up”? How can I forget all of these horrific sights and more? Time has stopped for me since 14 August 2013, that black day in the history of Egypt, which has never witnessed massacres like them.

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The perpetrators of the massacres are alive and well, and living lavishly. They have not been brought to justice despite the fact that the massacres were committed in full view of the world and the crimes committed on that day are well known. Perversely, the once prestigious Egyptian judiciary sentenced to death those who survived the Rabaa Al-Adawiyya and Al-Nahda protests as a way to catch those who escaped the killing only to have their blood shed on the court benches.

Five years have passed since Rabaa Al-Adawiyya and Al-Nahda, but there are still many secrets and unsolved mysteries. Even Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, who was the interim Vice President appointed as a formality by the coup leader, did not reveal what he must know took place behind closed doors in the rooms where the massacres were planned. He was content with handing in his resignation after they took place and issuing a statement condemning them. He then packed his bags and left for good, only posting a few tweets here and there and conducting a number of television interviews in which he sought to absolve himself of any responsibility for what happened on that day.

However, he has not referred to those who committed the massacres and what happened behind the scenes, despite the fact that a testimony from him could trigger criminal proceedings in an international court, especially given his political weight on the global level. He did not make any such move, though, and did not take any measures to ease his conscience.

The former Foreign Minister of Qatar, and current Defence Minister, is Khalid Bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah. He made a statement in a television interview after the massacres saying that there were negotiations between the two sides and that ElBaradei was tasked by the coup-led government to negotiate on its behalf. They were, apparently, on the verge of reaching a peaceful solution to stop the bloodshed, which is why the Qatari official was surprised a day later by the massacres. He repeated his remarks a few months ago in a different interview. So who was hindering negotiations and preventing a peaceful solution; who wanted a massacre to showcase their strength and power in order to send a message to the other side?

We heard a lot of talk immediately after the massacres about lawsuits and legal action being taken in international courts against those responsible; Human Rights Watch even named the perpetrators. The Muslim Brotherhood hired one of the largest law firms in Britain to file a lawsuit, but some said that it was rejected and then others said that it was going to be filed in another country. Either way, we didn’t hear anything else about it.

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I fear that this will be forgotten, especially since the state wants to cover its tracks, and the officers’ immunity law issued recently by the House of Representatives was only passed out of fear of future legal accountability, especially as such crimes do not have a statute of limitations. Article 7 of the Rome Statute, on which the International Criminal Court is based, classifies what happened as a crime against humanity and Article 15 of the same document requires the ICC Prosecutor to investigate such crimes.

Unfortunately, the Court has rejected the requests of a number of lawyers to look into the massacres because they were not submitted on behalf of the Egyptian state and Egypt is not a party to the Rome Statute, which includes the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed on the territory of member states or by the citizens of a member state. The ICC’s investigation of the cases related to Egypt only take place based on the state’s acceptance of the court’s jurisdiction or referral by the UN Security Council, which was the case for Darfur. It is ironic that the person who did not agree to sign the Rome Statute was President Mohamed Morsi.

For months, some human rights organisations have tried to reopen the case and move it through the UN Human Rights Council. If they succeed, it will open a neutral international investigation into the massacres and perhaps lead to the trial of the perpetrators.


Finally, it is necessary to document everything that happened in the Rabaa Al-Adawiyya and Al-Nahda massacres in the form of videos, pictures and testimonies of witnesses who survived. They need to be collated and handed down by successive generations to keep the memory alive. What happened on that day must never be forgotten.

Rabaa is a deep wound in our souls that has yet to heal because the perpetrators were not brought to justice. The Qur’an is clear: “For, in [the law of] just retribution, O you who are endowed with insight, there is life for you, so that you might remain conscious of God!”

I wrote this article as if the massacre has just taken place. I feel that time really did stop on 14 August 2013, the day that the Egyptian conscience died.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.