Asma, I read about you in the British newspaper, The Telegraph, on 15 August 2013. We in India were appalled by your death on the day when we were celebrating the 66th Independence Day of our country.
The Telegraph reported that you were just 17 years old; “on top of your class in school” and you “had a reputation as a gentle and intelligent young woman”. Since you were no Malala Yousafzai, the global media has largely ignored your truly tragic story. Nor is there deafening outcry from the human rights organizations. Why so, is understandable! But that is a subject for some other day.
Despite many flaws, we are the largest democracy in the world. We appreciate, wherever democracies take roots. When your countrymen orchestrated a massive revolution against decades old dictatorship in 2011, its success brought cheers on the face of almost every Indian.
However the military coup of 3rd July 2013 in Egypt has disappointed us all. Coup leaders in your country rationalized that millions of people came out on the streets against the under performance of the first democratically elected government. This is why they overthrew the elected government!
Street protests and disgruntled population are an integral part of a democratic system of governance. While I have proudly said that we are the largest democracy, I must also shamefully admit that we are one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Hundreds of millions of Indians are disgusted with widespread corruption.
We are also the second most populous country in the world – roughly 7 times bigger than Egypt. In 2010 and 2011, to protest against endemic corruption, many more million Indians came on the streets of New Delhi and other parts of the country compared to the number of Egyptians protested on 30 June 2013. Our protests were most certainly larger and louder than yours.
Also, the Indian army is much bigger and stronger than Egyptian army. To be precise, it is the third largest in the world. They have nuclear and other sophisticated weapons – not donated by the US! But unlike your army, Indian armed forces did not intervene “on behalf of millions” to overthrow an elected government.
A possible explanation is that armies are primarily raised to secure the national borders against foreign invaders, not for running business empires. A 21st century soldier can either be a fighter or a businessman. He can’t be both. Since your army controls 40% of the Egyptian economy, they are more focused on protecting their business interests, not the interests of Egyptian citizens like you, or the nation as a whole.
Indian army owns no business enterprises. They don’t need to. This probably explains why they never staged coups against elected governments. They know that an underperforming government will be voted out by the people (not by the army through tanks) in the subsequent elections. This is why they are, largely, focused on their actual job.
Following massive protests of 2010/11 in India, our elected government also used police force and removed sit-ins, but in a non-lethal way. There were injuries, but no fatalities.
Moreover, in the most civilized manner and in keeping with democratic ethos, the leaders of our protest movement have formed a new political party. The citizens of India, including myself, will now decide through ballot (not bullet) in the next elections if they deserve to be our new rulers or not.
More recently, just weeks prior to the July coup in Egypt, another sparkling democracy in the world witnessed massive street protests. Millions of Brazilians came on the streets to protest against their democratically elected government. But there was no military coup in Brazil either! This is another example of a decent, civilized and democratic society.
The pro-military rhetoric that “Egypt is divided” is both bizarre and hilarious. There is nothing unusual in a vast and great country like Egypt being divided. Every single society and country in the world has different shades of political opinions and social beliefs. It is human nature. Even the US was so vertically split in one very recent presidential election that the winner had to be declared by the court. In the absence of political/social plurality, there would be one single ruler who would rule the entire world, something never happened in human history!
Asma, your freedom aspirations were not trampled by your army alone. Globally renowned figures like the former chief of The International Atomic Energy Agency are equal partners in this crime. A decade back, he had set Iraq on fire with his fabricated claims of the existence of WMDs, which is still killing and crippling millions of innocent Iraqis – both shias and sunnis. This blue-eyed boy of champions of democracy, freedom and human rights has now ignited another fire in your country; and then fled to his luxurious retreat in Austria! No one knows how many more innocent lives will his new fire consume in Egypt.
It is heartening to know that in the face of absolute brutalities, you stood up against the military coup of the first democratically elected government in the history of Egypt. Like many opponents of democracy and freedom in Egypt, a large population also came out against the military coup and resumption of dictatorship.
I learnt that you were serving in the field hospital as a volunteer at a pro-democracy sit-in where many of those defending democracy and freedom were being treated after they were targeted by Egyptian security forces. At such a sensitive and vulnerable spot, you were shot dead by Egyptian security forces – who receive US$ 1.3 billion aid from the US every year. Your death certificate was seen by The Telegraph that stated you were “shot in the chest” and your “skull was crushed, and left leg broken”!
Asma, we Indians have nothing to offer you, your family and freedom-loving Egyptians except our prayers, and our tears…
By Dr. Mansoor Durrani
Image Source: Asma El-Beltagi