CAIRO — As Washington defended its continued support of an Egypt that is "making progress on completing its democratic transition" and also playing "an important role in regional peace and stability" (in a State Department's letter to Senator James Ihofe in January), a group of young soccer fans roved Cairo's streets in anger, seeking retribution for 74 of their fellows killed in the Port Said Stadium disaster. They blocked a vital bridge, hindered underground metro services, and cordoned off the stock exchange building. And they got what they wanted. Amid their threats of violence, a Cairo court sentenced 21 convicts to die, setting off another wave of anger from the families of the sentenced youth.
In this context, Egypt is not just "on the difficult path
" to "greater democracy and rule of law" as the White House said on Jan. 28. It is in a cycle of violence that will not be broken as long as justice is not served. It is understandable that countries that have gone through revolutions witness transitional periods that are temporarily chaotic, but this falls short of describing Egypt's more complicated and grave case, wherein the rulers who are in charge of executing the law are its very opponents on the ground. Besides the fact that Morsi
hails from a secret organization with no legal status, the president and his political party have violated the rule of law on several incidents.
On Dec. 2, 2013, Morsi stood still as his supporters from the Muslim Brotherhood surrounded the Supreme Constitutional Court's building and blocked judges from entering it; instead of ruling on the legitimacy of the contested constituent assembly that drafted the Brotherhood-backed constitution, the court adjourned its work — until its judges could operate without "psychological and material pressure."
A few days later, the Brothers stormed an anti-Morsi sit-in staged outside the presidential palace by opponents of the president's constitutional decree, through which he had granted himself vast powers and immunity against judicial review. Dozens of protesters accuse Muslim Brotherhood members of unlawfully holding them in a riot police-cordoned area and torturing them into confessing they were traitors who conspired against the country in return for money. "A speech by Morsi on Dec. 6 in which he referred to 'confessions' of detained protesters as evidence that they were 'hired thugs' … suggests that the authorities were aware of the illegal detentions outside the presidential palace," Human Rights Watch reported
When the president who sits on top of the executive branch accepts the violation of the rule of law and the use of violence by members of his party and group, setting a precedent for citizens that it is through illegal actions taken in a survival-of-the-fittest atmosphere that entities impose their will in Egypt, it is neither logical nor fair to expect dissident protesters and other citizens to adhere to legitimate means, and it is unrealistic to wait for the rule of law to prevail with time.
Beyond "difficult" transition, Egypt is sunken in rampant lawlessness and confusion, with the legitimacy of the constitution and of almost all state institutions, including the freely elected ones, being contested in the courts.
On the surface there is a cosmetic picture in which the so-called national dialogue, encouraged by Washington, is being held wherein representatives of the president and his party and group sit with members of other parties. But beyond the surface it is well known that those meetings are mainly attended by like-minded Islamists. They produce no substantial results and cannot succeed in stopping the violence, simply because their senior attendees have no say over the young protesters fueling the streets with rage. Even those boycotting the "dialogue," namely the National Salvation Front
which is co-headed by El Baradei and a group of elitist figures, are also accused of not representing the angry youth protesting across the country.
And while the official Egyptian discourse, as well as the international community, reduce the picture to a dichotomy of elitist figures coming from the past — Morsi and the Muslim Brothers versus the National Salvation Front — youth advance on their revolutionary path and surprise both the Brothers and the NSF with their unexpected moves that have no relation to the seniors' power struggle. Those youth are rather focused on the revolution's demands of freedom and social justice, and a strong and independent Egypt that no longer plays a subordinate role in the international system.
In the meantime, Washington seeks to contain the situation from the surface, pursuing a hollow stability that will not be reached until the youth have been engaged and the justice they are protesting for has been made. Even more unrest is likely given the persistence of the old grievances that Egyptians suffered from under Mubarak, seven months into Morsi's rule.
Sara Khorshid is an Egyptian journalist and columnist who has written on Egypt and on Muslim-Western relations for the last 10 years. Her articles are published in Al-Monitor, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Al Shorouk Egyptian daily, Asharq Al Awsat, Alarabiya.net, and numerous other media outlets. Until July 2009 she was the managing editor of IslamOnline.net's Politics in Depth Section (now, OnIslam.net).