“She complained to me that she was beaten and sexually assaulted by Central Security Forces,” Mr. Jaffar said. “But what did she expect would happen? She was in the middle of the streets, in the midst of clashes, with no press card or form of ID. The press center had not given her permission to be in the streets as a journalist. The country is in a sensitive situation. We are under threat. She could be a spy for all we know.”
Col. Islam Jaffar of the Egyptian Security Forces, acknowledging Egyptian-American journalist’s Mona Eltahawy accusation. (NYT November 25, 2011).
In his brief, maddeningly callous statement Col. Jaffar’s, epitomize all that is wrong and despicable in the Autocratic regimes of the Arab world. The overarching premise of all those regimes is that the average citizen is nothing more than a cog in a machine of the state serving strictly the interests of those in power. And when those cogs show signs of life and refuse to be simple inanimate objects, the leaders elevate them from inanimate objects to despicable subhuman creatures, rats (Gaddafi) or germs (Bashar), to be subjected to immediate extermination. Even when the citizens are occasionally allowed to assume human forms, they are, at the slightest hint of dissent, labeled as traitors and thus deserving the harshest of punishment. And so it is in Syria where the regime sends out it’s media “shabeeha” (thugs) to declare on the air that all who go against the eternal president of Syria are traitors who deserve to die.
It is the lowly policemen or security men who beat and groped Mona and have abused and killed hundreds of other unarmed protesters in Egypt. The same holds true of the killing and mistreatment of protesters in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The real guilt, however, lies squarely on shoulders of the likes of Col. Jaffar and his superiors who in their words and actions encourage and excuse the behavior of their subordinates. Ultimately, General Tantawi is directly responsible for the recent deaths and abuse in Tahrir square as is Bashar Al Assad responsible for the thousands of deaths, disappearances, detentions and abuse of prisoners perpetrated by the forces he ultimately commands.
Before any of the niceties of democratic governance, the citizens of the Arab world urgently need and deserve a much more basic human right: the right to be treated with dignity and respect. It is the lack of this fundamental right that has ignited the Arab uprisings and it is the unrelenting daily toll of deaths and abuse that fans the flames of rebellion. In the United States, the pepper spraying of Occupy protesters sparked outrage and was relentlessly covered by the media for a week, the video of the incident replayed (in slo mo) ad nauseum. Meanwhile, after a week of mayhem and the killing of forty one protesters, all the Egyptian government can come up with is a lame apology, quickly negated by statements similar to that of Col. Jaffar. The Bahraini government, to its credit, and without excusing any of its past and ongoing transgressions, appointed an independent commission and actually allowed it to publicly present damning evidence of abuse and torture by government forces. This is the first step towards transparency and accountability.
We will not see such transparency any time soon in Syria under the leadership of a very myopic eye doctor in chief. Bashar and his propaganda machine, in complete denial, continue to lament the loss of life of the abusers never seeming to care about the abused, his own citizens. The heart wrenching lament of a middle aged Syrian protester who appears on one of the hundreds of Youtube videos sums it up best: His voice trembling and on the verge of tears he cries out “I am not an animal, I am not an animal! I am a human being!” and pointing to all the people around him he adds “we are all human beings and deserve to be treated like human beings”. It is a very simple and very basic request and it this demand for dignity and respect that is at the heart of all the popular uprising from Tunisia to Bahrain.
And so to president Bashar Al Assad I say: “It is the people, stupid!”. It is not about salafists, or terrorists or imperialist designs…. It is not about secterianism or the Hariri-KSA-Zionist plot… It is not about pan-Arabism or resistance or Baathist ideals. It is about about the people asking for their most basic rights.