Soon after the military coup that deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, I announced that I would join the pro-Morsy demonstration outside of Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adaweya square. My home is in Sanaa, Yemen, but all of us who placed our hopes in the Arab Spring have a stake in what happens in Egypt: I wished to protest the killing, forcible disappearance, and jailing of coup opponents — crimes that have been met with terrible silence from human rights activists and political elites. Not only have such figures refused to condemn such violations of freedom, they have given their blessing and justified such measures.
I declared publicly that I was going to Rabaa al-Adaweya to defend the gains of the Jan. 25, 2011, revolution — freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and the right of the people to select their rulers. For my activism, I have been the target of a massive incitement campaign by the pro-coup media: Regime supporters have threatened me with death, even to put me on trial for spying and interfering in Egyptian affairs.
On Aug. 4, I arrived at Cairo airport with my friend Bushra al-Serabi, the executive director of Women Journalists Without Chains, to fulfill my pledge. I had all the possible scenarios in mind: I thought the Egyptian authorities might grant me entry and then attack me later in the street, or worse, fulfill their threats by arresting, killing, or prosecuting me.
It was an exciting trip, although it didn’t end as I wished. Or begin, to be honest. Upon arriving at the airport, I stood in line to complete the usual visa process. A few minutes later, one officer in the airport recognized me and asked me to go to a special counter where they complete the entry procedures for bearers of diplomatic passports.
At that moment, an unusual commotion began: The officers’ phones would not stop ringing, and I heard one of them whispering on the phone about me. “Tawakkol came! Tawakkol came! We won’t let her in,” he said, as if I was a very dangerous person.
The Egyptian officers informed me that I would be denied entry, and I was soon deported back to Yemen on the same plane on which I had arrived. The authorities gave me no clear answer why: They said that I knew the reason for my deportation better than them, and that my name had been blacklisted based on the request of a security body.
Unfortunately, it is impossible for me to stand in person with the protesters outside Rabaa al-Adaweya square to echo their legitimate demands. We shouldn’t be ashamed of standing by people who dream of democracy, justice, and a life with dignity — this is our duty. Egypt’s current regime has ousted the first elected president in the country’s history, suspended a constitution that won 60 percent support in a referendum, and completely excluded the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party from political life. There are limited options for those of us who care about Egypt’s future: We can either side with civil values and democracy, or with military rule, tyranny, and coercion.
Morsy was not only Egypt’s democratically elected president, he is now emerging as the Arab world’s Nelson Mandela. The South African leader brought peace and democracy to his country; during Morsy’s one-year reign, Egypt enjoyed freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate peacefully, and not a single one of his political opponents were jailed. Even when he was ousted by force, he killed no one, jailed no one, and never resorted to violent resistance. This is unparalleled in the region.
By maintaining this peaceful approach, Morsy and his followers will have a role not less than that of Mandela’s African National Congress. Despite being subjected to killing, arrest, and oppression, Morsy’s supporters have held fast to the democratic process and prevented Egypt from descending into civil war. The free world must recognize their positive role by supporting them and rejecting the crimes committed against Morsy, his party, and pro-democracy figures.
I am not blind to the shortcomings of the previous government: Before the coup, I supported the June 30 rallies against Morsy. But I had had my eyes set on one objective — ending the rift within Egyptian society, and building a country led by partnership rather than narrow majority rule. The military takeover aims to uproot the Muslim Brotherhood and its partners, replacing them through brute force with the losers of a democratic ballot — namely Mohamed ElBaradei and the National Salvation Front.
Democracy can’t thrive under military rule — history is quite clear on this point. In Egypt, this is evident through the terrible violations against rights and freedoms since the coup. The police state is back, and it is even worse than Hosni Mubarak’s.
What is happening in Egypt today is very scary: The coup could lead society to lose its faith in democracy, which will give terrorist groups a chance to breathe again. As al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri said in his latest audio message, the Brotherhood won the elections — and still Morsy was deposed. He concluded that democracy was a dead end, an exclusive right in the West, but one that is not accessible to Islamists. Meanwhile, al Qaeda affiliates in Syria and Iraq taunt the Muslim Brotherhood by saying that the solution is bombs, not ballot boxes. By blocking peaceful change and weakening the Islamist groups that participate in the political process, the coup leaders support this stance and do the terrorists a favor.
What happens in Egypt will not stay in Egypt — the implications of this coup will reverberate over 1,000 miles away, in my home country of Yemen. It is wrong to look at the Arab Spring as an unrelated set of events: The people of the Middle East all rose up against tyranny and for justice. They all have the same dream of freedom, dignity, and democracy.
All the ousted regimes, as well as the oppressive regimes that have hung on during the Arab Spring, have now blessed Egypt’s coup. But it’s not too late to reverse this trend: Just as policies of oppression can start in Egypt and then spread to other Arab countries, a blossoming democracy in Cairo can easily spread throughout the Arab world. This may be why so many regional and international powers are arrayed against a democratic Egypt. Those who support freedom and democracy in the Middle East, however, should resist the new tyranny in Cairo with all their might.
Tawakkol Karman is a Yemeni journalist, politician and senior member of the Al-Islah political party, and human rights activist. She leads the group “Women Journalists Without Chains,” which she co-founded in 2005. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at The Norwegian Nobel Institute on December 9, 2011 in Oslo, Norway in recognition of her work in nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights.