Dubai — Among at least 525 people killed yesterday when Egyptian security forces moved to clear a weeks-long sit-in were two members of a civil society group promoting non-violence, called La Lil Onf (No To Violence in Arabic).
The group had been trying to bridge the growing gap between supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement and supporters of Tamarod, a civil society group that mobilized millions of Egyptians to take to the streets in opposition to him.
Responding to the mass protests, the army ousted Morsi on 3 July and installed a new interim government. Since then, hundreds of people have died in clashes.
Menan Samy, another member of La Lil Onf, told IRIN about their failed efforts at reconciliation, her lost hope of making any difference, and the struggle to keep even their group members united amid the growing polarization of Egyptian society.
“La Lil Onf grew out of Namaa’ Association for Sustainable Development, a summer school programme started in 2005. The goal was to get youth to study development theory, how to create change, and apply it to Egypt. It was youth from all over the country – two from each governorate every year. A variety of people were involved: People from all types: Nasserites, Salafis, Muslim Brotherhood, liberals, all religions.
“After the 30 June [anti-Morsi protests], the Alumni of this programme – we are many, from different governorates, political views and religions – we called for a meeting, where we would discuss what could be done to try to [prevent] violence… There were personal relationships that allowed for tolerance of the different points of view in the group…
“We gathered people from both sides – from Tamarod, the Brotherhood, and other parties and movements. But we weren’t able to come out of this meeting with concrete action… [Both sides] wouldn’t budge … It came down to political differences.
“The whole point of La Lil Onf was to be non-political, to bring together people from both sides and avoid the politics. But in the end, politics stopped them from coming to anything, especially because each side says the other is starting the violence.
“What we were able to do is organize events on the ground, holding signs with messages against violence. The first day, we were around 50 people; the second day, 90 or 100. We did three events. We did it in Al Gala’ Square, half-way between Tahrir Square [where anti-Morsi protesters gathered] and Nahda Square [where pro-Morsi protesters gathered], so that both sides would pass by us.
“People didn’t understand who we were with – we weren’t with anyone! So they were suspicious of us.
“It wasn’t productive. We didn’t think we could make a big difference, but we thought that at least we could make our voices heard, to show that some people absolutely rejected all types of violence.
“After the incident at the Republican Guard headquarters [on 8 July] – some 50 people died that day – the whole initiative stopped because the Brotherhood members were no longer willing to say no to violence as they were being killed.
“We are still meeting… but no one has any idea what concrete action we can do, especially now. People are really depressed now. We don’t see that anything can be done now.
“Two of my friends died [yesterday]. They were part of La Lil Onf, ironically. Now, there is no talk in the group other than where the funeral is… We haven’t had a chance to talk about what is next.
“If people really cared about reconciliation, there wouldn’t have been so much blood yesterday. The two sides were not willing to reconcile.
“There is a trend among the people – they are rejecting the Brotherhood, not as a movement, but as individuals. They call them idiots, traitors, terrorists, low-class. This is what concerns me the most. On the other side, the Brotherhood will not forgive… They want revenge now. They feel that all of Egypt is against them – the people, the army, the police …
“One of the members of our group was a Brotherhood supporter who felt strongly that the sit-ins should be free of weapons. He started an initiative; he spoke to Brotherhood leaders, saying we have to get rid of those who are carrying weapons. He tried to get traction on this issue. But he failed, because people were afraid. They thought if they gave up their weapons, they would die.
“I don’t care at all about politics. I care about community and civil society organizing. But I am very worried that people will not be able to accept each other again… I don’t know how people will go back to living together after what happened yesterday.”
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]