I must admit that I still do not know what to make of 30 June. I was standing on the sidewalk with a sea of my fellow citizens streaming by me waving flags and banners, celebrating the rights they fought so hard to win, still in the struggle for those refused rights they hoped to claim one day.
But I was not in Egypt. I was in San Francisco, California for its annual Pride Parade. And as I stood there thinking about my fellow Egyptians doing exactly the same thing on exactly the same day, I was left confused by what they mean when they say they want their rights.
Pride parades are a celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) culture that take place in dozens of countries on every inhabited continent of the globe. They also most often serve as a place to protest the legal rights denied to that community that are enjoyed by most other citizens in the same country.
And on 30 June, armed with all of the TV and online media images and my own experience of living through Egypt’s current revolution, I knew Egypt looked similar that day. Citizens were in the street fighting for their rights they felt were still refused under the rule of ousted president Mohamed Morsi and demonstrating the rights they had already claimed.
While on the surface, these two 30 June scenes, San Francisco and Cairo, looked similar: people in the streets celebrating and fighting for their rights. But what was indeed happening was not at all the same. And this is not because one scene was about LGBT rights and the other about “democratic and economic rights.”
It is about the definition of rights, and herein lays my confusion.
Recently returning to Egypt and seeing the general mood of and towards different entrenched parties, I have to wonder exactly what Egyptians mean when they demand their rights. Do these non-stop “calls for rights” post-30 June from across the wide political spectrum include the protection of the rights of the opposition?
Many citizens of the various countries that host pride parades often oppose them. They believe that these events are an attack on their religion and ideas about morality. But those in dissent, even if they represent the majority, do not get to make the decision about another citizen’s rights so long as a society has defined that right, like the right to free speech or the right to protest.
When a right is guaranteed, it cannot be stripped away by another except by more primary rights. The right to free speech is often muted, for instance, when the right to run into a crowded theatre and shout “fire” is superseded by the rights of those in the theatre to not be harmed in a stampede out of the theatre.
Right now in Egypt many are pursuing the fulfilment of their rights, and in the wide spectrum of opinion that exists, those are in conflict across groups. Guaranteed rights are defined by a society and protected by its laws. They cannot apply differentially across groups or circumstances. Not all societies choose to guarantee and protect the same rights.
So, I’m left wondering. What do Egyptians mean when they say they want their rights?