On 5 March 1770, British soldiers killed five civilians in Boston, Massachusetts in what Americans would call the “Boston Massacre”. The incident happened within the larger context of escalating polarisation between factions calling for American independence and those loyal to the British Crown. Leading up to the trial of eight British soldiers, the polarisation was reflected in the distributed pamphlets and propaganda telling very different stories and blaming different parties for the clashes, as each side desperately attempted to sway public opinion.
The semi-autonomous American government at the time was aware of the tensions and called on lawyer John Adams to represent the defendants. This was significant because of Adams’ prominent status among the 13 colonies’ Patriot Movement calling for independence – a movement that would eventually lead the US to its Revolutionary War through which it gained independence – an attempt by the government to convey the promise of a fair trial.
“Facts are stubborn things,” said Adams in his defence, “and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
Adams’ point was that even in an environment of impassioned and conflicting convictions, facts and evidence must take precedence.
Six of the defendants were acquitted while two were found guilty of manslaughter. Adams went on to become a leading figure in the US’s fight for independence and in 1797 became the country’s second president after George Washington.
Last Wednesday five bombs were detonated across Egyptian capital. They were only the latest in a string of explosions in Egypt over the last year amid challenging security issues.
And just like the bombings before Wednesday, all sides were quick to lodge accusations. The Ministry of Interior quickly released a statement blaming the Muslim Brotherhood for having a nefarious role in the attacks.
Shortly after, the Brotherhood released its own statement saying that the “illegitimate regime’s security agencies masterminded the 25 June bombings”. In the second half of the same sentence it unironically lamented that the government had blamed the group “even before they started any investigations”.
The only thing scarier than the way in which things have developed in Egypt is their irrelevance in shaping opinions and shifting paradigms. Evidence is casually tossed aside and every bombing, court ruling, government decision, and diplomatic development is forced into different narratives to serve political purposes.
Last week three Al Jazeera journalists were handed heavy sentences. Many celebrated the verdict and were more than happy to see employees of the Qatar-based channel behind bars. Members of the Egyptian media, including Ibrahim Eissa (who was a victim of suppression of the press under Mubarak), welcomed the sentencing before going on to express the alleged threat Al-Jazeera poses to the country’s national security. No one cited “evidence” presented in the courtroom. The court’s proceedings weren’t even an afterthought for those touting the harsh sentences as just and necessary.
This, of course, isn’t anything new, especially after 30 June 2013 but even in the months leading up to it. Many were quick to blame the Muslim Brotherhood for attacks on churches, even before evidence was presented while many Mohamed Morsi’s supporters claimed the attacks were coordinated with state security in a smear campaign against the group.
In December the cabinet declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation one day after the Daqahleya Security Directorate bombing in Mansoura, despite the fact that Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for the attack and provided a video as proof.
Meanwhile FJP leader Reda Fahmy explained the Mansoura bombing part of a conspiracy in which the United States was arming the Coptic Orthodox Church to carry out such attacks.
It is beyond clear that wishes, inclinations, and passions reign supreme in Egypt. The facts of every explosion and every death are simply glossed over as each event is simply used to bolster narratives and interests. A lack of honest attempts to seek evidence while casting aside political interests plays a dangerous role deepening rifts and a spate of violence and suppression that doesn’t seem to end. And it won’t until all parties cease to attempt to alter the state of facts and evidence.
Basil El-Dabh is the Politics Editor at Daily News Egypt. You can email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BasilDabh.