When Egypt’s military leaders gave Field Marshal Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi the go-ahead to run in the presidential elections, they set the stage for the next pharaoh, a leader who will rule with unchecked power in the tradition of Egypt’s earliest civilizations, and more recently personified by Hosni Mubarak, Anwar el-Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser. Field Marshal Sisi will probably be elected by an overwhelming majority.
Commentators who considered this an unacceptable interference of the military in politics seem to have forgotten that just last July, they — along with much of the Egyptian population — welcomed the army’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. That justified both the military’s intervention and its re-entry into politics as a response to the demands of the people.
The Egyptian military has been hoisted up on the shoulders of tens of millions. Among its supporters are many of the politicians and youth activists who chanted “down to the military” and risked their lives in a 16-month confrontation following the 2011 revolution. Such a dramatic shift would never have been possible without the yearlong interlude that saw the dysfunctional and despotic government of the Muslim Brotherhood.
After the 2012 elections, Egyptian and Western analysts alike predicted that the Brotherhood would remain in power for decades. After all, they reasoned, its Islamist approach mirrored the religious beliefs of the majority of Egyptians.
But soon average Egyptians realized that the Brotherhood was not only imposing a vision of Islam different from their own, but it was leaving promises unfulfilled, and its officials were just as venal and dishonest as non-Islamist politicians. Mr. Morsi may have been Egypt’s first democratically elected president, but he governed like a caliph, operating as if he were entitled to unrestrained power. Just four months after he was elected by only 51 percent of voters, Mr. Morsi issued a constitutional declaration nullifying the checks on his power by the other branches of government.
The military’s role as savior has been developed by manipulating citizens’ fears of loss of identity and by capitalizing on conspiracy theories aimed at making Egyptians believe there is an existential threat to their country. On a daily basis, fictitious stories are disseminated widely in the media about various foreign agendas to undermine the Egyptian state, reinstate the Muslim Brotherhood regime, assassinate General Sisi, and dismantle the army, as in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
This strategy has entranced many Egyptians, who fail to be outraged by the continuing mass killings and other abuses committed by the authorities against both Islamists and non-Islamists under the pretext of “fighting terrorism.” On January 25, the third anniversary of the revolution, police officers’ confrontations with demonstrators left some 103 people dead.
Egypt has never ceased being a police state. Hazem el-Beblawi, the interim prime minister, says it “is run by the security bodies,” which control the presidency, cabinet, media and judiciary. Interrogations and court sessions take place in prisons, security directorates or police compounds. Eyewitnesses are no longer required to identify defendants. Warrants are issued by prosecutors after arrests. Brotherhood members are arrested based on their ranks in the organization rather than their involvement in crimes. When detainees ask to see a warrant, they may be hit over the head with the butt of a gun, as in the case of a leftist blogger, Alaa Abd El Fattah, and his wife, Manal. When a prominent international judge reviewed Manal’s account of the arrest, he described it as reminiscent of the days of apartheid in South Africa.
In the midst of its clampdown on the Brotherhood, the security apparatus shifted its focus and began targeting non-Islamist youth activists, under the same pretext of “fighting terrorism.” At the end of January, the Justice Ministry established special courts to accelerate trials for “suspected terrorists;” peaceful demonstrators, too, are referred to these courts.
Tarek Hussain, 20, was convicted last year of attacking the Brotherhood’s headquarters. Last month he was among dozens of young non-Islamist activists arrested as they demonstrated on the anniversary of the revolution. All were prosecuted as members of the Brotherhood.
Sayed Weza, 18, a member of the liberal April 6 movement, also took part in these demonstrations and was killed. His last Facebook post said, “Please tell the coming generation that we loved our country!”
Mr. Weza expressed his hope for future Egyptians, for his generation’s story is one of repression and crushed hopes. The youth boycott of the recent constitutional referendum sent the message that the solution for Egypt’s future will be found neither in a caliph nor in a pharaoh. Reinstating a police state will only lead to further instability as a new generation of Egyptian revolutionaries rises up to oppose repression.
Bahey eldin Hassan is the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
Article published in the new York times international weekly
This post is also available in: العربية
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