Another revolutionary wave is on Egypt’s doorste

By   Amr Khalifa For the New Arab

Popular anger at state abuses may yet rise to the level of outright revolt [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 January, 2016

Comment: Unless Sisi changes, he will be changed, writes Amr Khalifa.

There will be a revolution. But when, how, by whom and what will trigger it are questions that need examination.

Since a glorious sunset on January 25, 2011, with few exceptions, it has been the worst of times and the very worst of times for Egyptians who dared to dream of something better sprinkled with dollops of dignity.

Sisi and The Gang may very well, in trying to stunt revolution, cause it. It will not be easy – nothing ever is in Egypt. But as eyes focus on super-heated Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Libya, the pot has begun to simmer in Cairo as well.

In the Egyptian political zeitgeist 1+1 rarely equals 2.

Where injustice reigns, fear, anger or revenge are present. Though unquantifiable, emotions and national psyches are invisible agents of change. In Egypt’s case, one cannot simply say, as was said by many: “Leadership, after January 25, must be fair – otherwise the people know the way to Tahrir.”

Indeed, all know the way to Tahrir. But under Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s watch, there isn’t one Egyptian that doesn’t know that marching to Tahrir, in opposition, could be a death sentence.

This is not about Sisi the persona, no matter how anointed he feels, this is about army rule. Far too many state actors win with army rule. There is far too much money to be had.

When you have a group of men who control vast swathes of the economy, aka Military Inc, estimated as high as 40 percent of the entire national economy, those who dream of revolution had better understand that those men will only retreat over their proverbial or literal dead bodies.

That is why the army’s role in the Egyptian economy has been called the black box in a recent Carnegie MEC study.

The Egyptian police are no less an impediment to change than the army. For the police, the equation isn’t just about political power and riches. Rather, the ministry of interior, fully understands that it is the first line of defence for the regime, should anger explode.

Accordingly, part of the bargain are monumental pay raises across the board to the tune of 30 percent as recently as early 2014. The Interior Ministry also receives a benefit they sadistically enjoy: Impunity.

Police imprison, both judicially and extra judicially, whomever they wish, and when they wish, with systematic torture and forced disappearances featured heavily.

Causes of a potential revolution are as numerous as snowflakes in an arctic blizzard

The very police force that people rebelled against in January 2011 is taking revenge on the populous at large. Such brutality will cost state actors.

So who wants revolution? Why? Can it happen? And if so, when?

For the first year of his presidency Sisi was the Teflon Man; little, in his supporters’ eyes, damaged his credibility – nothing stuck to him. But that has begun to change – simply look at social media and some articles in the Egyptian press for abundant proof.

Causes of a potential revolution are as numerous as snowflakes in an arctic blizzard. The toughest security crackdown in Egyptian history is an obvious indicator the regime understands what roils beneath the surface. But in trying to prevent revolution the state is creating revolution.

In attempting to stymie a public uproar, Sisi, his policies, his security apparatus, his corrupt judiciary, and a political process laced with condescension towards an accepting public, have become triggers.

But Sisi is a byproduct of the intelligence apparatus – and in Egypt that is less about gentle cajoling as it is slamming heads into tables. And slam he has. More than 50,000 Egyptians languish in jails on politicised charges.

By jailing dissenters, the government believes it will blunt opposition. But the reverse may be occurring. If you remain insistent on putting your army boot to the necks of dissenting voices you create multiple dissenting voices for every broken neck.

Unemployment, murder of family and friends and widespread torture turns youths into ticking time bombs.

For purposes of analytical economy there are three chief dissenting camps, though it could change in the coming months: The revolutionaries belonging to January 25, the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi strain.

But one major wildcard many ignore are disheartened ex-Sisifites. This is a growing group who once supported Sisi for security reasons will mushroom in the coming months as disillusion spreads.

Tens of thousands have called prison home for the majority of the past two years since Sisi’s coup. Revolutionaries aren’t just hampered by the clampdown, they have been flustered by fatigue, depression and disorganisation.

But issues of torture and political prisoners, in particular, are replenishing the organizational reserves. The more the regime breathes fiery violence and repression and shows fear of the fifth anniversary of the revolution –searching homes arbitrarily and arresting activists – the more gasoline is sprayed upon a building fire.

Another source of worry for government is the split within the Muslim Brotherhood. For months it has been no secret that the MB has split internally. One side is the old guard, officially, eschewing violence, and the new guard, led by revolutionary youth frustrated by its leadership and the regime and leaning towards systematic escalationand violence.

Repression is radicalism’s birthplace

For now, indications are, the violence is hit-and-miss and does not target with intent to kill – but this could change in a heartbeat as the crackdown continues takes its toll. As though reality wishes to buttress this very point, an explosion in an apartment, in a crowded neighborhood kilometres away from the pyramids, killed at least six.

The punchline? The Ministry of Interior issued a statement saying the bomb had been planted by Muslim Brotherhood militants. But it was caught with its story-telling pants down when the Cairo branch of the Islamic State group later claimed responsibility.

True or not, such allegations will be used to justify the monumental repression underway. Repression is radicalism’s birthplace. There are zero signs this elaborate system of collective punishment will cease, instead, the opposite is likely.

The stick approach is why anger may rise to the level of revolution in due time.

No one can predict how a cycle of injustice, economic malaise, political corruption and unemployment will coalesce to produce a revolt – or when.

Events in Tunis, as I type, speak beautifully to the unpredictable nature of revolt. Having said that, one cannot discount that there is a rising anger among two major camps: revolutionaries and Islamists.

These are youth majority camps who have been hard hit by killings, torture and forced disappearances – coupled with large spikes in unemployment. That is the TNT, but the detonator will be provided courtesy of future events.

But with the Jihadi, Salafist, and increasingly some of the Brotherhood youth in the mix working to destabilise a discombobulated government, the prospect of revolt is real. While it may not be weeks or months away, it is also not many years away.

This will not be January 25 part II, rather, a tiger coming at full speed with claws at the ready. A toxic mixture, from a regime perspective, is afoot: revolutionaries, Islamists, Salafists, Jihadists, Mubarakists and ex-Sisifites all make for a fragmented state.

Unless Sisi changes, he will be changed.

Blood produces blood. And Sisi fired the first shot.

Amr Khalifa is an Egyptian analyst and commentator. He has written for Daily News Egypt, Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Muftah and the Arab Media and Society Journal. Follow him on Twitter: @cairo67unedited

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Ban, block, battle: Egypt’s war with the truth

By    Amr Khalifa , originally published here

More than ever, media in Egypt is in the tight grip of the regime [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 4 January, 2016

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Comment: Amr Khalifa

With less than three weeks before the fifth anniversary of Egypt’s uprising, the ruling regime is doing all it can to quell dissent, particularly that of the written kind.

Censorship is nothing new in Egypt and in post-1952 Egypt not one regime has not censored the press in one fashion or another.

Having said that, it would be criminal not to state the obvious: freedom of speech in Egypt is undergoing the harshest and most systematic of attacks under the leadership of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.

While my proclivities, as a journalist, and an Egyptian, naturally, abhor the notion of an attack on journalism; as an analyst with an academic background dependent on the written word, I fully comprehend why Sisi and his cohort fear the written word with such unending passion.

Words, you see, can tilt the political playing field to favour the underdog. Words can motivate those bombarded by injustice to banish the criminal element among the ruling class.

Fearing such a fate, the autocrat decrees, and more often than not, seemingly arbitrarily so, what will be deemed journalism and what will be denounced as an attack on national security. In recent months, the examples have been more numerous than a Cairo summer’s sunny days.

Subtlety is viewed negatively, apparently, by the regime – and so it imbues its every move with a muscularity and a certainty of purpose. It’s as though non-negotiable military orders are meted out, and it is up to the citizenry and functionaries merely to execute them. One would think Egypt was ruled by a military man. Oh, wait…

Dictatorial regimes, like the one ruling Egypt, understand the importance of the internet as a political tool. Just this past week, the latest censorship sonata played by the Royal Sisi Philharmonic targeted Facebook.

Ironically, “Free Basics”, the Facebook application in the firing line, which brought limited, but free, internet service, was a partnership with the 80 percent government-owned Etisalat corporation.

To the current rulers, who are the very embodiment of the counter-revolution, any instrument or person calling for change is an enemy of the state

But having been burned once before by the “Facebook revolution” on January 25, 2011, the government is clearly determined to avoid a repeat. It also arrested three Facebook page administrators, accusing them of belonging to the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

To the current rulers, who are the very embodiment of the counter-revolution, any instrument or person calling for change is an enemy of the state.

Sisi’s regime fights such an online application because denial of information access is a central cog of the autocratic machinery. Why? Because one million Egyptians have recently accessed the internet for the very first time, and information is power. So the government, reported local papers, shut down the programme, saying that its license had expired.

How far did Egyptian censorship go in 2015? In its waning days, the year saw Egypt become the third Arab country, after the kingdom of Saudia Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to ban The New Arab website.

So, in all likelihood, if you are an Egyptian reading this article it is through one of three avenues: either you are abroad, using a virtual network to get around the restrictions, or reading a copy-and-pasted version on a blog.

In the Sisi age, to get much-needed information and provide a counter-balance to the official narrative, these are the technological acrobatics that must be performed.

To see the systematic attack by the aforementioned Arab autocracies one would think The New Arab were led by Arab writers simultaneously plotting coups where autocracy reigns. But that is far from the case. Those who write for The New Arab perform journalistic duties no different from those performed at Le Monde – or Al Ahram, for that matter.

Articles ranging from hard news to profiles, features and back to commentary are its mainstay. But, and I say this with intended bluntness, though it would be hypocritical to say that news sites do not possess editorial agendas, this much is certain: autocrats who fear information in the hands of the people should examine their own agendas.

Like it or not, banning certain media is a failing modus operandi as it forces readers to ask: what does the regime fear? Such moves may have the unintended side-effect of bringing more readers, rather than reducing a site’s popularity.

Ultimately though, censorship is as subtle as being awoken from sleep by a tiger’s paw. Writers feel it, newspapers feel it and electronic news outlets have traffic, more often than not, sharply cut.

Such draconian footsteps by government and its various deep-state incarnations are the rule, not the exception, in our region.

Using its stick widely and frequently to quell expression, the regime shows itself quivering – rather than in control

In the very same week, Ahmed Naji, a novelist and an editor of the prestigious arts magazine Akhbar Al Adab, narrowly escaped a possible jail sentence for “harming public morality”.

The accusation has long been a go-to for autocratic Egyptian regimes seeking to gain credibility with conservative elements. Some would argue the move was, simultaneously, a reflection of a vicious double-whammy: a military with an underlying Islamist streak.

Attacks on freedom of expression this week also targeted publishing house Dar Merit and Townhouse, an art gallery. This is “part of a campaign to intimidate opposition voices” ahead of the upcoming fifth anniversary of the revolution.

In using its stick widely and frequently to quell expression, the regime shows itself quivering – rather than in control.

Perhaps most significantly, as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), explained: “Belal Fadl, Seif Abdel Fatah and others… [have been] frozen out of publications for which they had written extensively”.

This is no crackdown, this is forced paralysis under direct and indirect threat of jail. Look no further than the recent arrests of prominent journalist Hossam Bahgat and the continued incarceration of researcher and writer Ismail El Eskandarani to understand why even more prominent voices are silent – or, essentially, being made to leave the country.

To speak openly in or about Egypt, particularly if you are Egyptian, is to take your freedom into your bare hands. But again and again, the Egyptian state shows itself to be aware of the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword”. They have, accordingly, resolved to break all opposition pens.

Where to from here? Dante’s eighth circle of hell does not await Egypt. There will be no heads twisted backwards, no burning of feet or bodies dismembered and bitten by snakes for either the government or the opposition. But for many journalists covering Egypt, the current reality is a close approximation of Dante’s inferno.

Hell or not, to get Egypt where Egypt needs to be, the battle must be fought by those with pens in hand.

Amr Khalifa is an Egyptian analyst and commentator. He has written for Daily News Egypt, Ahram Online,Mada Masr, Muftah and the Arab Media and Society Journal. Follow him on Twitter: @cairo67unedited

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.
Posted in Egypt, egypt sisi judiciary revolution middle east journalism, freedom of speech, Journalism, Middle East, Politics, Writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Mahmoud Mohamed: Egypt’s birthday boy behind bars

Originally Published here

To lose one’s freedom is tragic. To have a childhood locked behind bars is soul destroying. Mahmoud Mohamed’s is such a tale. Mahmoud was a typical Egyptian boy whose interests, most certainly, did not include politics when the Egyptian revolution unfurled its flag.

Mahmoud’s case, now known as the infamous ‘Torture T shirt’ case, is but the tip of a dangerous iceberg for the Egyptian regime. Most estimates of political prisoners range in the 40,000 + range but that figure has swelled in 2015. But the story lies low beneath the numbers.

At the crux of the matter are dignity denied, torture inflicted, and, in Mahmoud’s case, a childhood destroyed by a security apparatus that views all prisoners as “guilty” till proven otherwise. So recounted his brother Tareq ‘Tito’, an activist himself, to The New Arab.

Mahmoud’s birthday, his 20th, is on the st day of the new year, 2016. His birthday cards, if they reach him, will be photographs taken by supporters. For the ‘crime’ of wearing an anti-torture T shirt he has been denied his freedom for over 700 days.

“Mahmoud was arrested due to suspicion of the T shirt he was wearing’’, explained his brother (Egyptian law which does not allow for any punitive action for wearing a particular item of clothing). Ironically enough, the T shirt wasn’t even Mahmoud’s but his brother’s.

While Mahmoud, as a 15 years old on January 25th 2011, had zero interest or comprehension of the tumult rocking the nation; by the time the Muslim Brotherhood ruled Egypt he had started to develop an interest, explained Tito. “He would hear conversations… he asked questions and I did my best to answer”. But, in no way, was the young boy politically involved.

Mahmoud didn’t grow up in a revolutionary household either, his parents are termed “classic Egyptian parents”, apolitical and concerned more with their children than anything else. While his older brother Tito, now 22 years old, Mahmoud, had only just turned 18 days before his arrest.

An older brother, whom Mahmoud naturally looked up to, was deeply enmeshed in the political scene. Some are older than their chronological age, while others are fully submerged in their childhood and may in fact be younger, emotionally and mentally than said age. Mahmoud was the latter, says his brother. “If anything Mahmoud’s innocence spoke of younger man than 18. Tragically, that is no longer the case.

Mahmoud’s face, fatigued by torture, prison, and a society that has largely forgotten about its political prisoners, looks aged beyond its years. ” prison is a tomb…people enter alive and exit dead”, explained Tito.

In many cases that killing is literal, either through torture or medical neglect as is well documented, but in even more frequent cases, that murder is figurative. The regime seeks to kill the spirit, to impound the soul and obliterate the will to live. To silence voices, the Sisi regime, systematically imprisons, for many reasons, but chief among them is the emotional destruction meant to give birth to despair. Where hope is the revolution’s engine, the birth of despair is the counter revolution’s strategy.

Whereas Mahmoud’s story is one of personal tragedy the regime’s modus operandi is as impersonal as it is systematic. WikiThawara, a human rights arm, quoted by many an Egyptian and western news outlet, says the number of political prisoners is 41,731 as of April 2014. But the numbers are now higher. At a time when the security apparatus has clearly been granted Carte Blanche by a leadership, simultaneously fearing for its tenuous hold on power and yet arrogantly using a pain inducing stick, the numbers of those imprisoned for political views have soared. Two months ago, the Ministry of Interior, the same one on record as refuting the existence of Forced Disappearances, unabashedly claimed that it had arrested an additional 11877 Egyptians on ‘terrorism’ charges.

Although an informational black hold exists about arrests from April 2014 to January 2015, by the most conservative estimates, the number of prisoners is currently at 53,608. Presuming a ratio of 100 people, families and friends, affected by the imprisonment of those under the umbrella of ‘political crimes’ we are looking at well over 5 million Egyptians affected by this security chokehold. When revolution erupted, nearly 5 years ago, it did so, many believe, powered by many similar abuses by the Egyptian security complex, in the long term, and the murder of Khaled Said, in the short term. Both dynamics are now part of the daily conversation between ruler and ruled. The Sisi government has taught us that Egyptian rulers have both short memories and longer sticks.

After his arrest Mahmoud was tortured. Initially, as the call to prayer offered a painfully contrasting backdrop, Tito talked about how he was tortured in Marg precinct. It did not end there. Mahmoud “was electrically shocked on various parts of his body” said his sibling very matter of factly.

Torture has become a fact of life now, more than ever. These details should come as no surprise to anyone closely following post-revolutionary Egypt. Though the Mubarak era was rife with security abuses every regime that has followed since has upped the ante on human rights abuses. In February,  Human Rights Watch reported that a former high ranking economic advisor to the Morsi regime and a negotiator with the IMF, Abdallah Shehata, was also subjected to ‘’electrocution and other mistreatment’’. Whether it is Mahmoud or Abdallah, a low ranking civilian, a revolutionary or a former official torture is not an exception- it is the system and political prisoners, in particular, are its victims.

The dastardly partnership between political imprisonment and torture will continue to affect prisoners long after they have emerged from behind bars and the intent is to break the will of those who dare speak. Some studies of political prisoners, internationally, show a strong tendency towards Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the figures are as high as 60%. With depression, disassociation and bipolar disorder as possible outcomes those who emerge may not be in any kind of physical or emotional shape to stand up to the regime once again. This, for autocratic regimes like Sisi’s, is the cherry atop a violently oppressive cake.

There have been multiple indications in the past month that the regime fears the coming 5th anniversary of the January 25th revolution. Many have wondered why with an opposition so organizationally dilapidated? The answer lurks in the systematic injustice of the political imprisonment of over 50,000 Egyptians. When millions are affected, indirectly, that issue alone can provide a spark for the next uprising.

Mahmoud, a boy on entry to Sisi’s jails has aged into a man; as you read this he turns 20. It is men such as these, apolitical at the start, whom the regime should, now, fear. With a continuing iron fist it is only a matter of time before the government is punched back.

Amr Khalifa is an Egyptian analyst and commentator. He has written for Daily News Egypt, Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Muftah and Arab Media and Society Journal. Follow him on Twitter: @cairo67unedited

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.


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Hossam Bahgat: Journalism is not a crime

Instinct says to howl injustice at the sky but the mind says to relay the facts about Hossam Bahgat’s detention by Egyptian military intelligence, earlier today, and let the reader make up their mind.

Approximately 9 hours ago, Bahgat walked into the Military intelligence building and has yet to emerge. All news reports and credible social media information from human rights defenders close to Mr. Bahgat indicated the reason for the summons is unknown.

However, that changed within the hour when a military source close to the investigation told BBC Arabic that military intelligence considers Mr. Bahgat to have published news deemed ‘’a security threat’ to the military establishment.

Supporters of Mr. Bahgat had hoped that the summons was merely that, a summons, but that charge, in the era of the Terrorism law, is a potentially serious and financially exhaustive charge meant to give pause to those who hold dissident views and to neuter a press establishment in Egypt that is very rarely independent.

The BBC source used the term penned into existence by the terrorism law ‘’false news’’ as being the chief accusation levied against Hossam. Earlier this summer, while writing about the Anti-Terrorism Law, I laid out the highly punitive nature of the law which initially sought to jail offenders for 2 years. However, in its final incarnation that clause was deleted but 2 deeply troubling elements were left: a fine of 200-500,000 EGP and a denial of the practice of the profession for one year.

These potential punishments are a kiss of professional and intellectual death for such a prominent, and deeply respected journalist and human rights defender like Hossam Bahgat. For Bahgat, who founded the highly respected EIPR, to come under attack is without question a pointed knife to the heart of the activist and human rights community, as well as journalists. The message is clear: write what we wish or face literal and/or figurative jail.

Hossam’s work is understandably terrifying for a regime looking for hegemonic control over discourse in the public domain. Among the highly thorny issues he tackled in his brilliant investigative career two stand out prominently.

First is Who Let The Jihadis Out which incisively and authoritatively spells out that it was in fact the Supreme Council Of the Armed Forces (SCAF) who released into Sinai, and other spots, extremists, not, as alleged by the regime, ex-president Mohamed Morsi. The second piece the regime likely found embarrassing was a much more recent piece published less than a month ago entitled A Coup Busted which exposes a military trial where 26 Egyptian officers were sentenced for the crime of ‘’regime change’’. Such an article, in the mind of the military institution which believes it is in a state of war against the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorism, was particularly troubling as it highlighted divisions within military ranks. With the army’s ex Chief, Abdel Fatah El Sisi, at the helm of the presidency, it should come as no surprise that Hossam Bahgat’s freedom is under threat today.

Make no mistake about it, there is an element of look at the birdy in the timing of this investigation as Egypt faces a potential disaster with news emerging in the past 48-72 hours that favors a terrorism scenario in relation to the downed Russian plane in Sinai. The cost will be steep for a regime that continues to hemorrhage public support and there is nothing like a potential public case like Hossam Bahgat’s to draw some of the spotlight away from the Russian plane’ fiasco. After all, Bahgat’s name is well known to most Western journalists and the New York Times, as of the writing of this article, had already written about his detainment.

There can be no question: the detainment of Hossam Bahgat is a desperate act by a desperate regime.

Let us hope it is a regime that gains wisdom with utmost speed lest it tighten the noose around its own neck.

But lets us also be blunt: an attack on Hossam is an attack on all journalists.

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Brilliant observations on an India you rarely see

Irish Eyes On Delhi

It’s often said that beauty lies within… That is most certainly the case when it comes to Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. If you’re influenced by the cosmetic exterior, the superficial face presented to the world, the piles of dung, open sewers and slimy stuff crawling around your feet as you dip in the Ganges then walk away. Walk away quickly, do not look back,
But…. If you take quiet pleasure in watching a 7am cricket game, where everyone brings one stump as they can’t afford a full set, where they welcome you unquestionably, where the kids chat to you on the way to school, then take a deep breath and plunge in.
When your having a chat with Prakash who is 11 and has been living in a hostel since he was 7 cos he’s the lucky one in his family, it will make you step back and reassess. He…

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Fascism Incorporated: Our Fault

By Amr Khalifa

Originally appeared on Daily News Egypt here

When the blood of the other becomes a fathomable reality, fascism is born. I remember well standing among thousands in front of the UN, on 30 June 2013, as we screamed atop our lungs against one dictator, but little did we know we would help usher in a decidedly more bloodthirsty one. All it took was another seven weeks for the guillotine to separate hope from the Egyptian body politic. Only one thing is certain: it is our fault.

Five days after Morsi was ousted the first massacre, inevitably, followed: 54 killed and over 300 injured. The New York Times interestingly chose a highly accurate term, “rupture”, to describe the resultant state of discourse, and since then “rupture” has been Egypt. As massacres mounted, Egyptian media and most Egyptians seemed more interested in debating whether 3 July was a revolution or a coup. Lost in the bloody shuffle was most important of all: one group of Egyptians’ blood had, through massive amounts of propaganda, and quite abruptly, become expendable. The roadmap spoken of often at the time was nothing but a charade for a singular purpose: the political expunction of the Muslim Brotherhood. When Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the de facto leader of the military takeover, asked for and received thunderous support, on 26 July 2013, for “fighting terrorism”, the blood-letting and the birth of a very specifically Egyptian brand of fascism was born.

In supporting Al-Sisi’s fight against a Muslim Brotherhood rule that was both dreadfully chaotic and lacking in executional vision, the Egyptian people had, unbeknownst to them, become Winston Churchill, circa 1927, supporting Mussolini. Just like Churchill had backed the wrong horse when he said: “If I had been an Italian I am sure that I should have been with you… against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism,” the Egyptian people, for the most part, offered unwavering support for Al-Sisi, even as the blood flowed. Shortly after that first massacre on 8July 2013, another even more “ferocious attack” followed on 27 July 2013, and the toll was a staggering 72 dead, at least. Having had great success with its campaign to paint the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists, what should have been termed national disaster, and given many pause, was instead welcomed with open, justifying arms.

By the time 14 August 2013 rolled around, and the Rabaa massacre that killed nearly 1,000 Islamists, the seemingly binary operations and discourse rampant throughout Egypt was, in fact, a more complex multi-institutional maze. The very process by which fascism is born is not a sudden hammer’s blow to the head, but rather a silent poison, which gradually seeps into societal waters. Arguably, it was a process that began during the Morsi tenure, with its birthplace in the exclusionary rhetoric of a leader who made most Egyptians feel like strangers in their own land, unless they belonged to his political flank. By the time the baton was snatched by Al-Sisi, things would take shape in a way no nation should desire.

To the naked eye, it appeared that Al-Sisi ruled the roost, but, in political reality, it is multiple crucial players who rule along his side. The Deep State was, in fact, the real big brother at the helm, including, but not limited to: the General Intelligence, the Ministry of Interior, Military Intelligence, Central Security Forces, topped off by a carefully selected circle of ministerial and personal intimates of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. It is this very specific mélange of overlapping interests that chose the Al-Sisi brand to execute a security based roadmap, which has brought Egypt to the edge of a fascist cliff. It is this same deep state that, throughout both the Sadat and the Mubarak tenures, dealt with the Muslim Brotherhood not as political partners but rather as a potentially disruptive element that should, for the most part, be behind their prison bars. More crucially, to this monolith headed by a ‘my way or the highway’ strongman, the key was turning back the clock on any progressive aspirations brought about by the 25 January Revolution. What better way to send a thundering message to the 25 January revolutionaries than to obliterate, both physically and politically, the Islamist opposition?

But with the arrogance that governs it, such a mindset is its own worst enemy. Effectively, the plan was twofold: roll back any gains made by 25 January and decimate the organisational structure of the Brotherhood via a massive thumping that would see leadership and tens of thousands of members and sympathisers dead, jailed, or on the run. The plethora of problems this brought, and still brings, to the table is why, in the medium term, the stability of Egypt is under threat. This threat is not only due to terrorism, that such authoritarian steps have brought, but equally so the general acquiescent silence or alternately loud public support of state crimes. With the government delivering multiple massacres, each larger than any committed by any post-1952 Egyptian regime, but also wrapping a vice grip around an estimated 45,000+ political prisoners, Egypt has left the banal realm of dictatorship behind, and is aiming for something significantly more horrific.

Though, as recently as eight weeks ago, Al-Sisi spoke of having a parliament by the end of 2015, there are two stark realities: Al-Sisi continues to issue an unabated set of laws, seemingly tailored to maximise his own personal power and that of his political ilk, and Egypt has not had a parliament in over two years. Couple that with grotesque patterns of torture and systematic rapeagainst both sexes in Egypt’s prisons, and you begin to comprehend how deeply ingrained the dehumanisation powering the fascist machine is. While such issues, endemic to many police states to varying degrees, are more common than many would believe, what is morally perturbing is the degree to which the majority are silent about the abuses. In some case, surely, fear of punishment plays a role and, in yet others, political fatigue and disinterest are paramount. But most confounding, as confirmed by this writer’s many experiences and tens of similar stories, accounts and experiences relayed throughout the past two years, the many applaud the Al-Sisi pathway, regardless of its well documented ethos.

Disturbingly, the “they came first for…”mind-set, made famous by a pastor named Martin Niemoller, who was vocal against Hitler, seems to have been stowed away in history’s shoebox. You would be hard-pressed to find many in the Egyptian zeitgeist who uttered the phrase signifying that while the regime may not be hunting for you now, it is your very silence that guarantees your day, too, will come. This is precisely what has transpired in Egypt. At first, the security forces’ brutality focused solely on Islamist foes, but increasingly, with the killing of Shaimaa el Sabbagh, the banning of 6 April, and the highly worrisome forced disappearances, the Al-Sisi regime is clearly coming for anyone who dares say no.

While there are indications that Al-Sisi has begun to lose some support in the media, as well as within his support base, two recent events paint a bleak picture that the violent tank of fascism marches unimpeded over basic rights. Shortly after Eid Al-Fitr prayers, six days ago, witnesses say a peaceful Islamist demonstration was attacked, according to multiple accounts, by police live fire. Six protestors were killed on the Muslim holy day, yet total silence, for the most part, ruled social media, the Egyptian press and the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, while bloody, was absent of any denouncement. During that same holiday, a much smaller incident reflected that law of the jungle and violence had become law of the land. A female police officer was recorded on video punching, berating, slapping and electrocuting a sexual harassment suspect. Even the British Daily Mirror called the police colonel “thuggish”.

In the final days of Morsi’s tenure a group of villagers murdered four Shi’a followersin broad daylight. To many analysts (including this one), there was a link between the sectarian rhetoric of the president and that deplorable crime. It is no less troubling to see how the Al-Sisi regime has created an environment where the “other” has become a facile and vulnerable target. No less tragically, Egyptians, in large numbers, are playing along either with silence or with loud clapping.

This current of anger, hate, and violence is nothing less than a mortal danger to the Egyptian state. It is not the simply the fault of the deep state or Al-Sisi. History has known many who have committed crimes, but to fall to such lows, those criminals must have partners. In millions of Egyptians, tragically, Al-Sisi has found such partners.

If this car isn’t stopped, Syria and Iraq will look like child’s play by comparison

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Assault on Journalism Al Sisi Style

Appeared here in Daily News Egypt on July 5

Assault on journalism, Al-Sisi style

  /   July 5, 2015  /   3 Comments

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Amr Khalifa

By Amr Khalifa

The Al-Sisi regime, from its unofficial start in 2013, has been about wars: a war on terrorism, a war on the Muslim Brotherhood, and today a new war was declared: on journalism. It is not surprising for those holding pens near and far from Cairo that freedom of speech is under assault in Egypt. Even those who count Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi as a champion of their political cause are quickly realising that the modus operandi of the Egyptian strongman is, at its core, ‘my way or the highway’. The proposed anti-terrorism law crystallises a two year long policy that seeks to tighten, generally, the police state’s grip on Egypt and the autocrat’s hold, specifically, on all matters Egyptian. Mohamed Morsi was removed from power for far less.

It was this writer’s intent, with the sun’s rise on a glorious Sunday, to complete an article on the recent jihadist attack by “State of Sinai” on multiple military and police checkpoints in Sheikh Zuweid, but upon reading details of the proposed law reality delivered a realpolitik sheathed knife to the gut. The mere title of the piece in process: “Sinai, the big lie” sought to uncover the very logarithm of the contradiction between the official army narrative and media reports on the death toll of the insurgency-changing attack. But the proposed law itself, by definition, seeks to make that very examination a crime punishable by two years in prison. Today I awoke to a reality that Egypt had left autocracy behind, and for journalists, it made big strides in the direction of a North Korea-styled “democracy”.

Article 33 of the proposed law, likely to be passed with extreme urgency in the current hyper-nationalist climate on the heels of the deadly attack, is very clear. “Those who intentionally write or publish untrue news relating to terrorism operations shall be punished with imprisonment of no less than two years”. It further defines “untrue news” to be that which “contradicts official press releasesby concerned party”. The article is vague enough and sufficiently inclusive to cover any Egyptian security entity that deals with matters of terrorism. For all intents and purposes, this law presents journalists covering Egypt with the following choices: embody the government narrative or move at your own peril in the direction of calling a prison cell’s pavement your home for two years.

The regime’s stance is admirable in its virtuoso bluntness; it is a style consistent with Al-Sisi’s security paradigm and is as subtle as an Apache striking your home as you soundly sleep after having published a journalistically sound piece.

There is no doubt that Egypt is not alone in seeking to protect what it deems as national security matters from the prying eyes of the fourth estate. Matters relating to the NSA, Edward Snowden, and citizen privacy have made the issue one for our times. But this is not what is happening in the Egyptian sphere. Al-Sisi and his ultra-hawkish advisors understand well that he came to power on the wings and a prayer of a defence of stability, a security agenda and a reduction of terrorism on Egyptian shores. But the past two years have killed hundreds of policemen, military personnel and shown Al-Sisi incapable of bringing to bear his chief goals. Indeed, the events of the past week: the assassination of Hisham Barakat, the deadly assault on Sheikh Zuweid, Sinai and resultant military operations that have killed 205 in three days, according to official narrative, have only added a huge exclamation point to Al-Sisi’s systematic security failure.

Naturally, when an uber-draconian law is quickly penned into existence to shut down accurate reporting of an increasingly troubling security landscape, there can be no suspicion as to what the forces at play are. For many months the Sinai Peninsula has been an impenetrable territory for journalists, Egyptian and foreign alike, and that is troubling on two levels. Those who, through difficult and dangerous work, are able to acquire accurate information of the Sinai must think long and hard about publishing, as journalists like Ahmad Abou Draa have already faced arrest for publishing a counter-narrative. The accusation in that specific case related to publishing information about the armed forces, long an offence punishable by military justice. To buttress claims of danger to journalists operating in the Egyptian sphere, one only need look at the recent case of Spanish journalist Ricard Gonzalez who had to escape Egypt recently or be faced withimminent arrest.

But, under the new law, the mere reporting of death toll figures by reputable media outfits contradicting the official narrative will result in at least two years behind bars. Respected news sources such Reuters, AP and the BBC all reported death toll figures for last week’s more than triple that of official figures of 21 soldiers killed – 17 in the original army reports and an additional four bodies found days later. The regime makes it no secret that these reports constitute a media war, in addition to the terrorism war they are fighting. “A non-truthful image” of the campaign in Sinai has been portrayed by the foreign and local media, Al-Sisi told a gathering of Armed forces leaders on Saturday. So important is this countering of that image that the armed forces saw it fit to issue a two minute film to beat “State of Sinai” to the punch vis-a-vis the Sheikh Zuweid battle.

Make no mistake, Al-Sisi’s vision of the world is very much black and white: you are either with us or against us, and in Al-Sisi’s eyes any journalist publishing figures, opinions or facts contrary to the official narrative is against both the Egyptian state and his very person. The proposed law is not a warning, but it is the very bullets to be used to silence freedom of speech in a nation that has never known it in its modern era. There can be no question that without a political counterweight to Al-Sisi, and there continues to be none two years into his reign, matters will only continue to deteriorate. Nonetheless, developments this week, along legislative lines, put many journalists looking to paint as complete a picture as possible to readers, both Egyptian and foreign, in immediate harm’s way.

For those bearing a pen as their only camera, Egypt’s anti-terrorism law is nothing short of a noose. To operate in the coming period, the choices for journalists are to whisper sweet lies or speak loudly and suffer the consequences.

Al-Sisi’s black and white universe only offers stark choices.

I choose to write.

Amr Khalifa is freelance journalist and commentator recently published by Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Muftah, the Tahrir Institute, and Arab Media Society. You can follow him on Twitter @cairo67unedited

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