North Africa, West Asia

Egypt: the horror continues

The regime invokes the ghosts of 2013, reminding the opposition of its foundational moment.

Maged Mandour
5 November 2019, 7.06am
Rabaa al-Adawiya square.
Amsg07, wikimedia commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Scene one

Monday the 23rd of September, in a meeting between President Trump and Egypt`s military autocrat, Trump declares his support for the Egyptian dictator. Abdel Fattah El Sisi, for the first time since assuming the presidency was facing the prospect of protests against his rule. On another occasion, Trump was heard calling the Egyptian leader “his favourite dictator”, showing the warmth of the relationship between the pair.

The call for the protest originated from an exiled contractor, Mohamed Ali, who worked closely with the military for a number of years. In a series of videos, the exiled contractor exposed the corruption of the military establishment, and the lavish expenditure on presidential palaces, at a time of rising poverty and economic hardship. In response to the protests that transpired against the regime, the security forces presided over the largest wave of arrests under Sisi. The number of detainees reached 2300 over a period of two weeks. This included the arrest of 111 minors. The use of torture was employed during the crackdown. The regime also orchestrated pro-government protests. The location selected was Nasr City, more specifically, Raba’a square, where the worst massacre in modern Egyptian history occurred.

The regime thereby invokes the ghosts of 2013, reminding the opposition of its foundational moment, where hundreds of protestors were massacred with popular consent.

Scene two

Alaa Abdel Fatah, the prominent Egyptian activist is serving his half-day probation sentence. Alaa was released after serving a five-year sentence for breaking the protest law. Part of his sentence includes five years of probation, where he spends half his day in the police station, from 6 PM to 6 AM, every day. On September 29th, Alaa did not emerge from the Dokki police station, where he serves his sentence. He was arrested as part of the nationwide crackdown, even though he did not call for protests, nor was he connected to Mohamed Ali.

Alaa is later taken to a maximum-security prison, where he is stripped to his underwear, beaten, and humiliated. Mohamed El Baqer, a prominent human rights lawyer, who was arrested while attending the interrogation as a lawyer defending Alaa, accompanies him in his ordeal. Esraa Abdel Fattah, another prominent activist, was arrested as part of the crackdown. Plain clothed members of the security forces abducted her. She was also tortured, beaten, humiliated, and hung from the ceiling. She has launched a hunger strike to protest the conditions of her captivity.

Scene three

The security forces moved to arrest a number of political figures, with charges of creating an illegal organization and plotting to bring down the state. The group was attempting to create a new coalition, named the coalition of hope, to contest the upcoming parliamentary election. Those arrested include former Member of Parliament Zyad Elelaimy, journalist Hisham Fouad, Omar El-Shenety, the founder of the Multiples Group investment firm, and Hossam Moanis, the former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi’s campaign manager. Literally, with a great sense of irony, the Egyptian security apparatus arrested hope. The arrested joined a long list of members of legal political parties that were swept away in the ever widening crackdown on the opposition, this includes Abdel Moneim Abou El Fotouh, the head of the Strong Egypt party, who was arrested in February 2018 . He remains in solitary confinement.

Scene four

Omar Adel, a 29-year-old prisoner dies in solitary confinement; he was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to 15 years in jail by a military court. He did not have any serious medical conditions upon his arrest. Adel, like many prisoners in Egyptian jails had a fear of dying alone, in prison. Reports claim that he spent three day in solitary confinement, screaming and pleading with his captors to release him from his confinement, to no avail. The size of the cell is 4.5 square meters, with no windows or proper ventilation. Adel simply moved from one grave to the next. Adel`s case is not unique. Estimates of deaths in Egyptian prisons range from 60 to 717 from 2016 to 2018, as a direct result of medical negligence, torture, and overcrowding.

Scene five

Two street vendors jump on a first class train, in an attempt to sell their merchandise to the more affluent passengers. Business is slow, due to the heavy rain. As one would expect, they did not buy a ticket. The train conductor catches them, and they are given a choice, jump from a moving train or get handed over to the police. In Egypt, for young men that belong to the urban poor, fear of police violence far outweighs fear from a moving train. The young men jump, one dies immediately, the other escapes with his life. The power of the petty government official becomes apparent, and the degree by which repression is decentralized, being disproportionately directed against the poor becomes clear. In response to the incident, Kamel el Wazir, the current minister of transportation and the ex-head of the military’s engineering authority, responded by shifting the blame to the two men stating “they should have known the importance of tickets”.

Opening Scene

This is a watershed moment for the neo-military regime. Mass protests erupted on the 30th of June 2013, against the Islamist President, Mohamed Morsi. In response, the military intervenes and removes him from power. There are thousands of his supporters, camped out in the summer heat, demanding his return. The then Minster of Defence Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, calls the masses to stage a mass rally to empower him to fight terrorism, a prelude to a massacre that is about to occur and the wave of repression to follow. This rally creates a base of social support for the coming crimes, in essence, spreading the responsibility among the populace, a process of “societal repression” with mass, popular participation is kicked off. On a hot August day, the security forces moved against the supporters of the deposed President, killing 1,150 in one day. The opening scene to the mass repression that would follow, and a brand of extreme nationalism and national paranoia that would justify what was to come. All the scenes that would follow had their start on this day, the opening scene in an unfolding tragedy.

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