I am scared about what is happening to my country. These are not the mere birth pains, or mishaps of a democracy stumbling to find its feet. No, things are getting progressively, and conspicuously worse in Egypt.
It scares me because the promise of the interim Government which I celebrated, its very ‘modus operandi,’ was that it would soothe the storm. Namely, that, through its takeover of power in July, it would restore the stability lost by the incompetence of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood Government. Women and Coptic Christians would have certainly suffered under the Brotherhood’s pursuit of a Sharia style constitution late last year.
But there’s no other way to say it: our saviours, our protectors, our house-keeping, freedom-championing referees President Abdel Fattah el Sisi and his military are acting a lot like Mubarak.
But surely the sceptics weren’t completely correct? Their claims about what was wrong with Egypt’s military coup/civilian protest were so sweeping and obnoxious.
‘All of a sudden’ said the mainstream media (ignoring the actual feelings of most Egyptians on these matters,) ‘a Military Coup has undermined democracy in backwards Egypt.’
I was disappointed at just how droll and pessimistic that little story was. So unimaginative, I thought.
It was always the other enchanting tale that excited me. ‘All of a sudden,’ said Tahrir Square, ‘A whole nation awoke to its senses, rippled up like a wave crashing against the shore, roaring “Enough!” as it brought down the corrupt system for a second time.’
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And then Sisi tried to shut down Tahrir Square. In October, a law was implemented which made it illegal to protest in Tahrir Square in groups larger than 10, and banned overnight sit-ins. I vaguely remember another overnight sit-in that the Government tried to ban. What was it? Oh, that’s right, the Tahrir Square protests of early 2011.
The news of this anti-protest law crept up on Egyptians, and, like the tear gas thrown at us by our enemies, perhaps we’ve noticed the smell a little too late. And similar little surprises continue to happen in Egypt, with deeply unsettling regularity.
Political satirist Basem Youssef, recipient of the Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists, was taken off the air in September. On November 30 Ahmed Maher, a critical force in the formation of the April 6th youth movement was arrested. On December 26, the Brotherhood was declared a terrorist group with any protest whatsoever now illegal. Add to all this the seemingly endless slate of journalist arrests and deaths, with at least six deaths in 2013 and four Al Jazeera journalists being taken into custody last week, and things are looking bad, very bad for freedom in Egypt.
Yet, for all that, I could reassure myself that enemies of a free Egypt perpetrated the offensive lie that Egyptians couldn’t ‘handle’ democracy. After all, it was these same ‘experts’ who spoke of the silliness of Mubarak’s removal and the ‘illegitimacy’ of Sisi’s overthrow. They were clearly wrong, and also pretty cocky.
But the last straw, the giant pink elephant that signalled that something different was happening, was Rabah el-Addiwiyah. The April sit-ins staged by the Muslim Brotherhood in Rabah square were brutally dispersed by State police. Human Rights Watch described it as the “most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history.” The Egyptian health ministry reported 638 dead, while the Brotherhood claimed at least 2600. I saw, immediately – with the footage of bearded Brotherhood supporters being carried into field hospitals on stretchers, blood everywhere, crying widows, teenagers shot through the head – that the Military had been given war-time orders, and that Egyptians themselves were the enemy.
My unwillingness to doubt that the Army and the people were still “one hand” gave way when I saw the easy, brutal efficiency with which the military dispensed with the pretense, and went to work on the protestors in the square. One image in particular, broadcasted on Russia Today, of an elderly man weeping over the charred remains of his Koran, still haunts me.
And though it’s Egypt that hurts, and Egyptians who will suffer, you know what pains me most of all? What scares me even more than a return to totalitarianism? That the naysayers might have been right, that Egyptians really can’t handle freedom, that we are uncivilized, backward, incompetent.
In January 2011, we shut them all up the first time. Egypt, I beg you to prove them wrong again. I beg you to take back your revolution.