by Ayman Ahmed (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 10, Safar, 1436)
The military regime in Egypt has instilled such fear in people that they have all become informants for the government.
The people of Egypt have enormous talent and, therefore, potential. Yet as is the case with many other Muslim countries, this potential is not only under-utilized but greatly suppressed. The country’s present predicament at the hands of their military rulers offers ample proof of what is wrong with the manner in which Egypt is governed.
If it were merely a question of poor governance, it could be argued that the situation might improve with time as the rulers gain experience. In Egypt, however, the situation is completely different: an atmosphere of fear has been created in which people are being turned against each other. Even family members are spying on one another. The situation is not very different from that during the Shah’s regime in Iran in the 1960s and 1970s. A vast network of spies existed in the country with the notorious secret service, SAVAK, keeping an eye on everyone. People were so terrorized that they even spied on family members in order to save their own skin.
Fear is a powerful tool in the hands of tyrants. They know that people hate them and they cannot win their trust or support.
Fear is a powerful tool in the hands of tyrants. They know that people hate them and they cannot win their trust or support. Instead, they terrorise people so much that they are forced to work for the regime. The technique used is all too familiar: the rulers’ interests are conflated with that of the state. Nobody wants to be branded a traitor. Thus, if someone criticises the regime’s policies, he/she is immediately branded anti-state. This is a very serious charge.
With 24-hour television beaming propaganda, it is not difficult to brainwash people into believing that what the rulers are doing is only for the state’s good and it is the patriotic duty of every citizen to defend the state — and therefore the country — from those that would cause harm. So-called security and strategic experts are given ample air time on television and on radio telling people that it is their patriotic duty to report on people undermining the country’s progress. And if they fail to do so, they would be considered accomplices.
Egypt’s brutes in uniform led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, know they are disliked. Thus they have their agents on every television talk show to continue to beam pro-regime propaganda. They have even got some shaykhs to do their bidding. During khutbah following Eid al-Adha prayers in early October, the shaykh called el-Sisi, who was present there, a gift from Allah (swt) who had come to save not only Egypt but the entire Muslim world! The shaykh probably believed this. El-Sisi and his henchmen must have chuckled with delight.
Some “court” shaykhs have issued fatwas asserting that it is the duty of all patriotic Egyptians to report even their family members if they are found to be “plotting” against the state. What constitutes plotting? The language used in these fatwas is so vague that it may be stretched to include anything from making bombs to speaking ill of state officials or even their family members.
Given the regime’s total control of the media and prohibition on expressing an alternative point of view, the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood) are presented as the enemies of state. Nothing good can come from them. Incessant propaganda has also convinced most Egyptians that it was the military’s timely intervention that saved Egypt from being destroyed. Television stations constantly talk about a “grand international conspiracy” in which the Ikhwan were involved with unnamed outside powers to undermine Egypt and to weaken the patriotic armed forces.
While the “international conspirators” remain unnamed, the list is long. The US, Turkey, Qatar and even Israel although if the regime’s drumbeaters were capable of thinking, they would realize that the regime itself is in bed with the Zionists. It was at their behest that the tunnels — lifeline of the Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip — through which they were getting desperately needed provisions to survive were destroyed. It is also revealing that Egypt is perhaps the only country in the Muslim world where there is little sympathy for the Palestinians. Even in Saudi Arabia where the regime is in league with the Zionists and the Americans, the average Saudi still has some sympathy for the Palestinians.
The prevalence of anti-Palestinian sentiment among Egyptians is the result of carefully crafted propaganda. Anything that goes wrong in Egypt is immediately blamed on the Ikhwan, and by extension the Palestinians. For instance, attacks on Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula are blamed on the Palestinians. That these were carried out by the extremist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis with which Hamas is in conflict is conveniently ignored. Also ignored is the fact that the group has the backing of the Saudi regime, the principal sponsor of the Egyptian military.
The most shocking part of this whole affair is that even otherwise educated Egyptians have been brainwashed or terrorized into supporting the army. These include, in addition to the shaykhs, university professors, lawyers and judges. Lawyers that try to remain faithful to their profession by defending the accused in court are also targeted. The judges are a complete disgrace. There are those that have earned, rightly, the epithet of “hanging judge.” Hundreds have been sentenced to death in a matter of minutes. It takes much longer than that to read the names of the accused. Defence lawyers are not permitted to question the evidence or offer any defence. The judges have continued the work of handing down death sentences to those that survived the military’s brutal onslaught.
The Egyptian media that had become quite bold during the last few days of the Mubarak dictatorship and had been granted much freedom during the one-year rule of Mohamed Mursi (June 2012–June 2013), have suddenly become pro-regime sympathizers and apologists. Columnists are only allowed to praise the little man el-Sisi; criticising him will incur not only the wrath of the state but also of people. They would immediately be branded anti-state providing comfort to the enemies of Egypt. El-Sisi is the state, while his thieving colleagues continue to rob the people. It is back to business as usual as was the case during the last 60 years.
The thugs in uniform, however, want to leave nothing to chance. Despite their drumbeaters constantly proclaiming their non-existent virtues on television, on radio and with gallons of ink on newspaper columns, the musclemen are not satisfied. They want to clamp down even harder on the media. Information about a new media law was leaked on November 10. They plan to tighten control of media coverage even more essentially preventing any negative coverage at all. One wonders what really scares them. This comes against the backdrop of the military arrogating to itself vast new powers at the end of October.
While el-Sisi keeps telling people that it will take time to improve things, especially the economy, he has used fear and intimidation to keep them silent. If the economy has not improved, it is because Mursi made a “mess,” people are told. And most believe such nonsense. In fact, Mursi was not allowed to succeed even when he tried to address some of the problems. Besides, it is virtually impossible to turn things around in one year, especially when remnants of the old regime were and are still entrenched in important positions and create hurdles at each step.
Immediately after Mursi’s ouster from power, the New York Times wrote, “…Since the military ousted President Mohamed Mursi, life has somehow gotten better for many people across Egypt: Gas lines have disappeared, power cuts have stopped and the police have returned to the street.” It went on, “The apparently miraculous end to the crippling energy shortages, and the re-emergence of the police, seems to show that the legions of personnel left in place after former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011 played a significant role — intentionally or not — in undermining the overall quality of life under the Islamist administration of Mr. Mursi.” (Ben Hubbard and David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, July 10, 2013).
The atmosphere of fear that has turned even ordinary people into government informants was captured by Abdel Rahman Zaidan, coordinator of the Revolutionaries Front in East Cairo, on his Facebook page entry. He narrated his encounter while riding a microbus [shared taxi-van] that ply Cairo’s streets.
The atmosphere of fear that has turned even ordinary people into government informants was captured by Abdel Rahman Zaidan, coordinator of the Revolutionaries Front in East Cairo, on his Facebook page entry. He narrated his encounter while riding a microbus [shared taxi-van] that ply Cairo’s streets. He said he was surprised to hear a middle-aged woman start to criticise el-Sisi as well as the Interior Ministry that controls the police force. Other passengers were shocked to hear this woman. One of the passengers, encouraged by what he heard the woman say, joined in criticising the government and the interior ministry. Before Abdel Rahman could join the conversation, the woman suddenly asked the driver to pull over next to a church. The moment the microbus stopped, the woman stuck her head out the window and started shouting, “Save me! There’s a Muslim Brotherhood terrorist in the van.” Guards near the church rushed over and started beating the young man and dragged him out of the cab.
The woman also disembarked and accompanied the guards to testify against the “Muslim Brotherhood terrorist” who was out to destroy the state through this heinous crime! Glancing sharply at the other passengers, she stated proudly, “We’re cleaning up this country!” This sent a chill down the spine of other passengers that remained frozen in their seats.
Such mindset does not emerge in a vacuum. It is carefully nurtured even if the woman in the microbus was not recruited by the intelligence agencies. Through incessant propaganda, people come to believe that they are performing their patriotic duty by exposing those that are trying to obstruct the country’s progress and stability. This is akin to the Stockholm syndrome in which people taken hostage begin to sympathize with their hostage takers.
Soon after the Egyptian military’s coup in July 2013, it announced the establishment of telephone hotlines urging “honourable citizens” to use them to report on neighbours and acquaintances belonging to or supportive of the Ikhwan. Something similar has been underway in the US since 9/11. The American regime and its myriad intelligence agencies have used such techniques against innocent people, especially Muslims in the US. When these failed to yield the desired results, FBI informants, posing as Muslims, have infiltrated masjids to entrap unsuspecting Muslims. In almost all cases where Muslims were accused of “plotting” terrorist acts, the acts were instigated by FBI informants. This was also the case in Canada in the most widely known case of what came to be called the Toronto 18.
Two professions have been in the forefront of Egypt’s descent into a police state: media and the judiciary. Both are supposed to act as sentinels of people’s rights. The media is supposed to expose the regime’s heavy-handedness and wrongdoings; the judiciary must provide legal protection from the heavy arm of state. Instead, both have been reduced to doing the state’s dirty work.
Perhaps the most shocking development for the secularists in Egypt is that while they were used by the military to undermine Mursi’s government, now the regime spares no one. The secularists are complaining that they do not support the Muslim Brotherhood and yet they are targeted. Some would say, they deserve what they have got but the tragedy for Egypt is that ultimately the people will suffer even if they do not realize at present what they are doing or how they are being manipulated by the thugs in uniform.