Fear and loathing in post-Morsi Egypt
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As the crisis in Egypt continues to escalate, FRANCE 24 examines how the hard-won progress made in the wake of the country’s 2011 popular uprising is being eroded.
As my EgyptAir MS800 flight touched down on the tarmac at Cairo’s international airport on Thursday, August 15, the usually blasé voice of the plane’s captain wavered as he said, “Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Egypt… May god protect our country.”
Ever since the military’s deadly crackdown on supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi last week, the country has resembled a plane in free-fall, whose pilots continue to squabble even as the cockpit goes down in flames.
The endless escalation of violence in Egypt has pushed the military to adopt a series of security measures reminiscent of former president Hosni Mubarak’s rule – raising fears that the hard-won progress made in the wake of the country’s 2011 uprising is being eroded.
It’s impossible to move around Cairo without noticing the omnipresence of armed forces near the city’s key sites, be they bridges, main squares or public buildings. Furthermore, the recent decision to implement a curfew means that the previously straightforward 30-kilometre trip from the airport to capital’s central Zamalek neighbourhood is now a three-hour expedition punctuated by military roadblocks and makeshift check-points.
As a journalist who covered the popular uprising in 2011, today’s post-Morsi Egypt closely resembles the twilight of the Mubarak-era. Just like before, it is necessary to be constantly vigilant to avoid being targeted by security forces, or worse yet, angry civilians who support the current regime. A sort of collective ultra-nationalist hysteria has rendered any political discussion dangerous – a disagreement between Egyptians easily degenerates into accusations of acting as an “agent of a foreign plot,” before turning into a physical fight or even a lynching in just a manner of minutes.
Because local media – newspapers, television and radio – continually broadcast stories warning the public against the threat of the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood, tensions have never really faded during the intermittent periods of relative calm over the past two weeks.
With more than 900 deaths in five days, the death toll in Egypt is higher than that of either Syria or Iraq during the entire month of July.
Culture of fear
The clearest effect of today’s crisis has been the methodical reconstruction of a culture of fear that those who took part in the uprising at the capital’s Tahrir Square in 2011 sought to end. Every massacre, murder and other act of political violence, regardless of the victim, has only reinforced it. Horrified by the turn of events, a number of Egyptians approached for interviews have refused to express themselves or be quoted in articles out of fear of being denounced as a “traitor” in the “war against terrorism”.
In one particular instance, this toxic climate made it impossible for us to meet with the leader of the opposition movement Third Square, which is both anti-military and anti-Muslim Brotherhood. The activist, who did not want to be named for security reasons, was briefly detained ahead of his appointment with FRANCE 24 as he visited police stations in search of other Third Square members who had been arrested the day before.
The reversal in the country’s progress since the 2011 revolution was evident on Tuesday, August 20, when it was announced that Mohamed ElBaradeï, who briefly served as acting vice-president following Morsi’s overthrow, would be pursued for refusing to back the military’s crackdown on pro-Morsi demonstrators.
Just hours later, Mubarak’s lawyer said that it was likely the former dictator would be released from detention.
The irony of Mubarak’s possible release was not lost on everyone, and a satirical campaign poster with the slogan “Mubarak for president in 2014” quickly surfaced on social networking websites.