Ten reasons for pessimism, ten that need to change
The anniversary is coming up and with the new year behind us it’s a time to take stock. And looking back, despite the incredible highs, there are many causes for pessimism, for how things haven’t yet worked out as many thought. Here are just ten:
1- SCAF: Many reasons for pessimism are inextricably linked with the ruling council of military men that have taken over affairs of the country in the transitional period. There are enough to have their own separate numbers on the list but one reason that must be included is the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces itself.
Under this heading is a plethora of human rights abuses and examples of mangled dealings of a botched transition period. Violence against protesters is enough to be considered the norm, a barrage of abuses and thousands of civilians subjected to speedy military trials.
Add in a constitutional declaration that granted the council sole executive powers even though that was not voted for on the referendum, the delay in holding elections until pressure from the street brought them forward and a preciousness that makes the council skittish about any form of criticism.
Not to mention a media war and a slew of accusations against protesters for being conspirators, funded by foreign enemies (that have never been revealed) and turning Egyptians against Egyptians. Otherwise known as incitement. Factor in the events of Maspiro 9 October when military APCs ran over protesters and recent events at the cabinet that saw great army brutality against Egyptians of all ages, and a death toll that keeps rising.
And it ends with no manner of accountability whatsoever. No one from the military has yet to be held accountable for the numerous infringements of peoples’ lives this year. The ruling elite is above the law, just like it was in the days of the dictator.
2- The Interior Ministry: Yet to be purged, operating as it did before 25 January, despite the fact that this uprising initially was against the police on its national holiday. The infamous State Security apparatus got a rebranding as the National Security apparatus, operating pretty much as before with much of the same officers.
Just like before 25 January, people continue to die in police stations and prison cells due to torture. Just like on 25 January, police still use violence and tear gas against protesters such as on 28 June and 19 November in Mostafa Mahmoud. And just like before 25 January, police seem unconcerned with protecting citizens, and since there is no regime left to protect (or that regime has its own military force) police forces are left to direct traffic, on some days, and on others they’re nowhere to be found.
A failed institution such as this with its main mandate taken away – to protect a ruling elite – finds itself without much to do. And yet any attempts to restructure it into a proper body that can serve citizens is refused point blank.
3- Emergency Law: Still in effect, although it had been repealed, but then reinstated, to curb this apparent “thug” problem Egypt is suffering from. Apparently police are unable to secure the streets without extraordinary powers at their disposal. Not that the streets are secure. The emergency law was the biggest tool of oppression for Mubarak’s police, used to curb dissent and anything else. It was one of the first things to go after the ouster of Mubarak and was back in before we knew it.
4- State Media: Lies about protesters? Check. Incitement against protesters? Check. Closely following the line of those in power? Check. Doesn’t make a difference if it’s January or October? Check.
Much has been said about state media, and the rubbish it peddled during the initial 18 days of protests against the regime. After you’d think that once you’ve been set free you might actually decide to no longer toe the party line. But anyone who’s been inside the monolithic Maspiro building that houses the Egyptian Radio and Television Union will tell you that these days it’s akin to a military camp.
Much has been said of state television’s Maspiro coverage 9 October when protesters were run over right in front of the building. These errors of reporting (which in one case meant an overanxious presenter exhorting citizens to rush and out defend the armed forces) were later attributed to “technical errors” and television presenters overwhelmed in the heat of the moment.
The state media, like the police, found itself after 11 February like a dog that had lost its master. But soon enough a new master came along and all is well with the world again.
5- Xenophobia/Suspicion/Tourism: This is written right after the Slovenian ambassador was captured in Shubra and handed to authorities because people thought he was a spy. The Ministry of Information in January laid out a heavy line about foreign hands and other instigators against the righteous Mubarak regime. It didn’t work then, but the insidiousness of these accusations unfortunately remained, and blossomed. Since Mubarak’s ouster SCAF and the state media have continued in a similar vein, raging much about foreign hands and third parties and other unnamed bogeymen that are responsible for all the carnage in Egypt.
The suspicion has remained and mutated in various ways and has now extended to Egyptians amongst themselves. If you’re on the other side of the ideological divide, then you must be a foreign agent funded from abroad. First it was civil society groups, the 6 April movement and currently it’s the revolutionary socialists. As well as protesters on the streets of course.
Due to rampant xenophobia, foreigners will naturally be reticent about a trip to Egypt. Tourism was the mainstay of the Egyptian economy, bringing in the highest revenues ($11 billion in 2010) and employing hundreds of thousands. It would be disingenuous to say that the tumult didn’t at first add to the reticence, but since then it’s been the suspicion of foreigners that has exacerbated this.
The Egyptian economy is faltering, partly due to the drop in tourism revenues. And while the cabinet, SCAF and the state media would have you believe that the protesters are responsible, maybe they should bear in mind that their constant incitement against anything foreign might have something to do with it.
6- Sexism/Violence against women: It would be false to say that the military began the vicious tone against women post- 11 February, for a women’s march in Tahrir was attacked by regular citizens in March. Sexism is a huge issue on cultural and societal levels, and in a repeat of 2005, now on the political level as well. Taking a leaf out of Mubarak’s book when Interior Ministry thugs sexually harassed females at an anti-government protest in 2005, in April military officers and soldiers subjected detained female protesters to “virginity tests” inside the Egyptian Museum. In regular parlance that is sexual assault.
Attacks against female protesters became more and more pronounced and there is of course the recent case of the unnamed female protester who was dragged by military soldiers down Qasr El-Eini and severely beaten. This brutality against female protesters (and protesters in general) wasn’t just reserved for the young. Khadiga El-Hennawy was dragged by her hair and kicked as military troops surrounded her.
7- An unsympathetic populace: In roundups such as this there’s always the danger of generalizing, and Egypt’s biggest generalization is what is termed the “silent majority” or less favorably, “the party of the sofa”. It would be a fallacy to claim to speak on behalf all those but there is no denying that many Egyptians are losing patience with the revolution and revolutionaries and seek that government catchphrase, “stability.”
This democracy lark wasn’t supposed to take so long, and Mubarak is gone so why is everyone still so hot and bothered? Opinions such as these are ripe for conspiracies about – you guessed it- foreign hands and third parties et al. and many also were not too bothered about the way things used to be, and there is also the belief that Egyptians need an iron hand. Nothing says iron like military fatigues.
However, in fairness a caveat is required when discussing this. Many suffer economic hardship in this country; and there was an expectation that things would magically improve after 11 February. For many, the constant tumult threatens their livelihoods and that of their families, and it is understandable why they’d like all this to just go away. Stability of oppression is still stability.
8- Sectarianism: There was the church attack in Imbaba, the Manshiyet Nasser attack in March and the finale of the Maspiro massacre. Violence against Copts persists coupled with a lack of sympathy from others. Sectarianism didn’t appear after the revolution, it is a long-standing problem. Yet it hasn’t gotten any better after it either.
And yet the political landscape has changed, and with the advent of Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood as viable political entities, it will be interesting to see how sectarian issues will play out in the new political Egypt. However, the discrimination against Copts and minorities is widespread in society and it will take more time – and proper legislation – to rectify this.
9- Hardline Parliament: Even though the parliamentary elections are far from over, after the first two rounds it’s looking like an assembly that will be dominated by Islamist parties, mainly the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the Salafist Al-Noor party. This means that the constitution of the parliament will be rather conservative, with liberals coming a poor third at the polls and leftists barely making a dent. Even Egypt’s liberal parties that garnered some success are the ones leaning more towards the right.
As such, the first post- 25 January assembly will be rigidly conservative, with the FJP seemingly the centrist or moderate bloc. It is what the voters chose of course, but such a right-wing parliament may not bode well for civil liberties and freedoms of expression. Economically it will be staunchly capitalist, which may mean that social justice – much called for in this year’s protests – might not be a top priority.
10- Blood/Lack of accountability: The most important for last. Egyptians are still dying. Egyptians are getting killed for standing up for what they believe in. Since October almost 90 have been killed for participating in protests. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Much of the aim of this year’s events had to do with Egyptians not having to pay with their lives for their beliefs, for asking for their basic rights. And yet it is still happening, months after the “official” close of the revolution in February.
And almost equally as painful as the loss of life, limbs and sight, is the complete and total lack of accountability of the transgressors. Until now, no one has been taken to task for the massacre in Maspiro, for the deaths in Mohamed Mahmoud nor the shootings of protesters at the cabinet in December. SCAF has promised investigations into all the events, internal ones naturally, and it is galling that those who stand accused of causing this are the ones investigating themselves.
We cannot consider the revolution a success until those who take the lives of others and get away with it because they are sanctioned by the state are held accountable for their crimes. And that is why the revolution continues.