Dhaka Courier

Egypt: a horror story

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Imprisoned Egyptian satirist Shady Abu Zeid during his father’s funeral. Source: Twitter.

An attempt to remember, and cope with a trauma that pervades the lives of millions of Egyptians.

Scene One

President Abdelfattah Al Sissi, Egypt`s military autocrat is having an interview with the American television program 60 minutes, on CBS. Unlike other interviews, with the Egyptian media, the President seems tense, with visible beads of sweat on his face and around his lips, as he denies the existence of political prisoners in the country, in-spite of the interviewer confronting him with a Human Rights Watch report, claiming the existence of, at least, 60000 political prisoners. Later in the interview, the President claims that the Rabba sit-in, the protest camp set-up by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, after the coup of 2013 that brought Sissi to power, was an armed sit-in. The dispersal of the protest camp led to the death of a minimum of 817 protestors. The interviewer then confronts Sissi that based on the figures released by the Egyptian government, only a handful of weapons were found in the protests camp. Sissi continues his denials, and questions the credibility of the figures.

Scene 2

It has been over 115 days since the disappearance of Mostafa El-Naggar. Mostafa was a prominent leader of the 25th of January mass protests, in 2011, which led to the overthrow of Egypt’s dictator, Hosni Mubarak. He was also a Member of Parliament during Egypt`s brief democratic experiment in 2012. After the coup of 2013. El-Naggar has kept a low public profile, trying to steer away from politics, and to focus on charity work. He is embroiled in a case, related to “insulting the judiciary”, where he has been sentenced to three years in prison. The case appears to be politically motivated. The Egyptian government has denied that it is holding El-Naggar, and there are unconfirmed reports that he was killed by border patrols as he was trying to cross the border into Sudan. The fate of El-Naggar remains unknown, however, as time passes, the bleakest possibilities for this father of three becomes more probable.

Scene 3

The funeral of the father of Shady Abou-Zeid, an Egyptian comedian and satirist. Shady is currently being held by the security forces under charges of belonging to an outlawed group, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2016, Shady did a publicity stunt on the anniversary of the mass protests, where he distributed inflated condoms to members of the security forces, and published the spectacle on social media. In 2018 he was arrested, and remains in police custody. During his imprisonment, his father`s health deteriorated, some say, partially, due to the stress of his son’s arrest. As Shady`s father was moved to intensive care, Shady was not allowed to visit him, until the father passed away. Shady was only allowed to see his father, after his death, where we was allowed to bury him, under heavy security. The drama reaches its climax when Shady was released from his cuffs so that he can bow down and kiss his father`s head, a heart breaking scene. He was then taken back to his prison cell, still awaiting trial.

Scene 4

In December 2018, a tourbus, carrying Vietnamese tourists was attacked by a roadside bomb in Giza. The attack lead to the death of four people. In response, the Egyptian security forces announce the liquidation of 40 militants. The following day, in a series of raids in Giza and Northern Sinai. No connection was made between the 40 militants and the attack on the tourist bus, opening the door to speculations that this was another case of extra-judicial killings. In 2018 a video appeared, showing the security forces staging what appears to be the aftermath of a armed fight, after the execution of unarmed men, in a proven case of extra-judicial killing. The video was shot in Sinai. In a media appearance a retired police general, in an attempt to minimize the impact of the attack, stated: “Thank God the victims did not include any Americans or Europeans”, reflecting the overt racist tendencies that pervade the Egyptian state, a racist logic that it uses against its own citizenry.

Scene 5

It has been, almost, three years since the body of the Italian PhD student, Giulio Regeni, was found in a ditch in Cairo, carrying the marks of severe torture. Regeni, who was registered in Cambridge, was researching Egyptian labour unions, a politically sensitive topic in the country. When his body was found, the Egyptian security forces first stated the cause of death to be a car accident, then a quarrel with a gay lover, finally in another shoot-out that killed five people, that state declared that it was a gang that abducted and tortured Regeni. All of these causes were dismissed by the Italian authorities, especially after the Egyptian security forces admitted that they were monitoring Regeni, but denied his abduction. The autopsy report shows that Regeni was tortured for days, attributing the cause of death to be a broken neck due to blunt force trauma. In late 2018, the Italian authorities identified five Egyptian security officers, including a high-ranking officer, as possible suspects, in the abduction and murder of Regeni. The case remains open, with little progress made in the legal proceeding against the accused. Regeni would have turned 31, last January.

Closing scene

It has been eight years since the eruption of the mass protests in 2011, which toppled Mubarak. The trauma of the past years on the generation of young men and women that took to the streets is deep and lasting. Thousands are in jail, dead, or in exile, and the military regime has a tight grip on power. The defeat is almost total, and the Egyptian opposition is in shambles, both secular and Islamist, mostly, from self-inflicted wounds. Both camps, cooperated with the military, at different stages of the tragedy, to oust and silence the other camp, and in the end, the military annihilated them both. The tragic part is that until now, there has been very little reflection or change in direction within the circles of the opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood has yet to accept responsibility for it’s major errors, nor has the secular opposition fully accepted the notion that the 30th of June was a full-fledged military coup, and acknowledged its role in it, nor is there an awareness that the real struggle, is, indeed, with the Egyptian military capitalist caste, and that what is required is a protracted struggle, not only at the political level, but also at the social and economic levels against Egypt’s crony, military, capitalist class.

In the meantime, social media is flooded with pictures of those that are laying in prison, or those that lost their lives in the struggle, with many more, remaining unknown, in an attempt to remember, and cope with a trauma, that pervades the lives of millions of Egyptians. As the days drag on, we do what we can, we wait for the end of our exile, those that have been exiled from society, laying in dark cells, and those that have been exiled from their homes, scattered across the globe. We wait for the unexpected, for the spark that will light the fire that will bring the long awaited light, hoping that this is, indeed, the calm before the storm!

Maged Mandour graduated from Cambridge with a Masters in International Relations. He is a political analyst and the columnist of “Chronicles of the Arab Revolt” on openDemocracy. He is also a writer for Sada, the online journal for Carnegie.

  • Egypt: a horror story
  • Maged Mandour
  • Issue 31
  • Vol 35
  • DhakaCourier

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