Last week, the interim cabinet approved a controversial new law restricting Egyptians’ ability to hold peaceful assembly. While the law is yet to be ratified by Interim President Mansour, it represents a massive, draconian step backward for Egypt. The law’s ambiguity potentially gives legal basis for aggressive suppression of protests, and in doing so, it not only directly hinders Egyptians’ right to peaceful expression, but also indirectly stymies the ability to seek justice through existing institutions. It leaves little doubt that the powers that be are trying to send a clear message to Egypt’s revolutionaries: know your place.
It was my father who first pointed out this aim of the military, a notion that seems obvious now. My father, who was himself forced to leave Egypt in 1973 under Sadat’s so-called ‘Corrective Revolution’, put it simply: “It has always been an aim of the military to keep the youth in check.” I was at first skeptical of this in regards to recent events; the military’s violent August strike seemed too brutally focused on the Brotherhood. Not to mention Tamarod, now one of the most prominent youth-revolutionary groups, that was, at the time, operating in what felt at times like perfect coordination with the military’s interim government.
However, it is now increasingly implausible that the military wants much else but a return to the status quo of SCAF hegemony. The military is of course no longer able to bully the youth-revolutionary base directly. Fortunate for the SCAF, their continued violence works twofold to consolidate their power: they cripple the Brotherhood, one of the few groups with the organizational framework to challenge them, and in doing so are able to pass laws and act in a manner intimidating to any Egyptian, all under the auspice of carrying out a “War on Terror.”
More illuminating still is the account of recently released John Greyson and Tarek Loubani, the two Canadians who had been imprisoned without charges on 16 August. The description of their conditions is abhorrent, to say the least. One of their cellmates reportedly “…arrived with a broken foot that went untreated for three weeks until it got so bad it had to be removed.” Then there were the beatings, cramped conditions, neglect, etcetera, all underscored by the fact that many of the detainees had been near neither the protests nor the police station they were accused of attacking.
Sadly, the account comes as little surprise; such tactics are par the course for the Egyptian security apparatus. As eloquently put by the journalist and editor of the Chronikler, Khaled Diab: “The army may have learnt to speak democracy, but autocracy is still in its blood.” The fact that countless innocent Egyptians have been killed or maimed while fighting the Brotherhood’s ‘terrorist’ threat is likely not at all problematic for the military. On the contrary, in remaining entirely unflinching when causing senseless loss of life, they can make it clear to all free Egyptians: “You can act as you wish, but you will do so only in the cage we build you.” After all, in an autocracy, there’s only room for one.
For those who would deny that the military seeks continued hegemony, they need only see the obscene War on Terror for what it is, namely, relentless intimidation tactics in disguise. If this isn’t enough, the rising cult of Sisi, much discussed elsewhere, should be troubling for anyone who doesn’t have their head buried in the sand. The nonchalance and feigned humility with which the military has greeted the rising mania is most disturbing, especially considering they created it in the first place.
The writing has been on every makeshift that’s ever clogged Cairo’s streets. Every new act of violence and autocratic law directed against a dissenting Egyptian, regardless of their political stripe, is an act of violence against all dissenting Egyptians. The draft protest law has caused the influential Tamarod to finally stand in opposition to the military’s interim government. While such opposition is as limited as it is timid, hopefully, it marks the start of a trend for a group that has all but lost its way. Make no mistake, the military may have learned to sing in a different key, but they only know one tune, and they’ve been singing it for decades: get in line, get out, or face the consequences.