By Wael Eskandar
The 29th of December marks Jika’s birthday. Gaber Salah, or “Jika” would have turned 19 in late 2013 had he not been killed by the Ministry of Interior under the then president Morsi. His birthday was celebrated by a few valiant friends and protesters who defied the new Protest Law by marching from his house in Abdeen to where he was shot over a year earlier. They were under a hundred. Such numbers symbolise what’s left of what was once a revolution.
There is a small section of society referred to as secular revolutionaries, who remain in opposition to the false choices of military and Muslim Brotherhood rule. As part of an ongoing campaign to silence them, the state has approached several activists and offered them governmental positions. For those who have turned it down, the security apparatus has threatened and harassed them, but the greatest weapon the state is using is the defamation campaign, which has already been set in motion.
As part of the defamation campaign, accusations of treason have been greatly damaging, sold to a public bent on believing outrageous allegations in order to justify the current reality. Almost every day, a television presenter with strong security ties broadcasts illegally recorded calls of prominent activists or media personnel known to support the 25 January Revolutionary ideals. The calls do nothing to prove treason but are aimed at character assassination of 25 January figures. When rights groups requested an investigation into citizen conversations that have been illegally leaked and the mobile provider, Vodafone, the state has brushed that aside and opted instead to investigate the same company for a puppet advertisement.
The defamation campaign comes as part of a systematic crackdown on secular opposition, rather than as a result of investigations. Why else would the regime first start by offering activists positions in the government? Why else would state security approach several of these activists explaining clearly how they knew that their accusations of espionage were not true, but that they would still use them to defame them?
One of the most revealing accounts of meetings with the state security was written by former MP Mostafa AlNagar, whose call with poet Abdel Rahman Youssef was leaked. The conversations, AlNagar reports, ensure that state security want activists to rid themselves of “illusions of democracy” and to stop talking about human rights and accountability. AlNagar is also left with promises to defame 25 January and ElBaradei supporters. But perhaps more compelling than the testimony itself is the corroboration of such messages from other activists hounded by state security.
It may be time for the secular revolutionaries to stop fighting and realise that they’ve always been traitors; traitors to the Egyptian government’s way of life and their propaganda, traitors to their injustice and traitors to their methods. These activists dare to denounce unjust laws and protest them not because they root for a person like Mohamed Morsi or Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, but because they support an idea, seemingly unfathomable to the myriad of Egyptians supporting their own personal saviours. That notion of holding on to an idea instead of a person is also treason to the Egyptian way of politics.
On 22 December, following the sentencing of three prominent activists, Mohamed ElBaradei tweeted, “Egypt: renunciation of violence, transitional justice and national reconciliation based on inclusiveness. Anything short: exercise in futility.”
ElBaradei’s words seem far removed from what’s happening, but they directly address what is happening in Egypt, an exercise in futility. While the connotation is that the state will not achieve stability due to its failure to address the basic needs of society, exercises in futility had a heavy toll, from the brutal illegal crackdowns and detentions of Morsi supporters to the defamation, harassment and imprisonment of secular activists and rights defenders.
The truth is that Egypt has been undergoing an exercise in futility for some time. The same Mubarak era tactics were used by all regimes, from the time of SCAF to the absent Adly Mansour, and all the more forcefully now to regain control. Defamation was a tactic employed under both SCAF and Morsi. Whether it is the farcical NGO trials attempting to undermine human rights and their defenders or moral accusations aimed at portraying activists in an immoral light, whether as traitors or infidels, the tactic hasn’t changed, but the ferociousness and efficiency of the attacks have been improved.
Activists are already tracked down, defamed, accused of malicious foreign funding, assaulted and imprisoned, much like the old ways. Protests are dealt with violently much like the old ways. Oppressive laws to counter any threat to the state are established much like the old ways.
Egyptians decided to give the new faces of the regime a chance, which means that the injustices counter, reset by the removal of Morsi, will have to accumulate once again until injustices seep into the everyday lives of ordinary Egyptians. Justice remains absent and the term reconciliation would mean an end to the current plan of complete annihilation of any form of opposition (although actual reconciliation with old regime figures is ongoing anyway). So the regime continues every day in its exercise in futility to give the current order a lifeline.
Perhaps even activists have been undergoing that same exercise themselves. They have been trying to convince Egyptians that they’re not traitors, that they believe in a different way of life with fewer injustices and more freedoms and more loyalty to values rather than individuals.
It is difficult to know whether it really is an exercise in futility on their part, but I cannot help but draw a parallel with the story in the movie, The Battle of Algiers. The movie talks about resistance between the years 1954 and 1957 when guerrilla fighters were prepared to fight for the independence of Algeria. They were crushed by French paratroopers, yet a few years later, people rose up and fought the occupation without a direct intellectual link between the movement and the uprising that ensued.
Will people reject the crackdown on humanity and activists before complete eradication? Will people wait and then take matters into their hands again when oppression once again permeates their everyday lives?
Perhaps the rejection of the regime’s old oppressive ways can be seen as treason. Maybe that’s why people are supportive of the treason rhetoric pushed by the regime’s intelligence agencies. This too may change by time. However, until it does, there will be no room for those who want to challenge the current accepted norms of repression and injustice. There will be no room for these types of traitors who want to challenge the status quo, not until Egyptians themselves turn into traitors of this sort, traitors to injustice.
Wael Eskandar is an independent journalist and blogger based in Cairo. He is a frequent commentator on Egyptian politics and has written for Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Counterpunch, and Jadaliyya, among others. He blogs at notesfromtheunderground.net.