CAIRO: Ever since the Israeli war on Gaza began last month, a strange virus has taken hold of Egyptian society. This is not about biological warfare, but its effects can be far more insidious.
All of a sudden those who felt strongly about the massacres taking place in Gaza and were vocal in their criticism of Egypt’s role in the 17-month blockade that led to a mortifying humanitarian crisis, bizarrely found themselves accused of being unpatriotic.
All of a sudden Egyptian society became divided (by some omniscient force) into rational, upright citizens who love their country and put its interests above all else, and an irrational sub-class, akin to a fifth column, which is not only unpatriotic, but more dangerously, poses a direct threat to national security.
One manifestation of this polarization reared its ugly head earlier this week with the emergency law-inspired four-day detention by state security of German-Egyptian activist and blogger Philip Rizk.
Last Friday Rizk had organized a symbolic march to Gaza from Shubra to Kafr Hamza in the neighboring governorate of Qaliubiya, that was joined by a group of 14 Egyptians and foreigners in solidarity with Palestinians.
As this newspaper reported, the campaign website, ToGaza.net, was being sent out to similar groups all over the world to “encourage people to do whatever they think is right to raise awareness about the situation in Palestine.
There was nothing out of the ordinary in Rizk’s initiative. It was a peaceful march for a political/humanitarian cause that is often forgotten until the world is rudely awakened by images of thousands of dead and injured, many of them innocent children. It’s the kind of public action which responsible citizens all over the world undertake to champion worthy causes they are particularly passionate about.
Thus the extraordinary paranoia with which this less than ordinary initiative was met, appeared inexplicable, unless we look at it through the lens of the new, lopsided patriotism equation prevalent in Egypt today.
Why showing sympathy with the Palestinian cause has become symptomatic of a lack of patriotism is indeed an enigma. Why can’t we disagree without pointing accusing fingers at each other and claiming childishly, “my apple is redder than yours ?
Is every Egyptian who demands a just and firm stance with regards to a humanitarian crisis automatically an arm of the evil, Islamist Hamas threatening our own security? And would the Egyptian secret service have reacted the same way if this march was for Darfur, for instance? Wouldn’t it be a worse threat to national security if peaceful, public political expression is driven underground and left to fester and radicalize?
Philip Rizk’s unfortunate brush with the powers that be, did not, however come without its share of (tragi)-comic relief.
During Rizk’s short detention, as he said in a press conference a day after his release early Wednesday, he was simultaneously accused of being a spy for Israel (courtesy of his double nationality), of working with the Islamist resistance movement Hamas (courtesy of his loyalty to the Palestinian cause and of having lived in Gaza for two years) and finally of evangelizing (courtesy of being a Christian activist in a predominantly Muslim country).
With his ambivalent nationality, his unpopular politics and his minority religion, Rizk fit the profile of the ultimate “enemy of the state, even though a little bit of digging around would have shown that his activities have never surpassed working in Gaza, including with the UK-registered charity The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.
A film he made about Palestinian resilience in the face of occupation titled “This Palestinian Life, is a beautifully conceived short documentary providing a window into the spirit of “sumoud or steadfastness, that lives in every Palestinian, and that has allowed them to overcome the daily humiliations of occupation, to stay determined on their land over 60 years of invasion.
Rizk’s central aim, as our reviewer wrote, was to show the rootedness of nonviolent resistance in the lives of his characters, so, if anything, he is the antithesis of any form of security threat, unless, that is, the mere act of expressing one’s views are perceived as a threat.
While in detention, Rizk was not physically harmed in any way, as he said – being blind-folded and hand-cuffed for four days in such cases is tantamount to receiving the royal treatment, unlike others who disappear without a word.
Diaa Eddin Gad, a 23-year-old opposition blogger who also criticized Egypt’s closure of the Rafah crossing, was arrested last Friday as well, by four police officers outside his family’s apartment. He was reportedly arrested after participating in a peaceful demonstration in Cairo organized by the secular Wafd Party.
Without the protection of dual citizenship – yes believe it not the less “Egyptian you are, the more your citizenship and civil rights are respected in this country – it’s difficult to predict when Gad will be released.
Security sources told the media that this was a regular procedure and if they found nothing on him, he will be let go. But try explaining that to his mother.
Last time I checked the law says that we are innocent until proven guilty and that the writ of habeas corpus has been consecrated internationally as the prime instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary state action.
But these laws are for other citizens of other countries.
Surely Philip Rizk has much to be thankful for.
Rania Al Malky is the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.