By Mohaammed Aly Ibrahim, former editor of the Egyptian Gazette and AlGoumhoria newspapers
For decades Egyptians were kept on a tight rein. Our leaders used “democracy” as chewing gum before TV cameras then threw it away upon leaving interviews or press conferences. Either in dictatorship or in the incumbent so-called democracy, the concept of people’s free will has remained the same.
In 1980, late President Anwar Sadat delivered a famous quote describing democracy as a “meat mincer” which would crush the bones of his political opponents. Sadat was very pleased with himself when he introduced a small amount of freedom of expression which his predecessor, Nasser, never allowed. Nevertheless when he signed the peace treaty with Israel the opposition in parliament and the press gave him a hard ride, turning his life into a nightmare. Soon he withdrew his promises for political reforms, claiming that democracy has “canine teeth and nails,” and imprisoning writers, intellectuals, late pope Shenouda, party leaders and muslim preachers.
After 32 years of one party, the NDP, monopolising power, the shape of democracy did not change much here even after the first free parliamentary and presidential elections. The 25 January revolution succeeded in ousting Mubarak but failed to change the biased and fanatic Egyptian mentality towards big issues.
Last week I had to rush to Media Production City in 6th of October province. The Orbit private channel decided to host some journalists to speak about the outpouring of lawsuits and libel cases against almost seven editors in chief, the first of whom (Islam Afifi) was jailed last Thursday. All face the charges of making a monkey of the President or defaming the Muslim Brotherhood.
As I was about to cross the main gate (no.4) leading to the channel premises, I received a phone call from the talk show editor warning me not to use the usual entrance. Rather he advised me to go further on a longer and unpaved rocky route which leads to the station but takes almost 40 more minutes to get there.
Along the road I felt that I was in a battlefield not a location for shooting TV series, movies and talk shows. The scene terrified me as many trucks and vans were loaded with bearded hooligan-like persons. Kicking up a stink and vowing to punish any media man or woman who dares slander the President or The Brotherhood, it seemed they had come to blow off steam. They crashed cars, broke windows and prevented Media City staff from getting in or out until 2am.
A closer look to the buses and trucks that carried the bullies who imposed the siege around the Media City revealed that they were the same vans used to wedge millions into Tahrir square on the Friday demonstrations organised by the Brotherhood to show off their ability to pressure the former military council and other political powers.
True there is harsh criticism being made against the Brotherhood, but it must be faced by logic and transparency, not by bludgeons and truncheons. Nor by repugnant banners saying that TV is a devil that should be ferociously fought against. They went even further, claiming that those who criticise the President must be whipped or stoned as they are atheist or non believers and their duty is to get them back to the right path.
What really drew my attention was the candid fact that those who came to power by democracy have quickly got fed up with it after only two months of ruling. The angry youth caught us between the devil and the deep blue sea. Their clear message is that if democracy and freedom of expression means mocking the President and the Brotherhood, to hell with it. Now what is the difference between 60 years of military rule and that one brought to power through democracy and free elections? Nothing, as we still enjoy the same heavy stick of democracy but with different red lines.