In Egypt, protest and repression spark off from one another. The state, which has a strong grip on the whole society, applies its repressive policy to intimidate citizens and deter them from engaging in demonstrations. Many citizens try to protest against the state to condemn and shout down its repressive policy. The state believes, falsely, that by criminalising thousands of innocent Egyptians it is stabilising the country; in fact, it is inciting more citizens to challenge its repressive policy. Although protesting comes at a high price, it has proven to be successful, whereas repression cannot be a sustainable policy.
The Egyptian state does not want a single citizen to protest, period. Nevertheless, should demonstrations break out, the state prefers there to be an element of violence, thereby justifying the use of force against protesters. The state’s common practice of recruiting thugs to engage with protesters is an ugly policy, but it has worked well to create a barrier between protesters and security forces. The state has dubbed these thugs “the honourable citizens”, claiming that they are self-motivated civilians anxious to protect their country.
The Egyptian state works on teaching its citizens, particularly its statespersons, that repression is the only possible means for controlling a country with a population of 90 million, and that many foreign countries are conspiring against us. The state, certainly, is aware that repression is an ugly practice—but an effective ruling tool. That the criminalisation of a few thousand innocent Egyptians will keep the entire population from taking part in demonstrations is a false tenet of the state—believed, unfortunately, by many citizens, including numerous statespersons who practice repression instead of their original responsibility of applying justice.
Demonstrations are draining events for all players—both physically and mentally. Protesters may initially enjoy expressing their anger towards the authoritarian state, but they become tired eventually. While some police officers may derive pleasure from flexing their muscles during demonstrations, every officer today is aware of the risk of being charged with the use of illegal measures to quell protests. Meanwhile, inhabitants of the neighbourhoods that host protests are obliged to live through an unpleasant event that often entails violence, wishing it would take place somewhere else.
Repression and popular protests are Egyptian phenomena used by the state and civilians to impose their respective political demands on one other. Demonstrations are the state’s nightmare; they can lead to chaos or unpleasant crises. From the state’s perspective therefore, preventing citizens from sparking off a new series of protests is a sensible decision. Past popular demonstrations worked well to topple Mubarak, oust Morsi, establishing Al-Sisi as the country’s de facto ruler in 2013 and, the following year, bringing him to power as president. The current ruling regime has stated that it does not want to see this experience repeated.
Demonstrations often begin peacefully, calling for a reasonable demand, but they tend to escalate once thousands of protesters become engaged and the demonstration’s momentum grows. If the state legalised demonstrations, millions of Egyptians would take to the streets for even the tiniest personal problem. The state mistakenly believes that just a few Egyptians spark off protests and mobilise citizens; it tends to arrest these citizens in advance to prevent the outbreak of demonstrations.
In the absence of the proper rule of law and the application of a true democratic mechanism, the first option to cross citizens’ minds when faced with a political crisis will be to demonstrate. Meanwhile, the state’s preferred tool, so far, is repression, which leads to more violence. Egyptians who turn a blind eye to the state’s repressive policy in the hope of promoting stability in Egypt, are betting on the wrong horse. Until they realise that democracy is the only solution, Egyptians will continue to live with the syndrome of popular protest and state repression.
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian liberal politician working on reforming Egypt based on liberal values, proper application of democracy, and free market economy.