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Dark Ironies of the Egyptian Revolution

January 3, 2014

The interim government's New Year's message: Don't protest against the government without its permission, don't resist the security forces who attack you, and don't report news about any of that stuff, and we'll get along just fine. Photo Credit: Jonathan Rashad via Compfight cc

The interim government’s New Year’s message: Don’t protest against the government without its permission, don’t resist the security forces who attack you, and don’t report news about any of that stuff, and we’ll get along just fine. Photo Credit: Jonathan Rashad via Compfight cc

The new year starts ominously in Egypt.

In the days leading up to it we’ve had the arrest, trial and sentencing of Ahmed Maher and many other long-time protest leaders; the detention of Al-Jazeera reporters; and the official declaration of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group.

Interesting from a purely scientific viewpoint–that is, for someone trying to analyze and understand the dramatic political, social and cultural changes unfolding in Egypt.

Disturbing setbacks for those of us wishing for Egypt a more representative government.

Civil Disobedience Without a License

Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma, and Mohamed Adel were arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for participating in unauthorized demonstrations–that is, without the Ministry of Interior’s approval as stipulated by a recently passed protest law. This means, of course, that he’s being arrested for continuing to carry out the same activities of civil disobedience that led to the overthrow of both Mubarak and Morsi, paving the way for the current regime.

According to Daily News Egypt, Maher, Douma and Adel were also ruled guilty of rioting, “thuggery”, using violence against Abdeen Courthouse security personnel, and possession of melee weapons. They were sentenced to three years hard labor and fines of LE50,000.

And isn’t it interesting that a judicial system that typically holds someone in detention for months, then take weeks to carry out a trial, then may take months longer to come to a decision, could bring Maher and his colleagues to trial and sentencing in just ten days.

Nine more activists were sentenced in Alexandria this week under the same law.

Define “Terror”

Then there was the fascinating decision to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, ostensibly because of a suicide bombing of a police station for which al-Qaida claimed credit.

The continued violence caused by the irritating habit of some Muslim Brotherhood protesters fighting back against police violence, and forcibly detaining people they suspected of being police spies (and, in some accounts, protesters who got tired and wanted to go home), and their continued public support for deposed President Morsi called for strong action.

Some people thought the Muslim Brotherhood’s official anti-violence stance would prevent them from being declared a terrorist group, but that was just silly. Governments in power don’t need actual evidence of weapons of mass destruction … er, I mean terrorist activity … to declare you a terrorist. Those in the military-appointed interim government know that the Muslim Brotherhood could have attacked a police station, even if they didn’t actually do it, and they must be stopped before they …er… don’t do it again.

In his press conference letting the Egyptian people know about this decision, Minister of Education Hossam Eissa said:

Egypt was horrified from north to south by the hideous crime committed by the Muslim Brotherhood group. This was in context of dangerous escalation to violence against Egypt and Egyptians [and] a clear declaration by the Muslim Brotherhood group that it still knows nothing but violence. It’s not possible for Egypt the state nor Egypt the people to submit to the Muslim Brotherhood terrorism.

What he did not do was offer evidence in his speech linking the Brotherhood to the attack, nor did he mention the fact that Al-Qaida had already claimed credit for it (at least Michelle Bachman should be happy–she is retroactively vindicated by her friends in the Egyptian military.)

For its part, a spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party said it–and its parent group the Muslim Brotherhood–would simply ignore the decree and carry on resisting military oppression. FJP spokesman Ibrahim Elsayed is reported in news accounts as saying:

This decision is as if it never happened. It has no value for us and is only worth the paper it is written on. It won’t impact us from near and far. Ideas won’t be affected by false accusations. We uphold this call only for the sake of God.

Journalists, Terrorists…What’s the Difference?

And finally, we have the arrests Dec. 29 of Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, and Mohamed Fawzy.

Currently they are “merely” being detained for questioning in Tora Prison, but their lawyer says they face a number of charges including “spreading false news” and “broadcasting externally with intention of threatening national security.” Fahmy is also accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood which, if true, would now make him a terrorist.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Dec. 30 that Egypt had joined Syria and Iraq as one of the three deadliest countries for journalists to work in. Ironically, conditions for journalists in Egypt have become worse since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi.

Wait–so a secular military government is more restrictive than an Islamic regime? I am shocked, shocked.

With the constitutional referendum and new elections looming, this looks to be an “interesting,” disturbing and dramatic new year for Egypt.

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