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Egypt Unwrapped

Ode to Mubarak

An Egyptian riot policeman hits a protester during clashes near Cairo's Tahrir Square on January 28, 2013. Source: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images
An Egyptian riot policeman hits a protester during clashes near Cairo’s Tahrir Square on January 28, 2013. Source: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

It is no secret that many view Mohamed Mursi’s presidency as a huge blow to what the revolution stood for to liberals like myself: a secular state. In the early days, during the presidential race, Mursi was considered by much of the opposition to be the lesser of two evils when compared to rival candidate Ahmed Shafiq, an ex-Mubarakite. The past few weeks have shaken that notion to the ground.

As of last January 25, the revolution’s second anniversary, the country has witnessed nationwide violence; mass protests; the emergence of revolutionary vigilantism, like the Black Bloc inspired by anarchists in Europe and the US who go by the same name; and a court ruling in Port Said that sentenced twenty-one football fans to death for to their involvement in the 2012 stadium massacre. The setback, however, was not just in the violence; skirmishes have become an everyday reality for revolutionaries and officials alike. The damage lay in the changed modus operandi of the police forces, who are now returning to the tactics used during the Mubarak era—if not worse.

Last Friday night, Hamada Saber, a middle-aged unemployed laborer, was beaten, dragged and stripped by riot police in front of the presidential palace. The incident was reminiscent of the stripping and beating of a female protester at the hands of the military police in December 2011, during the transitional period under army rule. There was however, one crucial difference: Saber, unlike his predecessor, appears to have been pressured by the police into issuing a statement to the media claiming that the police had actually “saved him” and that they offered to treat his injuries. His statement refuted the video footage of the incident, which showed a naked man being beaten by police. Saber later changed his story, saying, “Police are the ones who beat me.” These inconsistencies suggest that he was threatened by the authorities into twisting the facts.

The parallels with Mubarak’s reign were further reinforced when Mohamed El-Guindy, an Egyptian activist, died in hospital on Monday after suffering from a coma. Activists claim that El-Guindy was arrested on Tahrir Square several days earlier; he was then severely tortured and beaten in police custody before being abandoned in the hospital. The resemblance to the story of Khaled Saeed, the activist who died at the hands of the police in 2010 and whose death became one of the triggers of the January 25 revolution, is striking.

The growing trend of police-administered abuse raises questions over whether police violence will elicit the same reaction it did in 2010. Will Mohamed El-Guindy’s death have the same effect Khaled Saeed’s did? It is doubtful.

From where I am standing, Egypt is now ruled by an autocratic system with a religious coating. Many Egyptians refuse to disobey those who speak in the name of Islam. This religious legitimacy coupled with the dire economic situation suggests that it will take a lot more than protests and rallies to change things this time.

During Mubarak’s era, the struggle was between the ruling National Democratic Party and all other opposing affiliations, which were in turn divided into numerous ideological fronts—making them a diverse force to be reckoned with during the revolution. Nowadays, however, the government has successfully segregated society into those who support Islamic rule and the legitimacy of the elected president and those who are opposed. Consequently, the opposition has become confined to an essentially secular front.

The secular opposition figures, led by ex-presidential candidates, El-Baradei, Hamdein Sabahy and Amr Moussa, have thus far failed to organize themselves or mobilize popular support. Their reputations have also been tarnished after the public prosecutor accused the men of espionage. As a result, the opposition finds itself in a weaker position than it was in during the closing days of the Mubarak era.

Some of those in the opposition have begun sympathizing with Mubarak, the ousted dictator, for being less blatantly oppressive than Mursi. They are now subconsciously favoring the days of a secular dictator over those of a religious one. In fact, some see greatness in Mubarak’s resignation, for they see it as a decision aimed at preventing the country from slipping into further bloodshed, in contrast to Mursi’s current conduct.

The tragedy of the past few weeks can now be summed up in a sardonic, yet accurate, remark made by Hassan Massoud, a revolutionary: “The past few days highlight the point that Mubarak is on trial, not because he killed protesters, but actually, because he stepped down.” An optimist would say that the revolutionary process has currently returned to square one, but I would argue that it is slightly worse than that.

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Wessam Sherif
Wessam Sherif is the managing editor of Campus magazine, an English-language publication based in Cairo, Egypt. He joined the protest movement in Egypt on January 25, 2011, and has been fighting for a democratic, secular state ever since.

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