As absurd as many government policies seem, usually there’s some sort of logic behind them, something that justifies what could be easily labeled as ridiculous actions, at least to its leaders. Put yourself in their shoes, I’d tell myself, and you’ll see how and what led someone to make such decision. The goal has always been to at least understand or trace this skewed logic.
The technique has worked; an unreasonable decision to clampdown on a harmless protest of less than hundred people, for example, could be understood as the government making it clear it won’t tolerate any form of activism. Harassing journalists could be justified – at some level in the government – as an attempt to minimize coverage of a strike, industrial action or whatever that state wants to cover up.
It doesn’t have to make sense to me, but I was able to see how someone else could think this way. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to trace this twisted logic lately. Whether the government’s decisions and actions are getting even more absurd than the usual accepted level of absurdness, or I just lost it.
The recent arrests in Nagaa Hammadi are a case in point. A group of activists were arrested early Friday in Qena; they were traveling in conjunction with another separate group of older politicians to visit the families of the victims of the Jan. 6 shooting (which left six Copts and one Muslim dead on the eve of Coptic Christmas). Basically, they were there to offer their condolences and show their solidarity.
As an official, facing many accusations of negligence for failing to protect the Church that has reportedly received many threats prior to the attack, I couldn’t have thought of a better publicity stunt. The unofficial visit would demonstrate that the entirety of the Egyptian population is against any form of sectarian strife. Regardless of the political affiliation of the group, who were on an apolitical visit, the government could have easily spun the visit in its favor. But instead, and at a time when many demonstrations of various sizes are planned around the world to protest the Jan. 6 shooting, the regime shot itself in the foot by detaining those activists.
They remain in custody as I’m writing this post (more than 24 hours after their inexplicable arrest), and now reports of a release order are circulating, with a lot of confusion as of how this release would take place. Would they be released in Qena or would they be ‘deported’ to Cairo in a grueling trip that is bound to involve the usual dose of security and bureaucratic humiliation? It’s not clear.
There’s no clear charge and even there’s no logic between the lines, not even the skewed logic I was talking about. Blogger Sandmonkey suggested on twitter that the detention was a way to avoid a demonstration in Nagaa Hammadi on Friday or any clashes after Friday prayer, which was attended by the Azhar Sheikh and the Minister of Religious Endowment. Maybe, but if it’s true then they would have been released Friday night as activist Wael K has noted.
Another probable explanation is that the government didn’t want similar visits by the National Democratic Party leaders to be overshadowed by the activists’. But then, the same security officials allowed the other opposition politicians to visit the victims’ families on Friday. Most importantly, the news of the detention of the activists has by far overshadowed any solidarity effort.
Is the government trying to take the spotlight off one of its blunders (the lack of security on Jan. 6) by parading its lack of reason through another misjudgment? I honestly don’t know.
What I know for fact now is that if anyone had any doubt about the security priorities of this government, these two Qena incidents are enough to set the record straight once and for all. While the security ignored threats the church said it had received (officials actually denied any knowledge of such threats), the same security body with its intelligence and executive power was right on the ball when it came to a group of 30 activists, arresting them on the spot to preempt whatever unannounced threat those activists could have posed.