If you think of it, no one said anything new on Christiane Amanpour’s Egypt episode; Mohamed ElBaradei quoted the same statistics and the same argument about change and National Democratic Party mouthpiece Ahmed Ezz continued with the regime’s 30-year-long mantra coupled with the past decade’s “we are changing and developing and prospering” bla.
Although not new, Ezz’s comments highlighted the schizophrenia rooted in almost all government arguments. In less than 5 minutes he managed to move from the prosperity fantasy — “Egypt is going through a very exciting time. And Egypt is developing in almost every walk of life. And the political diversity taking place in Egypt today is unseen, unwitnessed in my generation” — to the Hollywood B-movie thriller — “it’s code red alert in Cairo 365 days of the year.”
Supposedly, we are in a time of peace. This is often hailed as the overarching achievement of our wise president, an achievement that extends in lineage to a time before Mubarak came to power. Sadat had promised Egyptians prosperity after the war and the Open Door policy is supposed to have made that true in the 70s. And since 1981, it was prosperity at full throttle.
But it was also the reign of the state of emergency. Almost 30-years of emergency laws justified by a state of mutilating danger (terrorists, Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese, Iranians, drug dealers, headbangers, satellite TV, stuff in the air, bloggers, activists, journalists, aliens, etc). We are targeted, we are in danger, they are out to get us (regardless of the identity of those “they”), etc.
The multi-purpose Masr Mostahadafa (مصر مستهدفة Egypt is targeted) line has proven useful in dismissing a documentary about police torture as well as condemning any critical statement made by any foreign entity known to man.
The same concept was used by parliament earlier this year to renew the president’s unmonitored authority in anything related to weapons and armament. The representative of the Ministry of Defense present in that session said that such authorization is made in exceptional and necessary cases; and the current dangers threatening the state are exceptional circumstances.
Even on the local level, those ‘dangers’ are often used as a justification. In response to April 6 Youth Movement’s notification to the Ministry of Interior of their planned demonstration on April 6, 2010, the ministry notified the group of its disapproval, “Due to the current security situation and public disturbance marches like this can cause in the capital.”
Almost the same line was used in response to the MPs’ notification of their May 3 march.
The “current security situation” seems to be too fragile to handle anything; it’s a wonder that we are still breathing.
The use of this argument in these contexts proves yet again that the laws are in place only to protect the regime, to stifle the opposition. It’s often used to override the judicial process and court orders, to silence critics, to threaten activists.
Just this past month, Coptic blogger Hany Nazeer saw his 19-month detention renewed in spite of a court order for his release.
“Nazeer’s renewed detention gives lie to the Egyptian government’s claim that it doesn’t use the emergency law to imprison people with dissenting views,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government is not addressing a national security emergency but persecuting a writer whose blog may have upset some people.”
Many Islamists and activists face more or less the same treatment, justified and facilitated by the emergency laws.
This has been going on for so long it’s not surprising any more.
The baffling part, however, is how (or why) top government officials can seamlessly combine the constant threat argument with the promotion of the strides the government took towards economic development and political reform. Doesn’t investment require safety? Isn’t political reform supposed to go hand in hand with social stability?
The government is promoting the country as safe and secure to foreign investors while painting the “code red alert” picture during any political argument. But isn’t it worried that those foreign investors would eavesdrop to its security scare talk? Or does it assure them with the heavy hand of its interior ministry?
The current regime has become an expert in giving the façade of democracy to the world, without any tangible progress on the ground, as one foreign politician/academic once told me. Ezz tried to employ the same rhetoric, telling Amanpour about the 240 publications, the 15 TV networks, the regime’s tolerance of ElBaradei, and about the “good Egyptians who are demonstrating … for either political or economic or other grievances” near the parliament. The fact that such grievances are not addressed, or that the emergency laws are used to protect the political survival of this regime is beside the point of course.
It was refreshing though to see that such argument is easily rebuffed.
Ezz’s claim that the emergency laws, which he compared to the US patriot act, can only be removed “when the Middle East is at peace with itself” was met by Amanpour’s stunned “Oh, my goodness.”
Why wouldn’t she say that? The Patriot Act and similar legislations in different countries have been heavily criticized for stifling freedoms — in countries where other civil rights legislations ensure a sort of balance and civil monitoring of state practices and possible violations. We are still struggling to get anything close to that systematic protection of civil and human rights. In addition, our regime has often said it can’t import democracy, but obviously it can import anti-terror laws, which is expected to be the new name of the amended, more systematically abusive version of our current emergency laws.