News / Middle East

Fear Returns to Egypt as State Crackdown Widens

A supporter of former president Hosni Mubarak holds his poster to celebrate as she waits for his release in front of the main gate of Tora prison on the outskirts of Cairo, August 22, 2013. A supporter of former president Hosni Mubarak holds his poster to celebrate as she waits for his release in front of the main gate of Tora prison on the outskirts of Cairo, August 22, 2013.
x
A supporter of former president Hosni Mubarak holds his poster to celebrate as she waits for his release in front of the main gate of Tora prison on the outskirts of Cairo, August 22, 2013.
A supporter of former president Hosni Mubarak holds his poster to celebrate as she waits for his release in front of the main gate of Tora prison on the outskirts of Cairo, August 22, 2013.
Reuters
A climate of fear that kept Egyptians compliant during the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak is creeping back into daily life, less than three years after the revolt that toppled him.

Ordinary people like Mohamed, who runs a tiny Cairo shop selling mobile phone accessories, now lower their voices if they oppose the army's overthrow last month of their first freely-elected president, Mohamed Morsi.

“It is about the principle that we stood in line and voted freely for the first time and this happens,” whispered Mohamed, who declined to give his second name. “People who speak about justice now do not dare to say it out loud, in case people accuse them of being terrorists.”

While activists critical of the army-backed government are obvious targets for intimidation, now ordinary Egyptians also avoid the noisy, boisterous discussion of politics that was common between the fall of Mubarak and that of his Islamist successor on July 3.

From mass arrests of Muslim Brotherhood leaders to the re-appearance of plain clothes enforcers on the streets of Cairo, a chill wind is blowing down the Nile.

Many Egyptians lambasted Morsi's Brotherhood for economic incompetence and trying to grab excessive power during his year in power. But now the language is much more serious: the government accuses the Brotherhood of “terrorism” as it tries to crush the movement by rounding up hundreds of leading members.

At least 900 people have been killed since security forces broke up two pro-Morsi camps on Aug. 14. Allies of the Brotherhood, Egypt's oldest and best-organized Islamist organization, put the toll at 1,400.

A muted public response to Wednesday's court ruling that Mubarak should be released from jail has added to a sense that the authoritarian order is making a comeback, threatening the freedoms that were the main dividend of the uprising that began on Jan. 25, 2011.

Media are now dominated by those backing the army's line that it removed Morsi in response to popular protests demanding  his departure that began on June 30.

“I can sense, smell and very much tell that these are old Mubarak people coming to take their revenge on the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Khaled Dawoud, a liberal who backed Morsi's overthrow but has since criticized the spread of violence.

“It is so obvious with the pro-Mubarak people who are filling the TV right now. They don't even want to consider Jan. 25 a revolution. They say June 30 is the only revolution.”

The Brotherhood, which kept large protest camps going for six weeks in Cairo to demand Morsi's reinstatement, is now struggling to get people out. There have been no major protests for days. The marches have fizzled out since Sunday when rumors spread that government snipers were posted on rooftops.

The authorities have tightened their grip with dawn-to-dusk curfews. The emergency rule that lasted throughout the Mubarak era is back, at least for a month. Police who melted away in the face of public anger in 2011 appear invigorated by the new political climate, paraded as heroes on state television.

Widening the net

As the authorities widen their net to include regional and lower-ranking Brotherhood members, other Islamist parties worry that their own members will be hauled in.

Younes Makhyoun, leader of the Nour Party which follows the puritanical Salafi approach to Islam, voiced concerned that the political security apparatus that once hunted religious groups and government critics will make a comeback.

Islamist movements, like any that tried to offer a serious alternative to Mubarak's military-backed party, were outlawed for decades. Like the Brotherhood, they were among the biggest beneficiaries of the 2011 uprising that allowed them to set up political parties and campaign openly for the first time.

Now, their members face citizen's arrests at the makeshift checkpoints that have sprung up around Egypt, manned by pro-government vigilantes. Some Egyptians recognize these as the pro-Mubarak “baltagiya”, or thugs, who clashed with protesters during the 18-day revolt that ousted the former leader.

“Thugs have attacked them in the street, then handed them over to the police stations, then accusations have been fabricated against them - that they had weapons or were taking part in acts of sabotage,” Makhyoun told Reuters.

“We need guarantees from the authorities to the Egyptian people: that the gains of the Jan. 25 revolution cannot be violated, especially in the field of freedoms, human rights, and freedom of expression.”

The crackdown on the Islamists has divided liberals in much the same way that it has polarized Egypt. Loath to endure Islamist rulers, elected or not, some liberals who joined the 2011 protests now side wholeheartedly with the army.

Egyptian state television has resumed its role as the mouthpiece of those in power. Channels emblazoned with banners reading “Egypt fighting terrorism” flicker on screens in Cairo's street cafes, in bakeries and in barber shops.

A recent poll by the Arab American Institute suggested a huge majority of Egyptians had confidence in the military.

It is far from uncommon to hear Egyptians, whose economy was brought close to bankruptcy by persistent instability, hark back to Mubarak's era as a time when they at least earned a living.

“The Brotherhood were a problem for this country. God has taken revenge on them,” said Haj Abdelfattah, 71, smoking his waterpipe as he sat on a plastic chair and sold overripe fruit by the road. “They acted for themselves, not Egypt.”

Liberal critics feel the heat

But some of the liberals who initially welcomed the army's move against Morsi have been dismayed by the ensuing bloodshed. The army has promised fresh elections but critics fear they will pay a political price for their opposition.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel peace prize winner and the most prominent liberal to endorse Morsi's overthrow, resigned as interim vice president early in the crackdown and left for Europe days later. He now faces a lawsuit raised by a private citizen who accuses him of “betrayal of trust”.

This points to the prospect of a new wave of politically-motivated suits. Under Morsi, Brotherhood supporters had brought a series of cases against opposition figures, in what critics called a form of political intimidation.

By contrast, Mubarak is close to being freed with charges ranging from corruption to complicity in the killing of protesters so far failing to stick.

“I have not been sent to trial but I am getting enough charges of treason and defecting and jumping off board, and this is discomfiting talk,” said Dawoud, who quit as spokesman for ElBaradei's National Salvation Front as the death toll rose.

Like ElBaradei, Dawoud has become something of a pariah in the ranks of his former brothers-in-arms in Tamarud, the youth movement that led the protests against Morsi and welcomed the army's intervention against him.

“Tamarud is finished ... They issue statements that call on the army to do even more,” he said. “It is a major disappointment to me that some liberal and nationalist parties that had defended the goals of human rights and democracy... have suddenly decided to swallow this.”

The backlash is such that critical journalists and broadcasters have been silenced or forced off the air. Government officials have railed against the foreign press, accusing it of sympathizing with the Brotherhood and underplaying attacks on churches and the deaths of police.

Some foreign correspondents say they have been beaten while out reporting or faced pressure from vigilantes accusing them of being spies.

Activists say their efforts to condemn the extensive nature of the arrests, or the deaths of 38 people in custody, have been met with accusations of political bias.

“There are fears or threats of arrest by loyalists of the former regime against the revolutionary youth and activists... The atmosphere of fear and terrorizing of activists who speak out about anything - this is widespread,” said Mohamed Adel, media coordinator for the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights.

“Some big journalists... are being threatened and told you are either with us or with the enemy.”

Sitting in his shop, worried about getting home before curfew, Mohamed sees only dark days ahead for Egypt.

“The barrier of fear is returning. It is coming back stronger than before. The police were humiliated after the Jan. 25 revolution and they want to restore their authority... The excuse will be anti-terrorism, the same excuse Bashar al-Assad uses in Syria,” he said. “We'll end up a jungle like Syria.”

  • An Egyptian man pushes a wheelbarrow with debris from inside the Rabaah Al-Adawiya mosque in Nasr city, Cairo, August 21, 2013.
  • A ripped poster of Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsi lies on the ground in the courtyard of the Rabaah Al-Adawiya mosque in Nasr city, Cairo, August 21, 2013.
  • An Egyptian holds Al-Ahram newspaper with a picture of the arrested leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Cairo, August 20, 2013.
  • Police stand outside of their vehicle in Cairo, August 20, 2013.
  • Security officers attend a funeral prayer over coffins covered with national flags of bodies of police who were killed near the border town of Rafah, North Sinai, at Almaza military airport in Cairo, August 19, 2013.
  • Soldiers and medical workers check the bodies of police officers killed on a highway in Rafah city, about 350 kilometers northeast of Cairo, August 19, 2013.
  • The border area between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip is seen in this general view, August 19, 2013.
  • People gather at the Zenhoum morgue to identify loved ones and retrieve their bodies for burial following the deaths of hundreds of people in violence over the last week, in Cairo, August 19, 2013.
  • Egyptians remove a body for burial from the Zenhoum morgue in Cairo, August 19, 2013.
  • Egyptian army soldiers and armored personnel carriers deployed near Tahrir Square in Cairo, August 19, 2013.
  • An Egyptian Army soldier takes his position on top of an armored vehicle as he guards in front of the Supreme Constitutional court in Cairo, August 19, 2013.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
August 22, 2013 2:33 PM
I want to strongly believe that the writer of this report is either a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or its sympathizer. Egyptians rose to condemn the Muslim Brotherhood's high handed oppression against the Egypt people, especially the secular and minority groups. The brotherhood loathed anything that was not extreme islam and ruled the people with iron fist. What remained was for it to distribute arms to its militia and use it in preference for the army and the police, hence the brotherhood sidelined the constitution and ruled by fanatical islamist stringent decrees. The Egyptians refused to accept it as their bargain for the Jan.25 revolution. Thus they rose against Morsi - elected or not - it was just a recall.

For now Egypt wants quiet. Let every citizen comply with the orders for a little while. Let the terrorists - they exist and have infiltrated the fabrics of Egyptian society - be fished out so that Egypt can return to its peaceful state. Criticism of the interim regime is rather premature. Had the people made a demand of returning the country to them in the time of Mubarak rather than forcing him to leave unceremoniously, proper arrangement would have been put in place to give Egypt the democracy it so yearns for. But another opportunity is here now. Let all Egyptians give the army their cooperation to midwife a democracy to be delivered soon. They should know by now that doing it in haste will bring about another mistake. Only help to put the Muslim Brotherhood in check. They are the trouble with Egypt.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid