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

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies 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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid