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

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' 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.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs