Egyp­tians caught be­tween Isis and Sisi

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

CAIRO — The blast shook build­ings for miles around. Sleep­ing res­i­dents awoke, called each other, then stared at glow­ing screens, seek­ing an ex­pla­na­tion for the ex­plo­sion and the sirens wail­ing in the dis­tance.

Last Thurs­day a mas­sive car bomb had det­o­nated out­side a se­cu­rity build­ing in Shubra Al-khaima, a work­ing-class dis­trict on Cairo’s north­ern edge. Chunks of con­crete had been blasted off the build­ing, shards of glass were sprin­kled across the pave­ment. The win­dows of the neigh­bour­ing apart­ment build­ing had been blown out, the pri­vate spa­ces of the fam­i­lies within flung open to the street.

Such in­ci­dents have be­come al­most rou­tine in Cairo. The Egyp­tian state is locked in bat­tle with an ac­cel­er­at­ing in­sur­gency. In June, Egypt’s chief pros­e­cu­tor, Hisham Barakat, was as­sas­si­nated in a bomb­ing in an elite Cairo neigh­bour­hood. Days later, in­sur­gents staged a brazen at­tack on the mil­i­tary’s po­si­tions in north Si­nai. Last week, Is­lamic State mil­i­tants claimed to have be­headed a Croa­t­ian man who was ab­ducted from a desert high­way out­side Cairo.

In re­sponse, the gov­ern­ment drafted a dra­co­nian counter-ter­ror­ism law that es­tab­lishes spe­cial courts and im­poses fines on jour­nal­ists who stray from the gov­ern­ment’s ac­count of an at­tack. Crit­ics say the law grants sweep­ing pow­ers to the pres­i­dent and could lead to an ex­pan­sion of the gov­ern­ment’s twoyear-old cam­paign against po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

Or­di­nary Egyp­tians find them­selves wedged be­tween the vi­o­lence of the in­sur­gents and a se­cu­rity state that wields un­prece­dented power.

“I re­fer to it as the terror law be­cause it’s not re­ally anti-terror. It’s le­git­imis­ing state terror,” said Wael Eskan­dar, an Egyp­tian jour­nal­ist. “It’s a re­place­ment for the emer­gency law, trumping the con­sti­tu­tion and trumping peo­ple’s right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion, and grant­ing le­galised im­punity to po­lice forces who are al­ready very bru­tal.”

Egypt’s pres­i­dent, Ab­del-fatah al-sisi, signed the new mea­sure into law last Sun­day. Sisi is the for­mer mil­i­tary com­man­der who led the forced re­moval of the elected Is­lamist pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Morsi in July 2013. Egypt cur­rently has no par­lia­ment, and as a re­sult leg­isla­tive power rests in Sisi’s hands.

The leg­is­la­tion comes in the con­text of the two-year clam­p­down. Since Morsi’s re­moval, the state has ac­cel­er­ated the use of lethal force to sup­press demon­stra­tions, killing some 1 000 peo­ple in a sin­gle day in Au­gust 2013. In the crack­down, more than 40 000 peo­ple have been ar­rested, ac­cord­ing to the Egyp­tian Cen­tre for Eco­nomic and So­cial Rights.

Eskan­dar iden­ti­fies with a gen­er­a­tion of Egyp­tians who par­tic­i­pated in the 2011 upris­ing that ended three decades of dic­ta­tor­ship un­der Pres­i­dent Hosni Mubarak. It ejected Mubarak and his co­terie from power and dis­man­tled his po­lit­i­cal ap­pa­ra­tus.

Mil­lions of Egyp­tians hoped the revo­lu­tion would go be­yond merely a change of per­son­nel to end the prac­tices of au­thor­i­tar­ian rule that char­ac­terised Mubarak’s regime: tor­ture, cor­rup­tion, elec­toral fraud. But since the 2013 mil­i­tary takeover, many of those same prac­tices have re­turned and in­creased. Be­yond the raw data of the po­lit­i­cal clam­p­down, ac­tivists say fear has crept back into Egyp­tian po­lit­i­cal life, a re­sult of the re-emer­gence of a Mubarak-era se­cu­rity state.

“There was this cul­ture of fear of crit­i­cis­ing the gov­ern­ment even un­der Mubarak, but now it feels even more real, where you know they might act upon it,” said Eskan­dar. “It feels like I’m un­der threat all the time. Peo­ple I know are be­ing threat­ened, be­ing as­saulted.”

The fear is a re­sult of the pos­si­ble con­se­quences of run­ning foul of the se­cu­rity ser­vices. Egyp­tian hu­man rights de­fend­ers and ac­tivists have been jailed af­ter far­ci­cal tri­als. Oth­ers have been banned from trav­el­ling. Still oth­ers face murkier fates. Es­raa El-taweel, a 23-year-old pho­to­jour­nal­ist, and two friends were re­port­edly ar­rested walk­ing along the Nile cor­nice in Cairo’s Maadi neigh­bour­hood on 1 June. For at least two weeks the author­i­ties de­nied the three were in cus­tody. Two weeks later Taweel was re­port­edly spot­ted in a prison.

Taweel is just one of dozens of peo­ple who have been “dis­ap­peared” re­cently by Egypt’s se­cu­rity forces, ac­cord­ing to hu­man rights groups. In early June a group called Free­dom for the Brave iden­ti­fied 163 peo­ple who went miss­ing over two months. The list in­cluded 64 peo­ple who were even­tu­ally lo­cated af­ter spend­ing more than 24 hours in undis­closed de­ten­tion, 66 who were still miss­ing, and other cases that were un­ver­i­fied.

In the new re­al­ity of a vi­o­lent strug­gle be­tween state and in­sur­gents, jour­nal­ists also face ha­rass­ment and worse at the hands of the author­i­ties. Re­port­ing on the mil­i­tants’ at­tacks has be­come a risky prospect, not least be­cause of po­lice who have come to re­gard peo­ple with cam­eras as sus­pect. Af­ter a bomb­ing that de­stroyed part of the Ital­ian con­sulate in Cairo in July, po­lice held four jour­nal­ists for ar­riv­ing on the scene “too fast”.

In re­porters’ en­coun­ters with po­lice, the stakes are high. At least 18 jour­nal­ists are in Egypt’s pris­ons, ac­cord­ing to a tally re­leased in June by the New York-based Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists.

— Guardian.

Egyp­tian riot po­lice stand in front of a dam­aged build­ing fol­low­ing a bomb blast in north­ern Cairo’s dis­trict of Shubra.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lesotho

© PressReader. All rights reserved.