I usually make the distinction between the rule of law on the one hand and mob rule on the other. Similarly, I have also made a distinction between the rule of government and the rule of gangs. Rule of law implies that there is a government for and by its citizens and, as such, it creates a sense of security and well-being among the people. In contrast, mob rule does the opposite, in that it creates a sense of continuous fear. At the same time, the actions of gangs and other groups that function outside the realm of the law are radically different from government and governmental institutions, despite certain similarities. Governments raise money from their citizens through taxes with retribution if they are not paid; gangs do the same. Moreover, governments provide protection to those who pledge their allegiance to them and combat external threats, as do gangs. The main difference lies in the fact that governments protect the innocent according to a certain set of values recognised in that society and only punish aggressors. Gangs, however, punish the innocent and protect the criminals.
There is an old tale from the time of Alexander in Egypt, when a pirate was arrested by Alexander’s fleet, whereupon the man said to the emperor, “I am a single pirate on one ship and yet you consider me a criminal but you do the same thing with an entire fleet and you call yourself an emperor!”
This situation has been addressed in various forms throughout the modern era, the most notable of which is Karl Marx’s belief that capitalism functions like a gang that only protects the interests of the capitalist class. Meanwhile, some theorists such as Charles Tilly have written that the modern nation state in Western Europe resembles a gang.
While there are certainly some similarities between the two, particularly, for example, with colonial powers, the truth is that there are in reality substantial differences between an authoritarian state and gangs. We have witnessed how this is possible in failed states such as Somalia, and before that Liberia and Sierra Leone, all of which were divided into gang-run territories after their collapse. Even under the authoritarian rule of Siad Barre, the people of Somalia people lived comfortably on their pensions and there was economy and trade, health and education. In the past, even colonial powers laid the foundations for such institutions, which could continue to function independently after the colonial era.
In Arab countries such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq today, the people have the privilege of experiencing both of these realities: a government that acts as a gang and gangs that act like governments. In the case of Egypt, the government has been transformed into a gang that functions outside the realm of the law. Thus, the government begins to detain and kidnap those whom it considers to be deviants. And just as the Mafia infamously bought off the judiciary, the police and politicians, the government has kidnapped those same institutions and holds them hostage.
It may be confusing, but I assure you that you are not watching The Matrix; this is the reality that affects the entire world. Egypt, after all, is nothing more than a small drop in the global ocean. Everyone outside the Egyptian matrix sees the pharaoh for who and what he really is, naked and without any clothes, whereas the Egyptian media has cheered him and praised him in the hope that the people can lie to themselves about how they really feel.
In this context, the kidnapping of the Aljazeera journalists demonstrates the pinnacle of this mafia-like state and the complicated nature of Egypt’s ordeal. The journalists were kidnapped specifically so that they would not broadcast or publish pictures of the pharaoh without clothes and so that the Egyptian media could paint the picture itself, as it sees fit; this is something that Aljazeera refused to allow from the very beginning.
The irony of the situation is that Aljazeera’s crew was detained before they had the chance to broadcast a single programme, which shows the Egyptian government’s fear over news leaking out about what is really going on in the country. This confirms that the individuals who hijacked the state of Egypt are fully aware of the fact that what they have done must be kept hidden from the eyes of the world. If the reality of the situation were truly all sweetness and light, with genuine democracy and the people loving Al-Sisi, wouldn’t they want journalists to show the world the extent of this democratic miracle?
What is even more dangerous about this is that the Egyptian government’s philosophy is an eye for an eye. Thus, kidnapping Aljazeera journalists from a Gulf-sponsored media outlet serves as a form of retaliation for everything Egyptians go through in the Gulf States. Al-Sisi sits like a caliph from the Abbasid or Seljuk times, for in Egypt, the judiciary functions under the order of the Field Marshall and the Field Marshall takes his orders from the White House. Hopefully, what this means is that the journalists will soon be released; remember, though, that a gang does not function within the realm of the law but stands in the face of another gang despite the impending danger.
If we look at the kidnapping of Aljazeera’s journalists in tribal terms, then one could consider the Aljazeera tribe as the most influential in the media and the biggest threat to Washington because they are considered among the most honest journalists today. The kidnapping has led to the Egyptian regime’s worst fear because the entire journalism community stood by the Aljazeera crew; now, the tyrant’s spell will soon affect even him. While the initial goal behind kidnapping the men was to prevent the media from depicting Egypt’s reality, this action alone has exposed the regime’s intentions. From this point onwards, international journalists will dedicate themselves to stand by their Aljazeera colleagues and expose the faults of the regime, and of those there are many. No journalist will think twice before telling the truth about Egypt and that, indeed, is the most effective weapon that can be used to expose the tyrants.
Translated from Al Quds Al Arabi, 26 June, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.