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Sisi’s paranoia demands that he controls the truth, and Egyptians are paying the price

January 25, 2017 at 9:06 am

Almost a year after democratic elections were held in Egypt, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi came to power through a bloody coup that immediately killed at least a thousand people. Since then, Egyptians have become prisoners at the hands of the state. Thoughts of dissent must be locked in the minds of any thinker because if they are uttered in public, there is a strong possibility that the person may face prison, forced disappearance or death.

“We must remember that it isn’t only Muslim Brotherhood supporters,” explained Dr Maha Azzam, the Head of the Egyptian Revolutionary Council, at a MEMO event with former hunger striker Mohamed Soltan in 2015. “Anyone who is openly against the Sisi coup is subject to state brutality.”

Azzam believes that one of the main reasons for Sisi’s brutality is that he has been given legitimacy and a degree of immunity by the international community. Soltan is an Egyptian-American non-violent political activist who was on a hunger strike for 490 days after he was arrested by the Egyptian authorities while they were searching for his father. While it’s undeniable that the Muslim Brotherhood is the group most targeted by the Egyptian authorities, to a government that was born through a military coup and found consensus through coercion, any form of dissent is seen as a threat.

One of the ways in which the Egyptian government keeps a hold on the media is through force. When the then Defence Minister Sisi orchestrated his coup, journalists in Egypt were among the first to feel the government’s totalitarian grip.

Indeed, on the night of the coup, the Egyptian military raided the Al-Jazeera office in Cairo, and closed down three local news stations that were predicted to take an anti-Sisi stance. Within weeks, journalist protection watchdogs began to express their concerns at the rapidly increasing crackdown on the press. Egyptian satellite Nilesat began to jam regional TV stations within days of the coup, and censorship became the new reality. The Committee to Protect Journalists has branded Sisi as the “second worst jailer of journalists worldwide”, while Reporters Without Borders has given Egypt a press freedom ranking of 159, placing among the 25 worst countries for journalists.

Sisi justified his coup by claiming that he orchestrated it through the will of the Egyptian people, and to protect Egypt from ousted President Mohamed Morsi. In his book Genealogy of Morals, political philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche spoke about the concept of morality and truth being a social mechanism which is subject to power, rather than solid articles on how one must live life. This was then expanded upon by French Philosopher Michel Foucault, who coined the term “regime of truth” in his book Discipline and Punish. Essentially, he explained that “truth” is established by the most powerful in society and that it is power, rather than empiricism, that distinguishes between truth and error.

The Sisi government has become a staple case to prove such theories. Using the mechanism of crowd psychology, Sisi quickly succeeded in propagating a populist truth that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organisation and thus the coup essentially saved Egypt from the movement’s terrorism. On the street, people opposed to Sisi were quickly accused of being collaborators with terrorists.

In November 2014, a new counter-terrorism bill was ratified, which limited basic freedoms in the name of national security. Terms were defined loosely, which led to the government and intelligence services persecuting civilians impulsively.

The definition of a terrorist entity as highlighted in the bill is described as “any group which disrupts public order or threatens the safety, security or interests of society, or harms or frightens individuals or threatens their lives, freedoms, rights or security or harms national unity.”

When looking at the way that the government has drafted its definition of terrorism in the context of the actions of the coup government, it is clear that it was put together in a way that gives the state a monopoly over information and truth. The state is right, and any group or individual that “threatens the […] interests of society” is wrong.

Even in instances where the Sisi government has received worldwide condemnation, the state’s narrative continued to follow its theme of denial and the accusation that its enemies are the instigators of instability.

The death of 28 year old Giulio Regeni last year sent shockwaves through the international community. States and NGOs demanded an inquiry into the death of the PhD student who was known for his pro-democracy advocacy in Egypt. When his body was found last February it had all the hallmarks of military intelligence torture on it. Despite the evidence, the Egyptian government denied vehemently that its security forces killed Regeni; in fact, Sisi even attempted to pin the blame on his “political enemies”, who are known to be attached tothe Muslim Brotherhood.

The summer of 2013 marked the return of malignant dictatorship in Egypt and a reversal of what the Arab Spring had hoped to achieve. While the Morsi government, like every other government, had its failings, Sisi used the existing flaws of the Egyptian political system, along with obscene fabrications, as a mechanism of control. He sought to monopolise the perceived truth in Egypt, and succeeded. The price for this is being paid by ordinary citizens.

Refugees and displaced persons

As a result of the crackdown on all members of the opposition and the press in Egypt many have fled the country. Exact figures are not available.

Types of weapons/tools of oppression used during protests

Live ammunition, tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, rocks, men on horse and camel back charged into the crowds and whipped the protesters.

People arrested or killed

Over 12,000 civilians were brought before military tribunals between 25 January 2011 and 30 June 2012. During the 18 day uprising, more than 846 people were killed.

Timeline of events:

  • 25 January 2011 – Tens of thousands of Egyptians take to the streets to demand the removal of President Hosni Mubarak.
  • 28 Jan 2011 – Authorities shut down the internet in an attempt to silence dissent.
  • 11 February 2011 – Mubarak resigns.
  • 5 March 2011 – Protestors storm the headquarters of Egypt’s State Security Services.
  • 3 August 2011 – Mubarak’s trial begins where he faces charges of corruption.
  • 28 Nov 2011 – Egyptians vote in the first elections since the ouster of Mubarak.
  • 10 May 2012 – Candidates take part in the first televised debate in Egypt’s history.
  • 24 June 2012 – Morsi wins Egyptian presidency.
  • 3 July 2013 – Egypt’s military chief announces that Mohamed Morsi has been replaced by Adly Mansour.
  • 21 August 2013 – Egyptian court orders the release of former president Hosni Mubarak.
  • 8 June 2014 – Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi inaugurated as Egypt’s eighth president.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.