The police lieutenant shouted at his subordinates as he left the scene in a hurry: "Come on, get in the cars quickly." It reminded me of the Egyptian police escaping from the streets during the 25 January Revolution, particularly when the Interior Ministry forces were overwhelmed while trying to suppress protesters on a bridge across the River Nile. In this case, the police officer had just shot and killed someone.
Awais Al-Rawi was a young Egyptian from the village of Al-Awamiyah in Upper Egypt. He confronted the police officer who had slapped his father while trying to arrest his brother. Al-Rawi slapped the arrogant officer who responded by shooting him in cold-blood at short range. There was no investigation, and no arrests. The only response was to fire live ammunition.
On last week's episode of "A Window on Egypt" on Al-Hiwar TV, I asked the viewers: "What do you think about [President Abdel Fattah] Al-Sisi's reaction to the recent demonstrations? Can you describe it? Is it repressive or does it contain the popular anger?"
One viewer called in and said: "If you change the question and say instead 'what would you do if you get to meet Al-Sisi?' then we can answer the question sufficiently and restore our people's dignity. Our answer would be similar to Awais Al-Rawi's answer on the police officer's face. Our answer will be a violent slap, even if we sacrifice our lives for it."
Al-Rawi's slap of the officer's face stands as a metaphor for a violent slap on the arrogance of Al-Sisi and his regime. The significance of this is that if injustice persists, the people will rise up against it.
Even though the officer in question killed Awais Al-Rawi, his fake status as the master lording it over everyone else has been swept aside. This slap not only left a mark on the officer's murderous face, but has also left a deep scar on the face, heart and mind of every army and police officer in Egypt. Each one will now think twice before slapping a citizen, because they all know that they may be hit back.
In the Egyptian movie Heya Fawda, which was very popular in the last years of Hosni Mubarak's rule, the character of the policeman Hatem, portrayed brilliantly by the late Khaled Saleh, was the embodiment of police tyranny and the injustice inflicted on the Egyptian people. The local residents who suffered from Hatem's cruelty for years eventually rose up against the system and stormed the police station to demand his arrest. This prompted the corrupt officer to commit suicide.
Al-Sisi's regime is reproducing such a scenario all over the country by inflicting the same kind of suffering on the Egyptian people, while exerting intense pressure on individuals driven by a blatant lack of vision and poor decisions, which get worse day by day. The Egyptian people and poor citizens pay the price for Al-Sisi's thirst for repression and authoritarianism, but for how long can he and his regime push the people into the corner without an explosive response?
What is striking here is that the spark of the almost inevitable explosion may come from the marginalised regions of Upper Egypt, which is the home of more than half of Egypt's impoverished population, according to the estimates of the Central Agency for Mobilisation and Statistics in 2017. That is where the people feel that successive regimes have ignored them deliberately. Although there is a growing sense of the oppression and injustices internalised by the locals of these areas due to limited resources, vulnerable infrastructure and the absence of basic services, as well as constant price increases and repressive security forces, the citizens of Upper Egypt cherish their dignity above all else. Hence, the story of Awais Al-Rawi who dared to slap the police officer will be told incessantly, and it will be the main topic of conversation in the adjacent villages, towns, cities and governorates.
On 16 August, 2013, only two days after the Rabaa Al-Adawiyya Massacre, mass demonstrations broke out across Upper Egypt. Significantly, some provinces rebelled against Al-Sisi and his military coup at that time. The wave of anger in Upper Egypt was the landmark event in those stormy days, until those who led the movement managed to calm the people down and life returned to normal.
However, today there is no leadership to calm the protesters if the governorates of Upper Egypt decide to take action now. Egyptian civil society lacks charismatic leaders and influential political personalities who can make the masses listen to them. In fact, the approaching popular uprising will be sweeping in its defence of the dignity that Al-Sisi and his police and army think that the Egyptian people have abandoned.
Awais Al-Rawi's slap signals the beginning of a new stage that will be difficult for Al-Sisi's military regime to contain. The fear barrier has been broken and the people of Egypt now have the courage to slap any tyrant, whether a policeman or an army officer, or even Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi himself.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Rassd on 4 October 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.