When the blood of the other becomes a fathomable reality, fascism is born. I remember well standing among thousands in front of the UN, on 30 June 2013, as we screamed atop our lungs against one dictator, but little did we know we would help usher in a decidedly more bloodthirsty one. All it took was another seven weeks for the guillotine to separate hope from the Egyptian body politic. Only one thing is certain: it is our fault.
Five days after Morsi was ousted the first massacre, inevitably, followed: 54 killed and over 300 injured. The New York Times interestingly chose a highly accurate term, “rupture”, to describe the resultant state of discourse, and since then “rupture” has been Egypt. As massacres mounted, Egyptian media and most Egyptians seemed more interested in debating whether 3 July was a revolution or a coup. Lost in the bloody shuffle was most important of all: one group of Egyptians’ blood had, through massive amounts of propaganda, and quite abruptly, become expendable. The roadmap spoken of often at the time was nothing but a charade for a singular purpose: the political expunction of the Muslim Brotherhood. When Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the de facto leader of the military takeover, asked for and received thunderous support, on 26 July 2013, for “fighting terrorism”, the blood-letting and the birth of a very specifically Egyptian brand of fascism was born.
In supporting Al-Sisi’s fight against a Muslim Brotherhood rule that was both dreadfully chaotic and lacking in executional vision, the Egyptian people had, unbeknownst to them, become Winston Churchill, circa 1927, supporting Mussolini. Just like Churchill had backed the wrong horse when he said: “If I had been an Italian I am sure that I should have been with you… against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism,” the Egyptian people, for the most part, offered unwavering support for Al-Sisi, even as the blood flowed. Shortly after that first massacre on 8July 2013, another even more “ferocious attack” followed on 27 July 2013, and the toll was a staggering 72 dead, at least. Having had great success with its campaign to paint the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists, what should have been termed national disaster, and given many pause, was instead welcomed with open, justifying arms.
By the time 14 August 2013 rolled around, and the Rabaa massacre that killed nearly 1,000 Islamists, the seemingly binary operations and discourse rampant throughout Egypt was, in fact, a more complex multi-institutional maze. The very process by which fascism is born is not a sudden hammer’s blow to the head, but rather a silent poison, which gradually seeps into societal waters. Arguably, it was a process that began during the Morsi tenure, with its birthplace in the exclusionary rhetoric of a leader who made most Egyptians feel like strangers in their own land, unless they belonged to his political flank. By the time the baton was snatched by Al-Sisi, things would take shape in a way no nation should desire.
To the naked eye, it appeared that Al-Sisi ruled the roost, but, in political reality, it is multiple crucial players who rule along his side. The Deep State was, in fact, the real big brother at the helm, including, but not limited to: the General Intelligence, the Ministry of Interior, Military Intelligence, Central Security Forces, topped off by a carefully selected circle of ministerial and personal intimates of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. It is this very specific mélange of overlapping interests that chose the Al-Sisi brand to execute a security based roadmap, which has brought Egypt to the edge of a fascist cliff. It is this same deep state that, throughout both the Sadat and the Mubarak tenures, dealt with the Muslim Brotherhood not as political partners but rather as a potentially disruptive element that should, for the most part, be behind their prison bars. More crucially, to this monolith headed by a ‘my way or the highway’ strongman, the key was turning back the clock on any progressive aspirations brought about by the 25 January Revolution. What better way to send a thundering message to the 25 January revolutionaries than to obliterate, both physically and politically, the Islamist opposition?
But with the arrogance that governs it, such a mindset is its own worst enemy. Effectively, the plan was twofold: roll back any gains made by 25 January and decimate the organisational structure of the Brotherhood via a massive thumping that would see leadership and tens of thousands of members and sympathisers dead, jailed, or on the run. The plethora of problems this brought, and still brings, to the table is why, in the medium term, the stability of Egypt is under threat. This threat is not only due to terrorism, that such authoritarian steps have brought, but equally so the general acquiescent silence or alternately loud public support of state crimes. With the government delivering multiple massacres, each larger than any committed by any post-1952 Egyptian regime, but also wrapping a vice grip around an estimated 45,000+ political prisoners, Egypt has left the banal realm of dictatorship behind, and is aiming for something significantly more horrific.
Though, as recently as eight weeks ago, Al-Sisi spoke of having a parliament by the end of 2015, there are two stark realities: Al-Sisi continues to issue an unabated set of laws, seemingly tailored to maximise his own personal power and that of his political ilk, and Egypt has not had a parliament in over two years. Couple that with grotesque patterns of torture and systematic rape against both sexes in Egypt’s prisons, and you begin to comprehend how deeply ingrained the dehumanisation powering the fascist machine is. While such issues, endemic to many police states to varying degrees, are more common than many would believe, what is morally perturbing is the degree to which the majority are silent about the abuses. In some case, surely, fear of punishment plays a role and, in yet others, political fatigue and disinterest are paramount. But most confounding, as confirmed by this writer’s many experiences and tens of similar stories, accounts and experiences relayed throughout the past two years, the many applaud the Al-Sisi pathway, regardless of its well documented ethos.
Disturbingly, the “they came first for…”mind-set, made famous by a pastor named Martin Niemoller, who was vocal against Hitler, seems to have been stowed away in history’s shoebox. You would be hard-pressed to find many in the Egyptian zeitgeist who uttered the phrase signifying that while the regime may not be hunting for you now, it is your very silence that guarantees your day, too, will come. This is precisely what has transpired in Egypt. At first, the security forces’ brutality focused solely on Islamist foes, but increasingly, with the killing of Shaimaa el Sabbagh, the banning of 6 April, and the highly worrisome forced disappearances, the Al-Sisi regime is clearly coming for anyone who dares say no.
While there are indications that Al-Sisi has begun to lose some support in the media, as well as within his support base, two recent events paint a bleak picture that the violent tank of fascism marches unimpeded over basic rights. Shortly after Eid Al-Fitr prayers, six days ago, witnesses say a peaceful Islamist demonstration was attacked, according to multiple accounts, by police live fire. Six protestors were killed on the Muslim holy day, yet total silence, for the most part, ruled social media, the Egyptian press and the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, while bloody, was absent of any denouncement. During that same holiday, a much smaller incident reflected that law of the jungle and violence had become law of the land. A female police officer was recorded on video punching, berating, slapping and electrocuting a sexual harassment suspect. Even the British Daily Mirror called the police colonel “thuggish”.
In the final days of Morsi’s tenure a group of villagers murdered four Shi’a followersin broad daylight. To many analysts (including this one), there was a link between the sectarian rhetoric of the president and that deplorable crime. It is no less troubling to see how the Al-Sisi regime has created an environment where the “other” has become a facile and vulnerable target. No less tragically, Egyptians, in large numbers, are playing along either with silence or with loud clapping.
This current of anger, hate, and violence is nothing less than a mortal danger to the Egyptian state. It is not the simply the fault of the deep state or Al-Sisi. History has known many who have committed crimes, but to fall to such lows, those criminals must have partners. In millions of Egyptians, tragically, Al-Sisi has found such partners.
If this car isn’t stopped, Syria and Iraq will look like child’s play by comparison.
Amr Khalifa is freelance journalist and commentator recently published by Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Muftah, the Tahrir Institute, and Arab Media Society. You can follow him on Twitter @cairo67unedited