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The return of the repressive state in Egypt

The state of fear and repression created by Mubarak was overthrown on 25 January 2011. Any attempt to revive it will fail

Khalil Al-Anani , Saturday 11 Jan 2014
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Media outlets reported that 15-year-old student Khaled Abdel-Ghani was detained because he had in his possession a ruler with the Rabaa logo on it. The news is no different from other reports of repression filling the pages of Egyptian newspapers since the 3 July coup. The tragedy, however, is that the headmaster of the school, Ramadan El-Sissi, informed on the student to the police, which arrested the student and called his father in for questioning. And thus, Egypt has entered a phase of “political snitching,” which demonstrates how the masses are accommodating repression.

The revolution on 25 January 2011 occurred to end state oppression, and it is no surprise it began on the day the state celebrates one of its most repressive agencies, namely the police force. But what has been taking place since 3 July until today is an attempt by the incumbent regime not only to remanufacture security and political repression, which was institutionalised and systematic throughout Mubarak’s era, but also to generate psychological acceptance of it through creating a public constituency that accepts to coexist with repression and justifies it in the name of “good citizens” versus “bad citizens” who oppose the military.

German scholar Hannah Arendt writes in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism: “A top priority of totalitarian regimes is to strike terror and fear in the hearts of the masses in order to tighten their control over them. To achieve this, they rely on pitting segments of society against each other, and informing on others becomes a key tool in both striking against these masses and guaranteeing they would never unite together.”

This is how Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq for more than two decades, as did Hafez Al-Assad and his son after him for half a century in Syria, just as Gaddafi had done throughout his reign. The totalitarianism practiced by all these men could not have continued and settled in without the imposition of fear and repression and their adoption by state institutions and society. Nonetheless, in the end they all share the same fate, namely to be placed in the dustbin of history and to garner no sympathy.

Arendt adds that “under totalitarian regimes fear at first controls the mind and heart, but after a while it loses its potency and effectiveness.” This is what is happening in Egypt since the overthrow of Mubarak.

The only truth since the January 25 Revolution until today is that all attempts to remanufacture repression have failed. After Mubarak, some tried to use repression in their favour, but they ended up like Mubarak and his men: miserable failures. What is surprising is that as state repression increases, the more the flame of revolution is rekindled and the greater the determination of revolutionary forces and political activists to terminate this repressive state and its authoritarianism.

In other words, repression becomes the “elixir of life” for the revolution and its youth. One can view the massacres at Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Al-Nahda squares through this prism. The main goal was to snuff out the revolutionary sense that was born and grew with the great January revolution; the goal was not to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood who had lost power tangibly and symbolically because of their political failures during a year in power. The real goal was to “silence and terrorise” active political forces that were — and continue to be — a thorn in the side of post-revolution rulers.

The only reason for broadcasting images of killings at Rabaa, Nahda and Abu Zaabal was to spread fear and terror, not only in the hearts of the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters, but also in the hearts of anyone who participated in the January revolution and was emancipated from the grip of fear. In short, what occurred on the morning of 14 August 2013 appeared momentarily to be a delayed “statist” attempt to correct what happened on 28 January 2011 when the police were brought down by protesters. Or at least this is what those in power wanted: take a revenge for “the prestige of the state” and its repressive apparatus.

It seems paving the way for a scenario of psychological normalisation with repression through “popular” means began on 30 June when members of the police force were carried above people’s shoulders, in a paradoxical image that historians will ponder at length while writing the history of the Egyptian revolution. The main goal of this was so that the slogan “The people and police are one hand” resounds everywhere in Tahrir, and for everyone to hear it in preparation for the revival of the “officers’ republic” once again as quickly as possible and at any cost.

This was the magic key to settle and implement the new political formula of “security in return for repression” under which the massacre at Rabaa took place, followed by other massacres and violations. It is the same formula that is being promoted today to justify the slow assassination of the January 25 Revolution through arresting its key figures and activists without a single objection from the people on whose behalf these figures revolted. It is also the same formula that ruled and continues to rule the political scene since 3 July, and it will also be used to ratify “one of the best constitutions in the world and its inspiring preamble” in January.

The strategy of “security in return for repression” appears to be successful and effective so far, and may explain why some have embraced it — whether willingly or otherwise. Nonetheless, history always passes its own judgment. Mubarak was not removed just because he was less democratic and more corrupt, but also because he was more brutal and foolish in using the fiendish repression machine. The same thing happened with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which ruled the country after the revolution, and thus repression became the bane of it, its image and the reputation of its members.

It is no surprise that the clashes at Maspero, Mohamed Mahmoud Street, and the Cabinet headquarters are unforgettable milestones that rekindle the flame of revolution anytime it dwindles, and are clear proof of the failure of the repression machine in achieving its goals since the brass was overthrown in the first phase of military rule. The same thing happened with Morsi and his group, who were ousted not only because of their political failures but also because they tried to tame “the state of repression” and manipulate it in their own favour. The result was that it devoured them, and the same will happen to anyone who attempts to revive “the state of fear and repression” which was overthrown on 25 January and will never return, no matter what the cost.

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