Since the revolution and until a few months ago, with every news item published, Egyptians of all walks of life would begin analysing and discussing the significance of said news item. Different opinions and agitated discussions would be heard on the streets, on social media and with friends. Analyses floated around, mostly made up of uneducated guesses or single-minded political ideologies. But they did exist, and they were a spark of hope, because once discussions occur, knowledge ensues and change is inevitable.
In these recent months, discussions have mostly stepped back, leaving cynical comments or bitter laughter to take their place. In my opinion, this is because there is nothing to analyse, nothing for different opinions to gain if discussions take place. News has mostly been scary, either because of its ridiculousness, which makes us afraid of where such leadership is taking our country and us with it, or just plain scary, because of the violence of the crackdown on everything we do.
Just to give an idea on what an Egyptian reads every morning, here is a look at some news items I believe are telling of the situation. It was indeed a difficult task; there were way too many to choose from, and picking some was trying to my sanity, although I only went through the past couple of weeks’ news.
– In nine months, Al-Sisi has passed 140 decrees, using his legislative powers, without the existence of a parliament. Decrees that have affected the economy, political and social rights, security affairs, and foreign policy, along with some administrative affairs. All without a parliament, and there are no parliamentary elections in sight. Worth remembering here, is that Al-Sisi’s idea of democracy is calling for one political coalition during his meeting with political parties’ leaders in preparation for the elections back in January. 19 parties came into a “national coalition” in response to his call! So, even if the parliament did exist, it would be his parliament.
– The sentencing of former president Morsi to 20 years in prison for “inciting and demonstrating violence” in relation to the Itihadiya clashes between protesters and Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Now this is a tricky issue, because it is true that Morsi should be held responsible, as Human Rights Watch called back then on the prosecutor to investigate the involvement and responsibility of the authorities in the violence. However, the prosecution did not get involved during Morsi’s rule, and this is one of the cases brought against him after he was ousted. A politicised sentence lacking due process is not what Egypt needs. Amnesty International called the trial a “travesty of justice”, given the lack of due process. Also, for everyday Egyptians, such “demonstrating of violence” is not a crime, given that it is normal to see armed forces vehicles roaming the streets of Cairo with three or four soldiers pointing their guns in the faces of civilians. If that is not “demonstration of violence”, I don’t know what is! To add insult to injury, Mubarak, his sons, his interior minister and their police officers were all found innocent of killing protesters during the 25 January Revolution. Then the Foreign Ministry responds to international condemnation of Morsi’s sentence by saying that verdicts in Egypt are “issued by efficient, competent and fully independent judicial bodies”.
– Two judges were referred to investigation for “participating in a project drafting an anti-torture law”. With all the reports and testimonies about torture in Egypt’s prisons, detention facilities and police stations, it seems that the authorities insist on giving free hand to the police. Hundreds die at police stations and prisons, the latest being a lawyer in Matariya police station, the same station where another lawyer died a week ago, and in the same week, two detainees died in Old Cairo police station. This is in only one week, and then they wonder why police officers are targeted!
– Meanwhile, five reporters were transferred to investigations last week, days after publishing a special report on police violations. The previous week, three journalists were sentenced to life in prison for “disturbing the peace and publishing false information” during the violent dispersal of Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in in August 2013.
– Of freedom of speech and assembly, the prime minister gave instructions to the Egypt Labour Union to create “committees to stop protests” within the Union. Some action was expected (although not such a strange one!) because during the first quarter of 2015, 1,353 protests had taken place, 71% of which were labour rights protests.
– Foreign investors are losing interest in investing in projects presented to them during the Economic Summit, because the investment law has not yet been finalised. So the highly costly and highly publicised conference comes to nothing because of the inefficiency of the state’s institutions.
– Clashes between army police and policemen, where army police surrounded a police station to get a military pilot out after he fought with a policeman. This is one ridiculously scary piece of news.
Here is some of the more absurd news:
– Blind man arrested for carrying a nail trimmer.
– Man arrested for having EGP 80,000 ($10,000) in his car. That was an announcement on the official Facebook page of the army spokesman.
– The Transport Minister says that citizens are always seated in Egypt’s buses, “not one of them has to stand up”.
– After 500 tonnes of raw phosphate spilled in the river Nile, the Environment Minister said there is no pollution in the water, and that “some countries throw this mineral in their water to enrich it”. On the same topic, the Irrigation Minister said that Egypt’s drinking water is 100% pure and clean, whilst the Egypt’s Center for Economic and Social Studies republished its report on the horrendous level of water pollution in Egypt.
– On a TV show, a so-called military expert announced that Egypt was able to destroy a US airplane sent to spy on the Egyptian army. This news item was published in newspapers.
– The Interior Minister announces that terrorism in Egypt decreased by 65%. Of course, no one knows how this percentage came about and what is it in relation to. Three days later, the Washington-based Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) says that, based on their research and analysis, terror attacks in first three months of 2015 are equal to entire 2014.
These, along with countless news on arrests every day, and deaths in Sinai, and mass death sentences, all contribute to a confused, afraid and at times, apathetic public. Most Egyptians do not even bother reading or listening to the news anymore, and the few who do have become quite cynical. I am not sure if the powers in this country can see what we see: a steady deterioration in all affairs. We see a country that cannot control its institutions, that has no policy, and that appears to be completely oblivious to how far down the bottom we are.
Rana Allam is former Editor in Chief of Daily News Egypt and commentator on Egyptian affairs