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Orwell’s Egypt


Suffice it to say, this is the most depressing anniversary yet of the Egyptian uprising. Somehow, the country has managed in the last three years not only to make no societal progress, but to actually regress to a situation that in many ways is worse than the Mubarak-era status quo. A cursory rundown of recent events highlight the utter absurdity of public discourse since the July 3rd coup.

We’ve always been at war with the Muslim Brothers

In order to fashion themselves as heroes, the military had to be sure to cast the role of State Villains. This process was well underway in the lead up to last year’s June 30 protest and was subsequently amped up – by orders of magnitude – in the aftermath of Morsi’s overthrow. That summer, “news” programs regularly affixed a banner with some variation of “Egypt Fights Terrorism” to the broadcast ticker (a trend that still continues). In case that graphic proved too subtle, stations began producing promos accusing the Brotherhood of carrying out a holocaust (complete with spelling and syntax about as dreadful as their journalistic integrity). All this was a prelude, of course, to the official word from on high proclaiming the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization – that’s when surreality really took hold.

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Blacklisting a significant segment of the Egyptian population has emboldened conspiracy theorists, prosecutors, and the broader state security apparatus. The result at times has been patently bizarre, such as the accusation that a well-known puppet – yes, an actual puppet – was conveying instructions for a terrorist plot through seemingly innocuous dialogue (only to the untrained ear, of course) for a Vodafone commercial. More troubling is the virtual institutionalization of Thought Crimes, wherein a schoolboy is jailed for have a “R4BIA” sign on his ruler, posting the symbol to your Facebook profile can get you up to 5 years in prison, and criticizing the Egyptian judiciary on Twitter is outlawed. Most distressing, however, is the brazen incarceration and indictments of practically any and all vocal critics of the regime – not simply Brotherhood leaders, but also liberal/secular activists and prominent academics. All this as the interim president glibly declares that Egypt is no longer a police state.

He who controls the past, controls the future. He who controls the present, controls the past.

Not content with merely limiting the range of acceptable thoughts, Egyptian authorities and their media enablers are busy delimiting the nation’s cache of acceptable memories. To be sure, throughout any transitional period, historical revisionism is going to be the norm. “Facts” will ebb and flow as various parties see fit to cast them to their advantage. The Muslim Brotherhood’s role during the early stages of the uprising has been a particular flashpoint. The politicization of the historical record (again, especially as it concerns the MB) is even evident in the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Square.”

Yet the tactics and reach of bloggers, spokespeople, or even acclaimed filmmakers pale in comparison to the power of the state to re-write the recent past. This includes, of course, the military’s role in atrocities committed at Mohammed Mahmoud and Rabia Al-Adawiyyah. With little fanfare, too, the memory of the martyr that helped spark the uprising is being tarnished and effaced. And so, this demonization of the Brotherhood and revolutionary symbols, coupled with the whitewashing of the army’s crimes now allows, in an obscene turn of events, the interior ministry (the original target of all the anger on January 25, 2011) to call for celebrations and rallies commemorating the “glorious revolution.”

Sisi, Egypt’s doubleplusgood leader

No variation on an Orwellian theme is complete without mass delusion and submission, and Egypt is no different. Were that these absurdities were seen as evidence of the regime’s loose grip on reality. Were that these human rights violations and violent crackdowns were viewead with the indignation they rightfully deserve. As it is, not only is a large portion of the Egyptian populace (at least a plurality and likely a majority) content with the direction the country is headed, but they are looking to double-down with calls for the Defense Minister (and de facto state leader), Gen. Abdel Fatah El Sisi, to run in the country’s next presidential elections. Between state officials dubbing Sisi Egypt’s De Gaulle, musicians producing anthems proclaiming “We Want You (O Sisi),” and media outlets generally fawning over the general’s bravado, it is hard to imagine that he would not win in a landslide should he decide to throw his Soviet-era army hat into the ring.

So where does that leave the rest of us who have eschewed the false dichotomy of security vs. freedom? Sadly, I fear that an already long, dark road after Mubarak’s fall has grown exponentially longer and darker. As I conclude this piece, news of multiple explosions in Cairo is hitting the wire. No doubt anger will be focused almost exclusively on the MB and their sympathizers. Likely, a crackdown will ensue, providing more motivation for extremists to resort to violence, and so the spiral downward will go on ad infinitum. Along the way, the vitriol will only increase and the impression that Egypt needs a strong, military leader to pull it out of its depressed state will grow stronger.

It’s hard to imagine when there will once again be room for good faith debate and meaningful dialogue in Egypt.

It’s hard to imagine when we can once again celebrate #Jan25 and all that it stands for, rather than lament all it has momentarily been co-opted to mean.

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Youssef Chouhoud is an assistant professor of political science at Christopher Newport University, where he is affiliated with the Reiff Center for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution. Youssef completed his PhD at the Political Science and International Relations program at the University of Southern California as a Provost’s Fellow. His research interests include political attitudes and behavior, survey methodology, and comparative democratization.



  1. Mahmud

    January 26, 2014 at 3:49 PM

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    All I can say is, it’s clear to me that if someone wants to believe a lie, they will go ahead and believe it. People can hide under the banner of Islam, claim to be Muslim and yet oppose Allah’s dominion on earth. Their niqabs and hijabs and beards and outward religiosity do not fool us.

    Their claims that Mursi and his group are terrorists and the like do not fool us. It’s as if they expect us to excuse them for avidly listening the the obvious lies of the media. It’s as if they expect us to sincerely believe that they are sincerely being fooled. These people aren’t in North Korea. They aren’t in Cuba.

    فَاسْتَخَفَّ قَوْمَهُ فَأَطَاعُوهُ ۚ إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا قَوْمًا فَاسِقِينَ
    So he bluffed his people, and they obeyed him. Indeed, they were [themselves] a people defiantly disobedient [of Allah ].

    Perhaps the time when there will be the people of nifaq and people of iman split into two camps is coming close.

    And don’t think the people of nifaq wouldn’t dress in hijabs, wear beards, pray five times a day and the like………

    But we know them by the tone of their voice.

    “It’s hard to imagine when there will once again be room for good faith debate and meaningful dialogue in Egypt.”

    You cannot have a debate with a group which is split into liars and those who avidly listen to those liars whose lies are clearer than day and night.

    The believers in Egypt should forget trying to have a dialogue or playing by their rules.

    Perhaps Allah intends fitnah for some or all of them.

    وَمَن يُرِدِ اللَّهُ فِتْنَتَهُ فَلَن تَمْلِكَ لَهُ مِنَ اللَّهِ شَيْئًا ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يُرِدِ اللَّهُ أَن يُطَهِّرَ قُلُوبَهُمْ ۚ لَهُمْ فِي الدُّنْيَا خِزْيٌ ۖ وَلَهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ

    But he for whom Allah intends fitnah – never will you possess [power to do] for him a thing against Allah . Those are the ones for whom Allah does not intend to purify their hearts. For them in this world is disgrace, and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment.

    Tafsir of the full ayah here

  2. Ali

    January 27, 2014 at 12:02 AM

    I do not understand one thing; if Morsi is so good why is it that most Egyptians are against the Brotherhood? On the other hand, most of Morsi’s supporter seem to be Pakistanis, Turkish, and Hamas supporters who frankly do not know what is good for the Egyptians better than the Egyptians themselves.
    How can it be that middle class Egyptians, businessmen, tv channels, newspapers are all against the Brotherhood?
    Also there has been so many bombings and terrorist attacks by the Brotherhood recently, can you truly look in the mirror and claim this is what Islam asks for? To kill civilians and policemen?

    • Chris

      February 10, 2014 at 11:17 AM

      @Ali, The reason that TV channels and newspapers are against the Brotherhood is clear.

      One of the very first acts of the coup was to close all media outlets that were deemed to be against the coup – therefore the only TV stations and newspapers currently operating are those who supported the coup in the first place. Prior to the coup, there were TV stations and newspapers that were both pro-Morsi/MB, and anti-Morsi/MB. They had the freedom to express an opinion. Now only those who are anti MOrsi/MB are allowed to operate.

      That leaves middle class Egyptians and businessmen – why are they against the Brotherhood?

      For starters, we don’t actually know that they are all against the Brotherhood for two reasons, Firstly, there are no reports of these people being pro Brotherhood because, as described above, only pro-coup, anti-MB media are allowed to operate. Secondly, anyone who dares open his mouth against the coup (whether they are pro-MB or not) is liable to be arrested, prosecuted, imprisoned for the crime of speaking against the coup.

      So it’s perfectly possible that there are middle class Egyptians and businessmen who are pro MB or anti-coup, but who daren’t open their mouths.

      That’s just for starters, though. Consider that many middle class Egyptians and businessmen did well out of the Mubarak years – it is the poor people who have been left destitute. It was noticeable in the anti-Morsi protests that many of the people taking part in them had nice clothes and well coiffured hair. In the pro-Morsi demonstrations that were going on at the same time, it was noticeable that many of the people wore old cheap clothes – they were the poor.

      So I think that for a lot of middle class Egyptians and businessmen, it is a case of they would rather have the sort of environment that they know how to operate in – they have done well out of it in the past, so they expect to do well out of it in the future.

      Unfortunately, the poor people, who are the majority in Egypt, get sidelined by this thought process.

  3. Azeem

    January 28, 2014 at 1:20 AM

    Most egyptian are sheep.

  4. ZAI

    January 30, 2014 at 10:31 PM

    There isn’t going to be any peace in the Muslim majority countries until all sides and all individuals realize that
    compromise is necessary and one can agree to disagree without being disagreeable. Right now it’s all about ego, arrogance and power with all the sides thinking it’s a zero-sum game with one winner.

    • Mahmud

      February 6, 2014 at 12:51 AM

      Yeah, Abu Bakr RA had lots of ego for this deen, he didn’t compromise with the post-Sirah version of secularists. Too much ego, but fortunately this deen became superior by the mercy of Allah aza wa jal.

  5. Yusuf Smith

    February 26, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    This lying about history was well-known during the Mubarak era as well — the regime then claimed “victories” over Israel that were simply advances, which the Israelis later reversed. I also remember being in a cab on the way to Nasr City for Arabic classes, and the driver told me and my friend how he loved President Nasser, and then added that he loved President Mubarak as well. I’m guessing he was a secret police agent, because he couldn’t have thought we were.

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