The prospects of a new Revolution in Egypt

October 22, 2019

TThe exercise of freedom of expression is a critical measure of a pluralistic society as it allows individuals to impart and access ideally unbiased informations, as well as it provides for critical voices that keep the government in check. Its significance is evident in periods of impetus for the exercise of the freedom of expression that cumulate in popular demonstrations that occur in societies with the high levels of oppression. People share information on their preferred social networks and hopefully encourage others to participate in the collective calls for freedoms - this courage is sometimes very needed, particularly in the societies in which the political participation in form of protests is not only prohibited by law, but also rewarded with police beatings, imprisonment without due process, torture, and enforced disappearance. While many states to a higher or lesser degree share such problems, arguably, one of the worst-performing countries in this regard is currently Egypt. The executive grasp over society's freedoms, corruption’s influence over people’s inequalities, and rising food prices that make survival difficult for over 32,5% of people that live under poverty lines are all indicative of the prospects for a new revolution in Egypt.

 

In this context, freedom of expression and free press media become not only objectives to be achieved but also the tools to achieve it. In 2016 an article published in Aljazeera compared the situation in Egypt from the period right before the 2011 uprisings to the one present at the time, outlining many similarities among the two. As fifth anniversary of the 2011 uprisings was approaching, President Sisi’s government, fearing from another revolutionary episode, has gone on the rampage arresting activists and journalists that had allegedly promoted anti-government protests. However, despite the strong military and the government’s brutal prevention of any sign of popular discontent the situation in Egypt had since continued to be unstable. An Egyptian businessman Mohamad Ali had been posting videos since 2nd of September of 2019 accusing Sisi of corruption and of building luxurious presidential palaces at the expense of people’s well-being. Sisi’s response: "Yes, what about them? I have built presidential palaces. And I will build more. None of it is mine. It belongs to Egypt.". However, it seemed that Egyptian people failed to believe Sisi’s words and, harmed by rising food prices and subsidy cuts, they started anti-government and anti-corruption protests on 20th of September. Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, a symbol of Egyptian’s civil resistance, was blocked from traffic and protected by numerous police officers which showed just how much the government feared the repeating of the events from 2011. The protests were followed by harsh crackdown in which large number of people was detained and put in bad conditions: scarce toilets, food and water. Meanwhile, the Egyptian news media failed to provide an objective reporting of the events and, instead, had gone to undermine the numbers and proportions of the protests, and to broadcast videos from pro-governmental gatherings that were held at the same time just a few minutes’ walk from Rab’a Square - scenario of 2013 massacre of pro-Morsi protestors.

 

This lack of national TVs’ objectivity, coupled with Egypt’s ban over international news outlets (among which Aljazeera and the BBC) under the pretext of censoring biased information, leaves Egyptian citizens with little to no access to unbiased information about the happenings in their country. These issues are made worse by the fact that Sisi’s dictatorial agenda receives support from political leaders of world powers like the US and, more recently, the UK. While the US executive Donal Trump claimed that Sisi is "his favourite dictator", the UK Prime Minster Boris Johnson had praised Sisi at the bilateral meeting between the two just hours before the UK held high-profile media freedom conference. Moreover, countries all over the world, the US included, had engaged in a more nuanced undermining of free press media by discrediting journalists. While the quality of freedom of press deteriorates in democratic countries world-wide it is highly unlikely that the undemocratic states will widen the space of individual freedoms for their citizens. For this reason, it is important that politicians in democratic countries be careful with their anti-press rhetoric. Sisi continues to repress Egyptian people blaming political islam (Muslim Brotherhood) for the social unrest. The question, however, remains of how much longer will Egyptians tolerate governments’ violations of their individual freedoms? Most importantly: does the fact that instability had continued since 2013 mean that Egyptian society is like a time bomb waiting to explode any second or it means that the society will eventually conform, accept the status quo and settle under Sisi’s authoritarian ruling? The only thing that remains now is to wait and see.

 

 

 

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