Egypt’s ‘war on terrorism’ and growing xenophobia

Sarah Carr writes: It’s trite but worth remembering that an excellent barometer of political freedom is how a regime treats the media. Deposed President Mohamed Morsi attempted to shut critics up through clumsy litigation – charges of insulting him, or the judiciary and so on. It was a classic Hosni Mubarak technique but Morsi used it far more frequently. Another technique was tacitly approving or at least not doing anything when Salafi preacher Hazem Salah Abou Ismail and friends set up shop outside the Media Production City in October 6 City, in order to intimidate Lamis al-Hadidi and other vocally anti-Brotherhood presenters beyond state control.

But just like the Muslim Brotherhood failed in everything they did while in power, they failed in this, too: the cases never had the chilling effect desired and Morsi and co. were regularly ripped apart in the press, by Bassem Youssef and others. In fact the Brotherhood themselves liked to crow about their critics being left alone as an example of their political largesse. They never understood that using underhand measures to intimidate your opponents does not make you a just leader and that leaving the press alone is a positive obligation not an act of charity.

The current regime meanwhile is combining the very best of pre-2011 media repression techniques with a classic February 2011 xenophobia campaign with the force of an Interior Ministry stretching its sinewy muscles as it resurrects itself.

The xenophobia campaign began gently with allegations that Syrians and Palestinians were in the Brotherhood Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in. After Rabea al-Adaweya was broken up, the anti-West rhetoric intensified and allegations that western media support the Brotherhood widened to include not only CNN but mostly every foreign news outlet. After Friday’s clashes in Ramses Square, the propaganda machine revved up a few notches and the media filmed bearded, detained men they suggested were foreigners. Prior to this on Thursday, General Mahmoud Polo Shirt Badr from the Tamarod battalion of the Egyptian army urged Egyptian citizens to form popular committees to defend their neighborhoods against the terrorist threat. There are many well-intentioned people in popular committees but anyone who experienced the January 2011 revolution (uprising? brief glitch?) will tell you that they are also a vehicle for vigilantism and an excellent way of indirect control by the state: There was what seemed to be coordinated harassment of foreigners during certain days in 2011 from the top – state media – to the bottom – on the ground in popular committees.

We are seeing the beginnings of this again now. After the detained “foreign” men were shown on television on Friday night the next day in Ramses Square foreign journalists were physically attacked and detained. Two had to be bundled into an army APC for their own safety. Another was marched to Azbakeya Police Station and told firmly to leave Egypt. He was subsequently the victim of a citizens’ arrest on the same day. Another female journalist who works for a foreign outlet said that while in Ramses Square, a cop ordered men around her to beat her up, telling them that she is American. The Presidency on Saturday gave a presser in which Mostafa Hegazy, an advisor, repeatedly talked about Egyptians’ “bitterness” at international coverage of events. On Sunday, the Der Spiegel correspondent was detained for seven hours while at Rabea al-Adaweya and claimed that the main accusation against him was “bad reports in the Western press.” [Continue reading…]

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