Egypt back on square one

Three years after the fall of Mubarak, violence and oppression in Egypt are worse than in decades. Yet only a small fraction of the brutal repression of the militarized state is noticed. It writes the journalist Per Björklund, who is blacklisted by the Egyptian security service.

Since the military coup in July, developments in Egypt have largely disappeared from the media's spotlight. Important events such as the trial of the overthrown President Mohammed Morsi or the referendum on the new constitution are reportedly reported, but very little of the daily oppression directed against the country's opposition reaches the Swedish media audience.

According to the human rights organization Amnesty International, the violence in Egypt has reached "historic levels" since the military coup against Morsi in July. At least 1400 people have been killed, most as a result of violence by security forces, who, according to Amnesty, have been given "free rein to act outside the law and without any risk of being held accountable for their abuses."

Thousands more have been arrested. Virtually the entire leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood - branded as a terrorist organization - is imprisoned, and several of its front figures risk the death penalty.

In recent months, repression has also extended to secular activists, including some of the media frontrunners in the uprising against Hosni Mubarak on January 25, 2011. On December 22, for example, Ahmed Maher, one of the founders of the high-profile April 6 movement, was sentenced to three years in prison for organizing an "illegal protest."

But the main target of the new regime in Egypt remains the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who continue to regard Mohammed Morsi as the country's legitimate president. Week after week, they have continued to protest against the military coup around the country - despite the knowledge that they risk being subjected to an almost blind repression in the name of the "war on terrorism."

In today's Egypt, people can be picked up from their homes and imprisoned because of a suspicious profile picture on Facebook and school children are taken in for questioning because of stickers with political symbols. On March 3, a mass trial begins in the city of Miniya against 1207 alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are accused of storming a police station. And a few weeks ago, the military arrested a 12-year-old boy from the northern Sinai Peninsula, accused of involvement in "terrorist acts against the army and police" - after which the boy was hung with a picture on one of the military's official Facebook pages, according to news site Mada Masr.

Whatever one thinks of Mohammed Morsi's incompetent and powerful government, it is impossible today to describe the development since the military coup on July 3 as anything other than a disaster. The small progress of the new constitution on women's rights and in other areas must be set against the military's strengthened position of power, which hardly favors the possibility of actually enforcing the formal rights of the constitution in practice.

It is ironic that critics of Egypt's military regime today are routinely singled out as "foreign agents" or Islamist terrorists, given that the Egyptian military remains a major recipient of US military aid and generous financial aid from the fundamentalist dictatorship of Saudi Arabia. Diplomats and politicians from the West cautiously express "concern" about the development, but at the same time are careful to preserve the strategic ties to the Arab world's most populous nation. In that respect, too, Egypt is back on square one.

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