Regimented

The fury and violence of the Libyan uprising has been making me reflect on the Egyptian revolution, and the (still not ancien) regime’s modus operandi.

Extricating that mad bastard in the toctoc will inevitably be bloody. Reported deaths have already outstripped deaths during Egypt’s revolution, in less than a week. Gaddafi has bombed his people from the skies, used mercenaries, and subjected them to hallucinogenic broadcasts of defiance involving hunting caps and umbrellas. One of his sons, the insipid and stupid Seif, has also been enlisted to the media war effort.

I keep thinking back to Mubarak’s last speeches, imagining what the response would have been if, adorned in swathes of linen and a hunting cap, he’d stepped out of a toctoc and mumbled “I’m still in Cairo, you dogs!” But then our Hosny would never do that, obviously. He is a reasonable man who wears suits.

I often lament that if Egypt had to be burdened with a man with dictator tendencies he could have at least displayed a few colourful peccadilloes, like the rest of the world’s crackpots. A collection of high heel shoes, for example, or a penchant for making parliamentary speeches in spandex.

No such luck. Mubarak’s repression was low key in every way except for its cruelty. It was also insidious and self-maintaining, through an extensive network or nepotism, hand greasing and intimidation. For thirty years in Mubarak’s Egypt having the right connections and keeping to the approved script ensured better treatment from cradle to the grave.

Mubarak is no longer the official president, but nothing in the system has changed because the regime’s influence is so deeply entrenched throughout state (and some non-state) institutions, and the revolution has only had a tokenistic stab at some of the National Democratic Party’s upper echelons.

Seeing former NDP bigwig Ahmed Ezz in prison (elegant as always in his aristocratic ‘just been on the yacht’ up-turned polo shirt collar) may be gratifying but why is Mubarak enjoying the sun in Sharm? Why are his loyalists, Fathy Sorour, Safwat El-Sherif etc at large?

A mystery, as by the way, is the question of why Ahmed Shafiq never wears ties (is he secretly Iranian?? Could we encourage state media to propagate this? Maybe that will push him out.)

Today a police officer had a traffic altercation with a minibus driver. The police officer pulled out his gun and shot the man. An angry protest ensued. On Wednesday morning the army knocked down a wall built to protect a monastery in Wady Natrun. Guns were fired during the operation. An angry protest ensued.

Blind use of force followed by public anger is the regime’s trademark. The Interior Ministry has been chastened but there is nothing to indicate that any kind of major structural reform has taken place. Significantly, the state of emergency remains in place and state security investigations, the much feared and reviled apparatus accused of systematic torture has not been disbanded. The Supreme Military Council meanwhile insists that these are matters that require time, study and examination while at the same time it is in a mad rush to hold elections – in six months time. Mohamed ElBaradei and others have suggested the transitional period last a year.

Mubarak’s regime was never a Them and Us situation. Repression and patronage were carefully modulated to ensure a wide base of beneficiaries and loyalists. The status quo suits many, and this will take years to change. But some immediate changes are doable and essential. The most pressing is to rid the transitional government of any regime figures – such as Shafiq.

Secondly, the emergency law must be abolished.  As I understand it the emergency law has in any case been suspended because we are living under military law. The difference between the two is getting fucked over by a policeman and getting fucked over by a soldier, but ending the state of emergency in force since 1981 would demonstrate good will.

The critical change concerns the Interior Ministry, which must be completely restructured. The Interior Minister must be a civilian, not police. The police must be properly trained. Some kind of independent complaints committee must be established with the power to hold to account police who violate the law. State security investigations must be disbanded and alas its officers integrated into society (that is if we are not allowed to dump them all in Guantanamo).

The single most important thing the army or the transitional government or whoever is bloody in charge must do now is hold to account members of the regime for their actions, including police and state security officers.

On January 25 they were sent a message that people had had enough. But the mood has now changed; the army is appealing for a return to normalcy, the police are slowly reappearing on the streets after their disappearance, the euphoria of “victory” still exists but people have returned to the routine of everyday life. And the regime is everywhere in everyday life.

Originally published on inanities.org

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