Brutal Repression in Egypt Exceeds Conditions Under Mubarak
Noha Radwan, reports on the conditions facing political prisoners, where as many as seventy people are crammed into 15×15 spaces, she calls on the international community for assistance
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. I’m speaking with Noha Radwan. She’s an associate professor of Arabic and comparative literature at UC Davis, and in the first segment we were talking about Egypt five years after Arab Spring, and the conditions of repression under the Sisi government. Now we’re going to be talking about the Sisi government and what is actually going on in the state of Egypt. And for that I’m joined again, of course, by Noha.
Thank you so much for joining us again, Noha.
NOHA RADWAN: Thank you for having me.
PERIES: So, Noha, let me begin with asking you to give us a, just a brief mapping of what has happened since Tahrir Square till now, for those who haven’t followed the story in detail.
RADWAN: It’s really hard to give a brief report on what happened from 2011 to now, but I’ll try. So you know, after the ousting of Mubarak, the country was under the leadership of SCAF, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, for almost a year. Then they allowed elections. Everyone who was in Tahrir understood that the major political power on the street was the Muslim Brothers. So as the elections [went out], the second round came down to a competition between the Muslim Brothers’ candidate Mohamad Morsi, and someone who represented the old regime of Mubarak, [inaud.], who was his last prime minister before he was ousted.
So a lot of the, a lot of the non-Muslim Brother secular forces put in their votes with Mohamad Morsi. And the hope was that even though it was the candidate of the brotherhood, the new president, Mohamad Morsi, would be a representative of the, all the political forces that made this change and the ousting of Mubarak possible. During the day, during the year of, of his rule, this wasn’t the case, which led to a divide between the secular and the Islamists. And that divide was really fatal to the revolutionary efforts. I think that divide was really what led to the huge setback we’re seeing right now, because some of the secular activists, you know, agreed or put their weight in with the military and allowed for the ouster of the elected president, Mohamad Morsi. And since then we have seen this massive repression. We have seen the massacre of the supporters of Mohamad Morsi in the–in, at Rabaa, in August of 2013, and then the arrests of everybody who is associated with the Muslim Brothers.
And after that, I mean, it was not that unforeseen that, you know, when the government felt like they have repressed and, you know, controlled the Muslim Brothers enough, they turn to the non-Muslim Brother activists, and now the repression is across the board. So you know, this is, this is a government that claims to be a civilian government, the president who claims to have been elected. But we all know that this is a government that came via a military coup. And the election that led to, you know, President Sisi being the current president was a sham. It wasn’t rigged or anything. At least I don’t think it was. But the participation was very, was very, very low. People kind of took it as a matter of fact that he would be the next president.
PERIES: And give us a sense of what happened just before. I mean, what happened to Mohamad Morsi, and what was life like for people under Morsi?
RADWAN: You know, I actually was away from the country for all these years. So I really cannot say in detail. But Mohamad Morsi as president made a huge mistake when he sided with the, the remnants of the old state. He actually sided with the military. He was the one who picked Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who was a member of the SCAF to become chief of staff. The revolutionaries were hoping for measures that would illuminate the members of SCAF from participating in the new government. But he had made a deal with the military to, you know, to try to become allies with them. Same with the, with the Egyptian police forces.
You know, it’s actually really ironic that the person who conducted the Rabaa massacre, Mohamed Ibrahim, was the chief of Egyptian police, who was put in that place by President Mohamad Morsi. So he wasn’t all that keen on getting rid of the remnants of the old regime as much as he was keen on protecting his cohort from the non-Muslim Brothers revolutionary forces. And that, that was bad. That created the rift. So, you know, in 2013, in the summer of 2013, I was in Egypt at that time. It was clear that the divide between Islamists and secularists had become deeper than the divide between those who want to see the revolution move forward and those who don’t care to see that happen and are, you know, kind of reluctantly accepting, or complacent with the idea of going back to the way things were during Mubarak’s time.
PERIES: Let’s take up the role of the United States, for example. After the ousting of Morsi, John Kerry in 2013 expressed that Egypt’s military was in fact–he’s quoted as saying it was going to restore democracy. Can you give us a sense of how much the U.S. foreign policy has to do with what actually happens in Egypt, and you know, currently complicating the situation is really the fight against ISIS, as well. Give us a sense of the U.S.-Egyptian relations at the moment, and how much the U.S. has to do with [inaud.].
RADWAN: Yeah, the United States position towards Egypt has always been guided by the interests of the United States. It’s really kind of an unprincipled and wishy-washy attitude.
So we all remember President Obama saluting the revolutionaries in Tahrir. We heard them, they said [silmiya], meaning peaceful, all of that. But he didn’t really–because afterwards, when the Egyptian elected president was ousted, I mean, last I checked when the chief of staff walks into the office of the president and arrests him, and puts him in prison–I mean, President Morsi right now is facing a death sentence. And he has been, you know, in prison since his ousting. That’s a coup. There’s no other way to call it.
But the American administration has been very reluctant to call it a coup because they do not want to end good relationships that they have cultivated with the Egyptian state since Mubarak’s time. And you know that these relationships involved the peace treaty with Israel, they involved the treaty that allows the United States Air Force to use the Egyptian airfield at any time. It allows them to use the Suez Canal for American ships, civilian and military as well, and to [jump line]. You know, this has proved very helpful to the American administration during its war in Iraq. And so they’re very keen on preserving these interests with the Egyptian state. Any criticisms they make of the Egyptian state, be it, you know, Mubarak, Morsi, Sisi, or anything. It’s very light-handed and it’s very short-term, because the bigger interest is to maintain the relationship that protects American interests.
PERIES: Now, with ISIS raising its head in the Middle East, much of the focus is on fighting back ISIS. How much is the Egyptian government involved in that, and also how much of a distraction is it in terms of addressing the real issues that is going on with Egyptians?
RADWAN: Part of what the Egyptian media does is that it completely confuses all the Islamic movements together. Deliberately, I believe. You know, claiming that the Muslim Brothers and ISIS and every other group that, you know, claims an Islamic affiliation are one at the same. And so they have been terrorizing the Egyptian public with the image of ISIS, you know, taking hold of Egypt as well. And in, in opposition to that comes the Egyptian military government, now as the, you know, fighters against terrorism. And I think the American administration has bought this claim, that the Egyptian government is their ally in a war against Islamic terrorism. Which, if you ask me, is completely contrary to the, to the truth.
One of the most interesting editorials about the Egyptian revolution that I read in the New York Times back in 2011 was one by Roger Cohen in which he said that it is the Arab Spring that is going to be the best antidote towards terror–against terrorism and against, you know, these fundamentalist Islamic groups. So in fact what the region needs more than anything else is a representative government that cares for its people, that actually delivers the equity that has been promised for so many years. That’s really the best defense against Islamic militants and terrorism growth in the region. But the American administration is convinced that such a repressive government is, in fact, their ally in a fight against terrorism, which I believe is completely the contrary of the truth.
PERIES: Noha Radwan, I thank you so much for joining us today and giving us this fifth anniversary take back on the Egyptian revolution.
RADWAN: Thank you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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