What pushed a simple Egyptian man to tie a military boot to his head and participate in protests in support of the country’s army? And what’s the idea behind these giant billboards in Lebanon showing a gigantic photo of a military boot and bearing the slogan “let it rule.” What was the elegant Syrian woman who protested in Berlin thinking when she hung a military boot around her neck?
Regardless how much these incidents imply our desperate need for mass psychotherapy, they are also symbolic of a new wave which aims to restore the role of military institutions. It implies that Arab military forces should replace the arbitrariness of political and social Islam with the arbitrariness of the military boot. The obsession with the image of a military boot and turning it into a national symbol is not a celebration of democracy, rather one form of suppression over another and a desire to choose the form of suppression and its tools.
We don’t want the Islamists to slaughter us, but is it acceptable for the military boot to stamp down on us? It’s as if we are not worthy of both, of being liberated from being stepped on with the boot and from being murdered in the name of religion.
The formula of replacing Islamists with military oppression is active and is being marketed in the realms of politics, society, culture and the media, especially as decades of military rule in our country have established a solid relationship among these apparatuses.
There are civilian elements in our societies cooperating with the military as a progressive alternative to the Islamists. These elites benefit from the media’s overwhelming presence to market this idea. How else can we explain the silence over the murder of 55 people during a confrontation with the army while protesting in support of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi? Calmness reigned over most of the Egyptian media, while TV hosts and journalists continued to commend the Egyptian army and to limit coverage of “evil acts” to the Muslim Brotherhood.
In Lebanon, during the Sidon clashes between the Lebanese army and Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir’s supporters, the media failed to mention that civilians were killed in the battle and that video tapes were leaked showing the Lebanese army torturing detainees, some of whom died as a result of beating and of being stepped on with army boots.
In Syria, news and photos of prominent army officers inaugurating a military boot monument in Latakia appear to be in total harmony with the regime’s rhetoric and practices.
It’s true that what applies to Egypt definitely doesn’t apply to Lebanon or Syria. But there’s a phenomenon invading us, and it’s similar to a psychological syndrome represented by elevating the army and making a soldier’s boots a sign of acceptance or rather a sign of celebration. It’s a boot, and it’s a military boot. Progressive countries celebrate the soldier’s service, not his boot. But in our region, the soldier stamps with his boot—an act usually carried out while accompanied with photos of abuse. The prices we paid for the army’s abuse after they reached power in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria are high.