“I never was near collapse like today because of how helpless I was before the state security forces. One woman took me in her arms in the middle of all the harassment to say ‘this is beginning of the end’. She fainted afterwards. I shiver at the fact that I had to just give in at the end and stop fighting it and let them grope me.”
These are the words of my friend, an Egyptian female journalist, who covered the May 25 protests in Cairo against a referendum meant to pave the way to multi-presidential elections later this year. The rules on who can run make it almost certain that President Hosni Mubarak he will face no challenge.
My friend was just one of many women deliberately targeted by thugs for sexual assault and beatings. Some had their clothes torn off, their hair dragged others across the sidewalk, and others still were punched while they were cornered against iron grates.
Where is the outrage at this disgraceful abuse of women?
Arab media is full of outrage at reports that American soldiers search Iraqi women. Don’t they know our culture, Arab journalists ask? Don’t they respect our traditions, they shout?
Yet here were Egyptian security forces, in uniform and in plain clothes, deliberately targeting women. These attackers are the reason May 25 will do down in history as a day of shame for Egypt .
As Egyptian security forces watched, sometimes issuing instructions, government supporters set on men and women whose only crime was to peacefully express their opposition. These men and women who bravely protested are the reason that May 25 will go down in history as a day of pride for Egypt.
When I read that the referendum – which did not have a high voter turnout – supposedly received 83 percent approval, it occurred to me that Egyptian politics is of the low-grade fever variety.
Let me explain.
Sometimes I wish Egypt was more like Syria or
Iraq under Saddam Hussein where elections were always won with 99 percent or higher. While there is little doubt that all Arab political systems are sick, these countries that have results of 99 percent or higher suffer from the kind of sickness that is accompanied by a very high fever.
High fevers attract a lot of attention because they are considered dangerous to the body. In the political world, countries with high fevers are constantly in the news. They are always accused of oppressing their people and the United States usually demands that they open up their political systems or risk facing sanctions. Their elections of 99 percent or more are never taken seriously. These countries of high fever are usually on a list of countries that the
United States does not like.
In other countries, like Egypt, elections show results that are not so spectacular – the May 25 referendum for example with 83 percent for example. While these are attempts to present a face of democracy to the world, we know that this is a charade. These results in the low 90s or in the 80s are examples of a low grade fever. But because the fever is quite low, very few people pay attention.
When a person has a low-grade fever, he usually does not take it seriously and tries to continue with his life as if he was not sick. Those around him are not alarmed by the low-grade fever.
Egypt’s low-grade political fever does not deny it the friendship of the United States. It is rarely criticized by the United States. Even when it takes meaningless steps to reform, it is praised. And on the few occasions that it is criticized, such as on the day after women and men peacefully protesting were beaten in front of the world’s media, the criticism is usually very mild.
The Egyptian government points to the low grade fever election results and claims they reflect democracy. And because it does not suffer the dangerous high fever, it gets away with it.
But this is where the danger lies: if a low grade fever is ignored for too long it can turn dangerous because it can eventually have a harmful effect on the body. It might take longer than a high-grade fever does, but a fever is always a bad sign.
This year, Egypt’s low-grade fever has become worrying. Something has changed and it cannot be ignored anymore. And a clear sign of this were the shameful events of May 25.
What an insult to the brave Egyptians who since December have bravely flouted Emergency Laws that ban demonstrations and have gathered in public squares not only in Cairo but across the country to declare the Arabic word of the century “Kifaya ”
The protestors on May 25 had every right to protest a referendum that was a sham. Although it claims to be setting the stage for a multi-candidate election how loaded are the dice if a candidate must be approved by parliament, which is dominated by the National Democratic Party? Assuming a candidate made it to the list of presidential nominees, the state’s stranglehold on Egyptian media bars their access to the airwaves. And Emergency Laws in effect since Mubarak took power in 1981 bar them from campaigning on Egyptian doorsteps.
But there is hope. Egyptians are no longer at the mercy of the state-run media for their news. Millions of them already turn to the satellite news channels. And just as they watched the Iraqi and Palestinian elections, just as they watched the Lebanese demonstrations that brought down a government and ended Syrian occupation, so they watched government thugs beat men and sexually assault women over a referendum.
And many young Egyptians have set up blogs where the debate on change in Egypt is free and so far beyond state reach.
Take for example these words of Alaa , an Egyptian man, who described his experience of a May 25 protest on his website:
“Today me and my mother were attacked by tens of hired thugs from the National Democratic Party sham demonstration… I was scared very scared but I”m glad I showed some bravery. They attacked my mom first and I actually managed to protect her,” Alaa , wrote on “Manal and Alaa’s Bit Bucket”
Words like these are a clear indication that Egypt ’s low grade fever has become dangerous to its health.