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Propaganda Trap: Egyptian Elite Succumb to the Hate Virus

By Ulrike Putz in Cairo

Photo Gallery: A People Divided Photos
AP

Just weeks ago, they decried police violence and the heavy-handed state apparatus. Now, after over 600 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were killed on Wednesday, the Egyptian elite is silent. Those who dare to voice empathy are given a hostile reception.

Egyptian Amir Salim has the classic profile of a revolutionary. As a politically engaged young lawyer, he specialized in human rights cases, a focus which earned him nine trips to jail under Hosni Mubarak. When the revolt against the aging despot gained traction in 2011, Salim quickly became one of its spokesmen. After Mubarak's fall, he founded an organization which promulgated the creation of a civilian state free from military meddling. In a book published in 2012, he dissected the structures of Mubarak's police state.

Now, the same police that Salim attacked so vehemently in his book, has responded to demonstrations in Cairo with shocking brutality. At least 623 people, the vast majority of them civilians, were killed in street battles earlier this week.

And what is Salim doing? Sitting in a popular café in the Cairo city center, he says things like this: "The Muslim Brothers are a sickness and the police have to eradicate them." And: "The police and the army were only defending themselves." He adds that "the problem will only have been solved when the last Muslim Brother who causes problems is locked away in prison." When asked about the obvious human rights violations perpetrated on the dead and wounded, he said: "And what about the rights of those who live near the protest camps? What about their right to be able to enjoy their apartment?"

Welcome to Egypt under General Abd al-Fattah al-Sissi. The country is so polarized that people are no longer able to feel any empathy whatsoever for others. It is a country in which the smartest and most critically thinking intellectuals are now spewing little more than propaganda, with people on both sides of the deep political divide displaying a penchant for simplification, vilification and agitation. Those who ask critical questions run the risk of being physically attacked, an experience that many foreign journalists have encountered in recent days.

Another Step toward Civil War

Wednesday's bloodbath would seem to have done little to bring people to their senses. Tahrir Square, where pro-democracy activists gathered as recently as just a few weeks ago to protest violence perpetrated by the country's security forces, is completely empty. And the Muslim Brotherhood, instead of seeking to limit violence within its ranks, is amplifying its rage. Each day, the country seems to be taking another step toward civil war.

It is, of course, hardly surprising that people on both sides would fall into the propaganda trap. Egypt was deeply marked by the 30 years of autocracy under Mubarak. A healthy mistrust for simplistic sloganeering, as seen in more established democracies, remains rare. It is, however, shocking that even those who see themselves as the country's educated elite are marching in step.

One of them is Khaled Daud, spokesman for the National Salvation Front, a collection of 11 liberal political parties. He says that the attack on the Muslim Brotherhood sit-in camps on Wednesday could definitely not be called a massacre. The protesters could have left of their own free will. By refusing to do so, they hold responsibility for the deaths. "We don't condemn what happened."

Then, however, his conscience did kick in and he added that his comments were merely the party line and that he personally sees things differently. "Nothing can justify the deaths," he said. "You can't simply explain away the high number of casualties. Police used brutal, excessive force. It is a catastrophe."

Bombarded by Messages of Hate

Daud says though that such views are not widespread. "The majority of Egyptians think the Brotherhood should be dealt with even more severely," he says, adding that few have understanding for Mohammed ElBaradei, the opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who resigned from the transition government as a result of the bloodbath on Wednesday. Since then, Egyptian liberals have been blasting him as a traitor.

One of the few who has publicly voiced respect for ElBaradei's decision is Ashrif Arubi. An engineer by profession, Arubi is a co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, which played a significant role in the toppling of the Mubarak regime. "ElBaradei has principles and I think that is good," he says. But ever since Arubi posted his view on social media, he has been bombarded by messages of hate.

Arubi and others in his camp would like to organize a demonstration against the kind of violence that took place in Cairo on Wednesday. "We are opposed to the ways the police cleared the camps," he says. But he adds that the timing for such a protest isn't right -- it would be too dangerous. "People are happy that the Brothers were killed. They see it as revenge," 33-year-old Arubi says. He blames the state-controlled media for brainwashing people.

"My greatest fear seems to have come true," the activist says. "The Egyptians no longer see the authorities as their opponents. The enemy is now those Egyptians with other views."

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1. Apologists of the religious right and ultra-conservatism.
JvdL 08/16/2013
Religion is not a victim. It actively tries to turn the working class against itself, it openly advocates the discrimination of women, homosexuals and non-believers, and it has a profoundly regressive effect on education and social progress. Religion is really fascism in its primal form. It is the wellspring of all conservative, right-wing and far-right thinking. Crucially, women's rights in Arab societies aren't simply a religious issue. Rather, it is also about the emancipation and the social mobility of minority women. Religion & racism are much more closely intertwined than most people still recognize: By apologizing for ultra-conservative tradition among newcomers, certain racist Western females intentionally undermine the emancipation of minority/colored women, apparently to prevent them from attaining the same privileges they have secured. Competition from these non-white newcomers, whether it be for jobs or for (Western?) men, in their eyes seems to be something that is to be prevented by any means necessary. This behavior goes above and beyond ordinary right-wing nutjobbery. It qualifies as a new, contemporary form of white supremacism.
2. The Truth About Egypt
Dr Hani Naiem 08/16/2013
I am shocked by what I see on CNN, ABC, BBC, Washington Post, Der Spiegel and other news networks. They are making extremely notable efforts to make the Muslim Brotherhood look like lambs being slaughtered. They completely ignore their terrorism and the struggle by the people of Egypt against them. The burning of churches, courts, government buildings, police stations, firms, and even the blood banks. Bombing of hospitals and schools. The open fire against civilians in their homes. The presence of Alquaeda, Syrian, Afghan and Palestinian Hamas terrorists. They are burning Cairo now. Shame on you. The military didn't fire a single shot yet. Police are struggling to survive and protect their stations. The people of Egypt and their country are being massacred under the care of American and Western media.
3. Here-ye-here-ye!
satanslefthand@gmail.com 08/17/2013
"Jvdl"... thumbs-up on your assessment! I wholeheartedly agree. While genuine spirituality is embracing and inclusive, religion is the antithesis: repressive and divisive. My country (the U.S.) happens to be the most religious country in the developed world. Despite all this obsession over Jesus, the Bible and so on (to the extent that in some schools now, creationism passes for "science"!), and with so much emphasis on religion in general, it never ceases to amaze me how spiritually bankrupt our culture actually is. The evidence is everywhere, manifesting in numerous ways from misogyny and racism, to an obsession over wealth & power, plus rampant commercialism, along with a socioeconomic order that denies the poorest among us the most basic of necessities... Not to mention our relentless exploitation and abuse of the natural environment! On and on it goes. We have all this religion, yet nothing is sacred. - Doro
4. Oppression by any other name is still Oppression
lol1232 08/17/2013
Religion is not the culprit. What we are seeing is a power struggle of idea's of the same coin. Whether you accuse the Religious Right of oppression or you oppress your fellow citizens by secular laws of the military are both in the same vain and a kindred spirit. Both have laws and apparently both seem to be restrictive to it's citizens as they assert their "power" over them. Fascism is a weak word when others fail. What is Fascism? By the standard everyday term it's oppression and that is exactly what you see in BOTH camps at this time. Restrictions of ideas, restrictions of movement, restrictions of choice. To kill your fellow human being is a sin against humanity period. It can be justified by claims of freedom fighters to liberate the chained or allowing western culture to dominate a long history of Islamic identity but to cut each other to the quick is the surest way to ascend to the deeps of hell and raise up the darkness that will divide and conquer. Oppression is still oppression by any other name.
5. In Aegypt orders has to be obeyed!
maurice 08/17/2013
I went once in Aegypt for diving. (I am belgian, so english is not my mothertong). It was about march 1998. As we were in advance for the return flight, we had to wait a little before the Airport entrance. So we were only trapping on the macadam before the entrance. I decided to walk some steps, and went 20 meters perhaps further, to able to see the starting planes, which I couldn't see, because I stood in the front of the building entrance... We were protected by soldiers, and one came angrily to me and "forced" me to return with the group. I was only looking a few meters far from the others; The place was big (it was in Hurgada), and with very few people at that time. That means that if the order is: "Stay toegether", well, stay toegether. Nothing else. At that time, the 4 soldiers on the place there were placed to protect us... In accordance to this, I can very well understand that if the order is: "Clean the place", and that people have to leave it, well, this is an order to be obeyed. Simple as that. Otherwise, they will use force. Violence. Shoots. Halas, that's what happened. According to my stupid expericence, I can very well understand the police used violence. It's in their mentality: orders has to be obeyed... People have to obey orders.
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