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Global Express

The Violence of Counter-Revolution: Disfiguring, Mutilating and Denuding in Egypt

February 25, 2013

A large number of Egyptians keep on wondering how they are surviving with the vertiginous daily violence perpetrated by the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood. This has made many give second thoughts to their views of the past two years since January 2011. Many seem to be flirting with the idea that a military junta might be more bearable than the present regime of the Muslim Brothers that merely reproduces corrupt Mubarakist practices, but with beards. The designation of the regime as Muslim fascists has been circulating in numerous articles, commentaries and talk shows to remind us that there are repertoires and analogies with European history that need to be reflected upon.

This said, be it the military junta or the Islamists, be it that both parties still rule through a negotiated division of labour -- the Brotherhood at the forefront of civilian life and the military at the backstage, with nevertheless high tensions between the two camps. Be it that the contradictory politics between the army and the Brotherhood over the Sinai region, will culminate into an open war because of the Brotherhood´s supra nationalist ambitions that clash with the army´s national interests, these are all recent observations that hint at the fact that a military coup might occur much sooner than we thought.

In either case, Egypt witnessed during the past months extreme horrifying moments of systematic killings, of kidnapping, of humiliating, denuding, dragging, beating to death and once again en masse incidents of intentionally disfiguring protesters. On the other hand, in the absence of a police force that would protect citizens from crimes and looting, a form of ‘popular justice’ seems to be taking over. The people in slums take their own revenge by collectively killing, burning alive, and beating to death publicly the thugs and thieves, not to speak of the sporadic attacks on police stations.

So much so that this short piece is about how to rethink the sociology of the body in the struggle of the making of a new public culture of dissent, whereby imposing, for example, a curfew by the Morsi regime in Port Said in January 2013 led  the entire city to defy the regime´s decisions by taking to the streets and celebrating vehemently a mass presence in public through organizing tournaments of football games and what not.  As I write this article civil disobedience continues to include almost all the city of Port Said with ever more impressive massive support.

Since Morsi's ascent to power, Egypt has witnessed a crescendo of killings, kidnappings and mutilating the revolutionary opposition. Since then more than ever, the public display of violence in the continuous urban wars and clashes between the police forces and the protesters, took a frightening scale, so much so that the running joke is that ousted dictator Mubarak turned out to be a kind hearted man compared to the blatant and careless violation of human rights under the regime of the Islamists.  While Morsi´s presidency dates back eight months, it managed to inflict a toll of a hundred martyrs from all over Egypt  (through clashes in the cities of Port Said, Alexandria, Ismailliyah, Suez, in Rafah, Mansura, Mahalla al- Kubra and in other governorates, not counting Cairo: Tahrir Square,  the Mohammed Mahmud Street II clashes of 2012 and the events of the presidential palace).[1] Since the 25 of January 2013 alone 53 people have been killed in Port Said.[2]

Many raise today the question: were not the numerous incidents under the Mubarak regime equally testimony to police brutality and torture?  Let us be reminded of the killing of Khaled Said in Alexandria, which triggered the revolution as well as the numerous previous torture cases in police stations, were not these the reason why exactly the January revolution was triggered in 2011? So what is new about it now ?

What makes perhaps a divergence from Mubarak's time is that we are now witnessing in public, repeated and systematic violations of any sort of human dignity precisely after a revolution which itself happened as a demand for the restoring of human dignity. This collective bodily humiliation is being conducted precisely by a regime that claims to defend the revolution. The public display of brutality has certainly a powerful effect, thanks to the media coverage that is instantly diffusing the events. Perhaps too, because the Islamists, being the former victims of the Mubarak regime, through having hijacked the revolution, are desperately trying like never before to ‘Brotherhoodise’ the state by placing their followers in key functions, with the long term aims of implementing a theocratic state. Nevertheless, they have remained entrapped in reproducing an identical discourse, methods and procedures of their victimizers, i.e. the ancient regime, with a difference though, they have to be even more brutal with the street.

These last months produced a collective bewilderment, if not a collective anger regarding the Brotherhood's mediocre mimicry and bankrupt repertoires as a fascinating case study in the making of counter-revolutions. Perhaps too, and this is why several Egyptians psychiatrists have recently pointed at the schizophrenic element of the post Mubarakists, who are on the one hand calling for an Islamic morality and chastity while instigating in public the most humiliating bodily practices like the stripping naked of men and women, dragging, beating and kicking with shoes the protesters, disfiguring or simply killing. The way the Islamic militias committed revengeful acts towards the younger generation of revolutionaries by mutilating and torturing young men and women at the palace makes many wonder if such acts mirror bodily sadistic tendencies, as a kind of an eruption of collective disorder that resulted from a long authoritarian counter-culture that fed itself on the authoritarian establishment.

Since the Muslim Brothers sent their armed militias to kill peaceful protesters at the presidential palace and set up torture chambers, a qualitative new level of dealing with violence and its public display, to spread terror among the protesters, seems to be in the making, The incident took place on the 5th of December, when, under the pretext of defending the president, militias spread terror.[3] The live media coverage was shocking because it instantly transmitted the killings. One could see on television the targeted and systematic mutilation of the protesters. During that night several satellite channels diffused images of armed militias using live ammunition against the protesters. The CBC+2 channel transmitted during the entire night horrific images of internal security forces kidnapping youngsters from the crowd and violently beating them to death. Yet many then asked what's new about that ? Once again violence was already under Mubarak.

Youtubes abounded with evidence that snipers were not only killing directly protesters, but also passers-by and mourners carrying coffins in a funeral in Port Said, thus killing even more mourners the next day. The militias' torture chambers were filmed and the incident was made public. Gang raping by some 300 or 400 thugs in Tahrir, which assaulted separately some 20 women during the last month was a repeated tactic by the regime to scare away women. Series of kidnaps, torture of young revolutionaries who were then found almost dead and stripped naked continue to happen on a daily basis. This is how young Mohammed al–Guindi who belonged to the Popular Current Party was killed this month while the official sources insist that he died in a car accident.[4] The opposition media, the press and human rights organisations argued that one aspect of this shift in the qualitative scale of violence is turning out to be a “systematic” organized strategy to silence forever anyone opposing the Brotherhood. Take for example, the hordes of gang rapists of Tahrir, and the way they move in organized circles to squeeze and isolate women from their group, strip them naked, torture them and stab their vaginas with knifes to inflict utmost pain in the most intimate parts. That some of the young girls ended up seriously mutilated was completely ignored by Morsi. Take for instance the fact that the incidents are all repeatedly identical.  And if the Shura Council adds oil to fire by trying to pass a law stating that women should be accountable for gang raping because they should not be in the first place demonstrating in Tahrir, it means one and only thing: that the regime is now legalizing crime.

Under the rubric of systematic exterminations, the 6th of April movement and the several facebook admins have been murdered and some others threatened with killing. Torturing included, too, some of the dissenting leaders of the workers of Mahalla al Kubra.[5] Children were not spared from torture, when the press spread the news of the incarceration of some 114 in the camp of Torah jail, and al-Gabal-al Ahmar. It was a shock to hear on the air that some parents, after a long search in several jails, could not recognize their children mutilated by heavy torture when they finally visited them in jail. Once again, the nation was shaken through the murdering of a 12 -14 year old child, a poor ambulant seller of sweet potatoes in Tahrir with two bullets.[6] It was discovered later that he was shot by a soldier who targeted him, while in the media it was announced that he was shot by mistake. However, nothing was mentioned in the official media about the fact that he was a 12-year-old destitute street kid.

Some observers keep on reminding us that these atrocities are no novelty. In fact, blogger Sandmonkey[7] and Nelly Aly an anthropologist working on street children[8] both express one and the same argument, as horrible as it sounds, what Egypt is witnessing is nothing but a continuation of the identical practices of the Mubarak regime.  It has been a while that street children have been undergoing rape, torture and systematic killings, just as it has been a while since Egyptian jails were concentration camps. It is only that the middle classes are now encountering such horrific facts in their daily lives. Brutality can no longer spare their sons and daughters.  The past few months have witnessed that the victims of the regime were mostly all, good looking, middle class youngsters, as if once again the ageing patriarchal resentful regime has to continue to sacrifice young and beautiful bodies for its desperate survival.

[1] Al-Tahrir Newspaper 16 February 2013, p 9
[2] The Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights, 19 February 2013. http://eipr.org/pressrelease/2013/02/19/1635
[3] Mariz Tadros  8 December 2012 ,“Signs of Islamist Fascism in Egypt?” http://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/mariz-tadros/signs-of-islamist-fascism-in-egypt retrieved 14 of February 2013
[4] Al -Tahrir newspaper 12 Feb 2013.
[5] Al- Tahrir newspaper Tuesday, 12 February 2013
[6] Al- Tahrir  newspaper 14 February 2013
[7] Mahmoud Salem “The Horror” Daily News, February 11, 2013 http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/02/11/the-horror/
[8] Nelly Ali al-Shuruq 15 February 2013

Mona Abaza, American University of Cairo, Egypt
for Global Express, February 25, 2013

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