Kamal Gaballa

The aggressive attack of Egypt's police on one of the peaceful protesters and striping him naked and dragging him in front of the presidential palace that was aired all over the international media on February 1, 2013 summarises the deteriorating state that the January 25 revolution has reached. Angry protesters commemorated the 2011 uprising last week with not much hope for better conditions, whether in terms of security or political, economic or even social stability.

On Friday, February 1, 2013 cold winter winds and heavy rain could not stop the peaceful protesters from gathering to march across the country after Friday prayer under the motto “The Friday of Salvation.”

My wife and I participated in one of the peaceful marches from Rabaa Al-Adaweya Mosque in Nasr City in Northern Cairo and we walked for about four kilometers towards the presidential palace along with thousand others. They were chanting angry slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood and its supreme guide and against President Mohamed Mursi.

Many of the chants of the peaceful protesters were the same ones repeated during the January 25 revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak. Before he left, Mubarak handed over power to the supreme council of armed the forces that managed the country until the election of Mursi in June 30, 2012 with just over 50% of the vote.

In the march to the palace the victim, who was subjected to humiliation hours later, may have been walking close to my wife and I. Hamada Saber, 48, was also with his wife and three children, coming from one of the less fortunate areas of Cairo, chanting, “Bread, freedom, social justice and human dignity.”

The secret of my extreme sympathy for this case and insistence to tell the story of Hamada Saber does not just stop at it being a perfect symbol of the worsening situation in Egypt. It is also because the barbaric attack on him, from being stripped and dragged by police officers at the doorsteps of the federal palace, could have happened to any of the other peaceful protesters including my wife or me.

The striking aspect was how the victim changed his testimony under grave pressure by the police and actually claimed while he was at the police hospital that protesters were the ones who attacked him.

In the preliminary investigations with the victim, he said that the protesters attacked him! After people saw him on television being beaten, dragged and stripped, he claimed it was in fact a delusion and not accurate at all. He also claimed that the police tried to save him from the attacks of the protesters, which puts us in a very awkward position.

This situation reminded me of something I learned in journalism school about 40 years ago, “When a dog bites a man that is not news, but when a man bites a dog that is news.” We could not believe that the peaceful protesters were the ones who attacked Hamada Saber while the police tried to save him!

While I was writing this article for a Bangladeshi newspaper, a Japanese friend, Mr. Masayuki Shiota, Director of Shi-Shaman co, ltd for Business & Tour operations came to me complaining.

Shiota san's complaint was that he opened up an office to attract tourists in Osaka and Kansai to visit Egypt upon the election of the country's first democratically-elected president Mohamed Mursi. This deal included reactivating a direct flight line between Egypt and Osaka -- which was suspended for the past two years.

All international and domestic indications at the time suggested that Egypt was witnessing a large boost in terms of security and political, economic and social stability when the president assumed power from the army. Especially because Mursi promised Egyptian voters that he would adopt a great “Renaissance” project which will lead to economic productivity and thus attract more tourists from around the world to revive the ailing economy, in addition to foreign investments.

What Mr. Shiota witnessed during his last visit to Cairo was very disappointing violence and stripping and dragging of a person in an inhumane manner in front of the presidential palace. He insisted that his host made him stay at a different hotel than the one he was used to staying at because it was safer.

How can Mr. Shiota's investment project succeed on which he spent millions of yen on and was very hopeful about -- when he can see for himself the terrible state Egypt is in.

When he asked me about my expectations, I was not optimistic; my answer was indeed shocking, in light of what I've witnessed for the past two years. From violence, instability and a messy management of the transition period under the military council; then finally being handed over to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist group's insistence to dominate institutions and not share power. Lack of respect for the law and allowing political room for thuggery and violence, like what happened in front of the constitutional court and the media city; terrorising the judiciary; writing a of constitution by an Islamist-dominated assembly without consensus; and forging the will of voters by passing the disfigured constitution through a referendum.

Before the January 25 revolution of 2011, Mubarak used to intimidate the people, claiming that the only alternative to his rule was chaos.

It seemed like the revolution successfully ousted autocrat Mubarak in a short time … in not more than 18 days. With the least effort possible, and the least casualties, amid national unity and cooperation between the army and people under the slogan “The army and people are one hand,” some analysts dismissed Mubarak's chaos theory.

But at the same time, there were warnings from other analysts who believed that removing Mubarak alone does not necessarily mean that the regime has fallen, insisting that the revolution is ongoing and is not yet complete. There were other analyses at the same time directed at the regime remnants (Mubarak aides) and the deep state that Mubarak built over three decades and how difficult it would be to rid the country of it as fast as their leader (Mubarak) was toppled. But no one, from Egypt's protesters or analysts, thought that Egypt would reach this division and polarisation between revolution partners who participated side by side in the 18-day revolt, from Islamist, liberals, socialists, etc. No one predicted that this state of non-trust and violence that has swept the country would come and bring Mubarak's “chaos” scenario to life.

It is unfortunate to say that if the crisis in Egypt continues as it is between the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies on one side and the opposition, including national, liberal and socialist forces on the other side, it is certain that Egypt will walk directly into chaos and the dream for revolution will perish forever.

To be more cautious about where Egypt is heading I will cite what an online American newspaper had reported about Hosni Mubarak's prediction for chaos. They said he had already plotted it. The newspaper added that the prediction of Mubarak for chaos was not a careful political analysis but more of a pledge; Mubarak is the main author behind the policies that post-revolution Egypt inherited and is suffering as a result of.

The newspaper added that during the past three decades that Mubarak ruled Egypt, political institutions diminished instead of growing. Mubarak and Anwar Sadat before him, refused to let real political parties flourish and the civil society and non-governmental organisations were all crippled -- to leave room only for the Muslim Brotherhood and the army to flourish -- because Islamism of course was an important tool used by the Mubarak regime to threaten the people into submission.

It turned out Mubarak was not just deceiving us and that the threat is real; violent confrontations and chaos in Egypt's streets have become common. Even worse, Egypt is in fact living the alternative scenario of Islamism that Mubarak once threatened the people of.

The newspaper also says that the decisive factor in the past two years is that people have become less tolerant of revolutionary chaos. Many of those who once voted for the Muslim Brotherhood are perhaps ready to accept a “peace” leader, maybe with an army background -- maybe one who removes his army uniform and instead puts on a civil suit and necktie.

After telling the story of the stripped, beaten and dragged Hamada Saber in front of the presidential palace in Egypt and after the story of the suffering Japanese investor, the American newspaper sees that a satanic or angelic scenario awaits Egypt in the upcoming period; either real revolution or chaos.

The writer is Managing Editor Al-Ahram (Egypt).

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Published: The Daily Star, 15 Feb 2013