Sunday, November 29, 2015

Egyptians disappear, Egypt disintegrates

Nabil Elboustany was on his way to Sinai on 6 October to meet his brother Tarek for vacation. At a checkpoint just outside Sharm El-Sheikh, the police performed a background check on Nabil and found him on their system due to an old case that included trumped up charges of which he had been acquitted. Tarek arrived to the checkpoint only to find the police adamant, even after Nabil had presented a copy of his acquittal which he carried with him. Tarek’s friend, who was also present at the time, attempted to win the officer’s favour, but while talks were underway, the military stepped in to take Nabil to a nearby camp in Sinai.
Tarek went with his brother in the army jeep to the camp. Upon their arrival, he was told he was not allowed into the camp, and so he decided to wait outside for his brother’s release. By nightfall, the military issued Tarek a stern warning that he may himself arrested or worse if he didn’t leave. Reluctantly, Tarek left the camp, returning the next day only to find what he had feared the most had happened, the army had disappeared his brother Nabil.
Nabil’s story is of a state gone renegade beyond its traditional framework of oppression.  Tarek proceeded to look for his brother in numerous army camps in Suez and Ismailia. He was keen to pursue every legal means to find his brother so as not to upset authorities who seem to take offense to any public calls for justice. Yet all of Tarek’s attempts have failed. He found out through some back channels that his brother is in Ismailiya, while some other sources indicated he was in Suez. But the official military story remains that they don’t have him. He is not sure if Nabil is being kept until after elections, or if his brother will be slapped with trumped up charges related to some random terror case as we’ve seen happen before.
The entire legal system in Egypt, along with rights defenders and diplomats seem helpless in the face of a military that has decided to disappear a young man on a whim and deny his family even the right to know why this has happened to him. In fact, the current order has deemed citizens searching for their rights, impotent and incapable of addressing injustices inflicted upon them or their loved ones.
There have been 215 cases of forced disappearances documented in August and September alone by the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom (ECRF), according to its director Mohamed Lotfy. Earlier, there have been 163 cases documented by the campaign Freedom for the Brave from April to June.
The forced disappearances, the impunity, the lawlessness by which the current regime operates are signs of a disintegrating state. The most dangerous indication of the forced disappearances is that the state’s own oppressive mechanisms enforced by the law don’t seem enough, and so the state is forced to enter into extrajudicial immoral measures in order to handle perceived threats. It’s not just forced disappearances, but several incidents of assassinations or extrajudicial killings have taken place over the course of the last few months.
When there is no order, people’s beliefs about what the state does changes, and instead of respect for the body that purportedly upholds justice, it turns into resentment and every act of money collection is viewed as extortion.
Similarly, in a shocking yet not so surprising move that reeks of fear or resentment, (both of which should not be the basis of governing), a scientific lecture about the planet Mars by scientist Essam Heggy was cancelled due to security reasons. It is known that Heggy was critical of the AIDS cure announced by the army in February 2014.
Faith in the current regime and its promised reforms is already fading, with an extremely low turnout, doctored yet again by the elections apparatus to reach over 26% instead of the 6% announced by the head of the judges club. It is unclear who believes the presently announced number.
As Egypt turns more towards its old stable oligarchy through a new legitimately stillborn parliament full of notoriously corrupt figures, western powers remain content with the trajectory, as long as their own economy is thriving.
Nabil and hundreds like him languish in prisons without charge. His family and many others are living a nightmare unable to find a son or daughter forcibly disappeared. What’s worse, the regime’s actions are sponsored by the international community’s indifference or complicit silence.
The silence is justified by a desire for a ‘stable Egypt’ under Al-Sisi, yet that doesn’t seem to be the case. Workers are becoming disgruntled as the country moves towards an economic abyss. The pound is losing worth and there is a marked increase in the intensity of strikes such as the recent Mahalla strikewhich started 19 October.
Al-Sisi prepares to visit the UK to obtain even more international support, and all of the Nabils out there will not matter inside rooms where the most sinister deals are drawn up at the expense of individuals. The most we’d ever get is a complacent question, shrugged off by the visiting oppressor and accepted by a sinister politician enabling the disappearance of Nabil and many others like them.
To the populace, Nabil is just another name. People disappearing or ending up in prisons tend to seem like numbers in “the war against terror”. But those people are real, and so are their families and their sufferings. Individuals who support this regime’s actions are real as well. The deals they strike at the expense of others are also very real. As the state resorts to extrajudicial measures to punish its citizens, it starts to disintegrate, and so does our humanity with our continued silence.
First published in DNE, on 1 Nov 2015.