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Crackdown disappoints Egyptians expecting social justice from revolution

November 28, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
Egypt's military-backed government has issued its latest crackdown on dissent, but now both Islamist and secular activists are being punished. Hari Sreenivasan talks to Leila Fadel of NPR about how Egyptians are reacting to the arrests and how the events are being portrayed by the media.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Earlier today, I spoke with NPR’s international correspondent Leila Fadel in Cairo about how Egyptians are responding to these arrests.

What’s the latest on the crackdown that’s been happening over the last few weeks?

LEILA FADEL, NPR: Well, the thing that’s different this week after months of crackdown on supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi is that, under this new protest law, they have cracked down on secular and leftist activists. They have arrested dozens of them now released on bail, the women all released in the middle of the desert.

And we have also seen escalation with the conditions of 14 young Islamist women in Alexandria of 11 years just for protesting in support of the ousted president.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, how’s that playing out? Obviously, the news of those 14 arrests is now out there. Is there a public outcry about how those protesters were treated?

LEILA FADEL: I don’t know if it’s really a public outcry, but we’re seeing human rights organizations saying this is unacceptable, saying this is worse treatment than they even saw under ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

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You’re seeing some leading secular politicians calling the authorities, saying this might be a little too much, and the families themselves saying they will appeal and this is evidence that this is clearly not a democratic country, this is clearly a military-led authoritarian nation, and that was a — it was a coup against the former president.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, you seem to be saying the military is turning away — its spotlight away from the Muslim Brotherhood, which they might have successfully cracked down on, and is now focusing it back on these secular activists, really the ones who helped get them into power in the first place.

LEILA FADEL: Yes, the spotlight very much has been almost solely on the Islamists, the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

And some people say they really kind of made a calculated mistake on Tuesday by going after these young secular leftist activists. But these are a couple hundred people at this point. We’re not seeing a huge tide turn against the army as of now, but for the first time a much wider outcry from the political elite when they see non-Islamists getting the treatment that we have seen Islamists getting in the last few months.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, while we’re hearing about them overseas, is there some censorship going on in the media? Are these stories getting covered?

LEILA FADEL: We are seeing the stories within some local media, but overall the private television stations here have been really cheerleaders for the army so far.

We have been though seeing reports more and more, especially with the recent crackdowns and the Alexandria girls, coming out in the local newspapers, but not in a widespread criticism of the army here or the interim leaders.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You mentioned human right groups and a report. Are the political classes, are the people on the street looking back at this entire experiment and saying perhaps we were better off under Mubarak? Has it gotten that bad?

LEILA FADEL: Well, I think that’s a sentiment that people have been feeling for a while now, not necessarily because they loved Mubarak, but because they expected certain things to come out of the revolution in 2007, economic prosperity, social justice, all these things that they haven’t seen.

So, many people are saying, at least we had stability. And so that’s why you’re seeing many people who supported the overthrow of Morsi and ultimately a path to stability, rather than democracy necessarily. Over the last two years, it’s been such a difficult roller coaster, a difficult transition as people try to elect leaders, try to create what they think the future of their country should be.

And that huge amount of infighting is creating instability, creating governments that aren’t functioning, that are in deadlock. And so a lot of people are starting to, I don’t want to say regret what happened, but at least, you know, wondering whether it was in a mistake, because life isn’t better in the general household in Egypt. Things aren’t better. So, there isn’t social justice. They’re not feeding their families. There isn’t better employment.

Those types are of things are not better so far.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there any interest in any sort of a dialogue? Has the military made any overtures to groups, whether the Brotherhood or the secularists? Or does the leadership just feel so emboldened and empowered that they feel like they don’t really have to listen to anybody, it’s either our way or the highway?

LEILA FADEL: We haven’t seen real efforts from the army towards the Brotherhood for a dialogue, for reconciliation. It’s almost a dirty word these days.

You know, they’re calling them terrorists. They’re saying it’s a banned group. People are being arrested just for having symbols of the Muslim Brotherhood or of their protests, just for maybe a ruler, a balloon, or a T-shirt.

But when it comes to the secular and leftist activists, we did see a very different reaction. We saw members of the 50-member assembly that’s tasked with amending the constitution suspending their membership briefly, saying this was unacceptable, calling for the release of those activists.

So, in that sense, I think there was a real awakening among secular and leftist activists and amongst some of the political elite, saying, well, this seems to say that no protests are acceptable, that no dissent, not just Islamist dissent, no dissent is acceptable now. 

HARI SREENIVASAN: Leila Fadel, thanks so much for joining us.

LEILA FADEL: Thank you.