The Blind Faith of Egyptian Women in the Military
"It is always women who rebuild the country," says Rawya Abdel Rakman and smiles. The 67-year-old Rakman, a small, energetic lady, now speaks with a firm voice. "We fight against the occupiers. We fight against all the liars out there. We are fighting for the future of the whole country."
Men with cameras and tripods push past her, while women are dragging chairs about. The noise level in the wood-panelled hall is deafening. Rakman, a women's rights activist, nervously runs her fingers through her hair. She truly has no more time to spare. She has to give the world her message right now.
It is now Monday afternoon in the headquarters of the Egyptian Journalists' Association, located in the centre of Cairo. A press conference has been called by the representatives of various women's organizations, to which foreign and domestic reporters have been invited. Egypt's mothers want to express their unqualified support for army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, says the official statement, which tends to read like a political pamphlet. "The colonialism of the Muslim Brotherhood must stop. Only when their dictatorship has been tackled, then Egypt will once again be the dominant power in the region."
At the very start, as Rawya Abdel Rakman steps up to the microphone, she makes clear that today's press conference has nothing to do with issues such as women's rights or education programmes. "We advocate a further mandate for the army. It should do everything within its power to free us from the yoke of Islamist terror."
No one questions the curfew
Since the military cleared the two protest camps of the supporters of the deposed President Mohamed Morsi in mid-August, a culture of unrestrained hysteria has reigned in Egypt. The supporters of the Islamists have declared their unconditional determination to keep up the protests and chaos until the ousted president is back in office.
The supporters of the army, on the other hand, groups such as "Egyptian Women for Change" and "Coordination of Egyptian Women," which were represented at the press conference, have increasingly called for stronger retaliation. They would like to settle the score with the Muslim Brotherhood for the repression they had to suffer during its rule, they say. As such, they would gladly grant the military any powers it deemed fit. Once again.
Shortly after the overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsi, General al-Sisi called upon the population to engage in mass demonstrations as a way of confirming his mandate to put an end to the violence. Just three weeks ago, after the violent storming of the protest camps, which resulted in hundreds of deaths, the government imposed a month-long state of emergency and declared a night-time curfew.
The state of emergency does not only confer security forces with special rights in dealing with protests and gatherings. It also massively expands the authority of the army. Observers have therefore expressed alarm. Even though Defence Minister al-Sisi has announced his "roadmap" for the drafting of a new constitution as well as swift presidential and parliamentary elections, the authoritarian style, with which the new regime is apparently willing to employ to achieve these goals, has been an increasing source of irritation.
The army and police have thereby been firmly cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood. At present, almost the entire leadership of the organization is behind bars, including its leader, Mohammed Badie. A military court just recently sentenced 52 supporters of the Brotherhood to long terms in prison for inciting violence. Even former president Morsi, together with 14 other top-ranking functionaries of the organization, face trial, because they are said to have taken part in the violence against demonstrators during the protests in December.
"There is a dictatorship of opinion in Egypt"
The state media, all strictly adhering to the same official line, has been praising the heroism of the army. Radio stations play march music and on television men in uniforms present the news. All television channels that could have allowed the Islamists to disseminate their point of view have since been banned. "There is a dictatorship of opinion in Egypt now," says the journalist Khaled Dawoud, who, after the clearing of the pro-Morsi camps, resigned his position as spokesman for the liberal National Salvation Front (NSF) in protest against the force used by the military.
Critics of the security apparatus have been silenced. "Egypt finds itself in a struggle against terrorism. One is either friend or foe. And this can be a matter of life or death." However, only a small minority of Egyptians find this development troubling. According to a poll conducted by the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research (Baseera), the majority of the population supports the measures taken by the military. Almost 70 per cent feel that the manner in which the army evicted the protesters from the camps was right.
"The Muslim Brotherhood shot at helpless civilians," says Rania Ismail, a women of about 30 years old, during a break in the press conference. Behind her, a projector is throwing video images on the wall. In a continuous loop, they show groups of bearded men engaged in a gun battle with police.
Ismail pushes some blond coloured locks back under her white headscarf, while her face becomes increasingly flushed. "The West is still helping these murderers," she exclaims. The foreign press, she claims, want to destroy her country. "We have been slaughtered, our churches burned to the ground, and our children have been bullied. Yet, the West defends the Muslim Brotherhood." At this point, she is almost screaming. "Keep your noses out of our affairs."
Reactions here this afternoon once again show that overt hatred of foreigners, particularly of Western journalists, is on the rise in Egypt. In recent days, reporters have been frequently bullied and even beaten by security forces. Some journalists have been detained for hours without any justification.
The message is clear. Whoever is too critical in their reporting will be punished. This kind of animosity has been fuelled by official statements from the provisional government. Recently, the Ministry of Information issued a three-page statement for foreign correspondents explaining what Egypt now views as being "impartial" reporting. The upheaval in the country is solely an "expression of the people's will" and state force is employed in a "legitimate struggle against terrorism."
The West supports the Islamists
The overheated urgency with which this national threat is being addressed has left its mark in the popular mood. The public's hatred of the Muslim Brotherhood has become so massive, says a well-known activist, who does not wish to see his name published, that even hard-core revolutionaries fear criticizing the status quo of the army and provisional government.
Many conspiracy theories have also come into play and these have fomented existing hostilities. Some see journalists as paid spies of foreign governments. Others claim they are working towards reviving the fortunes of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The leaders of Germany, Israel, and America have concocted a plot against the Egyptians, claims an elderly lady standing on the edge of the press conference in Cairo. These governments long provided support for the Islamists, she continues. Another woman adds that the Muslim Brotherhood paid foreign advertising agencies to spread selective false reports about the military to local media establishments. This is the only explanation, says the woman in her mid-forties, as to why the Muslim Brotherhood has enjoyed such sympathy abroad. Does she have any proof? "Is it really a matter of proof here?" she puffs.
Mervat Tallawy stands in the lobby and prepares herself for her speech. Tallawy, wearing a violet costume and red lipstick, is the chairwoman of the National Council of Women. She says that women were subject to massive oppression under the Islamists. "They were put under pressure and hounded out of all public offices."
The situation will certainly change now, she says, sounding convinced. "The army is helping women to feel more secure in their own country." When asked if women will enjoy greater representation in the next parliament, Tallawy shrugs her shoulders. "That is not important right now," she hissed and marched up to the lectern.
© Qantara.de 2013
Translated from the German by John Bergeron
Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de