Many young Egyptians dream of a better life. The trouble is that most want to achieve it by leaving Egypt; this was not always the case. In 2011, many youths living comfortably abroad decided to dream of a better Egypt, not just by wishing it but by risking their lives and careers and coming back to contribute to a revolution they thought could bring about these dreams. Numerous Egyptians rediscovered their roots by taking to the streets in thousands, to offer a glimpse of an Egypt with integrity, with a dream of reclaiming a country that is rightfully theirs.
That Egypt, full of lofty hopes, is now dead. Governments around the world have claimed that Egypt is on the path to democracy, supplied its government with aid and weaponry, and commented positively on the economic potential Egypt has. Yet, away from the media spotlight, there is a consular section in each embassy working tirelessly on visa applications, which knows the truth about such empty rhetoric. Numerous young Egyptians have been denied visit visas to many Western countries, despite having met the advertised conditions and obtained the proper paperwork, even when they have presented proof of good travel history. The truth told by the visa section is that there is a marked regression in Egypt’s prospects, particularly for its youth.
In the months since the military takeover on 3 July 2013, all the steps taken by the Egyptian regime have been to re-establish a more draconian Mubarak-like state, with all of its corruption, abuse of power, injustice, murder, torture, and scare tactics. The marked difference is the limited beneficiaries of the new order and a wider circle of enemies perceived by the state. Among the regime’s most notable enemies are a large portion of its youth and opposition figures. Perhaps less apparent are the myriads of Al-Sisi supporters who have been inadvertently targeted.
The current government came with promises of stability that were never delivered. People’s patience and support allowed for the return of the old regime figures in their ugliest form with more impunity, revenge, and greed. Yet the people’s patience is wearing out, the promises that have been delayed for so long are beginning to be remembered, and the political stability sought with a new parliament may not be realistic after all.
As the regime regained power, it seems that its prime objective was killing everything they believe brought about the 25 January Revolution and in turn everything that it brought about.
Yet the conditions predating 25 January 2011 seem to be replicated to the letter. Instead of one Khaled Said, a middle class young man targeted randomly by thuggish policemen, we have an entire generation bearing the brunt of their wrath. Many are targeted for their continued vocal opposition to injustices such as Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mahienour El-Massry, Ahmed Doma, and numerous others; Ahmed Gamal Ziada recently survived an assassination attempt. There are also thousands of others randomly caught up in a wide-scale show of force and systematic oppression, irrespective of whether they have committed a crime.
A parliament comprised of notoriously corrupt individuals has likewise been “elected”, accompanied by a government that incorporates incompetent officials, to say the least. Much like the former, present Egyptian rulers feel the problem is restricted to the need for a tighter security grip.
The revolution brought about a Januarian dream of a different country and it is one that the current regime is trying to kill. That dream meant an end to corruption and right now Egypt is more corrupt than ever, with an EGP 600bn tab from corruption, as stated by Egypt’s chief auditor Hisham Geneina. That dream meant justice and presently the judiciary does not seem to offer much along those lines. That dream meant human dignity, absent in many ways with the prevalence of random arrests, police brutality, and discarded basic rights such as education and health. Even now, students whose military service is being postponed are denied the right to visit other countries for reasons other than visiting families and pilgrimage.
Indeed, the current rulers are so opposed to the youth that when students affiliated with 25 January won the Student Union elections against all odds, the Ministry of Higher Education rejected these results.
In their efforts to justify corruption, oppression, and lack of transparency, regime supporters have pointed to countries doing worse than we are. A culture of fear has permeated our society, where there is fear of terrorism, state collapse, and destruction even as the present policies help exacerbate these fears.
In a sense, these comparisons are meant to make us imagine the worst and be grateful, rather than imagine the best and strive towards it. Dutifully, in the name of fear and stability, a great majority of Egyptians put their dreams and aspirations aside and accepted the very same practices they stood so vehemently against.
The Januarian dream is hope for a better Egypt that offers a better life. Instead of freedom, youths are offered mass incarcerations, surveillance, and intimidation. Instead of truth, media outlets – dominated by a heavy security hand – offer nothing but lies and distortions. Instead of hope, youths are offered death, torture, injustice, and fear. Truth and hope were at the heart of the revolutionary dream and that is what they are trying to kill. So what hope is there for a country that wants to kill hope?
Wael Eskandar is an independent journalist and blogger based in Cairo. He is a frequent commentator on Egyptian politics and has written for Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Counterpunch, and Jadaliyya, among others. He blogs at notesfromtheunderground.net.