Geopolitics

How Egypt Is Trying To Quash January 25 Anniversary

Five years after the revolution that overthrew the Mubarak regime, Egypt's security forces raided apartments and closed public space to send a very clear message

Pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters last week in Cairo
Pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters last week in Cairo
Pesha Magid

CAIRO â€" Egypt’s security forces have made a series of moves to thwart any attempts to collectively commemorate Jan. 25 in downtown Cairo, where it all began five years ago.

Government officials and the Endowments Ministry have warned people against participating in protests Monday to mark Jan. 25 this year. And President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also warned against it, suggesting a new revolution would destroy the country.

Even state meteorological authorities had warned against taking to the streets on Jan. 25 due to bad weather forecasts. (Skies on Monday were partly cloudy with no sign of inclement weather, according to the Weather Channel)

On the ground, police conducted arbitrary searches in 5000 apartments in the downtown Cairo area in the weeks preceding Jan. 25, according to Interior Ministry sources. They entered homes, looking through laptops, tablets and phones for anything suspicious.

Hassan Abdel Aziz, whose name has been changed for security purposes, describes how his whole building was visited by the police. He wasn’t home at the time, but a friend of one of their flatmates was home and told him that when the police came in they didn't show a permit, proceeding to search the whole apartment, turning it upside down and going through phones, computers and personal items in the bedrooms.

“They stayed in the apartment for a couple of hours. In my room they found a lot of books. They started asking questions like, ‘what is your friend doing? Is he a socialist? Is he a political activist? What is he doing? Was he in the revolution?’,” Aziz recalls.

The police confiscated his passport after finding the books in his room. “I feel like this is your private space and its been violated. You don't know if it will happen again or not,” he explains.

Aziz hasn’t been back to his apartment at night since the raid, staying with friends and outside of downtown. He says that as soon as the month is over he will move somewhere that he feels safer.

Martyrs of the Revolution in Tahrir Square. â€" Photo: Sherif9282

Another eyewitness, who also requested to remain anonymous, says several members of the police were waiting for him when he arrived at his flat. They went through all of his belongings and those of his friend, who is a doctor and has nothing to do with politics.

“One of them took my tablet and opened it. They looked through everything in it, including Facebook, pictures, videos, everything in it.”

Magda Aly, a citizen who lives downtown, posted on Facebook that he was too afraid for his children to stay in downtown after dark. “People who live in downtown had a terrifying night … security forces were entering and searching whole buildings in downtown … I don’t ask for a lot, I don’t ask that they don’t arrest me as long as there is an official order ... Call me on the phone, tell me to go and I’ll go, without having to escape with my children in the street during cold winter nights, because I don’t want them to enter my flat and frighten my children,” he says.

A security source told the Reuters-affiliated Aswat Masreya news website that 47 foreigners from Europe and Asia with expired visas were arrested, as were 65 Syrians and Libyans who entered the country illegally.

One of the raids led to the arrest and detention of prominent doctor and activist Taher Mokhtar, along with his housemates.

Mokhtar’s housemate Amir Nader, a freelance journalist who was out of the country at the time, says, “They raided our apartment and arrested Taher, Ahmed (Istakoza), and Hossam Eddin. Even though the police initially said the arrests were based on intelligence, I believe it was part of a sweep of the downtown area in the run-up to Jan. 25. It’s a method we have seen the Ministry of Interior employ before to control the neighborhood, but never with such ferocity.”

Nader says police searched their apartment for two hours and found leaflets calling for better medical treatment of detainees, which made them assume anti-state sentiments. Mokhtar and his housemates were taken to Abdeen police station, and were charged the next day with possessing materials calling for the downfall of the state. Mohktar, Ahmed and Hossam Eddin remain in custody.

“I am afraid to return to Egypt from Europe,” Nader says. “I’ve done nothing wrong, nothing more wrong than my flatmates, but I was told the police were asking about me and I have enough belongings in my room related to my work that I worry my name is on a list somewhere. I will not return to Egypt until after the anniversary of the revolution and when we have an idea of how my friends' case develops.”

The home raids are not the only fear tactics security forces are using to secure downtown ahead of the Jan. 25 anniversary. Several downtown art and cultural spaces have also been raided or closed in recent weeks.

Among those inspected by state officials were performance art center Studio Emad Eddin and the independent Merit Publishing House. The privately owned Masr al-Arabia news website was also raided by the Office of Artistic Products Police Department and managing editor Ahmed Abdel Gawad was temporarily detained.

Security also shut Townhouse Gallery for contemporary art and its adjacent performing space, the Rawabet theatre, on December 28, both of which remain closed. A Townhouse employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, says authorities haven’t given them a reason for the closure, asserting that every administrative issue Townhouse has been asked to resolve, they have.

“One can only assume it has something to do with the paranoia surrounding downtown with all the raids that have been going on in private apartments and the searches on cafes," the employee says. "There’s a general attitude of closing down any spaces that might intentionally or unintentionally get crowds rallied up.”

Back in 2011, the word spread on social media. â€" Photo: Essam Sheraf

The crackdown on such spaces in downtown didn’t just begin a week ago. Each anniversary has been marked by a number of security measures.

According to the Health Ministry, at least 29 people were killed and 176 others were injured on Jan. 25, 2014, with 450 arrested. In 2015, commemorations of the anniversary were banned in the wake of the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdallah Bin Abdel Aziz on Jan. 23. According to the Health Ministry, security forces killed 18 protesters, injured 52, and arrested several others in 2015, with 68 people fined for illegally protesting.

Security trucks are present throughout downtown now. Every street that leads to Tahrir has heavily armed guards and trucks at the entrance, blocking the way to the square. Qasr al-Ainy street, on the edge of downtown, which also leads to Tahrir is overflowing with security trucks and riot police.

“The raids in downtown Cairo are part of a wider campaign that not only targets people who are actively political, but also those who have the potential to be, and are therefore a threat.," says Nader. "Closing cultural centers, arresting Facebook page administrators, telling imams to preach that it is religiously forbidden to protest, in every sphere Egyptians are being intimidated into silence and acceptance.”

Abdul Aziz’s says his displacement makes him think about the words of French philosopher Jaques Ranciere, who asserted that police control over space signifies a control over politics in general. Ranciere wrote in “Ten Theses On Politics,” that forcing people to be constantly moving and not to linger in one place for too long is a method of control. Politics, he says, is about ending this forced movement, and allowing for a space in which the people reappear.

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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