Category Archives: Opinionated

Orwell’s Nationalism in Egypt

The 25th June 2014 marks the 111th anniversary of George Orwell’s birth, and it seemed as appropriate a time as any to add my own little contribution to the already near-bursting oeuvre of work connecting Orwell to contemporary news.  In my case, Egyptian news.

As the Egyptian state and its institutions continue to bludgeon any dissent or opposition out of the public sphere, one of Orwell’s earlier essays proves helpful in understanding how it has come to this: why the current government is so desperate to enforce patriotic sentiment; how they can get away with obvious lies and brutality; and why even peaceful disobedience and dissent is no longer allowed.

In his essay ‘Notes on Nationalism’, Orwell starts by appropriating and altering the definition of ‘nationalism’ beyond that of everyday parlance, beyond the parochial allegiance to ‘the nation’. Orwell hypothesised there was an associative emotional phenomenon that could be applied to a swathe of constructs outside (and indeed, inside) any nation.

Orwell writes, “It can attach itself to a church or a class,” and importantly adds, “or it may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty.”

In his simplest definition, ‘nationalism’ is an emotional phenomenon that creates a blinding allegiance to something (positive nationalism), or perhaps against something (negative nationalism).  As a societal construct, attaching oneself to others of similar ideology and agency arises naturally and is almost impossible to avoid – even hermits and misanthropes can and will identify with one another – but Orwell takes it one step further.

The inherent problem, he says, is that nationalism also acts as a perfect incubator of the irrational zealot.  Victories and losses are almost irrelevant to belief and allegiance, as the fanatical nationalist (and for Orwell, they are the rule, not the exception) will not only stand firm, but will actually grow in their stubborn righteousness as a result.

As Orwell puts it, “[The nationalist] persuades himself that [his side] is the strongest [side], and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him.”

They can become either the ‘martyr’ (after a loss) or the ‘noble victor’ (after success) – either way their reservoir of righteousness grows.  In this schizophrenic atmosphere Orwell posits that even the most intelligent person is suddenly willing to “suppress their sensibilities and sacrifice their intellectual honesty for the cause of propaganda”.

In Egypt, this style of ‘nationalism’ can be a helpful lens through which to view recent events.

Suddenly, Egypt is seen as the battleground of vying political nationalist actors:  The Muslim Brotherhood, Youth Movements, Military Trial Activists, Anti Sexual Harassment movements, Business magnates, the Army, the judiciary, and so on.  People may ally themselves to many different groups, and though few of the nationalist groups have anything to do with the nation directly, they all demand one thing: power.  Were any one group to hold a majority mandate, the other groups would immediately feel threatened, and be seen as a threat.

In the immediate aftermath of the coup of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the interim government-backed military approached the problem of the Brotherhood and public relations with a modus operandi akin to the US Straussian neo-conservatives of the 1970s: Scare everyone with a deadly enemy (USSR/Muslim Brotherhood); overplay the enemy threat through propaganda; and promulgate the myth of the benevolent state, thus encouraging an unquestioning patriotism.  But instead of fighting the selfish and immoral individualism of liberalism, as the neo-cons did, the new Egyptian state is fighting a proliferation of political nationalism that threatens allegiance, stability and the power hierarchy.

After all, any nationalist group ipso facto is a threat, irrespective of whether it poses a direct challenge to the incumbent power, because, as stated earlier, every nationalist demands power: power to do business free of restrictions; power to operate with impunity; power to hold a government accountable; power to change a law.  In 2011, power in Egypt was momentarily, and spontaneously, redistributed in an 18-day revolt, much to the chagrin of the deep state.  In the aftermath of the 2013 coup, a President more amenable to the old pillars of power is taking charge, and any further redistribution of power will once again be at the discretion of the old institutions.

Facing the swathe of serious political nationalist groups, the nation state and its institutions are trying its hardest to redirect the varying nationalists back to one overarching allegiance: loyalty to the State above all; overt patriotism over the more exclusive and fractured swathe of nationalist groups.

In the most blatant effort to date, the Egyptian Presidential office recently released a new decree regarding two major symbols of the State: the national anthem and the flag.

In it, the decree repeals two previous laws and demands a more devout reverence to these two symbols.  It stated the Egyptian flag cannot be lower than that of any other state institution flag (such as an army or a state flag), and is not to be on display if damaged, altered, worn or faded.  Egyptians must stand for the national anthem “out of respect” and military personnel must salute.  One line states, “Pre-university education authorities should strive to disseminate the norms and values enshrined in the words of the national anthem.”

To stress the seriousness of this new decree, anyone who insults the flag (by breaking the above rules) or doesn’t stand for the national anthem “shall be punished by imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year and a fine not exceeding thirty thousand pounds ($4200)”.

“We are somewhat telling people “the state is back”.” Was the blunt response of Ehab Ghobashy, the presidential spokesman, when asked what the objective was in creating this new law.  “You could describe Egypt during the last three years as messy… because the state institutions were not able to perform their duties and the state pride was not given its due respect.”

The timing of the decree is key.  The immediate aftermath of the coup last year inspired what seemed to be an unquestioning patriotic atmosphere, akin to Orwell’s positive nationalism, in a huge and loud majority of Egyptians.  This loyalty remained even after the slaughter of over 1,000 people in less than a week in mid-August 2013.  Many cheered the dispersal of Rabaa square where some 638 people were killed and almost 4,000 injured, almost exclusively civilians of an opposing nationalist allegiance: the Muslim Brotherhood.  Even those not overtly pro-Army were willing to perform mental gymnastics in order to avoid calling Rabaa what it was: a massacre committed by their side.

With the Muslim Brotherhood almost completely crushed in just six months, a new enemy was needed by the state to once again unite the masses in fear – mistaking Orwell’s negative nationalism with patriotism.  The list of potential threats quickly increased and the new enemy suddenly became anyone openly dissenting.  An abhorrent protest law was passed and suddenly, the secular activists and youth movements (many of which supported the overthrow of Morsi) ran into trouble.  According to the Interior Ministry, some 16,000 people have been imprisoned since the fall of Morsi in July 2013.  One independent statistics database puts the number closer to 41,000, the overwhelming majority political prisoners.

Furthermore, journalists opposing or questioning the state line have been targeted, harassed, killed and jailed.  Two days ago, after 6 months of the most farcical trial proceedings to grace a courtroom, 3 Al Jazeera journalists were sentenced to a cumulative 24 years in prison for doing nothing more than basic reporting.

Despite all this, it appeared that the reverence (in the form of enthusiasm) towards the state was waning as time passed and conditions continued to stagnate for the average Egyptian, and the old institutions were clearly alarmed by this sudden reality.

Turnouts in the recent presidential elections were low, far lower than anyone expected.  After the scheduled two days voting, one poll put the turnout at a laughably low 7.5%, although others placed it closer to the 20% mark.  The Presidential Elections Commission quickly took the extraordinary step of extending the voting to another day in a desperate effort to increase their “mandate”.  After the additional days voting they claimed overall turnout finished at just under 50%.  This sudden and dubious increase prompted the opposition candidate to call the proclaimed turnout percentage “an insult to Egyptians’ intelligence” and yet it was still far short of what the incoming President had hoped for.

The most obvious answer to this sudden indifference was that the overt patriotism of last year was simply ebbing away with time.  Therefore, the logic goes, a more patriotic sentiment needs to be drilled into the Egyptian psyche.  After all, the upcoming period of austerity, of “hard work and self-sacrifice”, could easily stir an angry and resentful crowd unless subconsciously cowed with an undying nationalism towards the state.

Yet through the lens of Orwell’s nationalism, it could just as easily be the case that the apparent patriotic fervour in the immediate post-Morsi period was not an allegiance to the state, but rather a negative nationalism against the Muslim Brotherhood.  If this were the case, then the patriotic reserve the state is relying on has been massively overrated from the start, and the turnout in the elections may be an indicator of such a reality.

In attempting to ameliorate their position and increase unquestioning loyalty, the state is now trying to force ‘reverence’ by law.  An obvious mistake in strategy: it’s difficult to make someone love you if you caveat your desire to be loved with threats of imprisonment and fines.  However, by overplaying the existential threats of terrorism, dominating the press and closing down a major avenue of dissent (through protests and marches), the state is well on its way to a new era of stultifying submission.

This strategy is made especially clear when you realise it is very possible to break all these new laws and still not find yourself in any trouble, so long as you break them the right way.  Scrawl “Sisi for President” on the flag, have an impromptu march along the bridge in support of the army, write outright lies against foreign journalists in you newspaper and you will get on just fine.  Just so long as you belong to a nationalist group that somehow benefits the incumbent powers, you can get away with murder.  Or even a massacre.

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Arrested In Cairo

First published in Vocativ on November 11th

Two riot police backed up towards us and asked me, “Do you have any cigarettes?”  I handed them a couple of cigs and could see that they were suffering from teargas exposure.  Their hands shook so violently I had to light their cigarettes for them.  They were short, skinny and looked incredibly young.  “How old are you guys?” I asked them. “We’re 20” they replied before giving thanks and leaving.

At that moment, I couldn’t help but feel some pity for these young men, knowing they are conscripts who are treated atrociously by their superiors.  This pity was short lived.

This was the 40th anniversary of Egypt’s “strategic victory” over Israel during the 1973 October War.  With nationalistic fervour already at an all time high thanks to the Army’s help at removing the much despised President, Mohamed Morsi in the July 3 ‘coup-not-a-coup’, this was a day that bordered on the chauvinistic.

The majority Muslim Brotherhood Anti-Coup Alliance had called on four marches to converge on a Tahrir Square that was the setting of unprecedented state security.  My count on the day was at least 10 APCs and a few tanks just for good measure.  All entrances to the Square had several lines of barbed wire and metal detectors – an affront, surely, to a public space that had long been an icon of anti-establishment protest.

Meanwhile the Tamarod group, which had organised the supremely successful campaign that led to Mr Morsi’s removal, had called for a full day of celebration, also in Tahrir Square.  With confrontation predetermined, the bloodshed that came later was just as inevitable.

The day began with a number of fighter jets flying low enough to set off car alarms and shake the dilapidated windows of my flat.  Tahrir Square itself was the scene of a joyous army love-in.  The de jure nationalistic song “Teslam el Ayady” blaring out sentiments so sickly saccharine as to cause tooth decay.

Two officers by a metal detector told me the orders if a Muslim Brotherhood march was to make it to the square.  “We will arrest them,” one said with a shrug.  But if there was any struggle?  The other officer narrowed his eyes and replied in English, “we will shoot them, and we will win”.  I left to cover the Anti-Coup March on the west side of the Nile.

Once the march turned onto Tahrir St, which leads to the Square, the fighting broke out almost instantly.  With teargas canisters flying in from further down Tahrir St, the crowd immediately reversed back onto the street they came from, while the Central Security Forces (CSF) advanced, followed shortly by Army personnel. A fellow journalist and I sheltered in a side alley on Tahrir Street and watched as the riot police passed us by.  By standing in one spot we had moved from the front of the march to the frontlines of the CSF.

Small groups of riot police pointed their shotguns towards the side alleys where cowering men and women withdrew to; occasionally firing what I hoped were blank rounds.  As the teargas subsided, we cautiously made our way out.

Beyond the CSF some 30 meters stood the protesters, waving, shouting and throwing rocks.  Burning tyres were already beginning to obscure my view of them.  The riot police continued to fire teargas towards them, an unholy swirling mixture of black and white smoke engulfing the protesters.  One CSF member who had clearly watched too many action movies started shooting his shotgun into the crowd one-handed; he was smiling.

Then a CSF recruit grabbed me on the back of the neck.  He slapped me on the head repeatedly as his friend took my camera from around my neck and my phone from my pocket.   The gentlemen marched me towards a small alley that leads off Tahrir St where I could see a number of other Egyptian men being penned in by some riot police.

I fumbled in my wallet for my press pass.  Not one month old, my newly acquired pass, issued from the Cairo Press Centre, was shown to senior member of the CSF.  He looked at it and saw that it said “British”.  He looked up at me and back down at my photo a few times before saying, in English, “I’m sorry”.

They gave me back my bag and my camera but the officer held onto my press pass.  Assuming I was free to go I enquired as to the whereabouts of my phone and motioned for my pass.

Instead I received a hefty push in the back and I suddenly found myself with the other detained men. I called to a nearby CSF recruit and told him I was a British journalist and there was some misunderstanding, he told me to put my hands behind my back.  I reiterated my point and received a slap in the face for my troubles.

What has long been a blessing was suddenly a curse.  I have an ability to pass off as Egyptian.  I don’t get any grief when I walk around alone and I tend not to get ripped off by ‘foreigner’s prices’.  The worst that had happened up till then was an awkward exchange at a hotel bar during Ramadan, when the barman refused me service until I produced an Egyptian ID card that betrays your religion.

We were all frog marched in a line down Tahrir St.  I spied the journalist I had been with and he nodded his head to me.  “Thank god someone I know saw this happen,” I thought.

Video cameras appeared from nowhere to, no doubt, document the “successful capture of terrorists by the glorious state security”.  A man in a suit appeared from nowhere and started berating us.  I was genuinely shocked by the look of disgust on his face.  I have never before seen such visceral hatred in person.  He was practically foaming at the mouth, spitting at us, and calling us dogs and worse.  Before departing he ensured to take leave with a slap on my face.  It was unfortunate that I was at the front of the line.

I could see the large blue shell of the police van that was to transport me to the police station, but not before we were told to get on our knees by the sidewalk.

As they started to handcuff everyone with cable ties, I tried again to explain that, “I am a journalist! A British Journalist!”  I repeated it in Arabic and English but the policeman who eventually came to my pleas only proceeded to take my camera bag, camera in tow.  Then they picked me up and started marching all ten of us to the van.

I believe this was the point when I started to panic.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” was all that went through my head.  In a state of panic, eloquence is the first casualty.  I was pretty sure that was the last I would see of my camera, phone and bag, replete with voice recorder and notepads.  That’s a lot of money and work when you’re freelancing.

I was thrown into the back of the van.  There was already one man inside as well as a police officer, the latter beating the former in a repulsively calculated fashion; kicking each leg, then punching the kidneys, then working his way to slaps on the head before starting from the bottom again.  It was somehow more chilling that this all took place in complete silence, no swearing, nothing.

I shamelessly prepared myself once again with the, “I’m a British journalist” that had worked such wonders before.  He gave me a look, but nevertheless he declined me the same treatment.  The others were not so lucky.

We were driven all of a minute to the Dokki Police Station just down the road from where I was picked up.  As the door opened we were ordered to march through a group of CSF, every one of them landing a kick or a slap on us as we passed them down into the basement of the police station.

The basement itself was a sad sight, decrepit and soul sapping, although that is presumably the point.  Filigrees of damp crawled across the walls towards the barred windows where they died in the light.  A comical stand-alone cage is propped alongside one of the walls and we are duly crammed into it.

Two policemen readied themselves by a nearby door, one standing on a table and the other below him.  We were taken out, one by one, and liberated from what belongings we had left on us.  I was the second man to be frisked.  The man on the table kicks me in the hip while his friend below grabs my face and points to my belt.  I remove it without hesitation and am whipped with it.  It’s surprisingly infuriating to be whipped by a belt you provided.

In the room, I’m set to my knees.  There are two women in the room and about twenty men, not one of them without some bruise, abrasion or cut visible.  As the others are poured in, the room begins to fill up.  It’s a tiny room with one barred window that was shuttered off to ground level.  I could just make out the Sheraton hotel through the trees.

Eventually a plain-clothes policeman comes into the room and starts taking down the name, age and address of everyone.  When he gets to me I decide this is the best chance I have at being released.  I put on my best BBC accent and proclaim “Adam Patrick Ramsey”.  I knew my best bet at getting out was now playing the ‘British’ card.  It’s a privilege I knew my fellow detainees couldn’t exploit, but my moral pillars crumbled in the circumstances, much to my disappointment.

The ‘Adam Ramsey’ part of my name is far too close to being an Egyptian name, so I decided to throw in one of my middle names.  I thought it best to omit my other middle name, “Omar”.

“Adam what Ramsey?” he asks me.  “Adam Patrick Ramsey” I say again before continuing, “I’m a British journalist”.  “How old are you?” he suddenly asks in English before rooting through my wallet, where he thankfully finds my UK drivers license.  Before I can answer he leaves the room only to return, incensed and suddenly speaking Arabic again.

“Born in Saudi Arabia eh?”  I completely forgot that for some reason the UK license puts your country of birth.  Rather than explain that I’m half-Malaysian half-Northern Irish and that I had little say in the place of my birth (never mind the fact Saudi is giving Egypt billions in aid), I decided to act coy.  “I don’t understand you,” I said in terrible Arabic.  “Fuck Saudi!” He replies, before throwing my license onto a pile of Egyptian IDs just outside the door.

The door is closed and the temperature slowly rises.  A 50-year old teacher nods his head gently against my shoulder.  I turn around and see a face of genuine sympathy, “I am sorry,” he says.

“Look”, he motioned to a corner of the room.  I had completely missed a man of at least 60 crumpled in the corner.  Both his legs were covered with birdshot, blood slowly pooling around his feet.  I looked at the blood and the smell immediately became unbearable.

Outside the window a couple of CSF recruits looked in but all I could see were their legs.  Suddenly, the barrel of a teargas gun is rested on one of the bars.  When pain subsides and boredom sets in, the imagination plays fast and loose.  I immediately recollect the story I read of the 36 men who suffocated to death in police custody.

Of course, in the end, the recruits simply walked away, but I was still shivering over the thought of what it would have been like, picturing what I would do were they to have fired tear gas at us.  Probably die, was the conclusion I came to.

We could hear screams from outside the door, which would open only to reveal yet another poor man who was being flogged for no reason other than to sate the appetites of these megalomaniacal sadists.  They wouldn’t stop until a scream or yelp was emitted, before then pushing him into the room to join us.  They were practically high-fiving each other at their new and ingenious methods of delivering pain.  In five years at a boy’s boarding house I never witnessed such levels of hyper-masculine pageantry.  They fit the stereotype of despotic state security so perfectly it would have been funny if it were not so depressing.

After around an hour and a half, they decided to move us to another room.  By now we were standing, packed like sardines, sweat beating off us.  The two women had been removed long ago to God knows where and they hauled the birdshot man to get, I hope, some medical attention.

Policemen lined our path and hit us as we passed them into a room some 20 meters away.  Except it was not even a room, rather a miniscule, enclosed courtyard in the middle of the building.  Sixty of us squeezed our way in.

The tiled floors were dusty and covered in rubbish and aberrant marks of dried blood.  I was pushed to my knees once again.  I turned and tried to reason with my captors.  I heard the desperation in my voice, but it was quickly cut off by a kick to the back. “Look straight ahead!” Would be the catchphrase for the rest of the evening.

I found it almost physically impossible to turn from a man who was hitting me, and this only prolonged the smacking.  I finally turned and stayed turned, covering the back of my head.  I noticed that everyone else was in exactly the same position.

This was by far the most painful part of the day.  Far more than any whipping, slapping, kicking or punching.  Kneeling for close to 3 hours left me almost incapable of walking once we were finally asked to stand.  We were so crammed together there wasn’t space for me to put my hands on the floor to help shift my weight.

During this time I studied the back of the man kneeling in front of me.  The different rips and blood stains, the open wound on his upper right shoulder, where the blood began to coagulate, haemostasis working its magic.  I could feel the man behind me resting his head on my back.  As the sun set the call for prayer was heard and incredibly (after asking a guard’s permission) everyone somehow pivoted towards Mecca and began to pray, still crouched.

As time passed, the men started whispering to one another and I took the chance to see where everyone else came from.  They were taken from the same area as me.  Some openly said they were part of the march, while others swore blind that it was just a case of wrong place, wrong time.  All but one was experiencing arrest for the first time.

“Don’t worry, your embassy will help” one said to me.  “Yeah, but only if they know he’s here,” replied the man behind him.  “Just stay… what’s the word?  Optimistic” said the man behind me, his head still resting on my back. I couldn’t believe how well everyone was dealing with it, some even risking  humour.

The man in front suddenly gave that old trope that every visitor to Egypt would have heard a thousand times.  “Welcam to Eegipt” he said.  Everyone burst into laughter.  “Shut up!” was the guard’s reaction.

After an hour or so, someone decided to ask for some water.  With all of us facing the wall in front, we were suddenly pelted with small bottles from behind, the plastic pinging off heads and backs.  These were shortly followed by near inedible packets of knock-off Borios (itself a knock-off Oreo).

“Mohamed Adel Mohamed?” a policeman suddenly asked.  A young man to my left turned around, his face lighting up “Yes! That’s me.”  He said with a look of pure hope.  “Do you live in Imbaba?” queried the policeman. “Yes, yes!” replied the man.  “Ok! Could you please… stay there,” he said.

He would do this every five minutes or so with a different person.  It was a cruel twist moving from physical punishment to the emotional.

Suddenly, I hear “Is there a British national here?”  I immediately twist around, my hand in the air, “Yes!” I replied.  “Oh no, we need someone who was born in Saudi and is half-Malaysian”.  “Yeah… That’s still me,” maybe the embassy had called, I thought.  Maybe they finally realised that I really was a British journalist and are letting me out, “OK thanks, just stay there,” he smiled at me.

Of course he was just deluding me like he had everyone else.  Hope is an incredibly tenacious emotion that can survive a lot of trauma, but can also make you feel immensely stupid for trusting in it.

After evening prayers, I began to resign myself to staying the night.  My legs were numb by now so pain wasn’t a problem.  The smell of noxious vinegar began to grate as more men began pissing themselves – I was happy to realise that this was the one type of relief I was not in need of.

At around 10pm, just over six hours after I was initially arrested, we were suddenly asked to stand up.  I almost collapsed as my knees screamed bloody murder.  Leaning on the man in front of me, I steadied myself and we filed out of the room and upstairs.  We were told to queue up in front of a notice board.  I read the yellowed certificates and newspaper clippings in recognition of the Police station’s valiant work of past decades.

Once again we were pulled aside, one by one, and our details recorded.  Depending on the answer you gave, you were directed to one of two corners of the room.  I readied myself once again.  Same BBC accent, same reply of “Adam, what, Ramsey?” But this time, for a reason I still cannot figure out, I was separated from the rest and placed in a different corner by myself.

I stayed there silently while they sorted through the two groups, one with around 12 men and the other closer to 50.  All looked exhausted, the blood on their shirts now that dull brown colour.

After some paperwork and backslapping the policemen sent the larger group back downstairs.  The smaller group and I were free to leave.  I immediately searched for a man I could communicate in English with.  One man cordially obliged, until I began asking questions like “Why was I detained? I had a press pass issued in Egypt.”  Suddenly, he became a mute, all hand signs, shakes of the head and dumbfounded expression.

I later found out that another foreign journalist had been detained in almost exactly the same area at exactly the same time as me.  Having spoken to him about it, there is a good chance we actually travelled to the station in the same van, but he was sitting in the front.  While I was on my knees, he was being questioned in an office ten meters away.  The main differences between us that I could see were that: he is a little whiter than me; had his passport on him; yet he did not have an Egypt-approved press pass.  The value of a press pass is questionable when it doesn’t guarantee a journalist is free from harassment or arbitrary detention.

The question is not just why a foreign national, or a journalist, can be detained like this, but why such conditions continue at all, for anyone.  What I experienced looks dramatic on paper, but in reality, it was relatively trivial.  I was kept for around 7 hours, that’s it.  It’s a nightmare reality that gets much worse for far too many, far too often.  Think of the Frenchman that was murdered in his cell, the Canadians who eventually went on hunger strike, the Al Jazeera reporters who are still being detained.  Never mind the thousands of normal Egyptians that you won’t have heard of who are still in prison, some being tortured.  These conditions have existed through Mubarak, The SCAF, Morsi and now Sisi.  It’s nothing new.

But in the current nationalistic rapture, the state security can (and do) now point to a popular approval as mandating them and therefore endorsing these methods.  It brings to mind Alexis De Tocqueville’s concept of the ‘tyranny of the majority’, where the sovereignty of this or that majority trumps the sovereignty of mankind – a lamentable state of affairs.

Walking down the street I flag a taxi to take me home.  “Welcome to Egypt” says the taxi driver with a grin.  On the radio ‘Teslam el Ayady’ is playing.

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What Happened to Democracy, Freedom, Stability?

First published in the New Internationalist on 2 July

The day before Mohamed Morsi was sworn into power as Egypt’s first civilian President in 2012, he came to a packed Tahrir Square and opened his jacket to show the jubilant crowd that he was wearing no body armour. A ‘man of the people’, he promised them ‘a new life of absolute freedom, a genuine democracy, and stability’.

His one-year anniversary as president, 30 June, was a date that many had marked in their calendars, but not as one of celebration, with talk of a ‘second revolution’ to overthrow the ‘illegitimate’ president. Egyptians began stocking up on food and fuel, wary of the possibility of an even more turbulent phase in the coming weeks, perhaps months.

As it happened, the date itself drew an unprecedented number of Egyptians into the streets. Numbers in a group can be difficult to judge, but when ‘millions’ seems a safe estimate, you know you are witnessing something historic.

For now, the main opposition groups, themselves an amalgamation of uneasy alliances, have managed to rally around the ‘Tamarod’ (Rebel) campaign’s call for mass protests.

Angry at his mishandling of the economy; his November declaration; and his inability to establish security, they are asking for Morsi to step down and for early elections to be called. In two months they managed to gather 22 million signatories (although this figure is impossible to verify) – 9 million more than voted for Morsi in last year’s elections.

But statements from the Tamarod campaign have caused confusion as to the level of support it actually has. The movement’s willingness to apply the maxim ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ to its full potential has alienated many Egyptians who don’t suffer from such short-term memory loss.

While walls still bear graffiti with sentiments such as ‘Fuck SCAF’ (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) and ‘Down with the military rule’, the Tamarod campaign has been fawning over the military and, incredibly, the much-hated Interior Ministry.

Seas of red cards have been waved around in places like Tahrir. One side reads ‘Red card for Mohamed Morsi. Leave’; the other proclaims: ‘The army, the people and the Interior Ministry are one hand.’ This is a sentiment that leaves many of my Egyptian friends exasperated.

Nevertheless, that so many people are willing to overlook the historically disastrous and often deadly relationship between the army and the Interior Ministry speaks volumes as to how much ire Morsi has managed to inspire in his first year of premiership. ‘As long as Morsi leaves, I am happy. He must leave, for Egypt[‘s sake], that is the most important thing right now,’ says Mohamed Sharif, a protester in Tahrir Square.

Meanwhile, the pro-Morsi, pro-Muslim brotherhood camp is incensed at the idea that early elections could ever be called for. Although many that once voted for him have now become part of the opposition, the majority of his support base see it that Morsi won a fair election and is thus guaranteed four years in office. If the opposition forces manage to annul this constitutionally bound law, then it sets a troubling precedent that may portend a never-ending cycle of constant calls of illegitimacy for succeeding presidents – a point made by Morsi himself.

Were Morsi to stand down and call for early elections, however unlikely that currently is, then a backlash would be almost certain. A very sizeable group, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, would feel aggrieved. Having spent the vast majority of their existence in persecution, they would see this as yet another example of unjust discrimination.

Many of the anti-Morsi groups are wary of calling for military intervention, a scenario that the army has not ruled out. Still others would be happy to see it happen, if only because it seems the only plausible way that Morsi would heed the calls of early elections.

At the time of writing, at least 10 people have been killed and over 500 injured since 30 June. The deaths occurred within Cairo and south of Cairo in the cities of Beni Suef and Assiut, but the overall level of violence, particularly when the numbers are borne in mind, are much smaller than many had anticipated.

For now, the unexpectedly high turnout for the 30 June protests has inspired the Tamarod campaign to send President Morsi an ultimatum: resign by Tuesday, or face a mass campaign of civil disobedience.

Late on Sunday evening the Presidential spokesperson asserted that the only way out of the current political impasse would be dialogue. Inviting all the major opposition parties, he said that ‘dialogue is the only way to reach a consensus’, adding: ‘The presidency aims to reach serious national reconciliation to pull the country out of its current state of polarisation.’ The problem with this route is that calls for national dialogue have been rejected again and again and again in the past.

Then, on 1 July, the head of Egypt’s armed forces, General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, took everyone by surprise and issued his own 48-hour ultimatum. Choosing his words carefully (he never said Morsi had to go), he said that the ‘unprecedented turnout’ signalled that the parties must come together to ‘meet the people’s demands’ or face a military-imposed roadmap for the country’s political future.

Morsi was quick to rebuff this statement and labelled it an effective coup d’état that would never succeed without the backing of the Americans. However, as time passes, it seems that Morsi’s future has crossed a Rubicon and those out protesting know it.

Five ministers have now resigned following the protests, including the Foreign Minister. Pro and anti-Morsi groups have met this breaking news with anger and delight respectively so now, as each side becomes more desperate, more clashes seem likely. It seems beyond doubt that the next few weeks will be momentous for Egypt’s future.

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Inflated Empathy

In the aftermath of a tragic event, assessing our reactions gives much away as to our biases and calls into evaluation our paths to response.  Ignoring the unfortunately large groups in our communities who are struck down with suffocating apathy, I plan to focus on those that do spare moments contemplation.

The general paths to their reactions, ignoring their final points of view for now, tend to a neat bifurcation: intuitive and deliberative.  This concept, of our minds working in split modes, is nothing new and can be traced back as far as Plato.  Adam Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiments distinguished our decision-making capacities into the realm of “the passions” and “the impartial spectator”.

More recently Daniel Kahneman, an Israeli-American psychologist, discerned the possibility of having two systems of decision-making.  System One, where we “respond to the World in a way we are not conscious of, that we don’t control”, and System Two, which is the reasoning system; “it’s conscious, it’s slower, serial, effortful…”

As it happens, neuroscientists have been able to supply some evidence to support Kahneman’s claim in the form of MRI scans. Whereby responses that correspond to System One light up the (much earlier evolved) limbic region of the brain, System Two employs the usage of the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that is much larger in Humans than in animals.  Interestingly, Kahneman distinguishes between decision-making in Systems One and Two through the amount of effort that is employed in reaching said decision.

Whereas Kahneman and Smith were referring to decision-making within the paradigm of economics (Kahneman won a Nobel Prize in Economics and Smith’s Wealth of Nations is practically Economics’ magnum opus) so it seems that the basic tenets can be applied wider, to the way that we process news of potentially great influence.

It seems that when we hear about something that has happened in the news, we almost exclusively react in a way that corresponds to “the passions”.  A decision that is quickly spewed out after little to no contemplation and one that relies almost purely on some baseless empathetic reference point – a preconditioned bias.

Either the person has some emotional bond with the people or the area involved in the news, in which case System One quickly overrides the lethargy of System Two, or they process the information with little more than a shrug.  Either way, thought (slow, conscious, serial, effortful thought) is employed at a minimum in realising our reactions.

The major problem with the over-reliance in emotion in focusing our empathy is that it is a path that relies on little more than arbitrary antecedents.  How is it ever going to be possible to employ equal empathy if we are basing our reactions on something as capricious as bias?

The obvious point here is that our skewed base of knowledge, our prejudice, often results in ways that are out of our hands.  It can depend on the school you went to, which in turn could depend on the income of your family.  It could be a result of anything from the place of your birth, to the religion you were born in to, to the very make-up of your brain.  The ‘nature-nurture’ reasons for your actions are endless, as are your corresponding actions and thoughts.

So when we come to try to understand something of some moral worth, we should not keep ourselves shackled to the lowly floor of fickle preconceptions, but rather employ our logic and reasoning to give our empathy a weight that may make a change, perhaps even demand a change.  However, the current news media model of ‘newsworthiness’ based on numbers is stifling this possibility at inception.

The status quo is such that we are often shepherded into points of view that may not have come about of our own reasoned thought process.  There is a pernicious cycle within the process of information distribution and the ‘demand’ that calls for it.  We have been basing our views, our outrage, our readership and, more recently, our Internet traffic, on topics that catch the fancy.  This feeds back into the editorial rooms and the focus is in turn placed in that general area/topic, be it: celebrity culture, child abuse or terrorism.

As such, what happens is we are told what to think and why to think it (normally through vetted information).  These are extremely pervasive, and perverse, methods and it is far too often the case that someone holds a certain view without having given the slightest consideration to it.  A high and mighty opinion built on a foundation of very little of anything, particularly thought.

We bandy about our views, which we have accepted immediately, and under no scrutiny, from someone else.  From this we create our predisposed biases; our empathetic base points.  We bleed our hearts for certain tragedies and not others.  We misuse our empathetic qualities with such regularity that their worth has depreciated.

There is an argument that could be made, sticking with economics, that with such arbitrarily selfish passions, a large enough number would create a regression to the ‘mean’.  If there were enough of us, and enough diversity within our groups, tragedies would be equally mourned, as there would always be those that have the corresponding preconditioned bias to mourn them.  Of course, when the media plays to a presiding discourse, or when the factors of lobbying and politics come into the sphere of influence, this just isn’t the case (please see, Palestine)

The obvious solution would be to advocate for a greater usage of System Two, the impartial spectator.  The trouble lies in the effort required in this way of digesting information.  It is tiring.  That’s the very thing that Kahneman pointed to in differentiating between Systems One and Two: the effort involved in making a decision.

But this seems such a small price to pay, if you even consider ‘thinking’ a price, for creating grounded and well-focused empathetic release.  An extra minute or two in trying to understand the full ramifications, the externalities, the reasons, if perhaps not justifications, for whatever has happened can supply us with a greater level of understanding and a ‘truer’ empathy than if we were to simply rely on knee-jerk ‘passionate’ reactions.

How is it possible for us to hold, not only our news providers, but our very governments to account, if we allow ourselves to be manipulated and molested by our ‘passions’, our System One form of information processing, our predisposed biases that are themselves a result of lazy information critique.

So while this call for more people to give a damn, a real fucking damn, may fall on deaf or unwanting ears, it seems to me a most obvious point to make nonetheless.  The changes in this World demand better attention, from us, it’s the absolute least that we could do; to take an extra minute or two and really try to stop accepting the typically blunt black/white, us/them discourse that is all too often found in our media.

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Tensions Over Egypt’s Referendum Results

First published in the New Internationalist on December 24, 2012

On the evening of 22 December 2012, Egypt watched the primary results begin to trickle in after the divisive voting process of its constitutional referendum. Early figures indicate the ‘yes’ vote,  in support of the new charter, received around 64 per cent of the final result.  Only 3 of Egypt’s 27 governorates came out as ‘no’ victories, one of which was Cairo.

The referendum had been staggered over two consecutive Saturdays after a large number of judges refused to supervise the voting process in protest at President Mohamed Morsi’s 22 November Constitutional Decrees. They claimed Morsi’s self designated ‘immunity’ to them was an affront to the independence of their judicial branch of power.

Egypt’s provisional constitution mandates that members of the judiciary must oversee referendums and elections. The lack of judicial administration was a major worry for the president as it threatened any result’s legitimacy, but eventually 8,800 judges agreed to supervise.

Nonetheless, there have been accusations of voting improprieties during both rounds of the referendum: from vote rigging, to delays in opening polling stations, to absent judges.

The umbrella opposition group, the National Salvation Front (NSF), claimed to have witnessed ‘unprecedented rigging’ , including 750 violations across all 10 governorates in the first round. The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) referred some 350 complaints from the first round to the Supreme Electoral Commission.

Despite the questions raised, the result itself will come as little surprise to most.  The opposition forces have long been divided on how to approach this referendum and perhaps it was this discord that cost them.

The ideologically inclined were pushing for a boycott on what they see as a wholly illegitimate process, whilst the more pragmatic implored a vote no. Even the NSF were unable to decide where they stood until just three days before the first round of the referendum, when they finally called on the people of Egypt to vote no.

Early reports on turnout indicate around 32 to34 per cent of the electorate, the numbers are incredibly low. To put this into perspective, the UK’s lethargic ‘Alternative Vote’ referendum in 2011 managed to get 42 per cent of the electorate to take part.

Political ennui and fatigue are sure to have contributed somewhat to Egypt’s poor turnout, but once you consider the ubiquity of the constitution in local media and the heated discussions that always seem to arise once the topic is brought up, it seems implausible to put too much weight on apathy.

The problem is that, by definition, boycotts are impossible to tally up, thus the extent to which this may have affected the final results are unknowable, especially given that thre were debates within the opposition about strategies right up until the final day’s voting.

An Egyptian man who wished to remain anonymous stated, ‘If you boycotted this referendum, then don’t come crying to us [the ‘no’ voters] about the state of this country… What do you achieve by boycotting? Nothing! You had to vote no to confront Morsi’. The man has been camping in Tahrir Square for the past three weeks and proudly states he will stay there and protest ‘until I die’ if necessary.

For now, the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi have the opportunity to capitalize on this victory.  They need to desperately turn their attention to softening the rhetoric, halting the ridiculous talk of conspiratorial coups and in so doing, hopefully slow the expanding disparity between the two sides.

Morsi recently postponed the implementation of his economic reforms in order to run a ‘social dialogue’ but with the NSF having refused every invitation to a national dialogue so far, it seems like the divisions of the past month, between Morsi’s Islamist supporters and the secular and liberal opposition, is likely to continue.

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Crisis Control: Morsi’s latest Non-Concession

“No ruler of any kind, qua ruler, exercises his authority, whatever its sphere, with his own interest in view, but that of the subject of his skill.  It is his subject and his subject’s proper interest to which he looks in all he says and does.” – The Republic

That Mohamed Morsi is partial to reading Plato in his spare time is unknown, but his management of the situation – since his ‘power-grabbing’ November 22nd Constitutional Decree until its annulment late on December 8th – suggests, at the very least, an affinity with Platonic sovereignty as well as a sly nod to Niccolo Machiavelli.

After a 9-hour ‘national dialogue meeting’ that excluded both Mohamed Morsi and the main opposition figures of the National Salvation Front (NSF), it was announced that the decree which had caused so much outrage was to be annulled.  International Media celebrated this ‘concession’ as a major breakthrough in the political impasse.

Morsi’s main defence on the appropriation of his vast powers was in a need to protect and speed up the process through which the country’s governmental foundations could be laid, and in so doing, allow Egypt’s real journey towards prosperity and justice to begin.

In other words, he deemed that due process and the concept of democracy outside of the ballot box – never mind public opinion – could take a backseat while he frogmarched the masses towards a future they didn’t even know they all wanted.  Within Morsi’s decree, the most important was the sudden unassailability of the contentious constituent assembly.

The deteriorating, and suddenly untouchable, constituent assembly – almost exclusively made up of old Islamist men – worked long hours to rush through a final draft before the Constitutional Court could pass a verdict on the Assembly’s representative legitimacy.

The question of legitimacy lay in the assembly’s make up: It’s 100-strong members had been proportionally drawn from the lower house of parliament; itself dissolved 5 months prior after it was discovered that independent seats had gone to party-affiliated candidates, such as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

The actual contents of the final draft seemed to invoke criticism from nearly every group bar those affiliated with the FJP. “A constitution that eliminates rights and limits freedoms. No to Dictatorship” was a message printed in 11 independent newspapers.  The full front page of the Egypt Independent newspaper this week simply read, “We object to continued restrictions on media liberties, especially after hundreds of Egyptians gave their lives for freedom and dignity.”

FJP senior advisor Gehad El-Haddad was kinder in his analysis, “It’s not perfect, but I think it s a very good basis from which we can move forward” although even he lamented the “compromising language” in some of the articles.

Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood appeared to have overestimated the political torpor of the Egyptian populace and overplayed their hand: a strangely naïve move that may be put down to a sudden surge in hubris after his praised role in the Gaza-Israel peace brokerage.

The masses came out as protests swept through the governorates. Opposition figureheads capitalised on the situation, uniting to create the ‘National Salvation Front’ (NSF) and gaining popular acceptance. In what is a symbiotic relationship, the people give the opposition figures the critical mass necessary to put demands to Morsi, while the protesters could now demonstrate under the political aegis of the NSF and avoid being easily labelled ‘heretical traitors’.

Meanwhile the Pro-Morsi side came out in support of the President.  The Muslim Brotherhood wanted to show the watching world that they too had numbers and outside Cairo University tens of thousands of pro-Morsi Egyptians showed up and duly answered the call.

Both sides rallied peacefully when separated, but the violence that eventually materialised 5 days ago in Heliopolis was inevitable.  The Muslim Brotherhood called on a march to where anti-Morsi protesters were demonstrating and the two-sides finally met – 8 people dying as a result.

The NSF said they would only enter into dialogue with Morsi after an annulment of his 22nd November decrees and a postponement on the referendum.  Morsi began borrowing from Mubarak’s playbook with paranoid conspiracy talk of “fifth columnists” before eventually succumbing to the pressure from the street and rescinding his decree of judicial immunity – but is this really a concession?

Those placated are the armed forces and the judges: Morsi had time to pass a law that grants the armed forces power of arrest and detainment of civilians (effective martial law); and the judges will be pleased that he is no longer above the law (a point that had them initially threatening to boycott supervision of the referendum, thus jeopardising its legitimacy).

The major point to note is that the referendum is still due to take place on December 15th.  What is arguably an illegitimate constitution has bypassed judicial scrutiny via Morsi’s initial decree and is now to be judged by the ballot box in 6 days time.

This is the reason why many in the opposition say there has been no concession.  The main point of contention was the validity of the assembly and any draft they released.  This point remains.  Instead, Morsi has rescinded his powers a week early (for it was due to expire after the voting anyway) and in so doing, offered a superficial misdirect while preserving the referendum.

Whereas the Muslim Brotherhood are, as an Egyptian journalist for Bloomberg put it to me, “very good at the ballot boxes”, the opposition are divided in whether to vote ‘no’, or to boycott what they see as an unreservedly illegitimate referendum.

In a press conference last night the NSF again announced their “total rejection” of the draft constitution and the referendum.  Never explicitly calling for a boycott or a vote saying ‘no’, they instead reiterated their call for peaceful protests to continue.

Therein lies the problem of the opposition forces, whether now or 20 months ago, they are in unison when objecting, but divided when it comes to offering answers, thereby giving the object of their ire more room for manoeuvre.  Room that, in this case, Morsi is fully capitalising on.

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Taking Liberties

This is true liberty, when free-born men,
Having to advise the public, may speak free,
Which he who can, and will, deserves high praise;
Who neither can nor will, may hold his peace:
What can be juster in a state than this?
- Euripid. Hicetid

It is difficult to overstate the importance that freedom of speech has on our lives; allowing anyone the opportunity to impugn, put forward or criticise an idea or status quo that was itself brought about through the medium of free speech and expression.

It is a bastion of our individuality in the ongoing tug of war between state-rule and self-rule. Countless philosophers and politicians have argued as to where to draw the line between the Leviathan’s sphere of influence and the individual’s existentialist boundaries.  Across the pond, the libertarians are alive and well – albeit in the form of the intransigent Tea party movement – whilst in the ‘Emerald Isle’ the idea of privatisation brings thousands out in protest.

Yet they share common ground in their ability to speak out.  It is this ability to speak out and protest, against what they consider injustices, which prevents our lives from continuing on in indifference.  Its continued practice never allows the progress of society to fall into torpor and indolence. It is the right of everyone to speak their mind, however misinformed or seemingly foolish, without regard to their background or wealth.  Every person can and should use this right.  Our ability to criticise and enter into discussion is the fuel that keeps the engines of our civilisation progressing.

Moreover, it is not just the right of the person to speak but also the right of you and me to hear what they have to say, no matter how absurd.  I have memories of being in Hyde Park passing Speaker’s Corner and listening to the men and women as they spouted, mainly, nonsensical themes to the surrounding crowds from upon their soapboxes.  And while they were interpolating, mainly, frivolous topics, there could just as easily have been a person actively denying the holocaust, or proposing racist ideology.

The act of heretics, contrarians and iconoclasts, they who go against popular opinion and cherished views, have just as much, if not more importance in the arena of discussion precisely because they are proposing an unconventional opinion.  Their ability to speak must be upheld.  Their point may even contain a grain of historical truth, and if nothing else, will shake you from intellectual laziness and make you question why you hold the beliefs you do.  Creating and understanding first principles is extremely important if we are to reliably draw from these axioms for future thought.

Have you ever wondered why you know the world is not flat?  What would you say if you met with a young-earth creationist?  Do not seek shelter in the false security of consensus.

Censorship persists in our lives, whether in more obvious forms, such as the archaic and immensely stupid blasphemy laws, or in the more subtle forms where one is passively forced into intellectual dishonesty.  This is a fact that I see as a crying shame, breaking with Shakespeare’s well known maxim “To thine own self be true”, yet the vast majority of people would consent to the existence of some form of law curbing freedom of speech and expression.

They argue that it shouldn’t be legal to incite hatred, violence, crime and lies.  But I put it to them that it is through these incitements that one learns the extent to which a group or individual is thinking.  What we see when we hear them and what we hear when we see them is an invaluable source in unveiling a problem, that until then, may have simply festered in silence, until the pressure is released in ways greatly exacerbated and perhaps unmanageable.

Saying that homosexuals are sub-human, claiming that the wretched woman is incapable of doing a man’s job, or drawing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad are not crimes.  But those that seek to withhold the rights of the LGBT community, pay women less, and seek beheadings as reaction must be held accountable.  In the aftermath of the Prophet Cartoons saga in Denmark, almost every institution condemned the cartoons, but failed to condemn those that called for, and got, blood in revenge.  Where are your priorities?

When someone utters an idiocy such as a homophobic rant, they must be ready for the barrage of counter arguments coming their way.  But, nevertheless, they should be allowed to speak their idiotic statements.  To quote Voltaire: “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

If someone speaks an untruth, I have no doubt that it will be exposed as just that, but only by those willing to listen and argue against.  In essence, I advocate the dialectic in search for the truth.  The fear of offending or provoking should be a straitjacket that constrains no one but the reality of having to defend your position should give you moment’s pause.

It should be noted that being offended is a purely subjective act and there are those that are so happy to be affronted that they actively go out looking for it.  The joke goes that when Dr Samuel Johnson completed his great lexicon, many delegations met with him to congratulate him.  One of the delegations was a group of respectable women from London:

“Dr Johnson, we are delighted to find that you did not include any indecent or obscene words in your dictionary”.

“Ladies” replied Johnson “I congratulate you on being able to look them up”.

One must understand that the groups of those determined to be offended will go out of their way to satisfy their needs; willing to go through a treasure trove of English language to find some filthy words to fulfil some instinct, about which I dare not speculate…

And who, I wonder, is the person you would entrust with the impossible task of deciding what is ‘right’ for you or I?  Who decides what can be said, read or thought?  I do not know of a single person in the history of our species who would be suitable.  Anyone who puts themselves forward to be the stalwart of censorship is by default, unsuitable. Their presence opens a most menacing doorway into an Orwellian dystopia of ignorance and doublethink.

Anyone claiming the right by knowing the mind of God is either a charlatan or an idiot.  In the words of the Iranian polymath Omar Khayyam:

And do you think that unto such as you?
A maggot-minded starved, fanatic crew
God gave the secrets and denied it me?
Well, well, what matters it, believe that too.

Not long ago, a Somali comedian was murdered in cold blood.  He has shot, point blank, in the head and the chest.  His crime – poking fun at Islamist militants.  Again, I reiterate, whenever someone says, writes or creates anything that you may deem heretical, they must be given extra protection by you and by the state, for they are adding something to the table that was previously missing.

This showcases the religious threat, but rather than have myself expatiate its horrors in the realms of free expression, criticism and emancipation, I shall instead offer the prose of Karl Marx in his Introduction to his Critique on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.  The first page is all that is necessary to understand the point, but continue if you so please, for who am I to tell you what you cannot read?

Freedom of the press is an obvious arm of free speech, with state-run papers being viewed, rightly in my opinion, with a hint of cynicism and a raised eyebrow whenever they critique domestic politics.  But the strong arm of censorship runs deeper into the ‘Independent’ papers too, with their shareholders invariably having a say when a story threatens a conflict of (their) interest.

A few months ago, the Journalist syndicate in Cairo convened to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the appointment of the latest chief editors for the country’s state-run papers.  They were aware that the government’s appointments to the 5 major state-run newspapers were almost certainly going to affect their freedom in criticising the ruling powers. The new editors would be foolish to so quickly turn on the powers that granted them such high positions.  You do not bite the hand that feeds, as the saying goes.

It has always been the first practice of a dictator after they have secured the loyalty of the army to then secure the provisions of the Press, for this had always been the main source of knowledge for the proletariat.  However, with the advent of the Internet another vast channel of free speech and knowledge opened up; yet another channel that the totalitarian needs to close.

One must only look to the last true dictatorship in Europe, Belarus, to see the evidence.  It claims to run a free press, yet it is illegal to write anything slanderous about the despotic President, Alexander Lukashenko.  Exactly who falls afoul of the critical-slanderous line is obviously up to Lukashenko’s cronies and there have been disappearances of several Belarusian journalists.  It is this omnipresent threat that made Freedom House, a trusted independent monitor, call Belarus’ freedom of press and internet ‘not free’.

Stop someone from speaking; withhold something they have written; or bury something they have created and you are in essence making yourself a prisoner of your own actions.  You are denying yourself in advance; you are creating a rod for your own back, for in the subjective realm of censorship, all is fair game when it comes to closing avenues of learning.

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