Paranoia is a strange phenomenon. It inhabits the mind and inhibits our actions. It seems to change the perceptions of said mind into one of constant suspicion, such that one is relentlessly on the lookout; engaging the sensory faculties at such a high order and for such long periods of time that one quickly becomes exhausted. I must confess it is a sensation I have been lucky to escape. However, on arriving in Egypt and watching my comrades, it seems that it is only a matter of time until I too succumb to it.
This morning, a couple of Egyptian public service announcements began trending on the Internet. The story in the video follows that ‘foreigners’ (unspecified nationality in the video, but he does appear to say “really?” in English at one point) can seem very nice, but many are, in actual fact, spies; and you as an upstanding Egyptian are destroying your country by speaking to them and telling them of all the problems you have – in this case, with the military and education. The videos can be found on YouTube, and more worryingly still, on the local ‘Nile’ TV stations, ensuring millions of Egyptians are exposed to this propaganda. The very existence of such footage can only serve to accelerate the growing, but still fairly minor (to my experience), xenophobic tendencies some Egyptians harbour towards foreigners whilst simultaneously feeding on the paranoia that so many foreigners endure. Are they being paranoid? Or is their paranoia actually diligence in light of the facts? It can only be said that this is a damning piece of evidence that points to their ‘diligence’ rather than their ‘paranoia’.
I have only been in Egypt some 3 weeks now, yet I have heard of several friends of friends, whose paranoia has left them as self-imposed prisoners in their own homes. They dare not venture out their houses for fear of being followed, arrested or having false accusations thrown at them.
One close fixer friend of mine has developed a drinking problem as a result of a bad experience with the police. A fixer is a person who can help get the contacts a journalist needs and so, out of nowhere he found himself being slapped with an ‘assaulting a minor’ charge and was soon behind bars in the local police station. He declares himself innocent and I don’t doubt the veracity of his plea for one second. After all, he was arrested at the same time as 6 other fixers who were all slammed with the same charge.
Once released on bail, there was never any attempt at following up on the initial indictment, for that was never the point of the arrest. They did not want to lock him up, they wanted him to know that they were aware of what he was doing and they wanted him to spread the word that they were all being monitored. They wanted the spectre of ‘Big Brother’ to loom over all of the existing and potential ‘dissenters’ and dissuade them from continuing in their endeavours as facilitators of a free and well-informed press.
There is a worrying increase in the xenophobic tendencies of local Egyptians, and unsurprisingly a distinct positive correlation between the ill feelings of the locals (towards other Egyptians as well as foreigners) and the sense of paranoia exhibited by those being targeted. Propaganda like these state videos do not help matters.
“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you” – Yossarian, Catch 22