While cycling through the news a few days ago, I read a story that struck me as particularly off-putting, both because of its nature and its lack of coverage in the mainstream media. The story was about Islam Gawish, a prolific Egyptian cartoonist who was arrested for his moderate satirization of top government officials working in human rights organizations. Gawish, relative to other government critics, is seen as moderate, thus the arrest came as a surprise for many. According to the New York Times, however, the Egyptian government has been finding it difficult to crack down on active dissent online because of the vast, elusive nature of the internet; therefore, anyone who is seen as “against the government” in any way, whether moderate or liberal, is viewed as an enemy (Gawish, in this case).
Although I was aware of the Egyptian government’s negative attitude toward humans’ rights activists and journalists, it appears that the scope of its actions has not reached “Western” news as much as it should. Since the 2011 revolution, there hasn’t been much Western news coverage regarding Egypt.
I decided to find out more.
In 2011, Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak was forced out of office by a widespread uprising that the Egyptian public’s discontent with the poverty, political repression, and corruption catalyzed. After the new Presidential elections took place in early 2012, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi, assumed his position in office and began to lead Egypt into its post-Mubarak period. The Muslim Brotherhood’s victory was only short-lived, however, because of a military coup enacted by the commanding general in Egypt’s military, General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. The coup d’etat occurred in 2013, and, in 2014, El-Sisi ran for President of Egypt during elections and ended up with a victory.
Though there has been much political turmoil in Egypt since 2011, the dynamic between media activists and dissenters and the government for various offenses has become much more complicated since Mubarak’s fall from power. This may be in part due to the fact that once Mubarak’s reign came to an end, the Egyptian media was ostensibly granted much more freedom under Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. This party, which was overthrown in the coup of 2013 by the military, promoted democracy, but nonetheless, the Egyptian people had grown weary of hollow governmental placation about fixing corruption and oppression, and El-Sisi took office. The Muslim Brotherhood’s office in government was eradicated, and its political ideals were made illegal after Morsi was ousted.
Under El-Sisi, Egypt’s media has now been on high alert because of his near full-fledged paranoia about journalists and activists who dissent against his government. According to a report done by the Huffington Post, many of the journalists that have been arrested by El-Sisi’s regime have been from the Qatari-based news network, Al-Jazeera, because they have been criticizing him in favor of the now illegal Muslim Brotherhood. El-Sisi has been keen on attempting to quell terrorism within the country’s borders, but, in doing so, has created a government on-edge, namely, one that may take irrational steps in declaring what is terrorism and what is not (i.e. arresting journalists and cartoonists without much warrant).
As a response to the arrests, many people both inside and outside of Egypt have taken to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to express their contempt of the Egyptian government. In an age that is saturated with technology and the internet, it now appears that these platforms are the real force behind fighting the practices of the government, not only because they are able to disseminate the word out to the Egyptian public, but also because the accessibility of something like Twitter raises awareness in the Western world. Hashtags such as #ThisisEgypt allow users around the globe to tune into different opinions and perspectives about what is occurring in Egypt.
The question now becomes: How do we focus attention on how to stop these unwarranted arrests from happening? Unfortunately, there is no concrete foreign policy answer for this tough question because of the complicated nature of Egypt’s political problems. Maybe social media’s influence may be strong enough in the near future to raise awareness enough for the rest of the world to come up with a strong-minded solution that El-Sisi must abide by.
- James Sabia