“I ask you to remain united – it’s our best weapon. It shows we are determined to fight against anything that can divide us. We must not be divided.”
Those were the words of French President François Hollande in response to the tragic terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine headquarters more than a week ago. They rang true with the French people, who took to the streets last Sunday in what was called ‘the largest demonstration in French history’.
A show of their unity. An affirmation of their right to free speech. An unrelenting stand in the face of oppressive terrorism.
Watching the massive rally and the inspiring cohesion with which the French, and indeed the entire world, came together in light of this tragedy, one cannot help but wonder: what if the situation was here in Egypt?
How similar (or different) would reactions be to this tragic event? What kind of responses would a terrorist-driven attack on free speech garner here in Egypt, a country whose very definition of free speech has always been a very elastic one? One that could be swiftly turned into ‘incitement of unrest’, ‘debauchery’ and even ‘contempt of religion’.
Let us imagine the cascade of events that would surely follow a similar tragedy should it happen in Egypt. While it is quite unfathomable that an Egyptian magazine would publish cartoons degrading of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), it is not unheard of that Islamist organisations have previously labelled certain writers, journalists and thinkers as ‘infidels’ and declared their killing a holy duty (much like the case of late writer and thinker Farag Fouda in the 90s).
Should this happen again in a similar fashion and magnitude to the Charlie Hebdo murders, what would the official responses be?
Unquestionably, a swiftly written statement from the Egyptian Presidency condemning the attacks, and declaring a three-day state of mourning with just the right sprinkle of nationalistic fervour, is sure to follow.
Promises will be made by the security apparatus to hunt down those responsible as soon as possible.
“…sources in the Egyptian Ministry of Interior, who have opted to remain anonymous, have hinted at possible Muslim Brotherhood involvement in the terrorist attack”
Perhaps a news piece like this one will circulate news channels and media outlets, plastering the crime on the outlawed organisation. It doesn’t matter if there’s no evidence to back those claims up, the charges were made and the sentence announced, providing the MOI more reason for a harder crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Much like Hollande urged the French people to take to the streets in response to the calamity, maybe the Egyptian president will do the same, and it certainly would not be the first time.
Egyptians, of course, will answer the call and rally to the streets much like they did before and, possibly, in numbers to rival those of the Parisian rally.
But how much of the unity shown by the French will be exhibited by the Egyptian people? A people that remain divided, in essence, ever since their 25th of January revolution between pro-state, anti-coup, pro-revolution, anti-revolution, anti-MB, anti-coup yet anti-MB etc.
This Egyptian version of the rally will, undoubtedly, offer an ample opportunity for much political gain.
“In the days following the massive rallies, the Egyptian president has decreed a state-wide emergency law effective immediately ‘to battle the black roots of terrorism which have plagued this country for so long and protect the lives and rights of the great Egyptian people'”
It would not be the first time an Egyptian official used massive demonstrations as a tool to enforce strict, sometimes even harsh, security measures.
Such a decree will undoubtedly divide the public around it. A great portion of the older generations of citizens will see it as a needed measure to achieve stability, perhaps only because its what they heard on the news channels from various political party heads, strategic analysts and ex-army generals who always seem to materialise out of nowhere to populate media outlets whenever such decrees hit the news.
However, some voices will still ring with dissent. The younger masses mainly. Political activists. The revolutionaries, as they have come to be called. But, these voices will be drowned out in the much larger symphony of supporters. They will be reduced to a faint dissonance in the larger musical score; and if that is not enough, the MOI have a state of emergency on their side.
The upcoming parliamentary elections? Delayed .
“Seeing as to the turbulent times the nation is going through and maintaining that it is the government’s unwavering resolve that the electorates’ safety is upheld above all else, the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt hereby decrees the upcoming parliamentary elections be postponed indefinitely until a time where it is deemed suitable that they be conducted. Long Live Egypt.”
Countless arrests will be made in the name of emergency law. In the name of ‘fighting terrorism’. The jails of Egypt will be stacked with more dissenters, who would be labelled ‘rioters’ and ‘Muslim Brotherhood elements’.
And the massacre against free speech? The very spark that set these wheels in motion?
The perpetrators of the horrendous attack against free speech would never be mentioned again by any official source, let alone caught or neutralized.
Another tragedy to be added to a long list of tragedies.