Every time I read the news from Egypt, the line “Meet the new boss/same as the old boss,” from the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who comes to mind.
Since the second anniversary of its Jan. 25, 2011, revolution, Egypt has found itself in turmoil yet again. Riots, protests and government crackdowns have filled the streets and the headlines. President Mohamed Morsi’s reactions have not inspired confidence in the new government but instead reflect the tactics of the old regime.
He enacted martial law and a curfew in Suez, Ismailia and Port Said, the cities where the most violence has occurred. His ability to enact martial law is a loophole frequently used by the ousted President Hosni Mubarak, and it was conveniently left in the law for use by his replacement. Under this martial law, many civil rights are voided and much of the legal process is suspended, allowing for quick and often under-scrutinized convictions.
Clashes between police, Morsi supporters and the opposition forces have taken dozens of lives and injured even more since Jan. 25. Many of those fatalities have occurred at the hands of police who shot live ammunition and tear gas into the crowds of protesters, as seen in many videos from the cities. But the Egyptian police seem to be exempt from the laws of the land or any sort of code of ethics. Only two officers have been sentenced in connection with violence since 2011.
Forceful attempts to subdue the unrest are now accompanied by a ban on YouTube waiting to be implemented. The judge that enacted the ban said it was to punish the video-sharing company for publishing the video “Innocence of Muslims” that sparked violence across the world last September. Though not a direct product of Morsi’s administration, the 30-day ban would set a dangerous precedent of censorship and restriction of freedom of speech that the original protestors fought so hard against.
In his speech on Jan. 27, Morsi not only omitted any mention of police brutality or excessive force but also suggested he was prepared to do more.
“There is no room for hesitation, so that everybody knows the institution of the state is capable of protecting the citizens,” he said. “If I see that the homeland and its children are in danger, I will be forced to do more than that. For the sake of Egypt, I will.”
But how can the government show it is capable of protecting the citizens when it is fighting the citizens? If Morsi plans on quelling these uprisings directly, he is going to have to use a massive show of force that much of the rest of the world will see as unforgivable. Not only is Morsi fighting the protestors, he is fighting the culture of revolution that was born in Egypt two years ago.
Though it is debatable whether the original revolution attained the government or leaders it wanted, it has irrevocably changed the landscape of the people’s minds. The Egyptian population has learned what it is capable of if it unites. They have learned that their thoughts and opinions matter if they make themselves heard. And most importantly, they believe the government should be a reflection of the people’s beliefs and desires.
Now the Egyptian leadership has a chance to prove they are different from the previous leaders. The recent protests are a viable test to the leadership’s capability to calm without crushing. Egypt is under much pressure to prove itself as a viable democracy, and the whole world is watching.
Morsi will now have to choose: Reform the system to fit the people, or squash the people into the form of his system.