Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The invisible scarecrow

It is remarkable how little effort the footmen of a police state have to put into intimidation. The mere suggestion of a threat, of danger, is enough. The invisible scarecrow.

The strategy works because of the not knowing, the waiting, which entirely consumes novices. Every act, every decision, every word is suddenly imbued with a new significance. Immediately after the threat is received, things seem to speed up somehow, and the outside world retreats – or is blocked out - a little. External sounds become distant as the deafening fear courses through the bloodstream from the stomach and the heart until it reaches the head, where it sits like spilt oil on seawater, choking hope and happiness and normal thought.

And in that moment they've won.

The knowledge of being watched is suffocating. Its worst, most exhausting, aspect is that after they enter your head, they are in your home, at your work, in your car, in your street, everywhere you look. It is difficult to put into words the feelings induced by receiving a phone call at 1 a.m advising you to leave your house immediately because they might be coming for you. The mad 10 minute rush of getting dressed and putting basic essentials into a bag, waiting, waiting, waiting for the explosion. Your home suddenly transformed into a trap.

And then out into the night, and the comfort – or the illusion of comfort – provided by constant movement.

It's surprising how you can get used to fear, learn to live with it. Gradually it becomes yet another of the million things lurking at the back of your mind - the unreturned library books, the email not sent, the people not called.

The only bright spot in all this is people's support, their solidarity. Solidarity is a word often bandied around in activist statements etc. Its true worth can only be appreciated in situations when it is really needed. It is a life jacket. I will never forget the friends – Moftases, Abadodo, Sharshar - who dropped everything so I wouldn't be on my own, and Aida who unquestioningly gave me a bed in her home in the middle of the night, and Haitham or Umm Nakad who rang up to check on me periodically.

I'm so happy that Philip was released, but feelings of happiness have almost been obscured by anger: anger that this happened to him (would it have happened to a foreigner?), anger that these people have interrupted my and others' lives, anger that their sickness is allowed to spread through our society by the people in charge and their supporters abroad, anger about the people still in detention.

One day this will end, and hopefully it will be soon. When it does, it will because of people like Philip, whose first public statement on being released from his incommunicado detention was that the marches in solidarity with Gaza should continue.

To people reading this: next time you hear about someone in danger and are requested to join a protest or sign a petition or send a letter, don't hesitate. Please do it.


alaskablue said...

Thank you for your courage.
I live in America and am sorry to say that most people think I'm crazy for worrying about government spying on those who dissent. This is what the Patriot Act/ FISA amendment has done to me. I am always fearful and ill at ease when I speak up for the Palestinians and against what Israel is doing to them. But I do speak up, nevertheless.
I am ashamed that my government supports governments that suppress their people, not allowing dissent.
Here I am writing this, wondering if they will bother coming for an old woman who speaks her mind.

Scarr said...

Thanks Alaskablue. Keep up the good work.

Forsoothsayer said...

i will continue not to join protests and send letters and petitions because i've not seen any effects so far except for incarceration and intimidation which i'd prefer to avoid for the moment. but if u need anything let me know, seriously. i have a spare bed.

Anonymous said...

i have recently moved to cairo (am originally from the states) in the past couple of weeks. i am an international activist and
and i would love to talk to more about the political situation here in cairo. i realize that this is probably a strange and abrupt request but i am hoping if you read my will give you enough confidence that i am well...legit...either way your writing is superb. please leave a comment on my blog if you would like to converse...

Ma3t said...


I understand what you're saying. It gets to me too when ppl decide that the easiest thing to do is call for a protest. But sometimes it really makes a difference .
In 2006 when many were detained for their support of the Judges call for Independence of the judiciary system. Alaa Abdelfattah was one of the detainees. When he finally got his release order after more than 40 days of detention, and he was transfered to the police station for the processing of his release, we were more or less informed that they would not finish it and he'd get stuck for 2 more extra days because it was a weekend. This was just another attempt to break him. We were there infront of the station , and we had seen him minutes ago and never in my whole life have i ever seen him that exhausted or stressed, and he told us quite clearly that he can not handle another night there. The only reason they let him out rapidly within an hour is that we started to sms ppl and call them on the spot and ask them to gather there and demand his immediate release.and ppl started coming. They were unprepared for it, they were not going to be able to handle it, and before we know it he was out with us.

Sorry it was that long, there are many other examples, but I just wanted to show you that these actions are not necessarily futile and irrelevant.

Ana said...

Examples like that by Ma3t show that with repression and supression comes not only the worst in people, but also the best. For me it's interesting to read and observe what is going on in Egypt, though I've only been following for around 9 months, from a UK person's point of view. It's fascinating to see the power of the people (and their lack of when) when paralleled with the power of the state.

Strangely, it is through various 'Free [insert Egyptian blogger/political activist]' campaigns that I found out about Hicham Yezza [I'm not affiliated with the campaign in any way nor advertising it], the only campaign of its sort that I know about in the UK. It's intriguing to follow human rights (inc. the right to protest) and freedom of speech violations from a nation where, aside from the Yezza case, there doesn't seem to be many campaigns especially when our own right to protest is being eroded. Though what is happening in Egypt is not directly comparable to what is happening in the UK, it's a sorry state of affairs that these degrading erosion of civil liberties happen anywhere at all.
- Autobus.

Anonymous said...

Very moving post.

I was watching the other day a video, a filmed lecture posted on GoogleVideo, of Norman Finkelstein addressing the question of (in substance) what can we learn from Ghandi in the struggle for freedom and justice? After a lengthy, forensic examination of Ghandi's work he paraphrased an old popular song and said that, victory is possible if "WE KEEP OUR EYES ON THE TRUTH AND HOLD ON TO IT."
It struck me really, because it is so obvious and yet often forgotten.

INDEFATIGABILITY is the other dimension that I would add as a fundamental feature for anybody who wants to struggle for a just cause but who might be intimidated by the apparent immensity of the task. And here I think you're absolutely right... one needs support. Suddenly the notion of solidarity transforms from an abstract notion, into a strategic and practical feature of the struggle.

The despicable footmen of the police state in Egypt might have very little effort to put into their intimidation business, but I don't think they are completely unaffected or immune. They know in their heart's of heart that they are in the ugly side; they are the evil doers, they are the thugs and they are the ones that will be thrown in History's garbage bin. They feel guilty. They can't help feeling guilty. And this ends up corrupting and destroying them from the inside.

Philip and his likes have already entered History... these guys ARE making History. They have already won.

Anger is good so long as it doesn't affect your judgement which I don't think is the case. Beware of it transforming into something irrational, like hatred. Because if it does, then they have won.

In solidarity.

scribbled said...

authority is more afraid of the change that the power of people can bring about than we ever need be of them. they can take our freedoms and menace our thoughts with their soldiers and eyes, but all those are not instruments of power, but rather symptoms of their fear and illegitimacy. all illegitimate governments must fall and all failed states will crumble; we have both and we have no one else to make it right but ourselves. how and on what level is the only choice.