Indirect Repression: When Reason is Eliminated

The Egyptian regime is currently ruling the country via strategies of increased repression, which is exercised both directly and indirectly. This is seen in its attempts to improve the economic and social conditions in the country, and in its populist rhetoric based on the myth of the “saving hero,” and the reinstatement of autocracy as the only way to save the state and society from the conspiracies and dangers which threaten them. 

Direct repression consists of recurrent violations to rights and freedoms and the exclusion of citizens from the public sphere when they refuse to give up their right to freely express their principles and convictions and insist on using their minds and listening to their consciences instead of blindly conforming to the sole opinion and position presented in the public discourse.  Indirect repression, on the other hand, makes use of specific acts of tyranny and constantly justifies the lack of democracy, defeating the minds and consciences of citizens by distorting moral judgment and promoting a false awareness.

Indirect repression has known strategies which have been developed and tested by undemocratic regimes throughout various periods in different states and societies.  From the 1950s until today (with limited, sporadic exceptions), Egypt has been nothing if not an arena for the development and testing of such strategies.

1. Fear of enemies both at home and abroad should be aroused.  These enemies should be described as if they were legendary beings whose destructiveness, violence, and thirst for blood cannot be escaped except through the “unilateral assistance” of a saving hero and the willingness to sacrifice rights and freedoms in exchange for security and bread.

2. The moral judgment of the people and their standards for ethically and rationally considering the matters at hand should be distorted until violations of the rights and freedoms of opponents of the regime, disregard for guarantees of equality before the law, official involvement in committing injustices against citizens, and the use of excessive force against citizens are understood to be “necessary for the protection of the state and society.”  Similarly, the concepts of civil peace, harmonious coexistence, and the right of all to belong to the nation and to live within its territory, will lose their positive meanings.

3. Public awareness and collective understanding should also be distorted relative to the periods of time or specific moments when broad segments of society demanded democratic change and the rule of law.  The revolution of January 2011, for example, is currently being misrepresented in this way.  Similarly, positive impressions held by the public about the individuals and groups which continue to press for democracy and defend rights and freedoms should be eliminated and replaced by negative stereotypes.  Such defamation campaigns continue to be carried out in the majority of Egyptian media outlets today.

In the short-term, strategies of indirect repression employ specific acts of tyranny and justify to the people the lack of democracy and rule of law in Egypt today.  For this reason, the successive regimes have reveled in such strategies and continued to employ them.  In the medium-term, these strategies will result in the loss of the ability to objectively respond to dangers and threats, after these dangers were transformed into “legendary beings” in the minds of the people.  The collective capacity to deal with such threats will also be lost, as the people will have been excluded from the public sphere and the affairs of state and society left to the unilateral action of the “saving hero.” These strategies will also render the people unable to realize civic peace and to live together in harmony, as society and its central issues will have been reduced to the dichotomies of “they’re either with us or against us.”  The use of reason and the ability to think critically will be eliminated, the capacity to draw informed conclusions based on the facts and human values destroyed, and the collective understanding of the people distorted.  In the long-run, however, all of these strategies will ultimately fail, and the public will be liberated from fear and distorted thinking.  When this happens, the people will once again recover their reason and their ability to demand democracy and to live in harmony.

Amr Hamzawy joined the Department of Public Policy and Administration at the American University in Cairo in 2011, where he continues to serve today. He is a former member of parliament, former member of the National Salvation Front, and founder of the Freedom Egypt Party. 

This article originally appeared in Shorouk 

Image: Photo: Mosa'ab Elshamy