June 30 Anniversary: A Subdued Affair

On the third anniversary of the mass June 30 protests that led three days later to the army’s removal of Muslim Brotherhood leader and president, Mohamed Morsi, government officials were keen to stress that this was an occasion worth celebrating amid tight security measures. On what has just been announced a national holiday, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi delivered a brief televised speech, congratulating the Egyptian people for “restoring their identity and confirming their will,” while Air Force jets took to the skies of Cairo and other major cities. Small rallies led by governors and local officials were also held in various cities across the country.

By nightfall, the army attempted to recreate the scenes of June 30, with a laser show casting slogans in Arabic across major buildings in Tahrir Square. “Long Live Egypt,” Sisi’s campaign slogan was among the green lettering adorning the walls. To secure the rallies, the Interior Ministry announced the deployment of over 200,000 army and police officers, while the metro station at Tahrir Square was closed for several hours. The ministry said only that this was done due to “security reasons,” likely a precaution against Muslim Brotherhood supporters using it to stage a protest.

On the eve of the anniversary, the Defense Ministry also published a song by a popular singer, Hakim, titled “A Million Salutes” on its official YouTube account. Not to be outdone, the Interior Ministry also released its own song, “We Are Your Sons (Egypt).”  Both videos featured footage of the mega projects ordered by Sisi since he took office two years ago, including the expansion of the Suez Canal, new roads and housing projects for the poor, along with a display of the army and police forces’ weapons, parades, and offensives.

“In the framework of celebrations marking the glorious June 30 Revolution, and in light of the Interior Ministry’s concern to share with the Egyptian people their celebrations on this important national occasion, the Media Department produced this song, “We Are Your Sons” to reflect the nationalism of the great Egyptian people and their determination to stand behind their political leadership in order to move on with this nation towards the future and to achieve development and security all over the country in close cooperation with the courageous heroes of the Armed Forces and Police,” the ministry said on its official page.

These nationalistic songs are in line with Sisi’s thinking. He has repeatedly stated that the media in Egypt should boost the people’s moral and speak of the positive achievements secured since the beginning of his first term in June, 2014, rather than focus only on negative coverage.

Despite the official propaganda, many who participated in the June 30 protests refrained from a public display of celebration this year. While many have welcomed the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood, and believe that they have been saved from a civil or religious war, deteriorating economic conditions, an increasingly repressive state, and militant attacks are continuous cause for concern. A small group of young activists who took part in the revolution against Mubarak, and later against Morsi, released their own video. Reflecting their frustrations at the current situation, and perhaps their regret for taking part in June 30, the video shows a group young men and women slapping each other on the face to mark the anniversary.

There were, in fact, hardly 200 to 300 people in Tahrir Square on Thursday night waving Egyptian flags in celebration. The iconic location was once witness to millions chanting against Morsi in 2013, and earlier on January 25, 2011 against former President Hosni Mubarak. The numbers this year pale in comparison to the millions who took to the streets on June 30, or even one month later, when they came out in droves in response to Sisi’s request for “a mandate to fight terror.”

The June 30 anniversary itself was marked by several attacks in Sinai, and on the border with Libya. Sinai State militants claimed the killing of a Coptic Christian priest in al-Arish, an attack which is the second of its kind for the group that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014. A policeman was also killed in al-Arish when a bomb detonated outside a hospital, and a soldier died in Rafah during an ambush on an ambulance escorting another soldier wounded in a bomb blast. On the border with Libya, six soldiers were killed in clashes with smugglers, according to the Defense Ministry.

Local rights organization, the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and torture, which itself has been threatened with closure by authorities, released a report documenting the past two years under Sisi, In it, they accuse him of building a “state based on fear.” The reports include cases of killing, torture and arrest of thousands of activists; restrictions on freedom of the press and expression; closing down non-governmental organizations and travel ban on human rights activists; and efforts to weaken and outlaw independent labor syndicates.

The most recent example of restrictions on the press was witnessed three days before the anniversary, when police forces raided the home of prominent ONTV anchor, Lilliane Daoud. A Lebanese citizen who has lived in Egypt for the past five years, Daoud took to Twitter to recount the incident from Lebanon after her deportation. Daoud says her British passport was confiscated, and she was forcibly escorted to the airport in the presence of her 10-year-old daughter. Her deportation came hours after she announced that her contract with ONTV was not renewed, with an unnamed official telling state run paper, Al Ahram, there “was no reason for her to remain in Egypt.” Daoud has been outspoken against the Sisi government in her television show, often hosting the president’s critics. Her parting ways with the channel came soon after ONTV was sold by its original owner, business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, to another businessman, Ahmed Abu Hashima. Abu Hashima is known for generous donations to political parties close to the government, including The Nation’s Future. While the termination of Daoud’s contract did not come as a surprise, the manner in which she was deported was shocking to many, even among Sisi’s supporters. “This was bad for Egypt,” said Gamal Fahmy, a columnist and presenter of a talk show on the same ONTV channel. “Lilliane was an Egyptian even if she didn’t carry the passport because she has an Egyptian daughter. We never treated our guests this way.”

Amr Al-Shobki, a researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, once a member of Sisi’s presidential campaign, also recognized the growing disappointment with changes that have occurred since June 30, 2013. “It is true that June 30 prevented the fall of the nation state, and we are no longer ruled by a Brotherhood-led alliance that abuses religion, but we also did not manage to build a modern, democratic state or reform our institutions,” Shobky said. “We are now raising the same issues we had in 2010 (before the revolution against Mubarak), and remain at point zero,” he added.

“The notion that we don’t need democracy and human rights, and should only work on mega economic projects, even without prior discussions or debate, will not achieve development or political stability,” Shobki told MENASource. He noted the urgent need for a “comprehensive review of current policies, and to respect the need for economic and political diversity. We should allow channels for all views to be expressed, and not only welcome those who support and cheer the regime whatever it does.”

Khaled Dawoud is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Al-Ahram Weekly, an English-language weekly published by Egypt’s oldest news establishment, Al-Ahram. He is also the former official spokesman of social-liberal Al-Dostour Party established by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.