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Negative numbers

IN the 67 years since the founding of the modern republic of Egypt, that country of over 99 million souls has seen one democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, who ruled for 368 days before being brought down by a military coup.

A year later Morsi was sentenced to death along with 105 others, though his sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. It ended up being a death sentence anyway because while Morsi did not have his neck snapped by a hangman’s rope or have his body electrocuted by energy flowing from the national grid, the abuse and neglect he suffered in Egypt’s notorious ‘scorpion’ prison was certainly intended to shorten his lifespan.

Suffering from high blood pressure, kidney and liver disease and diabetes — all conditions that were left untreated by the Egyptian authorities — the former president succumbed to his slow-motion death sentence six years later by keeling over from a heart attack in an Egyptian courtroom.

We will never know what his last words were, because at the time he was in the transparent soundproof cage that he was placed in during his hearings. Had that scene taken place in a movie we would be right in saying it was just a bit too heavy on the symbolism. His obituary was a total of 42 words buried in the inside pages of all Egyptian newspapers barring one: Al Youm Al Misri dared to buck the official line by publishing the news on its front page, a rare act of defiance when you consider that state-owned newspapers didn’t even mention him by name, referring to the deposed president as ‘the accused’ or ‘the deceased’.

Now we know that interests trump ideology any day of the week.

On television we had not 42, but 47 words thanks to an anchor reading “sent from a Samsung mobile” at the end of the news item announcing Morsi’s death. It was a telling blunder, in that it told us exactly what the source of this news was. As for global reactions, the only outrage of note comes from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is still brandishing Jamal Khashoggi as a weapon far more forcefully than all the Western democracies put together.

And if the world at large has forgotten about Khashoggi (the damning UN report notwithstanding) then don’t expect any tears over Morsi who was, for the West, the wrong kind of democrat. For most rulers of the Arab world, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, any democrat is the wrong kind and in the case of Morsi their worst fears were combined: an Islamist who rose to power through the vote. That just sends all kinds of wrong messages to local populations and so, spending billions of dollars to prevent such a thing from coming to pass is a wise investment indeed.

A similar investment was made in Sudan recently when both Saudi Arabia and the UAE announced a $3 billion aid package to that country at a time when its military rulers were facing civilian protests. That’s a good amount of money, and enough to be able to kill 100-odd protesters only to offer a quasi-apology later. Here there was certainly outrage, at least on social media where you may have seen a few display pictures turn light blue in solidarity with the Sudanese people.

That’s not all; there were also a few hashtags that trended momentarily but all; in all, it was less visible than what we saw post the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. And if you think that it’s shameful that the death of so many passes with barely a comment then note also that the Sisi regime massacred over 800 pro-Morsi protesters on Aug 14, 2013, and zero tears of any note were shed.

The calculation being made is simple: so long as you play ball with international powers it really doesn’t matter what you do to your own citizens; if you mind their business, they will not make your affairs their business.

Now we know that interests trump ideology any day of the week, and we know for sure that dictatorships, quasi-dictatorships and dictatorships with arguably fraying civilian facades the world over have taken so many notes that they’re probably on their fifth notebook and still scribbling away furiously, but what becomes of the much-ballyhooed ‘resistance’? The answer is: nothing at all. Oh there will be shouts of protest and many, many hashtags but ultimately we are all locked in soundless cages of our own, being heard only by each other and holding fast to the delusion that our emotional pleas and incisive opinion columns will stop the march of boots and the firing of guns.

But the truth is that no one is listening, not really. The truth is that when you have fallen silent after shouting yourself hoarse the only sound remaining will be the staccato rapping of the midnight knock, accompanied by the cheers of a willingly captive audience that’s there to watch you being dragged away. Don’t believe me? Just do the math.

The writer is a journalist.

Twitter: @zarrarkhuhro

Zarrar Khuhro, "Negative numbers," Dawn. 2019-06-24.
Keywords: Incisive opinion columns , Egyptian courtroom , Egyptian newspapers , Scorpion prison , Trump ideology , Egyptian authorities