Egypt and the farce of the righteous majority

As I crack open this story, Desmond Dekker’s “Pretty Africa” shuffles onto iTunes. It’s a sentimental sausage of a tune, but it slowly reminds me I’ve visited one place in the entirety of Africa, once, and that wasn’t Egypt. So I don’t have any first-hand experience of the place I’m about to discuss. But I read, and when you see a cry for help, most humans read a little closer…

Recently, Egypt’s government has taken to monitoring its citizens online, including what they post on Facebook. This can’t come as a surprise to anyone in the US or UK, because internet monitoring is exactly what our governments have been doing to us, too! So if our lot are doing it, why shouldn’t everyone else’s, right?

(Aside: there’s a good write-up here of some of the pro-privacy arguments – spolier: it’s not a FAQ with questions like:

“I’m a benefit cheat/seeking to bring down your decadent western way of life. How can I best hide my private e-mails about crime plans from the government/security services?”

Well worth a read.)

Anyway, the governments now in power in many of the countries that experienced the ‘Arab Spring’ are not quite so worried about losing votes in the next general election if they’re found out to be snooping. Like, maybe they just decide to ignore or rig the general election results? I’m not going to get into who Egypt’s government should be, ‘cos I have no clue, but I DO have a clue that what the current government is doing to many humans right now, in this until-recently more liberal African nation, is extremely inhuman.

The history of what happens when a lot of people experience significant, simultaneous discomfort is now a disgusting cliché. Either the absent rights of a minority are campaigned for (note that they don’t even have to be won, just campaigned-for) and a privileged group perceives that it is now threatened or has already lost its relative position in society; or there is social upheaval, the economy goes down the tubes for a bit, life starts to bite – hard – and people want a solution. The solution, it is decided by the political cliques, isn’t to hold to account the political cliques (you saw that coming), but to bully someone else – someone vulnerable, like a minority that can’t fight realistically back. That bullying tricks you into feeling you’re doing something about your problems, and makes you feel like you’re not at the bottom of the heap yourself. That bullying, though, takes forms from stigmatisation, through vilification, persecution, accusation, segregation, incarceration, vigilante/militia beatings on the streets, maybe dragging people them from their homes first, to physical humiliation, rape, torture, mutilation, eventually to murder. It’s a broad spectrum, I admit, but put your hand up if you want to be anywhere on it? Nope – I didn’t think so…

What’s worse is that people frequently get to be in several places on that spectrum at once. In Egypt right now, Egyptian citizens are being arrested by their own police for things like “debauchery”. When they get to prison, they can experience threats of rape and undergo unethical “anal examinations” by the Forensic Medical Authority, presumably to see how “debauched” they have been.

That these people are perceived to be gay, or transgender is beside the point. Beside the point morally, because they’ve DONE nothing wrong: it’s really their EXISTENCE that’s de facto being made illegal, they simply ARE wrong – a Kafkaesque charge that you cannot defend against. And it’s beside the point legally, because there’s no legal basis for their detention: no legislation has been passed. Debauchery isn’t even a well-defined thing in Egyptian law. Sections of the media share some serious shame in all this, too, brutishly violating citizens’ (viewers’!) rights in the name of joining the moral superiority band-wagon, stirring up vilification and publishing names and photos of people they want to accuse. Of… something…

In almost every respect, I’m in the hyper-privileged demographic:

  • male,
  • Caucasian (although I do enjoy the comedy decision between White (British) and White (Irish) in questionnaires),
  • middle-class,
  • Christian up-bringing,
  • higher degree with the entirety of my education paid for (sorry, but it’s true),
  • native English-speaking,
  • from a wealthy European country
  • and my passports let me travel at will to loads of countries without even needing a real visa.

The only persecution that I had to get angry about recently was that I couldn’t get married in my own country if I wanted to, but that’s now taken care of. So what have I got to complain about? Even if homophobia were erased in Britain tomorrow, I would still have to complain about the ill treatment that OTHERS face. And consider that it doesn’t take much to find yourself in the gun-sights. People are inclined to make divisive mountains out of molehills of difference, especially if they feel like they would be on the wronged and/or righteous majority side of the division that’s created. It makes them feel better, in more ways than one, and that’s particularly powerful when everything else that’s happening to them is (frankly) pretty shitty. So would you be so sure you’d be in the moral majority on every single measure conceivable? Look at my profile: I would still have been blamed for causing floods (not the super-power I would’ve chosen) or of wanting to redefine other people’s marriages (seriously, I really, really don’t.)

These moral-superiority divisions are always a fallacy, because difference is everywhere, and it’s heartening to see so many people now celebrate and value diversity, because to exclude people from society is to hold us all back.

Once a persecution machine gathers pace, it’s hard to stop it before it wreaks horrible damage. But if the larger majority from around the world scrutinises this immoral, illegal persecution, we can find ways to pressure the persecutors, and even if we can’t stop it from outside, we can lend our support to the people who are fighting it. We let them know that they’re part of a larger community of humans out there who believe what they believe, and reassure them that they shouldn’t doubt themselves – it IS their government that’s wrong and not their existence, or the existence of their friend or sister or nephew. The people with power have invented a “problem” to which they have a quick & nasty “solution” – and, too often, it happens because they won’t face up to the real problems that people have.

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Egypt and the farce of the righteous majority