Foreign Policy Blogs

Egypt’s Repressive Model and Muzzling Soltan



While the coup and the ensuing repressive bloody outcome was, by and large, propelled by indigenously Egyptian political dynamics, it is naïve to assume that there were no geopolitical dynamics at play.

The monarchies that poured petro-dollars into Egypt to support the coup regime were nervous about the long-term effect of any democratically elected (Islamist) government that could potentially reduce corruption and offer viable programs promoting social justice. Western states led by the US that—the only state actor with real leverage to redirect the course of events—have opted a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ approach toward the coup regime. These three factors have created the perfect storm for evil to ensue.

In order to crack down his ever-growing and indeed relentless anti-coup opposition, General Abdel Fatah El-Sisi and the coup regime have employed an unfathomable repressive approach aimed to ‘shock and awe.’ It is the model employed by the late Hafiz Al-Assad of Syria and was highly recommended by the neocon intelligentsia.

Systematic Litter-feeding of Policy-makers

For the past two decades, neocons—though their name is seldom found in the headlines nowadays—have been on a relentless intellectual crusade to advance certain foreign policy fueled by ruthless use of power or the threat of it to advance certain geopolitical or geo-economic interests. Though their strategy has been proven reckless if not epically incompetent, its inherent influence in the US foreign policy—especially toward Middle East—is undeniable. The two engines that propelled this particular strategy were fueled by demonization of Muslim political activists, organizations and political parties that indicate any desire to incorporate Islamic reference in their governance. This spoils the outcome for any Islamist political entity that may ascend to power through the democratic process.

In 1996, years before she was exposed as a professional provocateur, Judith Miller—the former New York Times journalist and implicated neocon operative—gave a presentation at Harvard titled “The Middle East and Islamic Fundamentalism” in which she advocated using repression to contain Islamic political forces.

“You’ll hear ‘repression doesn’t work.’ Nonsense. Of course, it works. Look at Syria and President Hafiz Al-Assad, the leader whom the American and Israelis love to hate, and, at the moment, need…Assad has no Islamic opposition.” Miller was referring to the 1982 Hama Massacre in which Assad (the father) has killed 20,000 unarmed civilians in order to bring an end to an anti-government uprising led by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Green Peril— named so because of the association between Islam and the color —is described as “a cancer spreading around the globe, undermining the legitimacy of Western values and threatening the national security of the United States.” In that context, who should be surprised that policy followed paranoia!

The (not so) Liberal Media

As the band played to the passengers’ content as the Titanic sank into the depth of the ocean, Egyptian liberal media—once considered the intellectual engine of the Arab world—have been performing an eerie imitation of that scenario.

Call it random collective imprudence, radical jingoism, or intoxication with power, this particular media block that now has absolute control in the dissemination of information, since all other media outlets that could’ve opposed the coup were immediately shutdown, has been setting a new standard in the current “how low can you go” competition for disinformation.


One of the worst things about repression isn’t just that it is simply evil; it is never sustainable. A bloody Band-Aid is the best that it offers.

Glimpses of the inevitable conclusion in Egypt are beginning to manifest. Elements within the Egyptian Army, who apparently aren’t happy with the way things are going, have started to break their code of silence and leak politically damning videos that show, among others, General El-Sisi making statements back in December, 2012 that sound like the coup was a fait accompliThe video went viral. In its first 24 hours, it had over 400,000 hits. 

In what could be described as Middle East’s own WikiLeaks, claims that the video is the first of a three hour long videos. One can easily deduce that El-Sisi was methodically paving the way for military takeover of a democratically elected government. The video shows El-Sisi conferring with about twenty of his top officers. One of the officers expresses his frustration regarding the “(Jan 25) revolution’s negative effect” and how the broader Egyptian media have challenged and removed “the red lines” that shielded the Army from any public scrutiny and ensured it a free-hand for half a century.  “How can we reverse the effect of the revolution and restore these red lines (immunity)?” he asks.

El-Sisi offers the following for a response:

“These changes would impact all of us. To get back to the old ways is a process. Keep in mind, there is a Parliament coming. They will hold hearings. What should we do about that? How is that going to impact you? That is why I said earlier, we need to be on the same page and be one unit in order to face these challenges. We should be in full agreement, and we should trust one another. Indeed, fundamental changes have taken place. We have to face these challenges before they impact us negatively. Per your concern on co-opting the media, Ahmed Mohamed Ali (a young handsome Army spokesperson) has been doing a great job schmoozing and charming women on every occasion [laughter]…” He continues saying “We have assigned a team to boost the process. Are we on top of it? Yes. Have we made some strides? Much better! Have we reached where we wanted to be (coopting and embedding media)? Not yet.”

Once the state and liberal media were on board and all other media outlets were shutdown, manufacturing broad-based public approval wasn’t so hard. Here it is worth noting that human beings are neither wholly evil nor wholly good. Therefore, as men conspire to carry one clandestine operation or another against unsuspecting people, the more likely for one of them to surrender to the pressures of his conscience. This tendency seems to develop much more rapidly when there is, as in Egypt, great disillusionment in the outcome. That is what happened in Abu Ghuraib, Guantanamo and in the intelligence-cooking sessions of President George W. Bush’s inner circle.

Soltan’s Way

Mohamed Soltan, a 25-year-old Egyptian-American who studied economics in the Ohio State University, is currently in an unknown prison in an unknown location in Egypt. He has been there since August 25.  (Disclosure: I’ve known Soltan and his family since they moved to Hilliard, a suburb outside Columbus, Ohio and became my neighbors a number of years ago.)

He is a charming young man with great sense of humor who has accomplished in a few years of selfless activism what many people fail to accomplish in their lifetimes. Volunteerism ran through his blood. He was fearlessly tweeting from Rabaa, one of the squares of the anti-Coup sit-ins and the epicenter of nation-wide defiance against the military takeover.

As the police, military and the baltajiyyah (hired or deputized local thugs) launched an orgy of gory violence, Soltan was tweeting “Make-Shift field hospital in Rabaa fell moments ago. It was filled w/injured & dead bodies when torched.”

In light of his courage in feeding the world information on what was going on in the public squares of Cairo through his @SoltanLife Twitter account (now shut down) and his extraordinary commitment to not just talk-the-talk, but to put his life on the line for it, I—though much older than he—have once told him, “When I grow up, I want to be like you.”

According to David D. Kirkpatrick, detainees such as Mohamed Soltan are in “an indefinite captivity under brutal conditions without any formal charges or any judicial hearing.”  In a letter addressed to his mother that was smuggled out of one of the coup regime’s dungeons, Soltan describes routine beatings and “sleeping like sardines on concrete with the cockroaches; sharing a single tap of earthy Nile water.” Reflecting on his identity, Soltan writes, “My American identity has afforded me the opportunity to taste freedom, to breathe its limitless air, and to enjoy the liberties given to me. My Egyptian identity sincerely desires those very same privileges, and to witness Egyptians be deprived of those rights motivates me to persevere and to work towards their cause. Khalil Gibran once said that birds don’t build their nests within a cage so that their offspring don’t inherit slavery. These are the principles that the American founding fathers also spoke highly of. The people of Egypt, have the natural right to freedom.”

Collective Punishment

Mohamed Soltan is neither a criminal nor a terrorist. His only guilt is being the son of Dr. Salah Soltan. Himself recently arrested, Dr. Soltan is an outspoken prominent Muslim scholar and author of many books. He taught in the U.S. and was teaching at the University of Cairo when he was arrested. He also happens to be a prominent member of an organization that the coup regime declared as illegal- the Muslim Brotherhood.

According to the coup regime, if you are a member, an associate, or an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood; or, have any business dealings with any of its members, associates, and affiliates, you (Egyptian or foreign) are aiding and abetting a “terrorist” organization. If your initial reaction is “Are you serious?” According to the coup regime: Dead serious!

Repression Has No Boundaries

During Rabaa massacre, there was clear effort to target the children of key Muslim Brotherhood figures. In an attempt to provoke them into violent reaction, a few of the top leadership’s children were shot by the coup regime’s snipers. Soltan has survived by a miracle. At one point, while tweeting about the massacre in progress, he (innocently) telegraphed his location by mentioning that he was on the stage with Dr. Mohamed Beltagy whose 16 year old daughter was assassinated by snipers, who wanted to give interview to any of the international media via Soltan’s cellphone. Within seconds, according to Soltan’s recollection, stage was filled with gas and bullets were flying everywhere. Soltan got shot in the arm; a small price compared to the horrific atrocities committed against thousands of his fellow protesters.

In the course of a recent discussion on Egypt, I said the targeting of children simply because their parents are seen as political threats constitutes “crimes against humanity.” One of the individuals in the discussion snapped: “What about U.S. drone attacks targeting children? What about Abdulrahman  Awlaki—the 16 year old son of Anwar Awlaki—who was deliberately killed? What about Robert Gibbs’ response of ‘He should’ve had a more responsible father?’ What do you think of that?” I said, “Both the act and that line of thinking are considered crimes against humanity’.

As people imitate one another, so do nations. As a role model that all international states aspire to mimic, the United States has certain responsibilities to uphold in order to regain its credibility as champion of democratic values and human rights. Despite its chronic inconsistencies of late, U.S. still fairs much better than many of the countries in the Muslim world.

Left unchecked, human-beings tend to go overboard in their immoral exercise of power. A phenomenon explained by renowned psychologist Philip Zimbardo talks about in his book The Lucifer Effect.

Meanwhile, Soltan, and thousands of others like him who were brought on some concocted charges of terrorism, still remain in dungeons while America — a country that makes democracy and human rights leading values of its foreign policy — remains virtually silent.

“The Egyptian side of my identity deserves as much freedom and democracy and liberty as my American side does,” Soltan said. “It’s what I learned in sixth grade civics class: Give me liberty or give me death.”



Abukar Arman

Abukar Arman is a former diplomat, serving as Somalia's Special Envoy to the US. As a widely published analyst, he focuses on foreign policy, Islam, the Horn of Africa, extremism, and other topics.
Twitter: @Abukar_Arman
or reach him via e-mail: [email protected]