A few weeks ago, on September 24, the Egyptian Interior Ministry announced that it had arrested seventeen members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were plotting to increase “pessimism” in the country. The ministry informed the public that those arrested represented a “subversive cell” tasked to turn citizens against their legitimate government, and that their means of doing so were highly dangerous.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s pessimism-spreading cell, according to the Interior Ministry, had established subsidiary cells operating across each of Egypt’s 27 governorates. Their objective was to disseminate false information regarding living conditions, to spread doubts about economic and social projects launched by the government, and to highlight “unfounded daily life crises,” from traffic jams to shortages in energy supplies to price increases for basic food items.
In pursuing such actions, the pessimism-spreading cell allegedly created fake Facebook accounts and digital news portals that provided the public with false information. It also instructed pro-Muslim Brotherhood crowds to jam key traffic intersections and overwhelm gas stations in several major cities, so as to create a sense of panic.
In an effort to destabilize the national economy, the ministry continued, the cell was also engaged in black market operations designed to undermine the value of the Egyptian pound with respect to the U.S. dollar. Indeed, the ministry announced that the members of the pessimism cell were arrested during a “secretive meeting” at which a total of $70,000 and EGP975,000 were found. Internal Muslim Brotherhood documents allegedly recovered during the operation explained how to initiate a hike in the exchange rate of the U.S. dollar, in that way destabilizing Egypt’s national finances.
This is not the first time that the Interior Ministry insults the intelligence of the Egyptian public with statements blaming the country’s economic and social hardships on the Muslim Brotherhood. In October 2015, Hassan Malek—a leading Brotherhood figure and a business tycoon—was arrested for singlehandedly “undermining the national economy by smuggling foreign currency abroad.” He was also accused of manipulating the exchange rate through a network of currency-exchange bureaus owned by Muslim Brotherhood affiliates and surrogates. He remains behind bars.
The government’s accusations aren’t limited to Egypt’s finances. In November of last year, after there was flooding in Alexandria due to heavy rains and an outdated sewage system, the Interior Ministry offered up a familiar explanation for the catastrophe. It arrested a Muslim Brotherhood cell accused of blocking the sewage system, leading to the inundation of the city.
The Interior Ministry’s statement regarding the Muslim Brotherhood’s pessimism cell sent alarming signals, for two main reasons. First, the Egyptian penal code does not classify “pessimism” as a crime, nor does it identify “spreading pessimism” as a criminal offense. In arresting seventeen citizens and putting out a public statement accusing them of doing such a thing the ministry effectively ignored the laws of the country and evoked the disastrous image of unchecked security services acting on the basis of fabricated legislation. In an environment characterized by massive human rights abuses perpetrated mainly by the security services, ignoring Egypt’s existing laws has become another manifestation of the corruption of power.
Second, the Interior Ministry’s statement regarding the Muslim Brotherhood’s pessimism cell attested to how little it cares about how it is perceived outside its own sphere. The statement contained laughable charges and made fun of Egyptians by suggesting that the relatively small amounts of money purportedly found with the arrested Muslim Brotherhood members were sufficient to harm the economy.
Most Egyptians experience a different reality, one marred by the economic and social failures of their government as well as by daily human rights abuses. This follows from the government’s willingness to grant vast and unchecked latitude to the security services, to tolerate their abuses and excessive behavior, and to depend on them in controlling society and silencing dissent.
Indeed, the Interior Ministry’s fictitious world makes it almost impossible to hold the security services accountable for human rights transgressions. These are routinely swept under the rug as victims have become criminals and as false accusations and charges have become the new norm in Egyptian law enforcement, which is in a state of collapse.
It was only a few months ago that the security services, in response to the torture and killing of the Italian student Giulio Regeni in January of this year, announced that they had shot dead all five members of the criminal gang that had allegedly committed the act, offering as proof that they had found with the gang the passport and other personal items belonging to the Italian. A few days later, after the Italian government dismissed the announcement as a cover-up by the Egyptian authorities and reiterated its demand that they cease disseminating false information, the Interior Ministry backtracked, stating that the dead criminals were not implicated in the Regeni case. Such is the debasing of the truth in present-day Egypt.