Last night, several Egyptian Activists and bloggers were arrested while they were spraying some graffiti banners promoting El Baradei and demanding change. Today, Ahmed Maher, one of the leaders of the 6th April Movement, and other activists were accused of subversive behavior endangering peace and order and similar bogus charges. The evidence, 4 cans of spray, a few CD ROM discs carrying various designs of promotional material and a Power of Attorney made to Dr. Mohamed El Baradei, empowering him with others to seek changing the Egyptian constitution using peaceful means. In front of the court where the activists were being detained and interrogated, a few hundred Egyptian activists, including Ayman Nour and several other opposition leaders gathered chanting patriotic slogans showing solidarity and demanding change.
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How silly can the regime and its security apparatus become? El Baradei is former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and can hardly be seen as a radical. He is not a serious threat to the regime which has ruled Egypt since 1952 or to Mubarak who has been president for almost 30 years. El Baradei, 67, is not even in Egypt yet. He had lived overseas for over 25 years now. He is scheduled to arrive in Cairo tomorrow. Activists are planning to receive him in celebration.
Not too long ago, Mohamed El Baradei was considered a source of national pride and supporting evidence to the regime's claims of the important role Egypt, or rather Mubarak, plays in the international political scene. It was a false piece of evidence, of course, because Egypt, under the same regime, had supported another candidate against El Baradei as head of the international nuclear watchdog. Yet, the regime maintained the appearances and began to proudly show support for El Baradei as he was elected three times to the post. The national media praised his courage when he publicly disputed the U.S. justification for the invasion of Iraq and celebrated his success as a national victory when he became the forth Egyptian to win Nobel Prize. Mubarak himself awarded El Baradei the highest accolade in Egypt, the Nile Medal.
Yet, as soon as El Baradei "hinted" in November that he may consider running for president in Egypt's 2011 election, the so-called national media took him on in a vicious defamation campaign. The man who had been a national hero until a few days before suddenly became accused of being a traitor, an ignorant fool, a foreigner and a U.S. stooge. Al Ahram newspaper described El Baradei's demands of democratic reforms and fair elections as a "call for a constitutional coup" that would open a door for George W. Bush's policy of creative chaos into Egypt.
The so-called national media, including state-owned newspapers, radio and TV stations, work as propaganda apparatus for the regime and the president. Glorifying its limited achievements, justifying failures and trapping Egyptians in a mental prison where change is risky and dangerous, threatening to bring about frightening outcomes that will make every citizen worse off and regretful of the foregone blessings of status quo. The underlying motive is to assassinate any hope of change in Egyptian consciousness. Ayman Nour's campaign theme in 2005 election, where he came second to Mubarak, was "Hope of Change". Not change. But just the hope of change. Nevertheless, Nour was jailed for 3 ½ years as soon as election was over on charges of forgery.
This strategy of Character Assassination is a standard tool against the regime's opponents. It was used against Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Ayman Nour with almost the same charges. Having failed to hide the deep wrinkles in an overwhelmingly aging regime, the propaganda machine saw the solution in tarnishing the image of any serious contender so that everyone is similarly ugly and there is no hope for a way out.
Tomorrow, Ahmed Maher and the other detained activists will stand before the prosecutors accused of an array of false charges. But their real crime is that they are trying to summon a spirit that is most evil in the eyes of the regime. Ahmed Maher and his fellows might just as well be accused of the crime of reviving hope. But a regime that is afraid of mere hope is one which has approached endgame.
*** The activists were released this afternoon.