Hamada Saber and his daughter – the intergenerational politics of fear

What happens when you are the head of a poor household -- so poor that there is only a single room for you, your spouse, and your three children, ages 15 to 20 -- and suddenly, as you protest near the presidential palace, you become the victim of an abhorrent injustice that thrusts you into the national limelight? Or, to be precise, your naked body is being kicked by the police, hit with batons, and dragged from the limbs across the cold asphalt, all caught by a television camera and broadcast live to millions of homes.

The minister of interior expresses his regrets, promises an investigation, and you are transferred to a police hospital where you get arguably the best medical care you ever had. The police also promise, somehow, that they will help you find a job.

At the same time, senior officers hover above your head like malevolent angels of death, gently or not so gently pressuring you and your family to be quiescent. When your wife calls in on a widely-viewed TV-show, it's because she is "encouraged" by a police officer who works in the ministry's PR department. (When the show's producers try to call her back, they find the real owner of the phone to be a police officer.) Now it's your turn. From your Police Hospital bed, in presence of the same insignia that you saw, in a daze, when they pulled your trousers down the previous night and kicked you to the curb.

When they put a mic under your nose and stick a camera in your face, asking you to look at the blinking red light, what will you say?

And how will you be judged?

Hamada originally denied he had been assaulted by the police. He blamed protesters, saying that they attacked him in the belief (!!) that he was a policeman because he was dressed in black. His clothes were torn off, he said, as the police attempted to rescue him from the protesters. His wife, also interviewed at the hospital, spoke of the good care her husband had received in the police's care.

But the evidence was undeniable: After all, the video is clear. Those are policemen beating up the naked form crouching on the asphalt, right beside their armored vehicles.

It was so undeniable, in fact, that the police itself stopped issuing statements about the matter -- after having clumsily admitted guilt by expressing regret and promising to investigate the actions of some of their own -- and just let the victim read off their script.

Unfortunately, Hamada was mercilessly attacked by many protesters and members of the opposition, who accused him of selling out and urging him to stand for his rights. He nevertheless stood by his position -- and was soon followed by a prosecutor telling the same story.

More importantly, somebody else disagreed: Hamada's own daughter, Randa. 18-year old Randa decided to disagree with her father's position -- and very publicly. In a televised interview (Ar.), father and daughter argued violently, with his daughter denying his claims, accusing him of being under pressure, and exhorting him to say the truth. "Don't be afraid!" she repeated. "Say the truth! Who was beating you up, the government [i.e., the police] or the people? Isn't it the government?"

The next day it was the turn of his son Ahmed to contradict his father (Ar.), stressing that the family lived in dire conditions but ending on a different note: "My father is poorer than anyone could imagine... If you want him to tell the truth, get him out of the hands of the police."

Can we understand Hamada's fear? Undoubtedly, yes. Decades of instilled and deadly dread of uniforms, followed by such a traumatic event, are enough to make anyone compliant. It's important to remember that we do not know the extent of the threats or promises made to the man. We don't like it, but we should understand it.

The ray of hope in the story is that the next generation in his own family views things very differently. They do not fear the media, they do not fear pressure, and they do not fear the police. They've probably been bitten -- beaten? -- before. Perhaps they were close enough to the revolutionary burst of hopefulness that, like a nuclear explosion, it altered their citizen DNA, changing them into proactive, fearless people willing to stand up for their rights.

Hamada's fear of the police is proof that the revolution has not yet succeeded. Randa's courage is the reason it will.

As I finalize this post, I see on the news that Hamada Saber decided to retract his original testimony. Now he's going to accuse the police of beating him.

Mohamed El Dahshan is the Egypt blogger for Transitions. Read the rest of his posts here  


Democracy Lab Weekly Brief, February 04, 2013

As Democracy Lab celebrates its first anniversary, editor Christian Caryl shares some of the channel's highlights from the past year.

Morten Jerven weighs in on our debate about African economics by taking a closer look at the numbers.

Egyptian activist Maikel Nabil Sanad blasts Germany for welcoming President Morsy on a state visit.

Alexander Cooley explains how Russia, China, and their regional allies have been building a common front against democratic norms.

In the latest of our continuing series of collaborations with Princeton's Innovations for Successful Societies, Amy Mawson tells the story of how South Africa overcame the challenge of its first post-apartheid election.

Juan Nagel explains why Venezuela's fiscal policy is basically a Ponzi scheme. 

Min Zin shares some skeptical reflections from his recent trip to Burma.

And Endy Bayuni reports on the recent corruption scandals plaguing Indonesia's main Islamist party.

And now for this week's recommended reads:

Cambodia bid farewell to their controversial former monarch, King Norodom Sihanouk, as he was finally cremated this weekend after passing away in October 2012. Pictured above are members of the funeral procession, resting by the Mekong River.

The International Crisis Group warns of the likelihood of intensifying political conflict in Egypt. ICG authors also report on the organization's planned exit from Haiti.

The Economist provides a much-needed overview of the past two years of revolution in Egypt.

Sheri Berman, writing in Foreign Affairs, explains why it's too early to be pessimistic about the Arab Spring.

Human Rights Watch gives the Burmese government a poor grade on reform efforts. The Wall Street Journal reports on the issuing of the first credit cards in Burma.

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Sam Loewenberg explains why social scientists should publicize their failures as well as their successes.

The Times' C. J. Chivers offers a detailed analysis of the battle for Syria's Minakh air base. Jadaliyya presents a thought-provoking interview with Syrian director Nabil Maleh.

Reuters reports on the trial of a Bahraini princess for torturing detainees in prison.

World Politics Review offers an in-depth look at the hawala money-lending system that is helping Iran evade sanctions (paywall).

Democracy Digest explains the controversy surrounding the case of a former Ukrainian police chief accused of murdering journalist Georgy Gongadze. The Ukrainian civic organization "People First" releases the results of a survey on the priorities and problems of Ukrainians.


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Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images