It was 2:00 p.m. in the city where 2:00 a.m. is as safe and lively. I was driving along a road that I have been frequenting for the past ten years or so. On my rear glass was a sticker that said “go down on June 30” and which I had decided to leave there for some time in tribute to that memorable day. A young man, possibly in his twenties, spotted the sticker and quickly beckoned his comrades, who seemed to have sprouted from the ground and in no time, they were blocking my way, each brandishing a knife. They started banging on the windows while shouting and cursing. I am not sure I was able to discern the names they called me, but I knew for a fact they were related to that sticker and I only remember one sentence that they yelled in unison like a professional chorus: “let them come to your rescue now!”
I was certain they would break the window any second and it was then that I remembered the advice I have heard repeatedly about running over whoever blocks your way regardless of what the consequences would be. I was not, however, ready to take anybody’s life even if it was in self-defense, so I just pressed the gas pedal slowly hoping this would scare them away. I actually hit one of them in the leg and when he fell the others were even more provoked so one of them knelt and tried to tear the tire.
My white knight
A few seconds later a car parked next to mine and out came a man. He opened the trunk, got out a machine gun, and chased the boys while swearing to tear them to pieces and “throw their bodies to the dogs.” They magically vanished so that at a certain moment I started doubting they had actually existed. The man came to me and asked if I was alright. As far as I remembered, I stared at him and did not utter a word. He offered to stay in his car until I drove away and he did. He even followed me for a few minutes until he made sure I was able to drive which I miraculously managed to do until I got home. I did not even get the chance to thank him.
This, together with other attacks we have been hearing about lately, is part of an organized vengeance scheme that ushers a new era of terror and a new type of terrorism.Sonia Farid
It is pointless to try to describe how I felt in those few minutes, but suffice it to say that a couple of days earlier a woman from Alexandria faced the exact same situation, but was not as lucky I was. The stabs she got were enough to end her life and there was obviously no brave and armed passerby to intervene in the last split second. This woman’s fate did not only haunt me because it might have been mine too, but I was also tormented by what felt like a survivor’s guilt as I could not help but wonder why she died and I survived. It got much worse when the initial personal agony gave way to the more general picture, for at the end of the day it was neither about me, nor about her, nor were the two of us the victims of random crimes that you can report at a police station, in the hope of having something stolen from you returned or of seeing a person who hurt you behind bars.
This, together with other attacks we have been hearing about lately, is part of an organized vengeance scheme that ushers a new era of terror and a new type of terrorism. Back in the 1990s, we all lived through the “no one is safe” nightmare, but it felt like there was a clearly defined enemy against which all the people were united, which is by no means the case at the moment.
I don’t think it matters much whether the men who attacked me and the Alexandrian woman and a whole lot of Egyptians who declared in one way or another their support for the ouster of the president are true believers in the “cause” or were hired to do the job. What matters most is the fact that civilians are assaulted, at times killed, for their political affiliations and that this is done by their fellow civilians who at a first glance do not seem to pose any kind of threat. The traditional image of extremist militants seeking refuge in the middle of mountains and chased across rugged terrains, has become confined to the Sinai Peninsula which is now replacing Upper Egypt as the hotbed of terrorism while cities are currently being infested by what can be termed “neo-terrorists.”
Like Neo-Nazism, this emerging trend seeks to revive an old practice in an innovative manner that is basically characterized by the absence of a direct confrontation between two conflicting parties so that the adversary remains nobody and everybody and so that all demarcation lines are too blurred to determine when and if the battle has come to an end and who has emerged victorious. It is a type of terrorism that makes of every spot an operational territory and renders precautions a matter of formality for in addition to blocking roads and attacking “opposition” motorists, there have been several incidents that involve storming houses in areas surrounding Islamist sit-ins and torturing, sometimes to death, potential “spies,” and shooting at bystanders who seem to belong to the other camp.
By virtue of being a loosely-structured group whose members do not necessarily follow a specific leadership, the neo-terrorists act with remarkable impunity and most of them have so far succeeded in getting away with their crimes. Their job is also much easier because of the apparent self-restraint lately exercised by the army and the police, both apparently keen on eschewing further accusations of human rights abuses following international criticism over excessive use of force against supporters of the ousted president as they attempted to “liberate” him from a military facility. Even when this policy changes, it will still be hard to track them down and prove their involvement in acts that are too politicized to be only criminal and too haphazard to be purely terrorist.
Unlike conventional terrorism, neo-terrorism attempts to change the balance of power in a more subtle way since its main objective is intimidation rather than killing. Even those who are actually killed are not targeted as persons, but are rather presented as examples. Unfortunately, this tactic cannot be deemed a failure. I, for one, removed the sticker right after the incident and was advised to tell this story to everyone I know so they can follow suit. I wouldn’t go as far as labeling this reaction cowardly even though I couldn’t help seeing it that way for a while, but I have to admit that they managed to rob many of us of a right as basic as a sticker on the glass of your own car.
True we don’t fight for stickers. We fight for causes. But then again what is the use of fighting for a cause if you cannot declare you are doing so!
Sonia Farid, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of English Literature at Cairo University. She is a translator, editor, and political activist. Her social work focuses on political awareness and women’s rights and her writing interests include society, politics, and security in Egypt. She took part in a number of local and international conferences and published several academic papers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.