Egypt’s 1984: Al-Sisi is watching you!

“Always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed – no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.”

This text is from George Orwell’s novel 1984 and is usually followed by the phrase “Big Brother is watching you.” In Egypt 2019 this text became a reality but is followed by the phrase “al-Sisi is watching you.” 

Declaring or pretending to support al-Sisi’s regime is not enough to escape arrest because the search will extend to your own thoughts, correspondence, photos, remarks, places you’ve visited, your contacts, and even your friends’ opinions. Everything will be available to the inspection officer, al-Sisi is watching you.

Following rare demonstrations demanding the departure of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, police forces began large-scale, sometimes indiscriminate, arrests of people in places where demonstrations were expected, such as Tahrir Square and central Cairo.

The police also set up checkpoints on the roads and thoroughly searched cars and pedestrians. Egyptian police officers arrested many on suspicion of opposing the Egyptian regime.

One of the methods used by the police to find out the political persuasions of each person is to search mobile phones and access accounts and views on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

This measure is not legal or constitutional, but no one can object. A mere objection to the inspection procedure means that you are opposed to the regime and that you have something to hide.

Article 57 of the Egyptian Constitution states: “Private life is inviolable, postal, telegraphic, electronic, telephone conversations and other means of communication shall be inviolable and confidential, it may not be confiscated, accessed, or censored except by reasoned judicial order, for a specified period, and in cases prescribed by law.”

Most Egyptians use smartphones and inspecting them almost always means they will obtain details of your life, your opinions, and your contacts.

All of your opinions that you did not say publicly, but which you have stated in private correspondence, will be known, as will the photos you have taken and the places you have visited.

One of the people who were searched tells bitterly how a police officer kept watching videos that he took of his wife at home playing with his children. His wife wore a nightgown and was unveiled on the video.

The man says he felt shame and that the sanctity of his wife was violated, but he could not object.

Later, he got rid of his smartphone and chose to buy an old phone without a camera which did not connect to the internet.

In George Orwell’s novel 1984, the Ministry of Love, which is really a ministry of hatred and torture, appears in a strange paradox between the name and the truth of what it practices.

One former detainee says the situation under al-Sisi is not much different. Security forces are in fact spreading terror, not security.

“You don’t have to be guilty, or convicted of anything, but as you approach one of the checkpoints set up by the security forces, you start worrying and expecting the worst,” he explains.

“When they searched my mobile phone, they got all my contacts, and although I am careful not to write any political views on Facebook, when they browsed my account, they found a post of a friend criticising the political situation.”

“Here they started asking me about my friend, his address and his phone number. When I lied and said I didn’t know him, they refused to release me and started beating me and torturing me on the pretext that I was covering up a terrorist.”

“The problem is not only that they are watching you and getting all the information about you through your phone, but the biggest problem is that they are using your phone to monitor others as well,” he concludes.

A human rights lawyer says: “There are no guidelines or tips to avoid arrest. If you did not write it but you have criticised the regime during a private conversation it may be discovered when they check your mobile phone or your friend’s phone. If you imagine something, write an opinion, or anything … and everywhere … al-Sisi is watching you, you just have few cubic centimetres in your skull.”