CAIRO | egyptian intellectual Khaled Fahmy, professor of history at the University of Cambridge and a specialist in epidemics, fears that governments do not take advantage of the pandemic of novel coronavirus to strengthen their grip safe on the citizens.
“The way in which governments will be able to monitor the actions of each is alarming,” said the academic, who lives in exile in Great Britain, in an online interview with the AFP.
“The fear is that once these rights are conceded to governments, it will be very difficult to revoke them,” he says, based on the egyptian example.
In the most populous country in the arab world (100 million people), the president Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi endorsed in may a series of amendments to the law on state of emergency denounced by the defenders of human rights such as strengthening the “repressive powers” in the name of the fight against the sars coronavirus.
These amendments allow the president to close schools, suspend the public sector, public gatherings or in private, or even quarantine travellers arriving on the soil of egypt.
“If you compare what is happening in Egypt now and the cholera epidemic of 1947, the big difference is in the media and the way in which they were open at the time, so that they are closed now in terms of coverage of the epidemic,” says Mr. Fahmy.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the authorities have intensified their crackdown and arrested several journalists and activists.
“What we are facing now is much more dangerous.” “There’s a resurgence of surveillance and serious intrusions into privacy in the name of the control of the epidemic”, says the university, exiled from 2014 because of its critical views.
It also notes the fate ominous of some 60,000 political prisoners in the country, according to several NGOS, whose health is endangered by the conditions of their detention in overcrowded prisons full pandemic. “They are being held unfairly and now they are in danger.”
The historian of the ottoman Empire puts the pandemic in a long chronology of diseases that have ravaged Egypt.
“From the Fourteenth century to the early Nineteenth century, the plague fell on Egypt more than 190 times. On average, Egypt has been affected by the plague once every nine years.”
According to Mr. Fahmy, “the quarantines began to be imposed in Egypt a very strict” after the cholera pandemic of 1831, which had started in China before spreading to the Middle East.
His book “All the Pasha’s Men” (“men of the Pasha”, editor’s NOTE) recounts the story of how Mohammed Ali, obscure ottoman governor, made himself master of Egypt in the Nineteenth century through the establishment of a powerful army, involved in all aspects of public life, including health.
The successful book, published in 1997, is still found in second-hand bookshops that are installed on the sidewalks in Cairo.
The historian also explains how the army maintains, nowadays, a role of first plan.
The army deployed
The former general Sisi became president in 2014, has further strengthened the role of the military in egyptian public life.
Military units have recently been deployed to disinfect streets and other public spaces. The military has also sold protective equipment and medical care to Egyptians at affordable prices.
Egypt has recorded more than 16 000 cases, including more than 700 deaths, and the number of new infections is on the rise, with hundreds of cases detected every day.
On Monday, the trade union of doctors has warned against a “health catastrophe” to come, blaming the “passivity” of the ministry of Health.