Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

By force

Ahmed Morsy tries to understand why, in the wake of the revolution, people have become more violent

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Egyptian revolution of 2011 was recognised worldwide as being peaceful in nature, especially with the media spotlighting Tahrir Square and the chanting of selmeya, or peaceful, that rang out from the crowds.

Compared with the peaceful stand of protesters during the early days of the revolution, the police were brutal in handling the situation, consequently killing more than 800 protesters and injuring many more. There have been traumatic events ever since which have seen intensely violent confrontations between authorities and protesters, and recently between protesters themselves.

The revolution was initially triggered by a public frustrated by their usurped rights, restricted freedoms as well as social injustice.

“Already stressed out Egyptians participated in the revolution hoping to recapture their long lost rights under a dictatorial regime, which stifled freedoms and spread social inequality,” Samia Khedr, professor of sociology at Ain Shams University, told Al-Ahram Weekly. “The revolution was accompanied by action, noise and sometimes violence to seize these rights.”

Khedr said violence in itself has varying degrees since it diverges from moral to verbal and physical violence. “Violence is movable as it may be transmitted from one to another and so it can be easily reflected on others.”

Recently, violent clashes erupted in Cairo and other governorates as a result of political instability and divisions. The ensuing security breach paved the way for acts of violence and sabotage.

“The media one way or another helped in conveying such an aggressive atmosphere to the mob,” Khedr said, adding that with rumours of murders and thefts spreading throughout the country, many people became paralysed with fear. Hence, the media has to be accurate, objective and neutral so as not to adversely influence people, she said.

Khedr believes that violent street scenes aired on TV are also a reason behind the violence in the audience. “Even if a person watches the event on TV, there is always a chance he or she could be traumatised or experience psychological repercussions.”

Ahmed Al-Beheiri, a psychiatry consultant, sees that violence within the Egyptian community has newly-emerged reasons and existing ones — financial frustration, lack of family stability and the tendency to want to achieve goals as quickly as possible without critical thinking are part of established reasons.

“No one can deny that the revolution indirectly stirred up feelings accompanied by a high level of emotions and anger while expressing demands. Frustration associated with revolutionary events is also accompanied by anger,” Al-Beheiri, former chairman of the Abbasiya Psychiatric Hospital, told the Weekly.

On how violence spreads in society, affecting an individual’s behaviour, Al-Beheiri said, “sometimes people may find anger as a method of understanding instead of gentle means, convinced that it’s an effective way, influenced by the revolutionary state.

“Violence may also stem from the lack of patience. It also produces the spirit of revenge,” added Al-Beheiri, matching it with the spontaneous protesters who sometimes turn violent when their demands are not met. In addition, the absence of the skill of listening to the other is also a factor, he added.

According to specialists, patients who are politically involved — some have faced death, others saw their loved ones die, while still others have been greatly affected by the violence that followed the revolution — need to talk about and share their stress just to keep going.

“The suppression of emotions also leads to violence. Suppression of feelings is either due to oppression or because of fear in addition to the lack of skills needed to vent such suppressed feelings,” Al-Beheiri explained, adding “violence may possibly be accompanied by some psychological disorders such as depression, emotional disorder or schizophrenia. Violence is directed towards others or towards the same person.”

According to Khedr, depression and frustration are pop-up products of the revolutionary atmosphere, resulting from focussing on the revolution’s demands which are mainly usurped rights. Prior to the revolution, there was a mainstream political approach, however, in the meantime divisions emerged after political parties and movements rose to challenge themselves. Each party or political figure has followers who are intolerant while dealing with others as it is something they were not accustomed to before the revolution, Khedr said.

Anne Justus, a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor at the American University in Cairo, was quoted by Egypt Today magazine as saying she had been dealing with a lot of patients who are dealing with post-revolutionary stress. She says that people who were in or close to Tahrir Square, Egypt’s revolutionary epicentre, have significantly higher chances of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Scientifically, PTSD is characterised by recurring thoughts or flashbacks related to a previous traumatic event. Typically, people with PTSD have nightmares related to the events. Many experience terror attacks while others typically will try to avoid anything related to the event. Other symptoms include an increase in aggressive behaviour.

“Violence fades from the community when its causes are wiped out but this of course is very idealistic,” Al-Beheiri said. “Thus, the solution of getting rid of excessive violence is to be more tolerant, forgiving, patient and wise.”

Given the violent and stressful events of the revolution and the ongoing uncertainty of the future, Al-Beheiri believes that people must respect the others’ point of view instead of merely arguing. “We should discuss opinions rationally. People ought to maturely express their opinions and participate with others in searching for a solution or compromise, rather than increasing the dispute.”

Samir Naim, a professor of sociology and former chairman of the Department of Sociology at the Faculty of Arts in Ain Shams University, stressed that no one should link the violence which Egypt witnessed with the revolution.

“The revolution proved its peacefulness from the very beginning. So, the violence is separate from the protesters who relied only on violent acts to defend themselves,” Naim told the Weekly.

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