Some Worry Egypt Could Become A Repressive Police State

Some of Egypt's liberal politicians are worried that they've allied with the enemy against the ousted president. After the January 2011 revolution, the military ruled during the transitional period for 18 months, when hundreds were killed in protests. Now the military is squarely back in power with the backing of millions of people. Some say there is a danger that Egypt's deep state will take hold again and turn the nation back into a police state. But they are still squarely in the minority.

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Egypt is in its third week of crisis. Last night, there were more bloody street clashes in Cairo, and the nation remains deeply divided between Egyptians who support the deposed president and those who welcome his ouster by the military. Some Egyptians are stuck in the middle. They're not fans of the former president or his organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, but they also worry that if the military is left unchecked, Egypt will once again become a repressive police state.

NPR's Leila Fadel reports from Cairo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Tamer Marei runs his hands across the piano keys at this social club in central Cairo. He points out the two bars, the two decks and the multiple lounges where intellectuals, top security officials and secular Egyptians socialize.

So this is really for the upper-class.

TAMER MAREI: Yes, upper-class place and mainly seculars.

FADEL: But among his upper crust friends here, he is in the minority.

MAREI: Nowadays, I feel alone.

FADEL: Tamer is dissenting voice among liberal and secular Egyptians who wholeheartedly backed the military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. He might not agree with the Brotherhood's Islamic project, he says. He wouldn't vote for them in upcoming elections. But what happened to Morsi is a sign, he says, that what Egyptians call the Deep State is rising again. And many here are naively welcoming its return.

MAREI: They are regaining power. This worries me very much because this will implies on freedom, freedom of speech, media freedom - all of this will step back. Democracy will step back.

FADEL: The Deep State is a term that refers to the entrenched bureaucracy, police, and intelligence services that underpinned the Mubarak-era autocracy. Tamer believes the Deep State is using this opportunity to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood and reverse the few gains of Egypt's uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

MAREI: The main thing that is worrying me, the division in the society and the empowerment of the Deep State. This is awful for me. This is getting me personally to square one.

FADEL: His friends now jokingly refer to him as a Brotherhood sympathizer, he says. His wife won't sit with him at the club anymore. She supported Morsi's ouster. Tamer, a leftist Arab nationalist, is an unlikely defender of the Brotherhood. But attacks by the security forces on Brotherhood protesters, as well as the shuttering of Islamist TV channels, have given him pause. More than 90 people have been killed since Morsi's ouster. The majority were Morsi supporters.

MAREI: The Deep State want the Muslim Brotherhood vanished forever. So this will continue.

FADEL: Egyptians turning on each other instead of corrupt state institutions is what scares him the most. Outside this social club, his fears of division and an emboldened police force are playing out across Cairo.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING PROTESTERS)

FADEL: Overnight, clashes between the police and supporters of the ousted president left at least seven pro-Morsi protesters dead and more than 200 wounded. And yet, many Egyptians are turning a blind eye to the apparent excessive use of force by security services.

A few liberal and revolutionary voices are sounding the alarm but as quickly as they do, they are demonized by their counterparts as terrorist supporters or members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Rabab el Mahdi is a left-leaning political scientist and activist.

RABAB EL MAHDI: There has been enough pumping up and enough stimulation and hatred speech on both sides. This is now turning into physical violence.

FADEL: Many of the Islamists are turning this into a religious fight, calling their opponents infidels, she says. But the other side's rhetoric is just as vicious.

MAHDI: There has been an equally fascist narrative on part of many of the so-called secular media outlets.

FADEL: El Mahdi blames the Brotherhood for bringing Egypt to this point. She says it tried to co-opt the security services to bolster its own power. But she warns that revolutionaries who supported the military's ouster of the Islamist president could face the same fate if they don't quickly mobilize.

MAHDI: This might be our last chance to save this revolution. If we do not act fast, if we do not build on our mistakes throughout the past two and a half years, the police state will be restored in much more vicious ways.

FADEL: Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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