* Arrests raise concern that old order making a comeback
* Salafi Islamists worry they may be next
* Liberal critics say under pressure to toe government line
By Lin Noueihed
CAIRO, Aug 21 A climate of fear that kept
Egyptians compliant during the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak is
creeping back into daily life, less than three years after the
revolt that toppled him.
Ordinary people like Mohamed, who runs a tiny Cairo shop
selling mobile phone accessories, now lower their voices if they
oppose the army's overthrow last month of their first
freely-elected president, Mohamed Mursi.
"It is about the principle that we stood in line and voted
freely for the first time and this happens," whispered Mohamed,
who declined to give his second name. "People who speak about
justice now do not dare to say it out loud, in case people
accuse them of being terrorists."
While activists critical of the army-backed government are
obvious targets for intimidation, now ordinary Egyptians also
avoid the noisy, boisterous discussion of politics that was
common between the fall of Mubarak and that of his Islamist
successor on July 3.
From mass arrests of Muslim Brotherhood leaders to the
re-appearance of plain clothes enforcers on the streets of
Cairo, a chill wind is blowing down the Nile.
Many Egyptians lambasted Mursi's Brotherhood for economic
incompetence and trying to grab excessive power during his year
in power. But now the language is much more serious: the
government accuses the Brotherhood of "terrorism" as it tries to
crush the movement by rounding up hundreds of leading members.
At least 900 people have been killed since security forces
broke up two pro-Mursi camps on Aug. 14. Allies of the
Brotherhood, Egypt's oldest and best-organised Islamist
organisation, put the toll at 1,400.
A muted public response to Wednesday's court ruling that
Mubarak should be released from jail has added to a sense that
the authoritarian order is making a comeback, threatening the
freedoms that were the main dividend of the uprising that began
on Jan. 25, 2011.
Media are now dominated by those backing the army's line
that it removed Mursi in response to popular protests demanding
his departure that began on June 30.
"I can sense, smell and very much tell that these are old
Mubarak people coming to take their revenge on the Muslim
Brotherhood," said Khaled Dawoud, a liberal who backed Mursi's
overthrow but has since criticised the spread of violence.
"It is so obvious with the pro-Mubarak people who are
filling the TV right now. They don't even want to consider Jan.
25 a revolution. They say June 30 is the only revolution."
The Brotherhood, which kept large protest camps going for
six weeks in Cairo to demand Mursi's reinstatement, is now
struggling to get people out. There have been no major protests
for days. The marches have fizzled out since Sunday when rumours
spread that government snipers were posted on rooftops.
The authorities have tightened their grip with dawn-to-dusk
curfews. The emergency rule that lasted throughout the Mubarak
era is back, at least for a month. Police who melted away in the
face of public anger in 2011 appear invigorated by the new
political climate, paraded as heroes on state television.
WIDENING THE NET
As the authorities widen their net to include regional and
lower-ranking Brotherhood members, other Islamist parties worry
that their own members will be hauled in.
Younes Makhyoun, leader of the Nour Party which follows the
puritanical Salafi approach to Islam, voiced concerned that the
political security apparatus that once hunted religious groups
and government critics will make a comeback.
Islamist movements, like any that tried to offer a serious
alternative to Mubarak's military-backed party, were outlawed
for decades. Like the Brotherhood, they were among the biggest
beneficiaries of the 2011 uprising that allowed them to set up
political parties and campaign openly for the first time.
Now, their members face citizen's arrests at the makeshift
checkpoints that have sprung up around Egypt, manned by
pro-government vigilantes. Some Egyptians recognise these as the
pro-Mubarak "baltagiya", or thugs, who clashed with protesters
during the 18-day revolt that ousted the former leader.
"Thugs have attacked them in the street, then handed them
over to the police stations, then accusations have been
fabricated against them - that they had weapons or were taking
part in acts of sabotage," Makhyoun told Reuters.
"We need guarantees from the authorities to the Egyptian
people: that the gains of the Jan. 25 revolution cannot be
violated, especially in the field of freedoms, human rights, and
freedom of expression."
The crackdown on the Islamists has divided liberals in much
the same way that it has polarised Egypt. Loath to endure
Islamist rulers, elected or not, some liberals who joined the
2011 protests now side wholeheartedly with the army.
Egyptian state television has resumed its role as the
mouthpiece of those in power. Channels emblazoned with banners
reading "Egypt fighting terrorism" flicker on screens in Cairo's
street cafes, in bakeries and in barber shops.
A recent poll by the Arab American Institute suggested a
huge majority of Egyptians had confidence in the military.
It is far from uncommon to hear Egyptians, whose economy was
brought close to bankruptcy by persistent instability, hark back
to Mubarak's era as a time when they at least earned a living.
"The Brotherhood were a problem for this country. God has
taken revenge on them," said Haj Abdelfattah, 71, smoking his
waterpipe as he sat on a plastic chair and sold overripe fruit
by the road. "They acted for themselves, not Egypt."
LIBERAL CRITICS FEEL THE HEAT
But some of the liberals who initially welcomed the army's
move against Mursi have been dismayed by the ensuing bloodshed.
The army has promised fresh elections but critics fear they will
pay a political price for their opposition.
Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel peace prize winner and the most
prominent liberal to endorse Mursi's overthrow, resigned as
interim vice president early in the crackdown and left for
Europe days later. He now faces a lawsuit raised by a private
citizen who accuses him of "betrayal of trust".
This points to the prospect of a new wave of
politically-motivated suits. Under Mursi, Brotherhood supporters
had brought a series of cases against opposition figures, in
what critics called a form of political intimidation.
By contrast, Mubarak is close to being freed with charges
ranging from corruption to complicity in the killing of
protesters so far failing to stick.
"I have not been sent to trial but I am getting enough
charges of treason and defecting and jumping off board, and this
is discomfiting talk," said Dawoud, who quit as spokesman for
ElBaradei's National Salvation Front as the death toll rose.
Like ElBaradei, Dawoud has become something of a pariah in
the ranks of his former brothers-in-arms in Tamarud, the youth
movement that led the protests against Mursi and welcomed the
army's intervention against him.
"Tamarud is finished ... They issue statements that call on
the army to do even more," he said. "It is a major
disappointment to me that some liberal and nationalist parties
that had defended the goals of human rights and democracy...
have suddenly decided to swallow this."
The backlash is such that critical journalists and
broadcasters have been silenced or forced off the air.
Government officials have railed against the foreign press,
accusing it of sympathising with the Brotherhood and
underplaying attacks on churches and the deaths of police.
Some foreign correspondents say they have been beaten while
out reporting or faced pressure from vigilantes accusing them of
Activists say their efforts to condemn the extensive nature
of the arrests, or the deaths of 38 people in custody, have been
met with accusations of political bias.
"There are fears or threats of arrest by loyalists of the
former regime against the revolutionary youth and activists...
The atmosphere of fear and terrorising of activists who speak
out about anything - this is widespread," said Mohamed Adel,
media coordinator for the Egyptian Centre for Economic and
"Some big journalists... are being threatened and told you
are either with us or with the enemy."
Sitting in his shop, worried about getting home before
curfew, Mohamed sees only dark days ahead for Egypt.
"The barrier of fear is returning. It is coming back
stronger than before. The police were humiliated after the Jan.
25 revolution and they want to restore their authority... The
excuse will be anti-terrorism, the same excuse Bashar al-Assad
uses in Syria," he said. "We'll end up a jungle like Syria."
(Additional reporting by Tom Perry and Yasmine Saleh,; Editing
by Michael Georgy and David Stamp)