11/07/2014 10:34 am ET Updated Jan 07, 2015

Egyptians' Confusomania

Egypt's recent sentencing of 23 pro-democracy activists to three years in jail is the latest in a series of verdicts that has included the Al-Jazeera journalists trial (sentenced to between seven and ten years for terrorism related charges, based on evidence that included videos of their reporting in other countries, pictures of private family vacations and a music video by Gotye).

The defendants in the recent case were sentenced for protesting the anti-protest law. Defendants included Sanaa Seif, sister of prominent activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah. Her brother faces the same charges. His court hearing was one day after hers. The evening after Sanaa's sentence, it was suggested in a tweet that maybe he just shouldn't go.

He replies: "Well, if I didn't go, that means a sentence in absentia, an arrest warrant, and they would break into our house again. What should I do? Hide in the mountains?

A newspaper writes: "Alaa Abdel Fattah Plans to Escape in The Mountains."

Comments on the piece suggest that few read past the headline.

The following day, when Alaa showed up to court, he was taken to prison. He was taken in preventative detention, no one knows where. His wife and his mother have escalated their hunger strike. Sanaa continues hers, over 60 days to date. Only after two days of searching, did Alaa's family learn where he is. His trial is set for November 11.

The Egyptian judiciary has been more interested in "punishing dissent than establishing justice," Diana el-Tahawy wrote in her Guardian piece. But the judiciary is not alone in its foray against pro-democracy activist. The backstage is laid to allow for a media flotsam whose sole purpose is to denounce everyone and everything related to the 25th of January uprising.

Despite its acclaim, the Oscar-nominated documentary The Square screened in Egypt only months after its release. "But we weren't allowed to advertise that it was screening there," said the movie's director, Jehan Noujaim to The Hollywood Reporter. The film's team has been accused of being employed by foreign anti-government forces, added its producer, Karim Amer. Sanaa Seif is also one of the editors for this movie. In 2011, a Nile TV documentary about the January 25th uprising was initially banned on the basis of "historical inaccuracy," until Nile TV employees protested. In June 2013, Bilal Fadl's TV series was banned maybe because it depicts police brutality pre-2011, maybe because of his sympathies for the revolution, and those of his team.

There are rows of billboards lining their way to the Cairo airport, which praise the young and courageous Egyptians who stood up for the revolution. They were the last I saw, when I left Egypt. "We must educate our children to become like young Egyptian people, Barack Obama." "There is nothing new in Egypt, Egyptians are making history as usual, Silvio Berlusconi." But a lot was new in Egypt when I came back this January, and more is new since. The courageous Egyptians' private conversations had begun broadcasting on TV.

"Exposing Wael Ghonim's support to the Muslim Brotherhood."

"Exposing Wael Ghonim's Espionage on the Egyptian Military."

Ghonim is not a longstanding political activist, but his association with the 25th of January uprising is undeniable. The young Google executive is administrator of the Facebook page, "we are all Khaled Said," recognized for rallying support for the demonstrations. When Ghonim went missing the first few days of the uprising, word came out that he was detained by the secret police. Upon his release, he made a TV appearance that made him internationally famous. Fingers were sometimes pointed at his fame, suggesting that maybe it is unearned, but nothing was suggested of his integrity, at least nothing prompting him to write a Facebook status to clear his name.

But it was clear that now the time had come for the young and brave Egyptians to apologize for their revolution.

"Exposing Musfata ElNagar's Confessions for Stealing a Hard Drive from State Security."

Mustafa ElNagar is a pro-democracy activist and former member of the Egyptian Parliament. When, in March 2011, newspapers reported that protesters stormed State Security Buildings, raided the police offices, and grabbed secret files, some might have minded, but no one was "exposed." This time it seemed important that Nagar explain, mostly to deaf ears, that the gates were left open, and that protesters only went in after asking the Military Police. He had evidence for it. But I wonder how many of the hordes of Egyptians who defied curfews, sometimes as early as 6 p.m., to be in Tahrir, had permission? And what revolution asks permission? While tapped phone conversation played, another thing cascaded on Egyptian TV: a voter campaign for a constitution whose preamble says January 25th is a revolution, Egypt's current constitution.

Yet, the revolution, we say, is a conspiracy, and those who stood up for it are collaborators. When a young man went down to Tahrir holding a sign "the revolution continues," men across the street shouted: "collaborator, how much did you sell Egypt for?" The young man writes from jail.

"Even if president El-Sisi said it is a revolution, January 25th is still a conspiracy," a newspaper writes.

But Egypt's fate was not written in the stars. Peddlers of conspiracy have been around since the start, but never quite in the mainstream. In the early days of the first wave of uprising, there was a Facebook campaign against Ghonim by a man named Ahmed Spider. He accused Ghonim of being an agent of a Freemason plot. The evidence: Ghonim's colorful bracelet, and the Giordano logo on his t-shirt. When Spider went on TV to explain his allegations, even the TV anchor could not take him seriously. The same TV anchor had before suggested that Mohammed El-Baradei (Nobel Laureate and former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency) is not fit to participate in Egyptian politics because he does not know how to force-feed a duck. Even he couldn't take the freemason scheme seriously.

But by the time Spider made his second debut, Egypt seemed ready to believe anything. He made a televised allegation against Vodafone for a YouTube commercial that features a puppet. The commercial, he argued, was communicating a terrorist plot. His evidence this time was a dog, a SIM card, and a Christmas tree sleigh bell. But unlike in 2011, it had become reasonable for a TV anchor to, not only give Spider airtime, but to dial in Vodafone's External Affairs Director to ask him if the commercial was produced in Egypt, whether it was produced by Vodafone, or whether it was shoved onto the company, and to tell him that it was no joke. The puppet was communicating a terrorist plot.

"How do we know it wasn't?" an acquaintance suggested. I left it there. But, hey, "Even if president El-Sisi said it is a revolution, January 25th is still a conspiracy." And underneath the piece, someone comments that he is confused, not by the logic to the conspiracy, but by a certain pro-democracy activist who is also in jail for protesting the anti-protest law, and who has been on hunger strike. "Ahmed Douma is depressed. Ahmed Douma is paralyzed. Ahmed Douma is refusing medication," the reader is perplexed. And in the midst of this phantasmagoria, the government passes a law that allows it to tighten its oversight over NGOs. A newspaper follows with a list of the "six most dangerous organizations that work in Egypt."

The list includes the EU.