Authoritarian Rule: 'Egyptians Yearn for Security and Order'

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Another journalist with a long view on the Middle East is the BBC's Frank Gardner. He is a former BBC Cairo bureau chief and he's covered the political ups and downs of the entire region. Frank Gardner says what's happening in Egypt now should not come as a surprise.

Frank Gardner: It's a very passionate part of the world. I've lived twice now in Cairo in Egypt and it's a place where tempers flare up quite quickly and a situation can spark out of control very quickly. For three decades since the assassination of President Sadat, Egypt lived under emergency law and the long arm of military dictatorship extended into everything. There would be over a million people working for the ministry of interior, eavesdropping on phone calls, reporting people back. When I rang our Cairo bureau, the producers used to me tell me that they got approached by the intelligence services saying, "It's your patriotic duty to spy on this correspondent. You've got to let us know what he's doing, where he's going, who he talks to." It's that kind of place. And suddenly, after the rebellion, the revolution that overthrew President Mubarak, I think a lot of people think, "Well, great. It's gonna be a different place. It's going to be a much lighter place to live in. But actually a lot of it hasn't changed below the surface. The military, the police, the intelligence services still pervade many aspects of Egyptian society. And you know what? A lot of people like it that way and that's the weird thing. They like the idea of the kind of dictator shepherd, somebody who is a sort of father figure to the nation, and they feel very unsettled by the vacuum that has been left in the last two years.

Werman: Are you saying that below the surface people really want a dictatorship in Egypt?

Gardner: I'm not saying they want dictatorship, but they want firm government. They definitely want firm government and that actually applies to most Arab countries. They want security first and foremost. Look, we saw this in Iraq where in the wake of the invasion, the Anglo-US invasion of 2003, Iraqis will be screaming to our TV cameras, "By God, we thought life was bad under Saddam Hussein, but it was a hundred times better than the insecurity we've got now." Because I think the mistake that we sometimes make in the west is thinking that democracy and elections are the big holy grail – give that to people and things will sort themselves out. People need security and it's the one thing that Egyptians right now are crying out for.

Werman: Do you think we're seeing the beginning of an unraveling in Egypt? Something along the lines of Syria?

Gardner: I don't think it's that bad yet. In Syria you had a number of things that basically opened up the borders and allowed a pouring in of foreign jihadists coming in form Iraq and from Turkey. You haven't quite got that in Egypt. There is that risk that what started out in Syria as a peaceful unarmed protest movement ended up being exactly what the President Assad accused it of being – an armed insurrection. It wasn't in the beginning, but it turned into that. I did a piece a few weeks ago actually for our website. It's "Is Egypt at Risk of Turning into the New Jihad?" Is it going to become a new threat of a jihad? It's in nobody's interests except for extremists who are kind of nihilists, but it's certainly not in the interests of Egypt. It did fight a jihad before in the '90s. President Mubarak's government, his regime fought a pretty serious insurrection that went on and claimed a lot of lives and it ended in the Luxor Massacre of 58 tourist in 1997. Egyptians were shamed by that because they like tourists, it feeds the economy, they need the jobs. The real fundamental problem in Egypt isn't political; it's economic. The country is a basket case economically and it really needs to get back on its feet and that's one of the reasons why Morsi was so unpopular, why he got given the boot unconstitutionally was because he made such a mess of the economy.

Werman: Frank, we're going to leave it there. Thank you so much.

Gardner: OK. You're welcome.

Werman: The BBC's security correspondent, Frank Gardner, spoke with us from London. You can find his story "Is Egypt Heading for Holy War?" at