The Burned Earth

The term “burned earth” finds its roots in an ancient military strategy of destroying your enemy’s crops by setting them ablaze, of torching their homes and food stores, defeating them not by direct warfare but by an ever tightening stranglehold—starving them out, breaking their will. In recent years in Egypt, the age-old term was repurposed to describe the unfair—and often random—arrest and mistreatment of citizens by the military in an effort to instill fear in the populace. The technique was central to the Emergency Law Campaign, enacted during the rule of ousted president, Hosni Mubarak. When President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by members of his own military, who opposed his signing of the Israeli Peace Accord, Vice President Hosni Mubarak was sworn into power. He immediately invoked a State of Emergency— one that was never lifted during his thirty-year rule. Habib el-Adly, Mubarak’s Minister of the Interior beginning in 1997, masterminded the extension of the Emergency Law to include regular use of kidnappings, prolonged detainment without trial, rapes, torture, and execution, with the justification that such techniques produced intelligence about state enemies.