Traditionally conceptualised as pertaining to the state and achieved through its safeguarding against the interests (territorial or otherwise) of other states, security has become an increasingly and intensely contested concept. Two assumptions that structured the field of security studies – grounding the meaning of security and determining the mechanisms and strategies for its attainment – have been fundamentally challenged. The widening and deepening of the security agenda has called into question both the privileging of the state as the primary object of security, and the narrow definition of what constitutes a threat. A multiplicity of sub- and trans-national subjects and objects – refugees, migrants, sleeper cells, ecological systems, networks, technologies, cultures, religions, children, youth, pandemics, rights – are now perceived as either security threats, or as in need of securing (that is, under threat).
This widening and deepening of the security agenda, however, has by and large not been accompanied by critical reflection on the manner in which objects (and subjects) become perceived, or constructed as matters of security (both as subjects and objects under threat, and subjects and objects that threaten). Only a minor (in the Deleuzian sense) literature has endeavoured to work through this ontological and epistemological rupture, and its implications for the discourses and practices of security. Calling into question the taken-for-grantedness of the subjects and objects of security, the literature interrogates the processes of securitisation, or the discursive and non-discursive practices through which subjects and objects become problematised as subjects and objects of security. In doing so, it enables, for instance, the denaturalisation and historicisation of the connection between migration and security, revealing that migration – and movement more generally – have only recently been construed as matters of security.
The concept of securitisation can likewise enable us to make sense of and reflect on some of the discourses and practices of security in circulation during the January 25th revolution in Egypt, and the revolutions and opposition movements that have been gaining momentum throughout the region. The discourse of security was one of the most prominent discourses deployed by crumbling regimes in Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and Libya. Through shifting constructions of a variety of subjects and objects as in need of security, or being secured against, the now patently de-legitimated regimes made a desperate (and patronising) attempt to rule through fear.
Two discursive strands can be discerned in the security discourse deployed by the crumbling regimes. The first is that which constructs the state/people as in need of being secured against an external enemy, a threat from the ‘outside.’ As the discursive strand least likely to backfire, it is also the one that is usually deployed first. It is least likely to backfire as it maintains the integrity of the state-people synthesis (i.e. the people are secure so long as, and through the security of the state), and the fiction of internal homogeneity and commonality of interest. Thus, foreign interests and agents provocateur are the first line of defense of each of the aforementioned regimes, trying in vain to convince ‘their children’ that they had their best interests at heart; that they and ‘their children’ were one; and that not just their security, but their survival as a people was at stake.
The second discursive strategy – riskier, hence usually deployed when the ineffectiveness of the first was becoming increasingly obvious – is that which constructs the state and the people as in need of being secured against enemies from within. Resident non-nationals (migrants, refugees, minorities and all manner of ‘foreigners’) are the safest targets. Although their construction as a threat exposes the fiction of a homogenous state (and even a homogenous citizenry), the fiction of a common national interest to be secured through the safeguarding of the state/national-citizen remains relatively undisturbed. All manner of people – youth, religious fundamentalists, journalists, labour activists – are the second, riskier target. They are pathologised, declared the rogue element, and as if with surgical precision, extracted from ‘the people’ and constructed as the threat against which the nation-state must be secured. Among the tactics for excising ‘these people’ are the attempts made by the collapsing regimes to monopolise ‘Egyptianness,’ ‘Libyanness,’ or ‘Syrianness.’
This strategy is riskier for two reasons. First, it unavoidably fractures ‘the people,’ and undermines the unity between the state and the people. The discursive strand that constructs the outsider or foreigner as a source of threat allows for the perpetuation of the myth of the inherent homology between the state and people, and a homogeneity within the people. The construction of an internal threat is always already an admission of heterogeneity, of fundamentally irreconcilable differences, of competing and irreducible singularities. Regardless of how much the internal enemy, the roué is demonised, the construction still fractures, introduces contradiction, and disrupts the fundamental fiction that grounds and legitimates the sovereignty of the state. The fissures might be microscopic, subterranean, escaping notice for the time being, or as yet ineffective. Eventually, however, they become impossible to ignore.
While the details differ from context to context, these two discursive strategies were deployed by every one of the sinking regimes. Foreign interests, foreign infiltrators and agents provocateurs, then internal enemies, rogue elements, delinquents, fanatics – the vermin that threatened the wellbeing and survival of the whole. In the now infamous interview with Libyan state television, as if intending to demonstrate the absurdity of the entire discourse, Muammar Gaddafi assembled all of these tropes into one perversely comical whole, blaming al-Qaeda inspired, drugged-up youth for the revolt in Libya. “They give them pills at night,” alleged Gaddafi. “They put hallucinatory pills in their drinks, their milk, their coffee, their Nescafé.” It was indeed, as one Benghazi resident aptly pointed out, "the speech of a dead man.”
These discourses of security are, of course, deployed by the state together with non-discursive, material practices that serve to support and reproduce them. In Libya, Gaddafi employed foreign mercenaries to buttress the discourse of threat and insecurity, and coax the people towards the state. In Egypt, the withdrawal of the police, strategic releases of prisoners, and state-sponsored looting, violence and intimidation served to reinforce the regime’s arguments that the security and survival of the people was at stake, and that threats were multiplying, and would continue to multiply in the absence of the regime. ‘Threat and risk are all around. They did not surface because we did not let them. Don’t you want, need us to protect you?’ the National Democratic Party seemed to be saying. Come back to us; cleave to the state; desire security above all else. Let the diseased limb be amputated; become the people by returning to the state.
Most saw these for what they were: the dying gasps of dead men. Yet as revolutions wear on, and others give way to post-revolutionary realities and struggles, it seems important to not lose sight of this critical insight. It is imperative to not reproduce the securitising discourses deployed by the regimes by demanding to be secured against ‘the other people.’ In demanding that schools be surrounded by tanks, in acquiescing to the perpetuation of states of emergency (to safeguard and secure ‘the people’), we not only reproduce the discourse of security deployed by the crumbling regimes. We reproduce also their efforts to fracture the people, and through such fracturing, again fuse the people (minus the sacrificed, amputated remainder) with the state. By constructing one part of the people as a threat to another, and thus, one part of the people as in need of securing against the other, they attempt not only to rule, but also gain legitimacy through fear.
Useful here is Giorgio Agamben’s insight into the nature of the concept of people. As Sherene Seikaly and Pascale Ghazaleh pointed to in, “Abduh al-Fallah: Elite Myths and Popular Uprisings,” for Agamben, interpretations of the political meaning of ‘people’ must begin with the recognition that the term names both, “the constituted political subject” and, “the poor, the underprivileged, and the excluded.” It simultaneously references that subject and, “the class that is excluded – de facto, if not de jure – from politics;” it designates both, “the whole of the citizenry as a unitary body politic,” and those who belong to the “inferior classes.” The insight is powerful as it points to difference as both the fundamental condition of existence, and that which is historically effaced or excluded in the constitution of the body politic. It points also to the grounding exclusion – of “the wretched, the oppressed and the vanquished” – through which the body politic is constituted, and which it attempts to conceal through the concealment of the dual meaning of people.
Yet the dual nature of ‘the people’ also enables regimes – especially in a revolutionary moment, when sovereignty is being seized by people – to fracture ‘the people,’ to unabashedly call for the excision of the ‘other people,’ this remnant or excess, from ‘the people.’ It enables regimes to construct this ‘other people’ as a threat to ‘the real people,’ who must buttress the regime or perish. It is this fracture and this fear that we must be cautious to not reproduce, for it is fear of people that safeguards dictators.
 Jef Huysmans, “Security! What Do You Mean?: From Concept to Thick Signifier.” European Journal of International Relations. (1998, Volume 4, Issue 2, 226- 255) 227.
 For a comprehensive account of the literature see: Jef Huysmans, The Politics of Insecurity: Security, Migration and Asylum in the EU. (London: Routledge, 2006)
 For more on the multiple and often-irreconcilable functions of the roué – the delinquent, the voyou, and the libertine – see: Jacques Derrida, Rogues: Two Essays on Reason. (Stanford University Press, 2005).
 Giorgio Agamben, Means without End: Notes on Politics. (University of Minnesota Press, 2000) 29.
 Ibid., 29-30.
 Ibid., 31.