وحدة الوقاية (The Prevention Unit)

Submitted into Contest #182 in response to: Set your story in a society where everyone is constantly aware of unwanted surveillance.... view prompt


Drama Fiction Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

(Brigadier General Mohamed) العميد محمد

I started out in the police force about 10 years ago. Never asked why once. I always figured my superiors knew what was best. 

ملازم، نقيب، رائد، مقدم، عقيد، عميد، لواء..

(Lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel, colonel, brigadier general...)

That’s all I knew. That's all I know. The more stars and swords you have on your shoulder, the more authority you have. And the more authority you have, the more you know. I had to follow orders. No matter what, orders were orders. Orders were my law. They started out simple enough. “Go pick up the balls” after my superiors would play football or, “Go fetch me some coffee” when a superior felt like it. The more serious the orders, the more respected you are. If you obey well, you are granted more stars and, consequently, acquire more knowledge. Eventually, I graduated from, “Go pick up the balls” to “go arrest that young man” and “go stick a broom up that young man’s bum until he gives us answers.” Orders are orders and they all sound the same to me. The only variation is the degree of difficulty. Getting coffee isn’t as difficult as getting answers. I arrested young men or young women for whatever reason I was told. My superiors know what is wrong. We have an objective and that objective is to keep everything in the order prescribed by the leader. He wants to prevent chaos before it happens.

After my obedient nature was popularized, I was asked to lead the Prevention Unit. I have an expansive task force assigned to me and now I am the one giving orders. Of course, the orders I give are based on the ones I received, the guidelines of which are clear:

1) Conduct thorough research on all activism in the country;

2) Identify the top 100 most threatening groups and their respective leaders;

3) Wait for them to make a move;

4) Capture the respective individuals by any means necessary;

5) Squeeze information out of them by using any effective tactic you can think of;

5) Make them disappear.

We are perfectly trained for this responsibility. We respect orders above all else because we know that orders perpetuate order. The task force has been extremely effective, capturing ten online bloggers per team per day, shutting down all critical online news platforms, collecting more intelligence from the new prisoners and, ultimately, preventing chaos. These delinquents all question the order because they were not trained as thoroughly as we were. We know what this country needs. I know what this country needs. And those outside will never understand. 

Word has started spreading that my task force is consistently on the lookout for troublemakers. People’s phones are cautiously turned off, protest is growing voiceless and, slowly, the number of arrests per day is decreasing. This is a good sign because it means the necessity for arrests is dampening. People are beginning to comprehend that we know what’s best and that our order cannot be disrupted. They can complain, but action upon those complaints is out of the question. There was a time when people thought they could act and, indeed, did act upon their dissatisfaction; but that was before my time. It was before our new leader’s time and it was chaotic. People flooded the streets, hoping to render the naiveté of foreign ideals their country's reality. They don’t know who is watching us. They don’t know what those surrounding our country are trying to infect us with. They don’t know why we must maintain order by denying liberty. This must be done at any cost and the people must remain obediently silent. If they don’t, the foreigners will take advantage of our disorder. They will control us as they did in centuries past and we will become their sheep once more. I feel no remorse. I feel no doubt.

(Senior Security Assistant Mahmoud) المعاون أمن أول محمود 

The first time I tortured someone, I was nobody. It was an odd situation because one moment, I was standing guard at the entrance to the police station and the next, after my superiors realized the usual torturer was out sick, I was pulled in as a substitute. They had arrested a young man, maybe early twenties, for reasons initially unknown to me. But I was given the order to tie him up and electrocute his testicles. I knew this was common practice, but I had never seen, let alone done it, before that day. The screams were nearly deafening; yet, no one asked why. Neither did I. I was following orders. But, it felt wrong. For a second, I wasn’t sure why I was following the orders, but that doubt fled soon after. That was the first time I wondered what would happen if I didn’t obey. Maybe my testicles would be electrocuted. I tried not to dwell too much and rather to imitate my fellow officers who were admirably nonchalant about the screaming and the begging and the drooling and the wailing. From what I could gather, the young man had used a megaphone on his university campus to announce the arrest of his younger sister for partaking in a peaceful protest. While he received his beating, he mumbled something about his sister having been missing for over two weeks, to which my superior cleverly responded with,

"بتقوللي مفقودة..تبقى تاهت وهي بتتسنكح..أو جايز وقعت في حب واحد زميلها واتجوزت من وراكم..بتلبس فينا احنا التهم ليه بقى؟ ولا أنت طالبة معاك بمشاكل؟"

(“You’re telling me she’s missing…then she got lost while on a stroll..or maybe she fell in love with a colleague and got married behind your backs…so why are you accusing us of something? Or are you simply looking for trouble?”)

Of course, my superior was lying. Maybe it wasn’t his sister, but I definitely remember a similar-looking young woman being dragged through the front door around two weeks before I tortured that youth. She was quite beautiful, which is why I remember her. Wavy brown hair, sandy-brown skin, a body as curvy as her hair and, despite having been beaten bloody, her entrancing odor had made its way to my nostrils as she was dragged by my feet. I haven’t seen her since then, but I reckon she has gone where the others usually go. Come to think of it, I recall feeling about her as unsure as I did about torturing her probable brother. It felt wrong. But my superior had given the order. So, regardless of how it felt, I knew it must be right.  

العميد محمد (Brigadier General Mohamed)

Things have gotten out of hand. Apparently, the silence was simply a decoy. Their communication has adapted and grown undetectable. We cannot take any chances. The task force must arrest anyone suspicious. Step 3, ‘Wait for them to make a move,’ is no longer pertinent. If anyone says something even indicative of a desire for change, they must be arrested. Arrests per day have subsequently increased in the past week. My men are obedient and efficient, leaving nothing to chance. Since we can no longer intercept suspects’ communication channels, we must make arrests at random. Anyone can go if they look the wrong way, or even if they don’t. The message will be clear.

المعاون أمن ممتاز محمود (Senior Security Assistant Mahmoud)

I got promoted to معاون أمن ممتاز (Excellent Security Assistant) overnight. It is unorthodox, but it seems this prevention unit needs more hands on deck. Mini riots have been appearing all over the country. The order is to arrest an average of 15 people per day per team with a preference for activists. But, if we cannot find activists, then we must target anyone remotely associated with activism. In practice, the details do not matter so long as we meet the arrest quotient by the end of each week. The youths are always a good bet since they are the most likely to embrace chaos. My primary task will be to torture the new arrestees in case they are concealing any useful information. Now, I don’t only use electrocution. Sometimes, the power goes out and we need other methods. Needles through the fingertips tend to work effectively, as does shoving brooms up the anus, the latter being the most common form of torture in our police stations. Ultimately, they all generate results and that is what matters. It still feels wrong, but I know it must be right.

العميد محمد (Brigadier General Mohamed)

I’m losing my grip. Too many young men and women are losing their sense of fear. Factions have grown in numbers and they have all periodically unified against us. These people do not understand that achieving their goal means permanent chaos. Once we are gone, they will eat each other and then we will all be sheep. We need order or else we are all lost. The country must come before the people.

المعاون أمن ممتاز محمود (Senior Security Assistant Mahmoud

The people are overtaking the country. They are doing so vindictively as well. Reports are saying police stations have gone up in flames all over the country. I haven’t witnessed any fires yet, but I reckon it must be true. On another note, my torturing has not been very effective. It seems many of the subjects truly have very little to do with activism. Some simply admit to wrongdoing despite their innocence. I can tell because the intel they provide is clearly inconsistent with the intel we have. Many are simply kept in confinement because they have been arrested. They are all eventually sent to where the others have gone. We call that destination “ورا الشمس (Behind the Sun).” I'm not sure where that is.

العميد محمد (Brigadier General Mohamed)

I love my country. We all do. But, we show it differently based on what we know about it. Some people know more about its strengths, others less. Some, like me, know more about its weaknesses. My love is imposingly protective, as it should be. The youths’ is passionately unshielded. The love of other factions is driven by camouflaged greed. But, we all love the country. My obedience has been in the name of the country. This is what I was taught. This is why I never asked why. Today, the country will be suffocated by millions of conflicting forms of love. The land will be decimated and its clear waters will turn red. The country will travel and land “ورا الشمس (behind The Sun).”

محمود (Mahmoud)

Today I was tortured for the first time. My police station has been raided. Young men and women have barged in, lit the building up in flames and sought revenge. They look barbaric. Their bloodshot eyes are drooling with thirst and their fangs are constantly visible. If it weren’t for the context, I would assume they are all suffering from rabies. My testicles are being electrocuted repeatedly. The youths are trying to squeeze information out of me, but I really do not know much. I simply follow orders. I have always followed orders and yet my testicles are being electrocuted. There is no worse form of pain than the realization that all one believed to be right was in fact wrong.

محمد (Mohamed)

My task force has failed. The damage has been done. We are now weaker than ever and the factions that were once unified against us have turned on each other. Foreign beneficiaries are funding all factions to add more fuel to the flames and incite more chaos. Order has dissipated and now the people will overrun the country. Where do we go from here? If only I had tracked them better. If only I had infiltrated them more subtly. My prevention unit should have prevailed. My country’s leader has fled in fear and so I know I must do the same. He knows what is right.

محمود (Mahmoud)

I have asked to join the youths. They seem to be fighting for something meaningful and, more than that, they question orders. They hold discourses. There is no definitively right or wrong opinion. Above all else, they have forgiven me. Of course, this was after my extensive and vengeful torture as well as a genuine display of remorse from my side. But, they forgave me nonetheless. Among the belligerently benevolent youths is Youssef, the first person I ever tortured. I was almost certain he had gone “ورا الشمس (behind the sun).” His beautiful sister, Yara, is with us as well, although she does not utter many words. It seems the torture got the best of her. While the country is up in flames, I feel safer than ever amongst the youth. It seems nothing can shake their determination to pursue an honorable future. Of course, there are only the other five-to-ten power-thirsty factions to barge through. Like my former superiors, the opposing factions also preach order and obedience. They also seek to prevent chaos. They also claim to have all the answers. I hope one day they endure the pain of what I have learned about right and wrong.

January 27, 2023 15:48

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Shirley Medhurst
07:33 Feb 21, 2023

Chilling…. and all too near the sad truth! Thank you for sharing


Adam El Nabli
00:06 Feb 26, 2023

Thank you for taking the time to read!


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Zack Powell
19:03 Jan 31, 2023

What a great, thought-provoking story, Adam. Oddly enough, this reminds me a lot of something I saw about the Holocaust, where the common saying from the people in charge of running the concentration camps was "I was only doing what I was ordered." There's such a heavy focus on that here - order, rules, authority, enforcement - and it's an interesting exploration of how that kind of thinking can warp your understanding/expectations of the world around you. A subtle thing I loved here was the disappearance of Mohamed's and Mahmoud's job titl...


Adam El Nabli
09:29 Feb 01, 2023

Hey Zach, thanks so much for reading the story and for taking the time to share your thoughts! This was a slightly experimental piece as I hadn’t ever shifted POVs so rapidly. The stylistic approach may have been inspired by a beautiful novel I read recently titled, “If an Egyptian cannot speak English” by Noor Naga (highly recommend). In any case, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for underlining your favorite line as well! I guess sometimes love can be a puppeteering trickster if not reflected upon.. And congratulations to you as well...


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Jack Kimball
22:40 Jan 30, 2023

Interesting. I think what sets this apart is the blaming of the surrounding countries. 'They don’t know what those surrounding our country are trying to infect us with.' so this goes a little deeper. What countries? Why? Who's right? I liked the arabic which added realism and I suspect you might have a unique insight into exploring some non-fiction perspectives of what's going on from the POV of the Iranian, Palestinian, etc. on the street. Although maybe that's my own bias? I suspect there is a lot more to tell. Enjoyed it! Jack


Adam El Nabli
08:27 Jan 31, 2023

Hey, thank you for taking the time to read my story! I’m glad you enjoyed it!


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