Examining Egypt’s Struggle

Here are some excerpts from three insightful articles about the current state of struggle in Egypt, between forces roundly and mostly accurately described as the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.

First, from The National, a publication of the United Arab Emirates:

While some parts of the Arab world are dividing along sectarian and sometimes ethnic lines, the smouldering unrest in Egypt is entirely ideological. Partisans on both sides view it as an existential struggle to define Egypt’s identity – and all conflicts of this type tend to be bitter and brutal.

The Egyptian government’s narrative since the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi has been that the military intervened, after overwhelming public demand, to stop the misrule of an out of control party and president who faced no other political checks. From the outset, they accused Mr Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood of having deep ties to Salafist-Jihadist extremists in Sinai.

This account has been significantly strengthened by the evidently furious reaction of the Sinai-based extremists to Mr Morsi’s removal, and their reported offer in the days and weeks immediately following that violence would cease if he were restored to office. With both the government and the Muslim Brotherhood raising the stakes, violence has been spreading throughout Egypt.

The narrative of the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters, by contrast, suggests all of this is nothing but excuses for a counter-revolutionary crackdown.

It always anticipated that the military and the rest of the Egyptian establishment would never allow an elected Brotherhood presidency and would find some rationalisation to overthrow it.

Everything that has followed has been interpreted through this framework as a campaign to destroy the Brotherhood jail, persecute and kill its members, and blame it for all kinds of things it has nothing to do with. The Brotherhood worldview predicts such a response to any political success, and its political comfort zone is much more attuned to the underground than the open air.

These competing narratives, however, are criticized as ugly and deceptive propaganda by this article in Daily News Egypt:

False narratives continue to play a dangerous role in the turmoil in Egypt. No group knows that better than the Muslim Brotherhood. Unsubstantiated claims of the group’s role in violence in Sinai and other parts of the country, along with rumours surrounding the Brotherhood’s links to foreign and domestic actors have made their way to state institutions and mainstream media, which has largely unabashedly rooted for the government in its ongoing crackdown.

It is sad and unfortunate to see that the Brotherhood has turned to the same tactics, constructing false narratives and facilitating the spread of baseless information for its own gain, often employing smear campaigns that closely resemble those from which they suffer.

The group is no stranger to employing sectarianism through various mediums. Even when Mohamed Morsi was president, party leaders made public statements blaming Christians and the Coptic Church for sabotaging the government while its satellite channel Misr25, which was promptly shut down on 3 July, repeatedly made claims that armed Christians were sparking violent protests.

After a summer of bloody massacres at the hands of security forces, the MB resorted to the same sectarian rhetoric, this time to paint the current conflict as one split along sectarian lines.

The FJP’s newspaper regularly publishes sectarian-driven misinformation, and has resorted to some of the most desperate forms of propaganda. It has done everything from blaming the Church’s alleged coordination with military intelligence and the US government for terrorist attacks in the country to publishing articles quoting a fake Pope Tawadros II Twitter account declared that Egypt is a Coptic state.

Following the Brotherhood’s defeat in the Doctors Syndicate elections, the FJP’s paper once again blamed the Church for playing a role.

Christians serve very useful for the Brotherhood’s narrative. In the group’s eyes, the fact that most Christians supported Morsi’s ouster is a convenient way to show that there is an ongoing “war against Islam.”

Needless to say the Muslim Brotherhood’s bigotry does not serve as justification to indiscriminately detain its supporters, respond to its demonstrations with disproportional force, violate a myriad of human rights standards, or even call it a terrorist organisation.

However it demonstrates that even when it suffers from the consequences of mass misinformation, the Muslim Brotherhood and FJP are willing to play a part in the game of false narratives, even if it means fomenting hatred and consequently jeopardizing the safety of other Egyptians.

Meanwhile, blogger Salama Moussa declares a pox on both their houses, and recalls a historical period where this pox decimated both:

The post-1967 years are often described as years of defeat and breakdown. There was that. The daily bread was often corrupted with saw dust. Staples were hard to come by. Oranges, for example, once plentiful, were in short supply, as they were used to pay the Soviet Union for weapons. The country suffered the effects of Israeli raids and occasional forays. But the years had a certain luminosity, as Said noted. Something felt very different in Egypt. There was an air of anticipation and possibilities. Economic growth, for the first time in several years, picked up. Students, some as young as 8 or 9, could demonstrate and even criticize the government openly. Al Azhar admitted women to its schools for the first time, and many came wearing short skirts. There was attention to merit; the commander of a major army was a Copt, for example. Government contracts were bid out fairly. Even the notorious Cairo traffic flowed smoothly, aided by newly constructed tunnels and bridges. How do we square these undeniable feelings and observations with the reality of defeat and the ever-present anxiety of  failure?

Egypt between the wars, 1967 to 1973, was free of two influences that haunted it for nearly two decades prior to 1967. Nasser smashed the Muslim Brotherhood to bits. Israel smashed the army. Free from both the Brotherhood and the army, Egyptians glimpsed a vision of Egypt unchained by these two authoritarian and hectoring groups.  After 1973 things changed rapidly, and not for the better. Sadat empowered the Brotherhood, initially on university campuses to counter the liberals and the left, but ultimately throughout society, and the army had its honor restored, although the best and most successful of its generals were booted out. Six days of war were followed by six years of hope and forty years of despair.

The fading year of 2013 has been one of despair in Egypt. Every week brought fresh horrors and searing images of pain. Who can forget the Port Said deaths, the lynching of Shi’a citizens, the attack on St Mark’s Cathedral, the horror of death at Rab’a, and the daily demonstrations  often accompanied by injuries and deaths. The polarized country is left feeling that it must choose between one of two tormentors. That would be a false feeling. There is luminosity in Egypt, which only a third way will uncover, and chart a path forward unchained by the forces that gave the land forty years of despair.

Feel free to read these articles in their entirety, and hold on tightly.

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