Saturday, August 17, 2013

Things I Can and Can't Say About the Bloody Events in Egypt

As I watched events unfold at the Fateh Mosque in Cairo yesterday, I felt a need to comment on things in Egypt. 

This is a very difficult post to write, for several reasons. 

First, I'm not in Egypt. I haven't been in Egypt since last December. I can't provide the first hand perspective I was able to give while I was living in Cairo. 

Second, Egypt's Revolution and its aftermath are issues that are very close to my heart. After witnessing the uprising in 2011 and knowing so many people who participated in those events, I've struggled, off and on, with trying to maintain a position of neutrality when trying to discuss and decipher an insanely complicated era of change and upheaval in a country that isn't my own. 

Third, news-sources, both foreign and local, have had a tendency to be extremely biased and demonizing towards one side or another throughout this latest crisis. This makes it very hard to figure out what exactly is going on in the country from an outside perspective. 

Still, I can't help but put my thoughts for whatever they may be worth. 

Following the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi in June, I was tepidly optimistic that Egypt's turbulent experience with democracy was going to make a turnaround. There's no doubt the Muslim Brotherhood, who dominated Egypt's first openly parliament and who ultimately took the Presidency in a fair election, were incompetent rulers. They were just as equally determined to ignore the voices of other Egyptians who didn't agree with their Islamist ideology. When the army overthrew Morsi's government two months ago, it was preceded by days of protest against his rule in which hundreds of the thousands of people participated. 

Yet after the events of last week, I can say that these hopes have dissipated. 

The Egyptian Security Services violent clearing of two pro-Morsi sit ins in Cairo, which had been held peacefully for close to two weeks, led to over 600 deaths according to the latest figures. This was followed by Pro-Morsi, Pro-Muslim Brotherhood and Anti-coup supporters burning churches, schools government buildings, police stations and offices across the country. 

Streets I had known living in Cairo, which had never seen any violence while I was there, were now home to running street battles between pro and anti Morsi supporters. 

The bloodshed I've seen over the past few days has been shocking. It's been shocking to many people and governments around the world, who I think have struggled to understand who and what has been responsible for the ongoing violence. This has been especially difficult because of blatantly biased positions of so many writers, bloggers and media outlets inside and outside of Egypt who've tried to manipulate events to support one position or the other. 

I've been absorbed in this confusion as well. I've read dozens of articles about events in Egypt. Many blaming the government and the army for using excessive force in dispersing their rivals. Many blaming the Brotherhood and it's supporters for allowing armed men in their protests and trying to manipulate international media into portraying them as victims when their supporters are attacking churches and government buildings. Many blaming the US government for supposedly supporting either the Brotherhood or the army or both.

I've seen videos of body armor clad policemen and soldiers firing live rounds at unarmed demonstrators. I've seen images of armed men walking alongside demonstrators protesting for Morsi's reinstatement. I've seen pictures of bodies lying in mosques and in streets. I've heard defiant and utterly vitriolic statements by those supporting the demonstrators and those who despise them. These voices demonize the other side and praise their own. To me, it's as if I'm hearing two children pointing fingers at each other after a fight claiming the other 'started it!'. 

I've had Egyptian friends (Christians and Muslims, people, I love and trust) telling me how much they hate the Brotherhood and want the military to wipe them out. 

This horrible deluge of hatred and bigotry by so many factions and outlets in Egypt is painful for me to digest. But there are a few conclusion I can draw. These are things I can and can't say about current events in Egypt. 

First, I can say, that every political player in Egypt (The military, the interim government, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist the liberals and the secularists) has failed Egypt and its people miserably. None of these players, so far, has shown any willingness to deal with the opposing force insisting that the blood on their hands isn't there when pointing at the stained hands of their opponents. The Brotherhood could have come to the table earlier and could have changed its rhetoric to be more inclusive with factions it disagreed with, the army didn't have to clear the protesters from the square with the kind of force they used. The liberals and secularists betrayed a commitment to democracy by hiding behind the tanks of the generals. 

The state and private media in Egypt also failed, demonizing the Brotherhood as terrorists without showing any regard for their demands.

Second, I can say that the army's current heavy handed approach to the Brotherhood will not open Egypt to democracy or bring long term stability. These Islamists and other politically active Islamic movements in Egypt, may not represent the majority of Egyptians but they represent a significant portion of the population. The army won't be able to shoot them all or lock them all away. They won't make them go away by forcing them underground either. The Brotherhood and the Islamists need to be a part of Egyptian society. That means they and their opponents need to take a long hard look at themselves and decide what they need to change to make themselves better able to address Egypt's many needs. 

Third, I can say without any hesitancy, that Egypt deserves better than what either the army, the secular parties or the Brotherhood has been able to give it. Egyptians went to the streets in 2011 for a better future, a future void of corruption, and economic disparity. They deserve the best for their sacrifices. They deserve far more. 

Fourth, I can say that all these parties will continue failing their country for years to come. The hatred and bigotry in Egypt is so strong that I doubt the pro and anti Brotherhood blocks that have emerged will come together any time soon. 

Lastly, here are the things I can't say: I can't say whether the Revolution has failed or succeeded. Time is ultimately the only way to tell. The Revolution was never going to be a short term transition. My guess is twenty years from now, scholars and media outlets will still be debating the full repercussions of what happened on January 25th 2011. 

I also can't say whether the Brotherhood will triumph in the long run. Islamist organizations have endured a lot throughout the last few decades. They may very well whether this storm in Egypt, or they may be swept away by another ideological movement as Arab Socialism was in the 1970s. 

In the end, the final thing I can't predict, is whether Egypt will spiral into civil war or submit to military rule and it's road map. Regardless, the blood shed today will not be the last drops spilled in this country.

Think, hope and pray for Egypt, according to your inclinations.



  1. It has kind of amazed me how so many Egyptians are saying the MB are terrorists flatout. That's why it seems anything the military does, no matter how brutal, is "justified".

    The other thing that gets me is the anger at the American government. Just look at Obama's facebook page. He's being called a terrorist because he's condemned the violence.

  2. I know exactly what you mean Griff.

    The anger at the US government is a bit of a mystery to me. I especially can't understand why so many Egyptians seemed convinced that Obama supports the Brotherhood when his administration has never endorsed them.