It is very difficult to figure out how to articulate my thoughts and feelings regarding the events in Egypt over the past few days. Every time I try, the same roadblocks seem to present themselves….
Where do I start: January 25th? June 30th? July 3rd? July 26th?
What actors do I include: Activists? The interim government? Just the Muslim Brotherhood and the Military?
What’s my frame of analysis: The ailing motherland? The demise of democracy? The many faces of fascism?
But after receiving some shocking pictures of my cousins’ street in Alexandria and engaging in a quality discussion with another cousin who was one of the January 25th revolutionaries…I decided on a much less organized and more impulsive approach…
On what’s happening at this very moment
First of all, I am deeply saddened by what’s going on right now. I do not endorse violence of any kind to anyone in Egypt and am particularly disgusted by the Muslim Brotherhood’s destruction and violence towards innocent parties and institutions such as universities and churches.
The interim government’s decision to employ violence to break up Muslim Brotherhood protests and sit-ins at Rabia Al-Adawiyya and Al Nahda was a huge mistake. This is a group of people who have been forced out of power which they attained by democratic means; many of its members and leadership have also vowed to use violence to defend themselves and further their agenda. When you use violence to force the dissolution of these protests at Rabia and Al Nahda, the group will of course feel that much more justified to employ violence in response. What do you think a party that more than once said they’d light the country ablaze if they didn’t get their way would do if their demonstrations were violently shaken to the ground? They’re going to burn churches, they’re going to attack police officers, they’re going to rip apart tram tracks, and they’re going to storm schools. Why use violence against a group whose very essence you say is violent?
Certainly, many of the Muslim Brotherhood’s members have actually been linked to terrorism and terrorist groups in the past, but we can not forget that the Freedom and Justice Party was elected by the people and was running the country (albeit poorly) a matter of months ago. We can not expect to simply pull the rug out from under their feet and have them disappear as we inflame them by calling them terrorists. You have to exhaust all political and diplomatic means before resorting to violence. Using violence to simply wipe them out is not only wrong in and of itself, but it is also impractical when looking towards Egypt’s future. If these guys really have been known to employ terror tactics, do you think they’re going to forget about the massacre that occurred in August 2013 when the supposedly civilian government employed violence to abruptly terminate their demonstrations? Demonstrations which, mind you, exist for the sake of protesting their forced removal from democratic power? They will never forget this. They will never forget all the ‘martyrs’ who died for their cause at the hands of the military/police and they will continue to respond with what we’ve seen over the past few days. In turn, the military and police will respond by clamping down even harder, by pushing a violent and forceful agenda even further and by suspending basic rights on an even larger scale in order to protect citizens from what may actually morph into a terrorist threat. It is at this stage that the Muslim Brotherhood may actually seek terrorism as a method of pushing its agenda. This, mind you, is the very same terrorism the army used to justify its decision to use force in the first place. The result is a political party being forced out of government and possibly morphing into a terrorist threat.
In summary, the Muslim Brotherhood are an irrational and violent group, the military/police/interim government painted an inaccurate picture of them as far as current events in Egypt are concerned, proceeded to use violence to combat this inaccurate picture, and subsequently inflamed and agitated an irrational and violent group to behave much like this inaccurate picture.
What was the alternative?
I’ve always had a pet peeve for people who justify their actions by asking this question. Why does there always have to be a presence of a multitude of inferior options for me to express the point of view that the one you elected is poor ? There is a difference between a good decision and the best decision, and for the record this one is neither. That being said…I do not have an explicit alternative for someone who poses this question. I do firmly believe however that all peaceable, diplomatic, and political options were not exhausted prior to the decision to clear these people out of their sit-ins by force. Yeah, they tried some negotiations, yeah, there are horror stories about people dying inside of these protests and storing all kinds of weapons, and yeah, they were causing quite a bit of grief for civilians living nearby who wanted nothing to do with any of this. However, none of this legitimates the violence and innocent Egyptians slain to address these concerns. Negotiations failed? Try again. Then…try again…and again…and again. There are people in there who you have leveled charges against? Find a way to go in there and apprehend them. They are causing innocent civilians living nearby to live in fear of leaving their homes and preventing children from starting school? Find a way to contain them. I’m not just sitting here on my laptop idealistically typing away naive ideas to the army/police/government. The problem isn’t so much about them finding a way, its more so about the fact that they did not even try.
What does this mean for the events of June 30th and July 3rd?
Ever since I arrived in Egypt on July 5th, the one shred of truth I’ve clung to amid this complex and ever changing situation is that June 30th was good and that I am glad it happened. Mursi confused democracy with ballotocracy; viewing his democratic election as a free pass to enforce an authoritative style of government which had denied its people basic human rights, supervised an increase in terrorism and sectarian violence, and prioritized a regional Islamist agenda over the basic needs of the Egyptian people. His removal was demanded by the very people he had been responsible to serve, and he had failed in serving them. However, during a heated conversation with a cousin who was heavily involved with the January 25th revolution and chose to stay out of the June 30th one, my satisfaction with the events of June 30th has nearly vanished.
There is no doubt that the people who hit the streets on June 30th had every right to take action. However; I now question whether it was a smart idea. Opting for a ‘populist-military coup’ or whatever you want to call it before trying to work within the existing political infrastructure puts these people at the mercy of the army which as many Egyptians seem to have forgotten, doesn’t exactly have the best track record. If, as many claim, 30 million people hit the streets on June 30th demanding that President Mursi step down, couldn’t these people have thrown up a few viable alternative at the next parliamentary elections coming up in less than a year? If opposition was that high, couldn’t they have cycled the majority of the Brotherhood out in one election? One may respond (as I once did) that no such political infrastructure existed to begin with; that if these people tried to do this, the irrational and violent Brotherhood would have sacrificed itself and the country before relinquishing power. Well then, why not let them prove their own irrationality and violence to the rest of the country and the world before forcing their removal with a ‘populist-coup’ and giving them every reason to employ such irrationality and violence? Don’t you think 30M people in the streets demanding that an autocratic ruler step down after his parliament refused to respect the results of an election holds a lot more credibility then just going out and demanding his removal before even proving that the system is flawed to begin with? Don’t you think it makes a lot more sense for the army to intervene on behalf of the people at this juncture? Furthermore, don’t you think that this would force the army to be held accountable to the will of the people to operate within at least a semblance of a democratic political infrastructure?
The people didn’t wait to prove the government’s failure and so they skipped a step. Because of this, they had no legitimacy…no proof that the democratic system was severely flawed. As a result of this absence of this legitimacy, the army was basically the sole actor in dissolving the constitution and removing former president Mursi. This allowed the army and police to expand their power in the name of protecting the people which needed its help so desperately. Add in the fact that much of Egypt is viewing this as a binary…’good guys vs. bad guys’ type situation and you lose all the people who disagree with both sides. You lose the true revolutionaries like my cousin who want a truly civilian government, who’d rather try to fix a flawed democratic system before using force to wipe it out. These people are still around but it’s going to be much more difficult for them to make their voices heard when the army employs authoritarianism to re-usher in the military state. Had they just tried to use the political process first it would have at least established credibility across all factions of Egyptian society. It would have proved that Egyptians want to solve things politically before using force and that intention would have been respected for years to come.
As the military and police continue to strengthen their grip and the threat of terrorism continues to become a reality…I worry for the future of the country. It seems that it’s headed back to the way things were (and possibly worse) before the beautiful revolution of January 25th. A revolution that has been hijacked and tossed back and forth between the hands of giants with greater power. However, I place all of my hope for the future on the shoulders of these true revolutionaries. I count on them to continue pursuing the true goals of January 25th and to find a way to see that these goals are realized.
The revolutions continues.