Tenuous alliances and complacency have led to little more than bloodshed and obstruction of what really afflicts Egypt
“I trust that the international community, which has long rejected terrorism, will firmly stand by the Egyptian people in the fight against violence and its advocates, and will not accept any attempt to justify it, or tolerate it.”
This statement comes from Nabil Fahmy, Egypt’s Foreign Minister, during his recent address to the UN General Assembly. Depending on one’s political allegiances, such a statement could be met by a number of responses. From some, a standing ovation, others may meet the speech with pure disgust. From those of us who have watched events of the past few months unfold with a sense of extreme somberness and disbelief, a question: Mr. Fahmy, are you asking us to stand against your own administration?
The impetus for such a question should be clear considering the body count now numbers over a 1000 by many estimates. How many of these dead Egyptians were ‘terrorists’? This question, unlike my first, is not meant as a mere rhetorical jab. While it seems certain the majority of the dead were not terrorists, I think it is unreasonable, as some anti-coup elements would have it, to try and maintain that every death was an innocent one. There are simply too many reports before and during the crackdown that point to violent elements from the Brotherhood or their affiliates, and these shouldn’t be ignored, as they show culpability on both sides.
This should in no way excuse the rampant violence that followed Morsi’s ouster. Put best by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights: “Non-peaceful assembly does not justify collective punishment.” As Mr. Fahmy has called on us all to do, we must “not accept any attempt to justify [violence], or tolerate it.” By such principles, even if 1000 so-called terrorists had been killed in the course of the crackdown, it would not justify the death of one innocent Egyptian. Yet, in a move of supreme hypocrisy, this is the precisely the sort of justification the military is trying to make.
The most surprising occurrence is how comfortable some of secular Egypt seems to be with the violence. I had been optimistic about the potential for real progress after seeing political force wielded so adeptly by Tamarod and their supporters as well as other revolutionary groups. While the alliance with SCAF was certainly met with trepidation, it seemed not unreasonable at the time to expect a coalition that so effectively engaged millions to be able to do so again, if need be, in controlling the military. As such, the ongoing complacency continues to perplex me.
The danger now in moving forward is not just in continued complicity in state-violence to gain political ground. Egypt now risks losing sight of what in large part had caused unrest to continue unabated to start with, namely economic stagnation. Under Mubarak, economic inequality ballooned despite growth, but the absence of free political space made it impossible to adequately voice these economic concerns, making the need for such space the first-order goal of the revolution. Given the continued persecution of journalists and political pariahs since Mubarak’s downfall, it is obvious the political arena is not yet totally free and open, but serious ground has been gained. The sort of political action that made Tamarod so successful would have been impossible under Mubarak; five years ago they would have been cut-off at the knees.
Tamarod is perhaps unwilling to turn against SCAF because they feel their political win too hard fought or important to risk. Maybe they really think the Brotherhood is too dangerous an enemy to let roam unchecked, but such a notion stinks of repression at best. Regardless the reason, any political win that is not coupled with economic progress won’t get them far.
This is precisely what made it so easy for Morsi to be deposed in the first place. The Brotherhood was itself too focused on gaining political ground, even after they had secured the executive office for their party. This is evident in the large number of Islamist or Islamist leaning governors appointed after Morsi was elected. The deposed president’s inability to address the underlying economic problems that face Egypt cannot be attributed to having been obstructed by the ‘deep state.’ Even if he had affected every economic change he claimed to pursue, it is still dubious to say there would have been much effect; his reforms offered little more than a resumption of Mubarak-era economic policy.
Earlier this month, economist Dr. Fadhel Kaboub laid out the case for why past ‘reforms’ have failed and offered a starting point for real economic reform through financial sovereignty. It is the inability or unwillingness of Egyptian heads-of-state to grasp this sort of thinking that plagued Egypt’s economy for nearly a half century. Even the announcement of the new public sector minimum wage missed the mark, as pointed out by Iris Boutros last week.
This talk of economic reform shouldn’t seem tangential or untimely given the aforementioned political violence; quite the opposite. Economic disparity continues to fuel unrest and threaten Egypt’s future. Fiscal corruption has caused widespread poverty and unprecedented desperation in the past 30 years. This, in turn, has bred criminality and desperation that is played out most disgustingly through the current everyday harassment in Cairo’s streets. If you were serious about eradicating the violent branches of the Brotherhood, economic progress would go a long way in doing just that. By diminishing the number of those most desperate and least educated, you eliminate the social group most often manipulated and antagonized by party leadership. Finally, SCAF would no longer be able to claim the pretence of offering security, a pretence surprisingly many still accept.
This is not a question of which comes first, economic or political progress. It is a matter of seeking both at once. If Egypt is to achieve political justice, it must be hand-in-hand with its economic counterpart. As it stands, the political ground gained this summer has been largely superficial. If Egypt has eliminated the risk of ‘rising religious fascism,’ it is only by trading it for a different variety, but a fascist by any other name smells just as foul.