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Let’s kill them all

This time last year, Egyptians were a week away from the disastrous extra-judicial decree of then president, Mohamed Morsi. Everyone knew, however, even without that decree, that the Muslim Brotherhood-led government had not the faintest idea (or perhaps intention) on how to govern inclusively. In a country that desperately needed consensus in order to simply …

Dr. H.A. Hellyer
Dr. H.A. Hellyer

This time last year, Egyptians were a week away from the disastrous extra-judicial decree of then president, Mohamed Morsi. Everyone knew, however, even without that decree, that the Muslim Brotherhood-led government had not the faintest idea (or perhaps intention) on how to govern inclusively. In a country that desperately needed consensus in order to simply maintain a path of reform (let alone actually implement any such reforms), such an approach eventually led to Morsi’s downfall, and the suspension of the democratic process altogether. It seems, however, that the idea of inclusion, and the corresponding one that relates to respect for diversity, is still not on the table in a real sense for Egyptian citizens. Indeed, it appears Egyptians now have to deal with yet more exclusion, and yet more contempt for diversity.

When the Muslim Brotherhood was the dominant political force in Egypt, there were plenty of signs that were quite worrying when it came to inclusion. Much of it was about religious identity – the discourse that was allowed to permeate, directly and indirectly, which problematised and demonised religious communities that were not pro-government, was intense. The sectarianism that the Muslim Brotherhood itself demonstrated, along with its supporters in other Islamist political formations, was clear, particularly with regards to Coptic Egyptians and Shi’a Egyptians.

There have been numerous examples documented since the beginning of the revolution in February 2011 – and even when in power, the Muslim Brotherhood did not shy away from such discourse. Claims that, for example, 60% of the protesters at the presidential palace were Christian (stated by the now imprisoned Mohamed Al-Beltagy of the Muslim Brotherhood); the inflammatory rhetoric expressed on the Rabaa stage before the violent crackdown, which laid the groundwork for extremely vicious actions against Christian communities later on; and the use of sectarian slogans in marches (Egypt is “Islamic”, for example), that find themselves spray painted on churches in the midst of pro-Morsi marches.

When it came to Shi’a Egyptians, the now infamous presence of Morsi at a radical Islamist rally, where vicious slogans vis-à-vis Shi’as were expressed without any objection from the then president, is now widely regarded as contributing to an environment where it was possible for Shi’a Egyptians to be lynched in Giza. On the political level, the marginalisation and exclusion of non-Islamist political forces (including violent clashes with other, non-Islamist Muslims), despite the fact it was these forces that were essential in ensuring a Morsi victory over Shafiq in the presidential elections last year, was clear for months from within. It was also clear from without, particularly among European Union officials, who were trying desperately for months to broker a deal that would minimise at least that kind of polarisation.

All of that kind of exclusionary rhetoric from the Islamist camp is clear – and one has to keep that in mind. However, as distasteful as that sort of discourse is, it is not the only type of exclusion that is currently being passed through the Egyptian public sphere. On the contrary – there is a rhetoric and discourse vis-à-vis Islamists that now pervades the highest levels of the public arena, which is a deeply pressing issue, considering the loss of life that has taken place in Egypt over the last four months. It does, of course, take different forms – there is a discourse for those who accept the powers that be, such as the Salafi Nour party, for example. It’s not a particularly inclusive or respective discourse, where those who support the Nour party are regarded as necessarily uneducated or poor (which simply does not hold up when one looks at the different studies on voting patterns in Egypt) – but it is far better than the more extremist type of discourse.

That kind of discourse is reserved for those Islamists who reject the current political framework: primarily the Muslim Brotherhood, who insist on “legitimacy” and so forth. The claims of “legitimacy” and the like are, of course, rather preposterous – but it’s not hate speech to claim Morsi continues to have legitimacy. It’s not hate speech for a footballer or a kung fu competitor to flash the Rabaa four fingered salute – and neither ought to be penalised for such things, unless they would also be penalised for exhibiting any other political symbol. One imagines that wearing pro-army insignia would probably not attract the same attention.

The discourse goes further, and it has costs. The discourse describes these types of Islamists as “non-Egyptian”, as they have supra-national considerations due to their commitment to the Islamist project – strangely enough, the same sort of judgment is rarely, if ever, applied to Nasserite Egyptians, who obviously have supra-national, Arab nationalist dreams. Again, all of this serves to dehumanise this portion of Egyptian society – and it does have costs. It is precisely this sort of discourse that has made it possible for Egypt to witness the most violent state crackdown against Egyptian citizens in modern history – with few voices expressing their objections. Had it been the Muslim Brotherhood-led government who had cracked down on protesters in the same way this current government has done in the past few months, even if those protests had some weapons within them, one imagines that the public uproar would have been very different. On 6 October, where more than 50 unarmed pro-Morsi protesters were killed in clashes with the security forces, not even the Ministry of Interior claimed the protesters had weaponry – but the public outrage against the deaths was minimal. Discourse can, indeed, lead to death.

There is a final type of exclusion that ought to be recognised in today’s Egypt – and that is the exclusion of those who even raise the idea of inclusion in the first place. The current Deputy Prime Minister, for example, Ziad Bahaa Eldin, is loyal to the new political arrangement – but he is being demonised and attacked in the media (as is his party, the Egyptian Social Democrats) for daring to even consider the idea of national reconciliation. For his trouble, he’s described as a member of a ‘5th column’, working against Egypt’s interests. He is not the only one – the likes of Amr Hamzawy, Belal Fadl, and the scores of human rights activists that caution against the discourse of exclusion and dehumanisation, are also subjected to another kind of exclusion and dehumanisation themselves. It is not enough, it seems, for some to dehumanise a group – they must also dehumanise those who oppose the dehumanisation process itself.

I was recently at a conference in Europe where an Egyptian human rights activist confided to me, “I’m glad I still remember the 18 days in Tahrir. I’m glad I was able to witness it, as utopian as it was – because it meant that it was possible. And we have to keep fighting for it.” When those in Egypt talk about democracy, whether those who demand “legitimacy” for Morsi’s presidency, or those who insist there is a 30 June “revolution”, they ought to be reminded: without respect for the other, there is no revolution. There is only revulsion. The alternative, of course, which seems to be what a lot of people secretly want, is: ‘let’s kill them all’. I think I prefer Tahrir’s 18 days – but that’s just me.

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  • neil sutherland

    I aqree with Dr Hellyer, about the level of non-‘discourse’,
    but he should be more open that this is an anti-Eqypt ‘jihad’.
    It’s Ikhwan who have traded in piety and social work for an uncompromisinq zero-sum war.
    They would love it if we were to be fooled aqain, and continue on with our plowshares, while they run around with their anachronist society swords.

  • AzzaSedky

    This is true. It is difficult for Egyptians not to go to extremes. For a country that never assimilated democracy and inclusion, it will take time.

    Still, one may be disappointed in today’s happenings, but one must also realize that we are in a far better position than if Morsi remained.

    See “Lest we forget” http://azzasedky.typepad.com/egypt/2013/11/lest-we-forget.html

    • Illuminati

      So Aza, I followed your link, read your blog, I happen to be one one of those you claimed they “have high moral values, but lack vision and understanding”. You also contend that that we are now “living in a much better times” and that MB “would have never relinquished power 3 years from now”. Furthermore, you also added that MB would have “rigged” the upcoming elections to maintain their grip.

      To illustrate how bad was the MB rule, you cited some example- which I have not personally seen, and suspect you have either, being that we both live abroad. Some of these examples include a “twisted version of an anthem for Islam” instead of “hailing Egypt” and argued that “all schools would have focused” on the “jihad” and “caliphate” to come, etc etc.

      What I sense in your post is a what clearly defines “fear mongering” reminiscent of the rhetoric i heard in the US before the Iraq war. It also happens to be the type of narrative and discourse that we academically advise against in Public Speaking and Comm courses. I find it extremely baffling that we destroy a democratic path simply because of a party’s amateur mistakes, at a time when all were amateurs, and accusations that fail to meet the ground of a minor felony in a decent court, which is no less than a “beyond reasonable doubt” standard.

      Not only that, but you also argue in favor of a the Rabaa crackdown, which is in clear violation of basic human rights. You argue for weak interim gov’t and military dominance, insinuating that these atrocities are a necessity whose acceptance prevails above “morals”.

      The point is Aza, NOTHING, and absolutely NOTHING justifies the legal and organized killing of civilians who decide to exercise their freedom of expression. Believing in your argument leads no where but to heightened authoritarian ultra-nationalism. Add some more deep veneration to the state and the one gifted leader, please don’t tell me this isn’t happening, and we have the first few lines that define Fascism.

      I tried to classify your post in on a scale of persuasive to informative, but found it leaning neither way. Sadly, your article comes very near deplorable, biased, and unbalanced rhetoric

      • AzzaSedky

        First, I personally was devastated after Rabaa. See “An embattled Egypt” http://azzasedky.typepad.com/egypt/2013/08/egyptian-battered-and-embattled.html.
        And I did not argue in favour of Rabaa. I was merely listing the issues that critics were against. How could I be in favour of a weak interim government for instance?
        Though I am not physically in Egypt, same as Dr. Hellyer, I definitely know what is happening in Egypt. The twisted version of Beladi Beladi has become Gehadi Gehadi. This was discussed in an interview just yesterday on Gaber El Qarmouti’s Manchette when he interviewed an education authority who confirmed it is still happening today.
        I wrote “The latest tyrants” over a year ago. The changes were already happening then. http://azzasedky.typepad.com/egypt/2012/11/the-latest-tyrants.html
        Please read.

    • DAMNtoMilitaryrule

      Do not fool yourself and do not let your emotion trouble your brain.
      Oh yes I know in Egypt some are writing to position themselves for What?
      So AZZA you do not see that Egyptians are scared under SiSI regime? Applaud now your turn will come and your are going to tell me that your better off under SISSI.

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  • Ahmed Bata

    The divisions are many, but none as bitter as those who want “sharia” vs. those who fear it. I am in the later camp, believing sharia as defined by contemporaries to be an amoral entity that doesn’t respect human rights, women’s rights, freedom of expression, freedom to worship as you see fit, and otherwise makes heretics and second class citizens out of those that don’t conform to one mold. I’d rather avoid the issue in gov’t all together. I love the solution the constitutional committee came up with. Sharia issues will only be interpreted by the constitutional court. Even El Azhar supported this solution, saying they don’t want any power in politics, not wanting to be Mullahs ruling the population the way they do in Iran. We have made progress. Once we get to a point where we can keep disagreements civil, avoiding public disorder and violence, we take away the excuse currently used to crack down on human freedoms, and can make more progress against abuse of power by the interior ministry and the judiciary. Hopefully.

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