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The Un-united Arab Republic of Egypt

By Amr Khalifa “United we stand, divided we fall,” a wise man once said. Apparently, Egyptians have not heard of the man – Aesop, an ancient Greek storyteller. The tumult Egypt has experienced for the past 3.5 years has been marked by blood and, most damagingly to national psyche and long term prospects for the …

Amr Khalifa
Amr Khalifa

By Amr Khalifa

“United we stand, divided we fall,” a wise man once said. Apparently, Egyptians have not heard of the man – Aesop, an ancient Greek storyteller. The tumult Egypt has experienced for the past 3.5 years has been marked by blood and, most damagingly to national psyche and long term prospects for the rise of the nation, hatred and division. For you see, blood-letting eventually ends. Seemingly indefatigable thirst for violence finds its way to finite resolution.

Division and hatred are another matter. Those twin cancers etch indelible scars in national psyches akin to ready-made rivers for instability, regression, implosion to flow. This is where Egypt stands today, just over a year removed from the 3 July 2013 coup by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi: a nation divided. The divisions and gaps created within the socio-political discourse that is Egypt are, in fact, of such combustibility that those expecting stability at the hands of the newly elected saviour are in for quite a surprise. So sit back, grab your favourite beverage, and let me take you on a guided tour of the Un-united Arab Republic of Egypt.

Certain wars are fought with heavy weaponry, others are fought guerrilla style, yet other more dangerous ones use the dehumanisation of the “other” as a weapon of choice. Those grappling for the reins of power in Egypt understand the power of language as a surgeon understands the power of his scalpel. For purposes of linguistic efficiency we shall call the three main mountain tops of Egyptian society: the military, the Islamists, and the revolutionaries. There are, of course, subtleties and subdivisions within the socio-political dynamics of each group. Naturally, this makes for a darker, more complex dynamic than one can tackle in a single article. In international law parlance, Egypt has been effectively turned into a de jure tri-state political reality.

“It’s not possible for Egypt the state nor Egypt the people to submit to the Muslim Brotherhood terrorism,” said former deputy minister Hossam Eissa on Christmas Day 2013.Eissa was certainly not the first Egyptian official to unequivocally state such a “fact”, nor was he the last. The effect, however, is as simple as this – say, wash, and rinse and repeat and presto: “reality” is born. Suddenly, vast swaths of the Egyptian population not only believe as an unimpeachable fact that the MB are “terrorists” but it also paves the way for monstrous violations of human rights. As Amnesty International stated last week, “rampant torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions signal a catastrophic decline in human rights one year after [the] ousting of Morsi”. Egypt is far from 1930s Germany. But look closely at aspects of targeted vitriol reserved for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, in public and private circles: you see a systematic degradation of the very human worth of an MB member or sympathiser.

This dynamic is accomplished in both implicit and explicit ways. Even Egyptians who have lived 50 years have never witnessed a bloodier period than the past year. Yet with every passing wave of violence, the label “terrorist” was applied to every single Muslim Brotherhood rally, demonstration and sit-in. There was a consistent underplaying of each massacre by the regime. Take, for example, the 27 July 2013 massacre, aka the Unknown Soldier’s Tomb massacre. Casualty figures released by the government to outlets such as the venerable New York Times quoted 72 killed. But, more consistently accurate numbers by the independent watchdog WikiThawara reflected 108 killed (AR). Time and again, in various massacres in the past year, this has been a feature of the Sisi regime: the use and manipulation of numbers to turn Islamists into Egyptians whose blood was disposable because they are “terrorists”.

Did the Islamist camp use violence? Yes, without question, some did. Did many of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership eschew logic and put their membership, in moments of hyper cynicism, intentionally in harm’s way? Astoundingly, yes. Was the rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood one that threatened severe sectarian division? Analysts and layman alike believe so. But is every Muslim Brotherhood member a terrorist? Clarity on this point is crucial: you would have to be deaf, dumb and mute to believe so.

Using the power of deductive deconstruction let’s look at the following: on 24 June 2012, Mohamed Morsi won the presidential race with slightly over 13m votes. Naturally, his voting bloc wasn’t singularly MB or even Islamist but included millions who voted for him in a strong refusal of the ancien regime. Egyptians comically called that voting bloc “lemon squeezers”, indicating a willingness, in Egyptian slang, a willingness to accept the normally unpalatable. Most analysts and observers agreed that the hardcore Islamist block came in the first round and was closer to 5m votes. Bearing those numbers in mind, subtracting 50-60% due to economic, social and political failures of the Morsi regime, the hardcore membership of the Muslim brotherhood is still well over 2 million Egyptians. If Sisi is correct and the MB are indeed terrorists, then Egypt has the most serious terrorism problem the modern world has known: 2 million terrorists, largely free to roam Egypt’s streets. The persistent demonisation of the MB by radio, government TV and satellite TV— in fact, by all Egyptian media with minor exceptions, has resulted in virtual silence as the biggest massacre in modern Egyptian history took place. Bear in mind, as well, that one of the frequently used terms in Egyptian media refers to the Muslim Brotherhood as the ‘banned group’. The word banned has a psychological significance that cannot be understated. ‘Banned’, in the mind of the Egyptian audience, further instils imagery of the Muslim Brotherhood as ‘the other’ and accomplishes, in the subtlest of ways, the dehumanisation of the group.

As if the legacy of blood dividing the nation were not enough, the fact remains that Sisi is definitive in his intent to persist with a security solution while ignoring a political alternative. “I want to tell you that it is not me that finished [the Brotherhood]. You, the Egyptians, are the ones who finished it”. In fact he, without qualification, says that “during his presidency” the Muslim Brotherhood would cease to exist. Whether that is political bravado or reality, time will tell. What is certain is what with such rhetoric the Sisi camp stands existentially opposed, on one mountain top, to two significantly smaller groups occupying opposite hill tops.

But is the mainstream of the Muslim Brotherhood camp any less guilty than its hyper-nationalist counterpart? On a typical day, if you follow the right accounts on social media, it will take you less than five minutes before you find gems such as “the slaves were raped” because they support “the coup junta”. You may ask yourself who the slaves in question are and the answer is the vast of majority of Egyptians who currently support the coup and Sisi. In case you were wondering, naturally, the Islamist camps are consistently referred to as the “free”. So the picture emerges and it is a mortifying one: both sides are actively dehumanising and demonising the other. No less crucially, the process facilitates the emotional detachment necessary to commit acts of violence that are brutal in nature. Once you devalue one party’s right to exist you are halfway to murder. Speak to otherwise intelligent Islamists and their sympathisers and attempt mentioning the notion that some in the camp are violent and you receive nothing but accusatory glances whether online or off.

Once the destructive dichotomy of the “slaves” and the free is established, the question rearing its ugly head is: how can there be dialogue and respect? Inescapably, the answer, at the very least, is that there can only be deep resentment on one end of the scale, escalating, in many cases, to outright hatred. When you add to the incendiary mix a suspicion of the state, you have incessant instability. From the perspective of a young MB supporter, whether male or female, the mainstream avenue of political channels has proven to be a mirage by virtue of the July 2013 coup. So they stand on the sidelines with very limited and ever darkening options: protests that are, by most accounts, dwindling in size or the prospects of various levels of radicalisation. In a very real sense, when the government sets up a construct where the Muslim Brotherhood are painted as terrorists and as prospects of political expression slowly decrease for an increasing number of MB youth, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Lest we mistakenly think that the avenue of protest is a safe alternative for those wishing to bring about change or draw light to perceived injustice, there is the now infamous Protest Law, which has ensnared thousands in a draconian web. Any young Islamist daring to think of the Ghandi path of civil disobedience would be insane to do so under current circumstances of a police state that progressively bears its sharp teeth with each passing day. The resultant paradigm is one that keeps the MB camp on the jagged edge of a hilltop far removed from mainstream Egyptian society.

Our final stop on our tour of the Un-united Arab Republic of Egypt, naturally, takes us to the liberal/progressive camp. The term itself is used for the sake of linguistic economy and includes in its folds the ever shrinking 25 January “revolutionaries”. For better or worse, the governing discourse here is one that refuses what it perceives as the fascist dualities of the military and Islamist camps. With that as the starting point the notion of discourse is limited—at best. With rising prices of fuel, electricity, basic goods, topped by radical rises in price of cigarettes and alcohol, there is plenty to complain about. The very notion of protest itself along with self-expression, whether through TV, journalism or mere opposition in any form puts liberals on a crash course with the regime and its attendant, the deep state. Coupled with the fundamental unwillingness to forgive a largely unapologetic Islamist camp and the progressives find themselves between a military rock and an Islamist hard place.

It does not help matters that many revolutionary leading voices such as Alaa Abdel Fatah, Ahmed Maher, Mahienour El-Massry, Yara Sallam and Ahmed Adel are behind bars in a systematic attack by the state on opposition voices. Serving to further annihilate this minority are rampant sexual attacks on women, government attempts to control a growing segments of society labelled as atheists and recent attempts to silence activist Copt voices for any critiques levelled at the state and society at large. But progressives shoulder the blame as well. Since 25 January, historic opportunity has not been seized upon by, a largely, politically inexperienced and dishevelled revolutionary minority. And so it goes, with this third camp removed from its two counterparts the devolution of Egypt into the Un-united republic continues unabated.

In a world of few truths you can always count on conspiracy theories of external enemies seeking to destabilise Middle Eastern societies—but reality begs to differ. In Egypt’s case, the only conspiracy in play comes from within: “divided we fall” and divided we are. Until that modus operandi of the river of hate ceases to be a reality, Egypt will not cease its descent.



The writer is a freelance journalist recently published in Ahram Online , Mada Masr and Muftah

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  • Reda Sobky

    The writer presents a unidimentional analysis which begs the; point regarding the roots of the conflict and apparent social and political struggle in Egypt. The election of Morsi was a phony election, a phony constitution and a phony government designed to fail the state. This was not a party wishing to govern when it commands the confidence of the people, rather, it was an exclusivist c

  • Reda Sobky

    cult with its own internal organization wishing to replace the state. I think the two million number is itself exaggerated but even if true it is not impressive in that it does not exceed 3 or 4 percent much like ETA in Spain or the Red Brigade in Italy. Representing the conflict as being between political parties or entities does not stand the test of veracity. However, this does not justify the incarceration of the activists you mention it is rather an excess much like the ones we are used to even in the USA. Governments by nature tend to be excessive in their responses and the leadership needs to moderate such excesses through measured steps that affirm the justice sense in society and I personally and earnestly hope this will be undertaken continuously by the new leadership.

  • Truth..

    Amr Khalifa, as all other activists a way of thinking that is based on pink clouds, flowers and peace on earth. When you can not get it you hate the state! You whine about higher prices for gasoline, cigarettes and alcohol. I would love to see you in power and see how you in your fantastic way to get the economy right from three years of chaos, three years more than halved tourism because of the MB and those amazing activists! If you can fix it without raising some prices and increase tourism in the intervals of terror attacks in the country. Then I think you should run for the next presidential election! To sit and write about how bad and cruel the government is, thats damn easy. Soon you will say that mohamed el baradie is a role model, who fled the country when the country’s young people had high hopes for him. Traitors!!

  • Ali Bubba

    You wear your allegiances on your sleeve ya Amr. Allow me to suggest that your sympathy for the persecuted of the brotherhood and other forces like it will be the destruction of your group as well. You must realize that their are no good guys to the brotherhood or any other radical element other than those that will go to the extremes that the radical minority demands. Your heart breaks for the thousands that have been arrested and sentenced/put to death, and the rest of the loyal that are marginalized and will be left with the self-fulfilling prophecy of terrorism (that last tidbit I agree with). I urge you and those that think like you to look closer at the situation and look beyond Egypt as well. If the brotherhood is allowed power, you that so eloquently provide them with support and heart strings to pull at right now will be the first to go. There can be no dissenting voices with such a group and the first to be attacked are always the reporters and progressives once power has been truly secured. You can be used as a vehicle to their propaganda right now and your voice will be permitted as you defend them as the persecuted… Once you are no longer needed, you will be thrown aside brutally lest you lend your voice to the opposition. I will remind you of the scene in Tahrir after the first “revolution”, i.e. after the overthrow of Mubarak. Remember Wael?? Where is he now. Where are Wael and his well-heeled rose colored glasses friends that went to Tahrir to triumphantly celebrate the overthrow as the media cast them as the architects of the revolution? Do u recall how they were given an “effa” and basically told to go play in the mud by the people in the square with real power that had then taken over? (that would be the brotherhood). You mention in passing the “recently persecuted” Copts. No mention of the long history of persecution, degradation and dehumanization they have endured at the hands of multiple regimes, no mention of the fact that Egypt is a country that still allows major businesses to function that post signs for employment on their doors with the “no Nazarenes need apply”. Nazarenes Amr! You also mention in passing the hill with the brotherhood referring to the vast majority of the population as slaves and traitors, the majority of your piece is dedicated to the poor persecuted brotherhood. No, Amr, this is nothing new and in honesty will not stop until the ranks of”peaceful” brotherhood membership stand up and resist their own violent sources. Tell me Amr, who is the leader of the brotherhood peace wing at this time? Is it Morsi’s wife that declared after his overthrow that the Christians would pay dearly for his overthrow? Or maybe you had someone else in mind? Their is a worldwide voice decrying any person or regime that stands up to radical elements of Islam.. Until those peaceful elements stand up to the radical and state “this is not what we are, and we will not permit you to destroy our image, the rights of other muslims and the rights and lives of all, their can be no peace in any country.

    • Truth..

      Well said!!

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  • Ahmed A.El-Sherif

    You only need to look at the history of the Brotherhood, its hierarchical structure, paramilitary nature ,supra-national affiliations, undemocratic ideology AND THE DISASTROUS PERFORMANCE OF MORSI to realize that the Brotherhood is incapable of functioning in a democratic system. Their manipulation of democracy proves that it is like a disposable syringe ,to be used ONLY ONCE ,UNTIL THEY HAVE REACHED POWER. Subsequently ,the President only addresses ,” My (his) folks and clan,,,,” .Could a group that does not even believe in the BASIC CONCEPT OF CITIZENSHIP function in a democracy ,or even in a dictatorship, for that matter ? Either they be the rulers and everyone else must agree with everything they say, or EVERYONE ELSE IS AN INFIDEL !!!??? And yet the AUTHOR IS SYMPATHETIC TO THE BROTHERHOOD !!!

    • Truth..


      • Reda Sobky

        I think this thing with sympathy for the deposed criminals comes from being afraid of being accused by the deluded western media of not tolerating political dissent, as a liberal. However, in my years of inquiry I have never seen a liberal source or writing that suggests submitting to a phony constitution (the Brotherhood’s), a phony election producing a phony president (Morsi) bent on destroying the state and replacing it with his goons and who is actually the agent of a foreign fascist organization. They confuse fake electoral ritual with legitimate elections and go from there to accepting a religiously based exclusionary structure based in the manner you presented. Thank you.

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