This is tragic, this is Egypt

This is tragic, this is Egypt

An old friend of mine came round for lunch. He remains relatively informed as to the daily goings on in Egypt and commented on the “Sisi-mania” that so many within the country see on a daily basis. When he was informed that it had gone beyond “Sisi-Chocolates” and may have reached the point at which Sisi tattoos are being marketed – as well as Sisi wedding jewelry and Sisi pajamas – well, suffice it to say that his appetite for lunch was somewhat dissipated.

This is tragic, this is Egypt.

As a youngster in university, he was a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood – indeed, some of his family remain as such. He left the group prior to the 2011 revolution, deeming them to have had questionable religious credentials and corrupt political approaches. After the formal designation by the interim governing cabinet in Egypt of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, it has become a crime to “pass information” to the group my friend used to be a member of. What that law precisely means is, as all things in Egypt are, not incredibly clear.

It is not incredibly clear if the cabinet actually had the legislative authority to designate the Brotherhood as a terrorist group anyway (actually, it’s far more clear that the cabinet did not have such authority). But hey: this is Egypt. Under the precise letter of the law that applies to terrorist groups in Egypt, it could very well be the case that if my friend spoke to his former associates in the organization, he would be guilty of a crime punishable by jail time. We joked as to whether or not I would then also be considered in breach of the law by talking to him, as surely guilt by association is not beyond the realm of possibility.

This is tragic, this is Egypt.

Earlier on in the week, I spoke with a journalist for a highly respected publication, and his editor. As any decent journalist would, he speaks to a multitude of sources in order to provide a balanced and informed picture of the situation on the ground. That invariably means that he talks to members of the Muslim Brotherhood – whether inside or outside of Egypt. Under the new designation of the organization as a terrorist one, is he guilty of a crime? Speaking with his editor afterwards, we agreed she ought to speak with a lawyer to know precisely where the new red lines actually are, in order to protect her staff – because, God forbid, they ought to be able to do their work and expect the law to protect them and their profession.

This is tragic, this is Egypt.

The interim government in Egypt seems to ignore the fact that a group by the name of “Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis” (Supporters of Jerusalem) claimed responsibility for the attack upon a police facility in northern Egypt earlier this week – the terrorist group in Egypt, it seems, is the Brotherhood. Not to be outdone, the Brotherhood’s media outside of Egypt implicates the state itself for the attack, and suggested a shadowy connection with Naguib Sawiris (a famous businessman), after Sawiris encouraged anti-Brotherhhood vigilante violence in the event the Brotherhood tried to violently interfere in the forthcoming constitutional referendum. Oh, and the closing of charitable organizations linked to the Muslim Brotherhood as a result of the new designation then becomes connected to Christian missionary activities according to another article.

This is tragic, this is Egypt.

In the wake of the designation of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, private television stations start advertising the telephone numbers that “honorable citizens” can call in order to alert the Ministry of Interior as to who among their neighbors are members of the Brotherhood. McCarthyism never had it this good, some say. Some then joke about having the perfect chance to get rid of that mother-in-law they always had problems with. Others can’t quite bring themselves to joke, because press reports indicate that the following day, a private citizen killed another over an altercation due to someone flashing the four-fingered pro-Mursi salute.

This is tragic, this is Egypt.

After the Jan. 25, 2011 uprising, those who believed in the revolution could point to truly exceptional behavior on the part of the protesters. Courage, persistence and respect for pluralism. After those 18 days in Tahrir Square, and other squares around Egypt, the revolutionaries could not, it seemed, turn that revolutionary energy into a political reality – and the Muslim Brotherhood rode the wave of the revolution into power. Had the Brotherhood opted to focus on the original goals of the revolution, rather than seek partisan gain, perhaps things might have been different in 2011, 2012 and even 2013. Still, the revolutionaries of the Jan. 25 could claim that if nothing else, their uprising had something beautiful at its core, even if it was later abused and misused. But what of the June 30 “revolution?” Beyond the legitimate, laudable and democratic aim of calling for early presidential elections, is there anything comparable to the 18 days of the Jan. 25 uprising in the June 30 event? From June 30 to July 3? Or from July 3 to now?

In July, the most reluctant supporters of the military ouster of Mohammad Mursi argued that in all likelihood, the military’s move saved the country from civil war. Of course, it was a theory that could never be tested – but citizen-on-citizen civil strife was certainly likely. Egypt almost six months later is not in the midst of a civil war – and the signs for it are not there. But civil strife? Vigilante violence? Terrorism? All those things that the removal of Mursi was meant to avoid and avert?

This is tragic, this is Egypt.


Dr. H.A. Hellyer is an ISPU Fellow and a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Royal United Services Institute. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer.

This article was published in Al Arabiya on December 30, 2013. Read it here.

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