Monday, 28 January 2013

Egypt Burning: Back to the Future?

Photo: Egypt is bracing for the second anniversary of the January 25th revolution. In 2011, it was 'Down down with Hosni Mubarak'; in 2012 it was 'Down down with Military Rule'; in 2013 it will be 'Down Down with Brotherhood Rule'.

Beyond the worst violence of the revolution of January 25th, beyond anything in living memory, what is going on in Egypt today is shocking, horrifying, catastrophic. Beyond words. Egyptians killing Egyptians- over what?
A year after the Port Said soccer massacre in which seventy-some supporters of the Cairo-based Ahli team lost their lives a year ago, Egypt braced for the verdict of the court trying the Port Said hooligans who were allegedly behind the violence. If they were acquitted, the Ahli ‘Ultras’- diehard fans- threatened massive disruption and violence. When twenty one of the Port Said accused were sentenced to death, their families and friends saw the verdict as bowing to the pressure of the Ahli and vowed in return to show ‘Cairo’ the mayhem that Port Said could wreck. The numbers of the dead in the ensuing fighting between natives of those three cities and the police has nearly equaled the number of original victims of the soccer massacre. Meantime other cities far and wide in the country are up in arms, and Cairo itself is the scene of rioting and traffic-stopping street protests.
How can this be happening in a country where civil war is unknown, where regionalism and secession are unheard of, where the control of the central government has been the overpowering paradigm of the past five thousand years? Three eastern port cities with a history of patriotism against invaders- Port Said, Ismailiya, Suez- are in bloody revolt against ‘Cairo’, and the Morsi government has called in the army and imposed a thirty-day martial law and curfew crack down.
To complicate matters, no one really knows who or what is behind the scenes, or who is being manipulated and by whom. Is this the counter-revolution so long threatened or promised? Is this chaos a calculated, necessary preliminary to the intervention of the military and a military take-over, this time for good, openly, and with no opposition? Is it a repeat of the scenario of January 26, 1952, when Cairo was set aflame, and Colonels Nasser and company staged their coup the following July, setting the stage for uninterrupted rule by military men for the next sixty years? January 25, 2011, was in a sense a revolution against the regime that came to power in 1952. Two years later, in 2013, is it back to the future? For so many Egyptians disgusted and terrified by the power grab of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government, that scenario may be the lesser of two evils.
Regardless. Enough. Enough is enough. Enough of the madness of Egyptians destroying each other, destroying their country, destroying their revolution, destroying their economy. Enough. They should take a step back to sanity and behold what they have wrought.


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  2. My friend Marilyn Strothers asks what has kept the center from falling apart in Egypt for any length of time, and suggests various factors, including territorial imperatives. That is of course very important. A historically agrarian society linked by a lifeline river Nile could best be governed by a central authority. Moreover, the Nile itself facilitated communication and the lack of natural barriers like impassable mountain ranges made it difficult for autonomous movements to find refuge and survive. Beyond that, Egyptians prided themselves on their sense of identity, the legacy of thousands of years, as opposed to the more tribal allegiances of neighboring countries in the region. The relative homogeneity of the people was another factor: apart from the broad Muslim/Coptic divide- religious and not ethnic- there was barely an awareness of sectarian or ethnic differences. Over the past decade, centrifugal forces seem to be pulling Egyptian society in different directions.
    But the civil disobedience and rejection of government authority displayed today in the cities along the Suez, like the parallel rejection in Cairo and elsewhere, denotes an alarming rejection of the legitimacy of the state. In a sense, we shouldn't be surprised: the legitimacy of the state was destroyed with the fall of Hosni Mubarak in January 2011, and the government that succeeded him, democratically elected or not, has not managed to convince a large swathe of the population of its legitimacy.


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