Friday, 26 July 2013

Egypt: Making a Hero of the Military- Again

Almost everyone I know personally in Cairo is celebrating the massive turnout Friday to support General Sisi’s call for a mandate to quash ‘terrorism’, which in Egypt is a euphemism for the Islamists. Coptic church bells rang in sync with the call from the minarets announcing the breaking of the Muslim Ramadan fast at sunset. Friends posted defiantly ‘Egyptian and proud, no matter what the rest of the world thinks.’ Some of them had left their comfortable summer resort homes to drive back four hours to Cairo to take their place among the sweltering masses at Tahrir- without breaking their fast.
So I feel like the Grinch with my caveats: We don’t need another hero. Don’t make a savior of General Sisi. Remember the history of military ‘strongman’ regimes, and I don’t mean just in Egypt or even the Arab world. Remember how quickly, after the coup of 1952, Naguib proved to be a mere figurehead who was ruthlessly shunted aside by Colonel Nasser, ushering in a sixty-year regime of successive military rulers in civilian clothes. Hold Sisi and the military to their promises to hold elections and give civilian, secular democracy a chance- or be prepared to take to the streets again if they don’t. But remember that the military have proved how brutally they are capable of squashing protests- does anyone remember the blue-bra girl?
But I understand. Roughly half of Egypt, give or take, including almost everyone I know, doesn’t want to hear it. It has come down to a secular/Islamist divide in Egypt, with the secularists now overlooking their differences, Wafdist liberals embracing Nasserites, capitalists cozying up to socialists. This unprecedented solidarity, while highly commendable, is likely to prove ephemeral, and more workable, in practice, on the street than in a Cabinet or Parliament. This may be one reason why so many, today, put their faith in the Army, rather than a civilian coalition government, to face down an Islamist challenge.
While this half of Egypt rejoices, roughly the other half of the population, give or take, turns out to call for the re-instatement of deposed president Morsi, now under arrest and accused of controversial charges of treason. At the time he was deposed on July 3rd, I was as relieved as anyone to see the end of the disastrous, rogue Muslim Brotherhood regime and the damage it wrought in barely a year. But today, I can’t help feeling that it was the place of the head of the civilian government, or of a liberal party, not a General, to call for demonstrations. The Military should be above partisan politics. And I can’t help feeling queasy about giving the Military carte blanche to crack down on anyone, even the Muslim Brotherhood. So at the risk of antagonizing the half of Egypt whose secular, liberal values I share, I will continue to dampen the parade, all the while hoping my reservations turn out to be unfounded. Perhaps this time, the Military will keep in mind that the masses might take to the streets again to hold them to their promises.


  1. So wise, Samia. As with any period of great instability, caution is the word. Partisans get so caught up with their vision and zeal that they can't see five minutes down the road. They see their own trees and not the rest of the forest. Egyptian politics do seem so unbearably complicated that it's hard to imagine how things will sort themselves out without more violence -- so much at stake. And what can the US and other Western countries, for example, do besides issue platitudes and hope for the best?

  2. Quite true, Rebecca. The best hope is a negotiated diffusion of the crisis, with a compromise reached so the Muslim Brotherhood can order their supporters to withdraw from the sit-ins. The EU representative Ashton is in Egypt right now speaking to both sides, the government and the MB.


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