Archive | December, 2011

A Tale of Two Egypts

25 Dec

The real end struggle is between two separate versions of the country that occupy the same physical space but operate in different dimensions. And only one of them can survive.

The shocking image of an Egyptian woman lying lifeless on the ground half-naked and surrounded by security forces one of whom is about to kick her in the chest  has made frontline news on all the major international media. The army has since “regretted” the events, although few Egyptians believe the sentiment to be genuine.  The real vital question that the image raises is “Who are these men and where is this blind rage and brutality stemming from”? It almost seems as if these soldiers are the forces of a foreign occupying force attacking a member of the local resistance. Two countries, not one.

Little has been said about what the Revolution revealed about Egyptians as a people. Three decades of totalitarian rule under Mubarak had spawned a well maintained lie that the country was essentially homogenous and tolerant. There was an unspoken edict that suggesting otherwise would suck the country into a dark abyss of fragmented national unity. It was all of course part of the master plan to suffocate dissent to perpetuate Mubarak’s control on political life.

As 2011 draws to an end, the Revolution is stalling, and not because of the competing interests of opposing forces. The failure of the revolution to reach fruition is not because of the divergent interests of liberals vs. conservatives, Muslims vs. Christians, rich vs. poor, young vs. old, military vs. civilian, male dominated vs. female emancipated, or revolutionary vs. old guard. The real end struggle is between two separate versions of the country that occupy the same physical space but operate in different dimensions. And only one of them can survive.

The very forces of oppression that were commonplace under Mubarak have once again regrouped under new management, in a manner that threatens the promise of true democratic transformation. This new intransigent bloc of Revolutionary kryptonite is first and foremost represented by the Supreme Council of the Armed forces (SCAF) which holds absolute executive and legislative power, and brute force. The initial euphoria that SCAF would safeguard Egypt’s newborn emancipation has now been exposed as a total sham.

SCAF’s main political partner in diluting the efficacy of the revolution is the religious right as represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and their more contentious Salafi cousins. Both flavors of politicized Islam emerged from the political wasteland. They are rabidly hungry for power and eager to strike any unholy deal with SCAF at the expense of the Revolution. And then there are all the factions that had flourished under Mubarak but appeared to have been temporarily dismantled in the early days of post revolutionary Egypt as part of SCAF’s charade that it was the savior of the revolt. These forces are now back in covert action and include the much hated central security and state security forces, the state media, former tycoons and politicians close to the Mubarak dynasty, and even the Mubaraks themselves operating from behind bars.

And last but certainly not least in the sheer ability to suck the oxygen out of the Revolution is the fourth and perhaps most unwitting partner: the silent majority of Egyptians from all walks of life who are suffering under the immediate economic and security side effects of the revolution. They are unable or unwilling to imagine real change due to a life-long addiction to the instant gratification of short-term survival and patriarchal protection, and their susceptibility to the psychological manipulation through tried and tested dirty media strategies.

SCAF, the religious right, former Mubarak-era beneficiaries, and the silent majority of passive Egyptians constitute one unique version of Egypt, the old one. And it this version of the country that is heading towards a total showdown against an alternate edition of Egypt that seemed to come out of nowhere, spontaneously on January 25th.

In the two versions of Egypt, identical social groups and individuals behave in polar opposite ways.

Not all members of the Egyptian military would happily bludgeon the life out of helpless women before trampling on their naked bodies. And not all of them approve of the moral authority of the pre-historic SCAF generals. Many young officers openly criticize the dishonorable role SCAF is playing in eroding whatever flimsy civil and political liberties that exist under their rule.

And political Islam is not just about opportunistic power-hungry leeches like the Muslim Brotherhood, or the intolerance and ignorance of the Salafis. It is also personified in the senior Azhar cleric Sheikh Emad Effat who was killed at the age of 52 on December 16 by military police with a gunshot to his heart. Effat was a Revolutionary Islamic scholar who affected the lives of hundreds of students he tutored and taught at Al-Azhar Mosque and Dar al-Iftaa, the Muslim world’s premier institution for legal research.

Egyptian Copts are also split. Some welcomed the fall of Mubarak, under whom they suffered tremendous discrimination. Others fear the rise of political Islam under a democratic Egypt, especially of the Salafi type which could easily undermine democracy itself if their current rhetoric is to be believed, and therefore lament the Mubarak years and gamble their interests on SCAF.

Not all Egyptian businessmen have fled the country, or are imprisoned in Tora pending corruption charges while they bankroll the counter Revolution. Some like Naguib Sawiris, the Egyptian telecom magnate have placed their money where their mouths are emerging as champions of a new, liberal, secular Egypt.

Egyptian media, culture and the arts are not made up entirely of state-controlled puppets, or opportunistic celebrities who publicly supported Mubarak while he was still in power, but quickly switched sides after his departure. For every slimy journalist like Tamer Amin, there is a Belal Fadl. For every chameleon like Amr Adeeb there is a tiger like Alaa El Aswany.

Wealthy Egyptians are not all lamenting the demise of the system that made them wealthy in the first place. Some of them are willing to make long-term sacrifices for a better Egypt. By the same token, there are poor Egyptians who are still mourning the fall of Mubarak, despite the fact that their lives were only marginally better prior to the Revolution, and would have only deteriorated further if Mubarak had stayed in power any way.

Older Egyptians are not all opposed to change, and not all young Egyptians are embracing it.

And not all Egyptian women are appalled by the abuse and sexual terrorizing of their fellow sisters on the hands of the army. Some actually believe that women should not be demonstrating in the first place, and that those who do and end up being assaulted, got what they deserved.

So, one may ask, what would happen if the two Egypts were to separate, even metaphorically? Imagine a secular, liberal revolutionary Egyptian Noah’s arc. Imagine if the proponents of a new Egypt as heralded by the January 25th revolution were to leave the old physical space of the country to start a new colony in some other part of the world. A privately purchased island or vast space donated by another progressive sovereign state with enough land to spare. It would be a mass exodus made up primarily of the breed of Egyptian youths who sparked the revolt and who now feel that the army will never grant them the free Egypt that they sacrificed their lives, their eyes, and their dignities for. And with them every new Egyptian that believes in the revolution. Honest entrepreneurs. Fearless writers. Hardworking farmers and workers. And a plethora of creative minds who tasted freedom after decades of tyranny and decided that there is no turning back. A new Egypt enriched by the material wealth and intellectual cache of the millions of Egyptian expatriates who fled the rot of the old country, but had never lost the dream of a free, thriving Egypt. Egypt’s revolutionary Noah’s Arc would leave the old Egypt to Tantawi and his dinosaurs, the sterile and inept minds of the religious right, and the murdering security officers who kill and assault in cold blood. It would salvage with it Egypt’s arts, culture and the ability to think freely and express oneself without the fear of retribution. It would protect our books from those who would callously burn them to prove a point, or ban them altogether in the name of God.

One would think that the protectors of the old, oppressive Egypt would love nothing more than to get rid of all those subversive Egyptians who are destroying the old paradigm of power. Not really. Because a separation of the new Egypt from the old one is precisely what the proponents old Egypt are fighting to the death to avoid. Every form of destructive human relationship is based on two entities interacting. Slavery, tyranny, oppression, assault, discrimination, torture, rape and genocide would be meaningless to the perpetrator in the absence of an unwilling victim.

If the new Egyptians were to vacate the old physical space, the only people left to oppress, would be those who are willing to suspend their freedoms in the interest of security and stability. The silent majority. The willing victims if you will. And there certainly isn’t any fun in that, at least from the prospective of an oppressor.

There is only one viable option for the two Egypts: one of them will totally decimate the other and survive as the only version of Egypt. The question is, which one.

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