In Egypt, a country that is terribly polarised and dangerously tense, facts get in the way.
Each side claims their own truths and denies the legitimacy of others, dismissing them as fanatics or sell-outs. The Egyptian parties are busy demonising each other and in the process are turning the dream of better governance into a nightmare of horror and violence.
Charges and counter-charges of foreign interference and unacceptable methods can go a certain distance even if money, religion, coercion and manipulation have indeed been used. The engine of change in both ‘uprisings’ has been peoples’ dissatisfaction with the status quo regardless of whether their expectations were realistic or idealistic.
However, now as the parties turn on each other, we can expect more of the same, and perhaps worse, escalation of tension in the coming days and weeks, unless those who've been wrong and insist on being right, behave modestly and wisely.
Since January 25, 2011, when the barriers of fear were torn down and people were empowered to express themselves freely, expressions of pent-up hate and incitement, devoid of any scruples or ethics, have also found their way into the public arena in these uncertain times.
Nowadays, countless rumours, baseless innuendos and propaganda masquerade as news in and outside of Egypt. Almost all developments are being approached, framed and presented according to narrow political and ideological beliefs. That’s not to say that neutrality is realistic or even a necessary condition for clear-headed reflection. But objectivity in terms of presenting the verifiable facts regardless of their consequences, has also been absent from the present discourse in, and frequently about, Egypt.
The demonisation is perhaps the worst part of it all, considering that sooner or later Egyptians from all walks of life and of every generation will need to live in proximity, peace and harmony.
Each camp is retrenching within an imaginative sense of righteousness; each side, including the military, claiming to defend the revolution, always their revolution.
Worse, the old regime’s vocal journalists and media outlets are further confusing the situation by claiming that the June 30 uprising will correct the mistakes of the January 25 revolution in order to return to the days of the Mubarak era.
The Brotherhood’s failures
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The generals are not innocent in all of this. They look at political issues and see only security problems.
Yes, the Egyptian military proved that at the time of the January 25 uprising it belonged to the state – not the regime – when it sided with the people. The military made the right decision and was celebrated for it.
This time around, however, it sided with one party over another in a rather swift and eerie manner.
Warning against chaos might’ve been justifiable. That defense minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged for reconciliation only a week before threatening the president with a 48-hour ultimatum, after which the military moved in, doesn’t bode well for the future of democracy. The generals were correct to warn against a total breakdown. But defense minister Sisi doesn’t seem to see any irony in telling his officers in a speech that he, a general, was merely a go-between relaying “the peoples” will to an elected President.
While Sisi justifies the rush to interfere on the need to avoid instability and violence, his coup resulted in the very escalation they presumably hoped to avoid – with potentially more to come, alas.
Despite his insistence that he didn’t betray the president, it’s more likely that what appeared to be the hasty unseating of president Morsi, concealed a longer, more deliberate process of ridding the country of Islamist rule, a process that involved destabilising tactics like fuel shortages, etc.
The fact that the generals have not and perhaps do not want to directly take the reins of power doesn’t mean that they are not leading from behind. Indeed, Sisi’s latest speech on Wednesday, calling for nationwide rallies to allow greater military powers, affirms that he’s content to lead from and by the street.
Like all militaries in the world, the role of the Egyptian military is to defend the country and its sovereignty, not to promote democracy. As I emphasised in an earlier analysis, by its very pyramidic structure, a military is an authoritarian institution.
In Egypt, where the military commands vast networks of interests and special privileges, it’s not clear why it would restore the democratic process. The military is more likely to exploit the on-going chaos to maintain its power rather than speed up the restoration of democracy, unless, of course, it comes under great popular pressure.
It’s the responsibility of the country’s political parties that spearheaded the revolution to put their political differences aside to safeguard the revolution’s achievements and carry out its objectives. This requires political maturity and parties placing the revolution and the country’s interests above their own narrow party interests.
Easier said than done? Yes, perhaps. But there is no other way. Even if it takes years and many lives, Egyptians will still need to sit down and figure out their future together.
A new realismhistorian Sheri Berman in Foreign Affairs, “ […] has been followed by an undertow, accompanied by widespread questioning of the viability and even desirability of democratic governance in the areas in question.”
The lesson from two centuries of transformation since the French revolution is that dictatorships can be imposed and deposed in far shorter time than it takes to arrive at a constitutional democracy.
One can only hope that instead of repeating the mistakes of their predecessors who took too long to effect positive change, Egyptians learn from the lessons of history.