The Dark Tunnel

The Dark Tunnel

Mahmoud Salem

Mahmoud Salem

This should be a Happy Story

If this revolution had a motto, it would be “Everything you ever wanted, in the worst possible way”.

Conventional wisdom said that if there was ever a revolution against Mubarak, then the Muslim Brotherhood would win. Conventional Wisdom said that if the Islamists ever made it to power they would never leave it, one man one vote one time, and that the country would turn Islamist. The country didn’t. The majority of the people- whom everyone said were too ignorant and too religious to know better- resisted and rejected theocratic rule, and went down in millions to remove and prosecute the Islamist president. This should be a happy story. It should be an even happier story than Jan 25, and it should’ve been celebrated the world over: the citizens of a Muslim middle-eastern country, getting over their differences, uniting in rejecting extremist theocratic rule after only one year and removing the Muslim Brotherhood President through unprecedented massive protests. Stereotypes: shattered. Conventional Wisdom: thrown out the window. A population that everyone said doesn’t know any better: redeemed. It should be a happy ending, except for one little tiny detail..

The military got involved, and detained Morsi.

For the average June 30 protester, the detainment of Morsi by the military makes perfect sense, because had the protesters managed to arrest Morsi themselves, they would’ve handed him over to the security to detain and try him, which is what is happening now. For the average June 30 protester, the military has detained Morsi for him, and is now prosecuting his regime members and confronting his thuggish supporters. For that protester, this is how revolutions should work. For many people all over the world, this was a coup, precisely because it was the military that detained and arrested Morsi, “our first democratically elected leader TM”. For the June 30 protester, this is semantics; for the world, the devil lies truly in the details.

The US government, for example, has been engaging in domestic political contortionism in order to continue having “that special relationship” they have with Egypt. They didn’t cut the aid and the white house has come out and said that what took place didn’t meet their definition of a coup, but they are very uncomfortable with the Army’s involvement in the process, starting with Morsi’s ouster until now. Their discomfort with the role of the army is so high, that one gets the sense that had the people of June 30th  engaged in a violent bloody revolution to remove Morsi, stormed all the palaces to look for him, captured him and then tore him to shreds with their bare hands Ghaddafi-style, that would’ve been a much preferable and “cleaner” scenario as far as the US is concerned, than having the military remove and detain him, resulting in them being in the forefront of this new democratic transition, especially after their stellar performance the last time around.  And for the record, the US is not alone in this. A lot of other countries share that same view, and they are not all Erdogan’s Turkey or Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

Thankfully, the interim government had some reassuring faces for our concerned western friends: ElBaradei, Ziad Bahaa Eldeen, Hazem El-Beblawy, and given that they were never really big fans of the Muslim Brotherhood to begin with, they decided to sign up on this new roadmap to democratic transition. And just when they are starting to get assured that there is a civilian government and that the military are not interested in being in the forefront, our minister of defense makes a speech calling on all June 30 supporters to come out to authorize him “to fight terrorism”, because, well, apparently the Interim President authorizing him to do so isn’t enough, and the security services need broad public demonstrations to do their job.

The demonstrations were naturally successful, so much as that even Egypt’s Interim Prime Minister Beblawy joined them, which marks the only time in modern history  where a prime minister had to go down to a protest to authorize his minister of defense to “fight terrorism”, instead of, I don’t know, tell him in a cabinet meeting or call him on the phone. Our Interim President, not to be outdone in terms of irrelevancy, instead of issuing a statement or making a speech regarding that historic day, ended up being a call-in on one of the talk shows. The President.

Face..meet palm..

Nowhere to be found of course is a definition of what it means exactly to “Fight Terrorism”, and no one in our government bothered to inform us, but it seems to be code for “confront, and if necessary, kill violent MB supporters”. This doesn’t bode well for our western partners, because they had only 3 requests from the current government: 1) Charge Morsi with something or set him free, 2) No killing of MB protesters, and 3) National reconciliation with the Islamists. The first request was obliged, the second and third don’t seem like they are happening any time soon, especially with MB protesters continuously utilizing weapons and conducting torture camps in their sit-in, and with their leadership insisting that there is no reconciliation until Morsi is back being president and “the coup” is reversed.  Also, no one has a clue how this national reconciliation should happen on a political or social level, with so much blood on the MB protesters and supporters’ hands in Giza, Manial and Sinai, and with the majority of the country wanting them punished in any and every way possible.

Before heading out to the US for vacation 2 weeks ago, I accidentally met with the ambassador of an unnamed but very important European country, who was incredibly ecstatic for June 30th and the overthrow of Morsi. Attempting to withhold his giddiness, he told me in all sincerity: ”Well, the most important thing now is for you guys to call for reconciliation. Don’t mean it, but call for it. It will make you look good.” Thinking back to that moment now, and everything that has happened since, I must say that while we definitely have followed that advice of calling for reconciliation and not meaning it, we haven’t really been big on the “let’s make sure we look good” department. If anything, our continued efforts in self-sabotage have been so consistent, it’s kind of impressive.

“They won’t leave without blood”

In many articles, social media statuses and private conversations, many people are bemoaning what they deem “the rise of fascism” in Egypt against the Muslim Brotherhood. They openly wonder how people could lose their humanity to such a degree that they are indifferent to the deaths of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in clashes. They are very shocked and disturbed by the amount of people who are openly calling for the military to crush them.  They are so surprised and distressed by this, one has to wonder if they were living in the country this past year, because if you have, none of this should be the least bit surprising.

For a year now, a single piece of narrative had found its way on the tongues of many Egyptians and in many conversations: “The Muslim Brotherhood will not leave power without blood”. This sentence was treated as fact, and was aided by the continuous and increasingly authoritarian rhetoric and actions of the MB and their allies, sending their supporters to attack and torture anti-Morsi protesters, utilizing the police and the public prosecutor’s office to oppress, detain and investigate anyone who opposed or criticized them, and going as far as deeming anyone who goes against Morsi “an apostate that should be killed” during an official state conference with Morsi present and not bothered. For the average Egyptian citizen (and quite possibly everywhere), this was beyond threatening: There were convicted terrorists, supporters of Morsi, calling for their death on live television with Morsi being present. In their attempt to cement their rule, they scared the average citizen to the point that he viewed the struggle against them as a zero-sum game of survival: It’s either them or me.

Thus, it is of no surprise that when the table turned, that same citizen is openly calling for the elimination of those whom he views threatened him with death. The lack of sympathy for their dead is very human, especially in the face of the final speech of Morsi, where he said that “it’s either my legitimacy or blood”. The street responded to his ultimatum on his own terms: they rejected his legitimacy, and chose blood. Meanwhile, the MB supporters rhetoric continues to be “We are ready to die and be martyrs for legitimacy” as they go out and clash with the rest of the population, and when the population responds by demanding that the security forces to grant them their wish for martyrdom, the MB supporters immediately switch to the “How could you demand our death so easily? Where is your humanity and conscience?” talking point, which naturally falls upon deaf ears and has only one curious side-effect: it makes them unfairly view those who oppose what’s going on truly on the grounds of humanity and conscience as shills who are repeating the MB’s talking points. For them this is war, and like any war, you are either with us or against us, and those who are in the middle end up being killed in the crossfire.

Those who are warning of the rising fascist rhetoric are not crying wolf though: there is one place where such rhetoric lives and thrives, and that is in the” Independent Media”. After years of being attacked, threatened, besieged and subpoenaed by Islamists, who have done it all under the Jan 25 demand of “cleansing the media” (never mind that when it was made, it was a call to cleanse the “state-owned-media”), they are charging ahead full force against the MB by supporting the one entity that can, in their eyes, neutralize their threat: The Military. Our independent media has gone in full military worship mode, to the point that ONTV, which was the first channel to present the “No to Military Trials” videos to the public, now had anchors who wore military camouflage while presenting their show. And this is nothing compared to the other channels. In the aftermath of June 30, our media has become a joke, and not a particularly funny one. Rather a very dangerous one.

That being said, even those who are rejecting the violence and blood admit that there is a very strange sense of poetic justice in all that is happening to the MB. From day 1, the MB has deviated from Jan 25’s forces’ goal of creating a country where we are all equal and where the police state gets reformed, into one where they are in charge, above all, rejecting every call or attempt to reform the Ministry of Interior and instead empowering and strengthening that police state with the intent to use them to crush- without mercy or conscience- their enemies and opponents, something they have done in multiple demonstrations against them throughout the year, without a single dissenting voice amidst their ranks against doing this. And now the fruit of all of their efforts to crush their opposition is being used against them. Karmic payback may not be the right term, but it sure is the first one that comes to mind.

One should be mindful not to gloat or overtly support what’s happening too much though, especially over the death of other Egyptians, specifically when one is on “the winning side” of this conflict. More than anyone, we know what it feels like to be the opposition of a government that aims to crush us. For better or worse, our people are now in power, and those who are in power are held accountable on much higher standards than their opposition, no matter who their opposition is. The same applies ten-folds to the supporters of those who are in power. This is how democracy works: you reap what you sow, and the MB’s rise and fall should be a cautionary tale to us all.

The Third Square

As for those who find themselves stuck in the zone of not supporting the MB and not supporting the military, there is a way out, and it isn’t creating “The Third Square” movement, which name and rhetoric further cement the idea that they are no longer one of the main two parties in Egypt’s political struggle,  but rather a third party that has no influence on the process. If you don’t support the MB or military rule, your best bet is to support and hold to task the civilian government to strengthen it, because that’s your end game: civilian rule.

Also, calling on “the revolutionary ministers” to resign repeatedly every time a clash happens is illogical and serves no end. Within the arrangement of the transitional period, the military is clearly handling security, while the civilian government is handling the civilian affairs. Asking them to resign over incidents that they have no power nor control over, and no real alternative solution or plan, serves no purpose other than excluding your representatives from the process.

Not only would such calls, for the sake of conscience and revolutionary purity, prevent us from having any input on the laws and the constitution being drafted, but it would ensure that no one from our side would ever attempt to reach power or be part of any future government, given our tendency to punish those who would dare take that risk and how easily we could be manipulated to stop supporting them. All it would take is for the police to engage in one of their acts of “disproportionate violence” with a high body enough count, and immediately the calls for resignation would echo everywhere, and those who would be fearful for their reputation over their responsibility would resign, which really benefits no one.

We are in the dark tunnel, people. We need to find ways to stick together if we ever hope to see the light.

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