Qasr El Nil Bridge, June 30, 2013
It takes no genius to recognize that Egypt is off the rails.
Most Egyptian media is exhibiting an undying commitment to polarization, despite it being quite well known that, behind closed doors, the military is, in fact, negotiating with the ‘terrorists’. Please note that the quotes are no longer technically necessary in Egypt since the Muslim Brotherhood was legally declared, for what that’s worth; a ‘terrorist organization’.
In any case; battles rage.
A quick look at the news of the last three weeks, which, incidentally, you can find at the Al Kholasah YouTube Channel shows an alarming variety of players, and a proportionately alarming increase in the sheer absurdity of the news; a suicide bombing by a 21 year old, miracle cures presented by no less than the military, 11 year old’s committing suicide, a PM declaring that millions have been gifted with minimum wage while at the same time textile workers, transport workers, pharmacists, doctors, and even policemen go on strike. Sisi has a campaign team. No, he doesn’t. Yes, he does. The Economist writes an article on Egypt titled “It gets ever sillier.”
So clearly, this is not, or no longer appears to be; a battle between the “Patriots”, comprised ostensibly of the Army, Security, ‘Feloul‘ (old regime), and ‘Kanaba‘ people (the ‘couch’ – or ‘silent majority’ who were absent during most of the revolution but who are known to have participated in great numbers on June 30th), and the so-called Muslim Brotherhood. The battle lines are now blurring, and, in fact, perhaps need to be redefined in much simpler terms – those who are holding strong to the military’s road-map as announced in early July 2013, and those for whom it has simply become irrelevant.
The Regime Is Digging A Deep Hole
The regime, of course, is trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, the regime wants to claim that any and all who protest or demonstrate now are either Ikhwan (the regular Egyptian label for the Muslim Brotherhood) – or Pro-Ikhwan, since the polarization fits their ‘war on terrorism’ narrative.
On the other hand, the regime also needs to claim that opposition to the road map is minimal, that in fact there is no opposition, that Egyptians are not in political conflict with other Egyptians, but that Egyptians are united, and they back the army, and that they are all fighting something else altogether; terrorism.
The problem is this; you cannot lump worker strikes in with terrorism, although they have tried. You cannot lump in student protests with terrorism, although, again, they have tried. You cannot lump in the doctors strike with terrorism, although doubtlessly, that has probably now been insinuated at least once here or there. You cannot lump policemen strikes to terrorism, and thankfully, here, at least, they spared us the attempt.
So you end up with one of two explanations; either all these problems are Ikhwan-related – which means they are becoming more powerful, not less - or, far more dangerously; it’s not just Ikhwan that are protesting the regime.
Neither one of those end-conclusions is good for the regime, and the logical impasse is burgeoning.
Dreams & Disappointments
The Egyptian people are used to disappointment. Anybody who can see the outside world, or who was alive and conscious before or during Nasser knows that our trajectory has been going downhill. There is one generation that you’ll generally find most antithetical to the revolution, and that is the quinquagenarians. They’ve had it tough, all they know is military rule and disappointment, but the real tragedy is that many of them literally do not know any better. This, for them, is the best of all possible Egypts. They were raised on Nasser’s rhetoric, they are the ones who are likely to say well-worn phrases like ‘the people only behave if you beat them with a shoe’. Yes, that’s an expression you hear if you’ve lived in Egypt, and my only response to it has always been ‘are you saying you’re an exception or are you saying this also applies to you?’ At which point the somewhat fascist speaker will explain that both him and yourself, obviously, are exceptions. They consider the young rash and irresponsible, and the youth regard them as failures who have left this country – a beauty on the Nile – in ruins.
The youth mock them because they say things which mean nothing. They fear chaos and instability, and do not realize that it is chaos and instability that the youth revolted to eradicate. That is why the youth laughed when Mubarak made his famous threat, saying that if he was to leave, the country would spiral into chaos. The youth had grown up in chaos. They had been breathing it all their lives. They saw it in the traffic, they saw it in the lawlessness, they saw it in the corruption which robbed the country of all its’ wealth. Chaos? They grew up on it.
As a ‘stick’, threats of chaos failed miserably, as a carrot – the regime, of course, always relies on the magical word ‘stability’ – but in a country where the waters have been still for so long, stability means stagnation. A revolution promises the exact opposite (in process, if not in best-case results) – and the people backed that. Everybody wants change in Egypt, except the people for whom the corruption is the peat in which they grow.
So the government promises minimum wage to everybody, never mind that the amount offered is a pittance, never mind that most of it would go to retailers and wholesalers and importers, never mind all that, never mind inflation. Even that promise is broken, and so – the workers go on strike. The regime blamed the power-cuts on Mohamed Morsi and the MB regime, but now Morsi and his Brotherhood are gone, and the power-cuts are increasing. Only an inconvenience if you’re in one of the richer areas, since the power-cuts don’t last so long, but devastating for those in poorer areas, who suffer longer power-cuts, long enough for their refrigerators to be useless, and for their food to go to waste.
The government promises reforms, and they never happen. The apparatus most in need of reform, and against whom the revolution began, the security apparatus – is, not only not reformed – but rewarded, getting a pay-rise from Field Marshal Tantawi, and then another one from Mohamed Morsi, and so it goes.
The older generation can handle the disappointment, but those who have been passive to the revolution or against it from the start have not been in the streets, have not fought in battles, have not seen the regime’s heavy hand first-hand, have not seen it brutally murder the best that Egypt has to offer. The dreams of the young are strong, they are powerful, they are inspiring, and they have seen real heroism – from otherwise normal people around them. They have seen real heroes – not in a story, not in a regime-spoon-fed political history, not in religious lore, but before their very eyes. It is not something easily forgotten. It is not something you could ever forget.
The one group the regime has never managed to negotiate with, and never managed to control is the young, and in Egypt, that is at least 40% of the population. You cannot buy off a student whose best friend you have killed, all you can do is show him or her that their friends, and more so, their allies have not given their lives for nothing.
You think he’ll get scared? Cower? Go back to school and forget the revolution? Every single one of us who has ever been to a battle in which we lost lives knows one thing; that could have been me. That I still possess my life is an accident. By all logical conclusions, I am as dead as my friend was, it matters little when I breath my last.
Yet, they try…these powerful men with their petty lusts, to destroy the magnificent dreams of youth.
It won’t work.
“You’ll take my revolution over my dead body”
More to the point, when it fails, the results will be dramatic, and could be catastrophic. The regime is playing a dangerous game. Too many things are in need of explanation. There have been too many mistakes, and too few officials have been held accountable. How will the regime explain how their ‘intelligence’ allowed a wanted charlatan to be in the same room with the President and the Minister of Defense? How will the regime explain how it sentenced 26 Ikhwani’s to death for plotting terrorism while giving Field Marshal Tantawi, who had pardoned them, a medal? How will the regime explain their constant flip-flopping about whether or not El-Sisi is going to run for president? How will the regime explain the random arrests? The prolonged detentions? How will it explain not only the unwarranted (both logically and legally) phone taps of private citizens, but their broadcast on local TV channels? How will the regime explain not arresting the man responsible for such a show, or the fact that they have not even shut down the show? How will they regime explain evacuating people from homes in the name of development without having moved them into their wonderful new homes first? How will the regime explain police torture?
They can’t, nor do they even try. The regime’s policy on such matters seems to be; deny it or ignore it – and run.
Run. Just move along. Produce laws, create the illusion of progress. Have elections. Keep passing the ball and nobody will notice that you haven’t scored a single goal for the team. Just keep running, faster and faster. Leave those unexplained failures behind. Run like you’re being chased by an angry mob of questions, because you are. The regime hopes that the questions will die, that people will move on to the next questions, and that somehow, all those questions will never catch up, or, better yet, will disappear into forgetfulness.
But here’s the thing; the questions won’t disappear.
There is a tsunami of doubt that is chasing the regime, a tsunami of suspicion, disappointment, and doubt – and the regime can run, but sooner or later it will slow down, or it will trip – and then, the deluge.
And so it goes..
Time Running Out
For many in Egypt now, things look grim. We are, essentially, on a monorail that seems to be going straight into a solid wall. It’s there, we can all pretty much see it. There are those of us who are wishing that we just won’t hit. That somehow, by doing everything that we know is wrong in principle - we’ll somehow get to where we want; the infamous ‘other shore’. There are others who have realized that driving straight into a wall results in a devastating crash. This is not a Batman movie, the wall isn’t a clever hologram to disguise the real location of the Batcave. It’s just not happening.
The paranoid scenarios are this -
A) A fourth wave of revolution erupts. If this happens it’ll be disastrous. More so if Sisi does become President. A fourth wave with Sisi as a President would mean nothing less than this; that the people are not so much rising up against a president (again, and again…) but, finally, against the actual regime.
B) The far worse scenario; nothing. Nothing at all. Submission. Loss. Desolation. A revolution abandoned. An entire generation with shattered hopes, shattered dreams, and an overwhelming sense of failure. No change. Stagnation and rot masquerading as stability and security. A collective consciousness burdened with the murder of thousands of martyrs, haunted by ghosts for their betrayal. A broken nation.
Time is running out on electricity, time is running out on tourism, time is running out on wages, and inflation, time is running out on the economy, time is running out on any notion of democracy. It’s like the man said; you can fool some of the people all of the time; you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can never fool all of the people all of the time.
How long before the people know that your crazy talk about Ethiopia is just that…crazy talk? How long before people realize that not only did you promise a miracle cure that you cannot deliver, but that it was promised by a wanted charlatan, who had somehow been given an honorary military rank and had somehow managed to get into the same room as, not only Interim President Adly Mansour, but also of He-Sisi? How long before you realize that you cannot sustain Egypt on Gulf Wealth without doing so at Egypt’s expense? How long before people realize that you have no plan? How long before people realize that it’s both ridiculous and insulting to accuse the St. Catherine victims, who died in the cold because you did not care, of being complicit with terrorist groups such as Ansar Beit El Maqdis? How long before people realize that when army officers and policemen fight each other it is not a good sign? How long before the people realize that attempts to re-incarnate Nasser are futile, and would, even were they successful, do nothing but take us back to 1954? How long before people get sick of Sisi playing hard to get with the presidency? How long before they finally get a massive headache because of all the self-contradictory news? How long before they blame that headache on the regime? How long before they realize that your excuses do not make their lives better, do not heal them, and do not help feed their children? How long?
There is no way out of this, the hole is simply too deep.