Today in Egypt, supporters of a deposed president who hasn’t been seen or heard from in 21 days spend some of their time holding “parliamentary” sessions in a small mosque events hall, while the leader of the Armed Forces, in all his medaled glory, calls on the general public to hold protests to authorize the army to fight violence and terrorism.

Slick in sunglasses and full dress uniform, Colonel General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi appeared in front of the nation on Wednesday night,  and in a speech that drove the people wild with delight, casually announced a war on terrorism.

His was a speech of facts and certainties, solid and robust like the tanks that are now lined up in parts of Cairo. Undeniable. At some point between the end of June and today, allegations that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization stopped being allegations and became facts. It was a gradual process, like watching a photograph develop — the outlines slowly became clearer, and the picture emerged.

Three years after the heady independent days of January 25, and Egyptians are once again seeking out the army strongman to hold their hand, and an enemy — invented or real, it doesn’t matter — to define and shape their cause. Like all nationalist movements, this is sentiment partly informed by fear and hate.

Two groups laid the groundwork for all this: The Muslim Brotherhood, and the media. The Brotherhood, with its obstinate hubris and desperate attempts for attention, with its traffic-paralyzing marches and the inevitable confrontations they provoke. With every short-sighted and disastrous decision they make, the Brothers prove that, if they ever did anything of benefit to someone outside the sphere of their immediate circle while in power, it was purely by coincidence; and that the general public is mostly an encumbrance, to be fed at Ramadan charity tables, marched through or ignored when it suits them — and used when it doesn’t. Like all politicians; but a particularly acute case.

Most infuriatingly, they are painfully self-unaware, to the point of embarrassment. The Muslim Brotherhood — which for two years courted the army’s favors, failed to condemn its acts of dark violence and bolstered its powers in its precious constitution — is now recycling the same anti-military chants they themselves never chanted when they echoed round Tahrir Square. And the tragedy for the Brotherhood is that it has a good case: Former President Mohamed Morsi was stripped of power illegally in a military coup, even if this decision was backed by a large majority of the general public.  

It was mostly the privately owned satellite media and newspapers that became the army’s court jester, or at least did so with the most gusto. Logos appeared on screens insistently informing viewers that June 30 was a popular revolution, not a coup. Then the terrorism rhetoric began, and the pro-Morsi protesters were no longer just a bunch of skin-disease ridden, cult supporting lunatics, but also terrorists. Again, this happened almost seamlessly. Television presenters indulged themselves in the vilest xenophobia against Palestinians and Syrians, who they claimed were camped out in pro-Morsi sit-ins and meddling in Egyptian affairs.

Only the weakest of evidence was produced to support these claims, including a video of some men dancing dabke to this Palestinian pro-Morsi song. The aim, of course, was twofold: Firstly, to support the claim that the Brotherhood has links with Hamas and other foreign groups involved in acts of insurgency in Sinai, and secondly, to isolate the Brotherhood even further, turn it into a “them” separate from the rest of the population. The fastest and most foolproof way to do this in Egypt is to establish that a group has links with foreign powers. It works every time.

The media campaign has been disastrous for Syrian refugees, whether already in Egypt or seeking to cross its borders. Syrians who want to come to Egypt to flee the devastation in their country must now gain security authorization before doing so. Syrians already in Egypt are quietly being rounded up at army checkpoints and detained — even individuals registered with the United Nations.

The general public was sold. It ran stumbling and screaming into Sisi’s protective arms and nestled in his bosom. Almost overnight, people mutated into barrel-thumping nationalists celebrating a victory against a foreign enemy, when no battle has yet been won and their enemy is one of them. Hot air — lots of hot air — has been blown into former President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s corpse. Perhaps they are trying to blow his spirit into Sisi. Three years after the heady independent days of January 25, and Egyptians are once again seeking out the army strongman to hold their hand, and an enemy — invented or real, it doesn’t matter — to define and shape their cause. Like all nationalist movements, this is sentiment partly informed by fear and hate. There is nothing of real ideological substance here, no long-term goal other than either containing the Brotherhood or crushing the Islamist movement.

The delight with which the general public received Sisi’s speech confirmed this. His speech was essentially nonsense, but delivered with a folksy populism and panache that to me suggests a man in the early days of a presidential campaign. Does it have to be stated out loud that armies don’t take mandates from the general public? Do we have to remind ourselves that a smiling army officer in shades and a uniform telling people to take to the streets against an enemy is nine times out of 10 an individual to be wary of? Should we not be asking ourselves why the interim president didn’t deliver this happy message?

(Aside: Sisi did, however, make one important point about Morsi’s recalcitrance in the lead up to June 30. More importantly, he said that he and Morsi “agreed” that Morsi would make certain points in his June 30 speech, and that Morsi reneged on that “agreement.” Sisi was calling the shots even then).

I find myself in an ever-shrinking minority. I still fail to see how the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization, where terrorism means terror used systematically as a means of coercion. Yes, the MB has “taken to the mattresses” as they say, and there are weapons in its sit-ins. We see these arms during clashes. The Brothers use them to shoot at the other side, which is also armed. What is also certain is that some sit-in members detain and torture people they capture in specially designated areas of the sit-ins, and that local residents have had enough of them — they marched to Dokki police station on Tuesday to demand that the Nahda Square sit-in be dispersed.

But I don’t think it has been established conclusively yet that the violence during Muslim Brotherhood marches is always initiated by the Brotherhood, and that it amounts to terrorism justifying an army-orchestrated crackdown cheered on by the general public. There was violence at the Nahda sit-in on Monday during which people on both sides were shot and injured. This is usually the case in all the pro- and anti-Morsi clashes. This is not to justify the Brotherhood’s reaction (the use of guns against civilians is not only immoral, but disastrous in PR terms), but merely to question the narrative being shoved down our throats.

It seems clear that in any case, the army and/or the police will use force to break up the Nahda and Rabea al-Adaweya Mosque sit-ins as part of its great war on terror, and there have been calls for security forces to do this even from leftist, vocally anti-police activists. They are correct in their assertion that a sit-in with arms and torture areas should not continue. I cannot, however, agree with a full on police assault.

If there are complaints about arms, then the police have a duty to search anyone going in and out of the camp. If protesters fail to cooperate with this, then the police can escalate. Detainees are being held under the stage at the Nahda protest, and if the police had any imagination, and if they cared, they would go in a small delegation to the sit-in during the day when it is virtually empty and demand to be taken there. Any resistance, any violent response, and an escalation would be justified.

Whatever security bodies do, they are bound by duty to use reasonable force; but this is an alien language to both the police and the army, and the general public is braying for blood. It was always going to end — or perhaps begin — like this. 

Comments

I don't really care of what

I don't really care of what Sissi agenda is, I pay his salary as well as police, state security, intelligence and other security moppets to do their jobs and do it right.
Should they use excessive force, the whole World will be on their case, may end up in an international criminal court, for all I care.
They do not need my blessings to do their job, they need the (temp) president's written approval
As for Sissi plans, God only knows what these are, he is under the spot light, nationally and internationally, don't see him as stupid as to make harsh moves on cameras, don't see him nominated for president either, cos if you can hire presidents, why try to be one

Spot on ..on your last

Spot on ..on your last setence ...why would he need it ?... totally agree

Pretty compelling, as usual.

Pretty compelling, as usual. My only quibble is about the characterization of the media as court jester. A jester's role historically was not only to entertain, but also to help engender a little humility in a ruler and speak truth to power, even if in a comedic way. Almost all the Egyptian media are failing in this, with Mada among the few exceptions.

strong conclusion.

strong conclusion.

I always enjoy your articles;

I always enjoy your articles; but have some reservations about your characterization of Morsi and the Mb here. To say that Morsi courted the army for two years is inaccurate. While pragmatism dictated that Morsi could not publicly confront the armed forces, behind the scene accounts speak to Morsi's struggle to reign in the military. Lest we forget, Morsi removed Tantawi and his gang. For the first time in 60 years Egypt was ruled by a (imperfect) civilian government. Unfortunately it was a lost cause from the onset. Every segment, excluding his own power base, conspired against him. I am no fan of the MB, but the manner Egyptians handled this is despicable.

you are a minority but we

you are a minority but we exist. I agree fully with you and thank you for expressing well what I have been trying to do

We are facing organized

We are facing organized terror attacks and planted timed bombs in our cities and blood is spelled in the streets ,, our options facing terror in our country demands the interference of our armed forces whether we agree or disagree on that! The families tried defending themselves with the help of the police and failed to hold on against heave machines guns and planned timed bombs hits , if the army offers help we have no option but to accept it !

RE: your proposed alternative

RE: your proposed alternative to resolve the current crisis...
Talk is cheap!

Egypt’s democratic transition

Egypt’s democratic transition has faced challenges, but also say such obstacles are natural after years of autocratic rule. Morsi was legitimately elected, and those who are unhappy with his rule should use democratic means to bring change.The most logical route is through democratic channels,That is why there was parliamentary elections. it is out of your own naivety that you think your interests are with the military, when in fact for the first time ever we had the opportunity to build a nascent democracy in Egypt that would have never succeeded at the push of a button. It was a very long process and required a lot of participation and support both inside Egypt and outside The military is not a political player and they have to get this idea into their heads. The military’s role is in the barracks and they have to be pushed back into the barracks and not be allowed anytime soon to have any role in the political life in Egypt. Egypt have already suffered twice by allowing the military to take a political role in Egypt. The last time was in 1954 when naivety, trusted the military to implement democratic elections. They never do; they have to be pushed back into the barracks. Politicians and the Egyptian people have to take back the country into their own hands, and they did after the 25 January revolution. we stood in presidential elections, in parliamentary elections, in two constitutional amendments and in one constitutional referendum, and yet after all of that the military trashed it. Are there any guarantees they wont do it again? At the end of the day, the rest of the world has to understand it is a military coup, and don’t look stupid trying not to use the word ‘military coup’. The only thing you are going to do is increase the mistrust in Western hypocrisy: trying to preach democracy for decades and in the first test of time you have failed.

Democracy would change this

Democracy would change this region if it were allowed to take place because people aspire to have the freedom to choose their leaders, but if you close the road to peaceful transfer of power through democratic means, you have cut the ability of the wise men on the scene to devalue the argument of violence. We stood in presidential elections, in parliamentary elections, in two constitutional amendments and in one constitutional referendum, and yet after all of that the military trashed it.

Beautifully and eloquently

Beautifully and eloquently written Sarah. Some of the best analysis of the recent military pomp out there. It's great to read an impartial voice with a level head. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

My heart also goes out to our Syrian and Palestinian brothers - what a miserable lot in life - I recently read something that said they are no longer required to pay entry visa fees?

Sincerely hoping that today (Friday) will not end in even further bloodshed. Thanks again. Cheers!

spot on

spot on

though the level of violence surrounding nahda sitin is much worse than what is expressed. it has engaged in 6 street battles involving machine guns, around 40 have died and the torture is omraneya police station level of horror. it is not terrorism, the clashes are usually started by "the other side", the other side happens to be residents though, the notion of defending oneself with machine guns against the surrounding neighborhoods seems highly problematic and cannot qualify as self defense.

the machine gun wielding fighters are trained and very good at their job, their violence follows a constant stream of jihad and syria inspired civil war rhetoric from rab3a stage (all of it empty posturing made for internal consumption), the sit in when it engages in battles and during its torture sessions clearly expresses a sentiment that sees no value in the lives of the people around it.

this is what makes it feel like terrorism for the people who actually live through it, not just the propaganda. sure it isn't actually terrorism, but try explaining that to those who think the fact that you are being shot at by a well trained marksman late at night must mean they are hamas snipers.

it is that level of animosity that makes dispersing the sitin a necessity, we didn't actually say it should be crushed by force, reasonable force is all that limit of what is needed (much of the danger of the armed men can be mitigated by taking over the zoo, the university and the botanical garden and restrciting the sitin into a smaller area), it would help if the goal is not to arrest anyone just to make sure this dangerous situation ends.

needless to say, the military was quite ready to massacre 50-80 protesters in front of the presidential guards club, but did not bother to do anything to respond to a month long wave of clashes and torture in Giza. the safety and security of anyone is not on their agenda.

Even if I can see your points

Even if I can see your points, I can still not quite see what alternatives to the current regime exists.

But on the other hand, the longer I live here in Egypt, the more I realize how little I understand of the political reality in this country. I think you have to be native Egyptian living your entire life here to understand anything..

I have been in your country

I have been in your country for a number of times. I have seen the very very very poor people. I have talked with young man and woman.

Once at the entrence of the burial site of one of your well known pharao's there was also a group of young girls. I think between 14 and 16 years. It's a guess because they all where in black long closing. One of them asked me if I could speak English. i confirmed and then they all came to me (10 or 12) and told me there name, asked where I came from, told me where they came from (a place north of Luxor, wit a very big mosk). There teacher was very nervice and walked in circles around our small gathering. At that moment I thought, there is still hope for this country.

The problem of all the Arab countries is not the gouvernment. If people will they can send ther rulers home. The problem is that they cannot live together. Soennits are killing Shjiiets are killing Jews, are killing Christians and killing people with no religion at all and the other way round. If some one is in power he is only interested in his group.

In my country we had a religious war of 80 years and after that it took 300 years before we could say, ok that is your believe this is mine but we have to live together.

In my opinion a terrorist is someone who does not accept that there are other opinions and other religions and willingly wants the others to live to his way.

I hope there comes realy peace in your country quick and not over 300 years, but I have my doubts!

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Finkelstein's criticism of

Finkelstein's criticism of Heba is well founded not only on her statement to DN but she made similar statements and regularly expressed sentiments that clearly emphasised Mursi's errors and or crimes implying that June 30 was a product of his failed policies (which was true to some extent)and always neglecting to state for a fact that the military's interference and eventual coup was a criminal act. The military gave the president of the republic a deadline and an ultimatum! And she didn't want Mursi to talk about legitimacy.

"So the question is: why have we got to a moment where 14 million people turn out in opposition to President Morsi's rule and what has he done in the last year to bring us to this moment? Now there are those at this point who would welcome the military in with other open arms. There are others who have deep reservations about a military - a return of the military to power. But I think the question is not purely one of legitimacy versus a coup. And in a sense, President Morsi's speech has framed it in that way. His speech last night spoke only of the legitimacy of his rule and addressed no concessions to the millions of Egyptians who are deeply, deeply dissatisfied with his rule."

"So I would not reduce this to mere support for the military at the expense of democratic rule."

http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2013/s3795501.htm

The coup was made possible because of people like her. Those who were supposed to be the voice of reason failed miserably and made such idiotic comments. Her stance was not in any way neutral as you put it. She was clearly taking sides.

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