I am neither a supporter of Mohamed Morsi nor of the Egyptian military. To place oneself in either camp is to assert an allegiance to hierarchy, patriarchy, capitalism, secrecy and violence. The military and the Brotherhood are not two poles that encompass Egyptian society, they are two elitist organizations with vast domestic networks, international connections, opaque business interests and legions of foot soldiers. And yet, in the international press, readers are being repeatedly presented with this false binary.
A vast swath of the Egyptian populace has recently succumbed to national amnesia, cheering the APCs that crushed protestors at Maspero just 20 months ago. Others are being inflamed with the language of legitimacy and martyrdom pouring from the Brotherhood’s stages. State media has never been more sectarian or the independents more keen to please the ascendant military. And previously reliable foreign news outlets seem also to have lost perspective.
British newspaper The Guardian, for example, proudly boasted of its role as a reliable news source during the initial 18 days of the revolution, and truly did excellent work. But since the election of the Muslim Brotherhood it has taken a perplexing editorial line that regularly mixes veneration for our Brotherhood ex-rulers with hectoring lectures on the necessary difficulties of democracy and the ultimate sanctity of the ballot box.
I was surprised to see space given in yesterday’s Comment is Free section to Yahia Hamed, Morsi’s minister for investment, who wrote that Morsi had a “single mission: To establish stable sustainable mechanisms for the peaceful democratic exchange of power.” The article repeatedly speaks of Morsi’s fanatic devotion to democracy, but fails to give a single concrete example of any action that Morsi took in the pursuit of his supposed democratic faith. Not one.
That’s because there were none. Now that the Muslim Brotherhood have been ousted from power they repeat the words “democracy” and “legitimacy” incessantly — but this abuse of history and of language must be challenged. Morsi’s legitimacy was lost the moment Brotherhood militias were unleashed on a protest sit-in last November, the moment the activist Mohamed al-Guindy gasped for his last breath in a police torture cell, and the moment four Shias were lynched without a word of criticism from the government. Democracy under the Brotherhood was no different than under Mubarak or under SCAF — by opposing them, by thinking differently to them, you risked your life.
And if we want to consider Morsi’s commitment to the democratic process, let’s remember how a post-revolutionary Constitution was forced on a population with the approval of just 64 percent of a 33 percent turnout.
In an editorial on July 9, the Guardian wrote, “According to our body count, more Egyptians have been killed and injured in two weeks of protests than in one year under Mohamed Morsi.” What the editorial doesn’t say is that in this period at least nine people were killed by a gunman inside the Brotherhood’s headquarters, eight were killed by Brotherhood protesters and there is a wave of sectarian violence sweeping the countryside — the worst episode so far, seeing at least four Christians killed in Luxor. The body count is higher and it is rising, not only because the military are back on the streets, but because the Brotherhood is armed and angry and will not back down.
The Armed Forces and the Brotherhood both have blood on their hands, and both seem determined to escalate. And let there be no doubt — we recognize that the ultimate and gravest threat to the revolution is the military, that the most brutal and well-equipped organization is the military, that the institution that is most to blame for the country’s vast problems is the military. But that does not mean that liberal news outlets in the West should canonize the Brotherhood because they’re in the habit of defending persecuted Muslims at home. Neither the military nor the Brotherhood have any interest in delivering the people’s demands of “bread, freedom and social justice.” We know this. What we don’t know is what the people can do next.
The people are the great unknown. The people have spent two-and-a-half years talking about little else other than politics. So is it too much to ask for commentators, writing in English, to stop telling us “how democracy works?” Because, from where we’re standing, the fire sale of Greece, the bailouts of the banks, the titanic advertising budgets of electoral candidates, the Tory Old Boy’s Club government and the invisible muscle of the lobbies are just a few hints that no one’s democracy is working properly.
And if the ultimate arbiter of legitimacy is the ballot box, perhaps US citizens could be allowed vote on whether to continue military aid to Egypt? Or UK citizens could choose where David Cameron next flies to peddle his weapons? There is not a fair and functional system anywhere in the world. At least Egypt’s is in flux and her governments are trembling. And as long as the people believe they don’t have to accept their reality, as long as they believe that their future has not been decided for them, then something new is possible.
This piece was originally submitted to The Guardian out of politeness and respect, but was rejected.