intractability of the problem in Egypt is caused by the presence of three, not
two, parties to the current dispute.
of these parties is the protesters: those demanding a civil state and a proper
constitution guaranteeing human rights for all, which the current draft does
not. They are women and men, old and young, Christian and Muslim, poor and
second is the state, represented by the three-headed hydra of Morsy, Badie, and Shater. President Mohammed Morsy is the public face of the beast.
Mohammed Badie is the Brotherhood's Supreme Guide, whose words address the members
of the Brotherhood. Kairat al-Shater is the organization's most powerful man
and its most prominent strategist. The panic of these three men introduced the
third party into the current dispute.
third party is the hordes of Muslim Brotherhood supporters. They are columns of
men -- almost always men -- who are bussed into Cairo from outlying neighborhoods
and cities for use as the Brotherhood's foot soldiers. They serve as protesters
at one moment, as hired guns at another. The reasons they so obediently follow
orders is twofold: First, the Muslim Brotherhood indoctrination method requires
absolute faith in the group's hierarchical leadership. Second, those in charge
are force-feeding them with hatred of the protesters, and they are
correspondingly convinced that those who oppose Morsy's decisions are in fact
godless heathens who are also paid foreign agents who want to ruin Egypt and
allow men to marry men. (There's a very strange fixation on the matter of gay
matrimony within Muslim Brotherhood propaganda I find very puzzling.)
is where the problem becomes intractable.
political disagreement, between the protesters and the government, has been
compounded by another: between the opposition protesters and the Muslim
Brotherhood foot soldiers. For the latter, though, the conflict isn't political
-- it's religious and moral.
disagreements on two different planes ensures the impossibility of reaching a
think I've ever been as concerned for Egypt as I have this week. The only even
remotely comparable moment that I can recall was the dawn of Thursday, February
3, 2011, the day following one of the worst battles of the Egyptian revolution.
Broken and bandaged figures moved slowly through the cold morning mist in Tahrir
Square, which still smelled like sulfur.
morning, my heart sank. I wondered to myself how we got to that place. And
wondered where we were going.
very much how I feel this week. Usually, things appear worse than they actually
are. Today, things are significantly worse than they appear.
Wednesday, columns of angry men, belonging to the Brotherhood or supporting it,
attacked protestors who had overnighted in the street, ransacking their peaceful encampment by the presidential palace. The
attackers burned the protestors' tents, robbed their few belongings, and beat
up and injured hundreds, killing several. They kidnapped and tortured --
tortured -- several dozens of people, demanding from them bogus confessions that
they were paid agents or members of Mubarak's former party.
protesters were objecting to President Morsy's constitutional decree of
November 22, which put him, the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly, and
the draft constitution that assembly was supposed to produce, above judicial
doesn't end there. The men who tortured the protesters subsequently handed
their victims to the national police, which arrested them. The victims, not the
torturers: not a single one of the latter was apprehended. The victims were
kept for two days, after which a judge recognized they were innocent and
sit-in endures, and on Friday a protest estimated at 1.5 million people
returned to the square.
Brotherhood ally, Salafi leader Hazem Abou Ismail, has publicly threatened to
send his supporters to violently break the sit-in. He also sent his
supporters to the "Media Production City," a compound housing a number of
satellite channels, with explicit threats of violence. He, too, was not
Muslim Brotherhood conflict management philosophy is two-pronged and seemingly
Morsy and his entourage have pursued a strategy of "running out the clock,"
under the assumption that time is on their side. The government remained silent
for the first bloody 48 hours of the conflict, after which Morsi offered to
hold a "national dialogue". His proposal was shunned by nearly all opposition
leaders, but he nevertheless went ahead with a meeting of sorts, issued a new
constitutional declaration that resolved nothing, and insisted that the
constitutional referendum be held on time.
second approach, which appears inconsistent with the previous one, finds
expression in nervous reactions that demand an immediate ending to the
situation and believe in violence as a viable means. The short-temperedness of
Morsy (or whoever is calling the shots behind him) goes against all the flowery
promises of dialogue and national unity that he made during his
campaign and his early acceptance speeches.
while it seemed that the combination of ingredients was working. The government
reinforced its moves with a Mubarakist propaganda
policy that sought to dehumanize the Brotherhood's political opponents,
publicly exhorting its supporters to take action to "defend" the president's
legitimacy (hence paving the way for egregious
acts of violence). The Brotherhood even resorted
the names and images of victims within the ranks of the
them off as their own [link in Arabic]. The
chutzpah is befuddling.
But the reliance
on the Muslim Brotherhood rank-and-file, fuelled by religious rage, screaming
"O Islam" (something they could only have picked up in low-budget historical
documentaries) is an extreme measure that one did not expect to see so early. Does
it signify that, in its impatience, the government did not calculate the risk
of letting an angry mob get a taste of blood? Like an evil genie, angry crowds
might serve a short-term purpose but will very rapidly acquire a mind and will
of their own. And the schism this is causing in the Egyptian society will very
rapidly become irreversible.
society as a pro-Islam vs. anti-Islam binary choice isn't a political dispute --
it's a civil one. Because there isn't a region, a street, a family where people
don't disagree about politics; if this kitchen table conversation is transformed
into one about faith, then we're lost. And the damage will reach all the way to
the deepest threads of the society that we love to compare -- mostly thanks to
a Christian minority that throws in some diversity -- to a complex, tightly
This is a
fabric that the Brotherhood is now working overtime to unravel. Is this
deliberate or is it a terrible miscalculation? The latest government fiasco (decreeing new taxes and then rescinding them hours later) suggests
that there is remarkably little thought going into critical decisions.
probably not the only decision-maker. The hydra's two other heads have a mind
of their own -- and they are not shy about expressing it, either. (Both Khairat
Al Shater and Mohamed Badie held press conferences justifying the government's
response to the clashes, even though they have no official government positions
whatsoever.) All this makes me feel that pessimism is justified.
is now in the president's six hands. And this does not bode well.
Mohamed blogs at eldahshan.com and tweets at @eldahshan.
Ed Giles/Getty Images