With Egypt staring at the bottom of a bubbling, albeit hidden, volcano, the last thing on anyone’s mind is frozen anything! Yet, this is exactly the state of Egyptian affairs: a frozen war. The violent fork in Egypt’s existential highway, in the wake of the July 2013 coup, saw massacres of varying sizes, capped by the mother of all bloodletting: the Rabaa massacre, has deposited us at the intersection of trouble road and conflict avenue. Abdel Fatah El Sisi is fond of saying that his timely interference, and that of the military, spared Egypt a civil war. The president, to put it indelicately, is lying. Sisi has cooked up a dish laced with cyanide. Heard of the cold war? This Egyptian version is nuclear mushroom cloud sized. Egypt has become three nations in one. None of them talks with the other, looking on one another with suspicion and an unspoken greed for control hangs above all three. A national tableau embodying the phrase “the quiet before the storm” is further blemished by this angry trinity.
Some analysts have a natural default that veers towards extreme caution, owing, naturally, to political proclivities. Having long espoused a position that Egypt’s future held more of the same, analysts, in recent weeks, have reversed course. One of those, Dr. Ezzdine Fishere said: “Egypt’s dictatorship is sitting on a cloud of fear. Below is a powder keg”. From this vantage point, however, the matter at hand needs further unpeeling. Desperate is the need for triangulation outside of standard parameters.
This is where the dive into the “Three Egypts” whirlpool becomes more necessity than luxury.
Despite the overall failure to brandish the weapon of protest, since that breath of fresh air on Sep 20th in multiple governates and in, historically, revolutionary Suez on the 21st, things are not quiet. “Sisi’s Egypt collapsing” is the number one trending hash tag as I type this. Traditionally, state terrorism, repression, economic failures, the intentionally tone-deaf governance, failing health care and educational systems are looked upon as triggers for the current malaise. Rarely mentioned as a cause is division, more so, it is looked upon as a side effect.
As analytical faux pas go, this one is both mountain-sized and dangerous.
There has long been a deadly tango between two Egypts: Islamist Egypt and Secular Egypt, but a sinister third Egypt is very much at play behind the scenes: Military Egypt
The three Egypts remain isolated from each other, distrustful of every utterance, not comprehending ideologically disparate tracts forming a nation where discourse is but a dream and national consensus but a mirage.
In some important respects, this three-way fracture traces back to the lone year of Mohamed Morsi’s presidency. When Morsi gave his acceptance speech, on June 24th 2012, he bent over backwards to be inclusive; speaking to “Muslims and Christians alike, men and women, the elderly and the young, mothers and fathers, peasants and workers”. The rhetoric appeared inclusive, strong emphasis on “appeared”. Muslims before Christians, men ahead of women, the elderly leading the way instead of the young- his order, not mine. It was symbolic. More troublingly, it would foreshadow much of what lay waiting for Egypt in that fateful year. During those first months, Morsi understandably looked to formulate alliances, political, military and judicial that would protect his flank. But, in the process, two things became clear: the deep state was working against him, and Morsi naively, was paddling against waves of his own making by taking a dictatorial tract that had some calling him ‘’a 21st century pharaoh”.
As the first snows fell in Europe and the U.S, in early December, the Cairo sun shone on the “unchecked powers’’ Morsi sought, resulting in a massive national fracas, in front of the presidential palace. There were dead, there were injured and “thuggish Morsi supporters tortured anti Morsi protestors’’ on the grounds of the presidential palace and an ugly binary between Islamists and a loose coalition of liberal secularists featuring finger pointing and mistrust was seared into the national memory.
Rocks may have been the weapon of choice but that was only a dress rehearsal for the ugliness to come.
With events quickly developing and accusations abounding of Morsi ruling for “his people”, this led some to render a judgment of “arrogance, incompetence and maximalism’’ on Morsi’s rule, the focus was on the deadly tango between two Egypts: Islamist Egypt and secularist Egypt, terms used here only for linguistic brevity.
But a third sinister Egypt was at play behind the scenes: militarist Egypt. Ultimately, this camp, which I call the “Sisifites” due to their unwavering adulation for Sisi, would come to rule the political landscape, when Sisi, eventually climbed to the supreme seat of governance.
The men who had, historically, controlled the levers of powers were at play puppeteering the unaware, and bending Egyptian history, yet again, to suit their Machiavellian wishes. Since the days of Egypt’s first modern president, Mohamed Naguib, who insisted, in 1954, that the army’s place is the barracks and thus paid a hefty price via his house arrest, those in power have insisted on its consolidation within the army’s clutches.
Nothing had changed since 1954, out went Nasser and, decades later, in came Sisi representing an institution afflicted with governance greed. Whether secularist or Islamist, it didn’t require a degree in logic to understand that, the Tamarod movement, contrary to all appearances, was not a natural outgrowth of national anger but a tool of the men with guns, an arm of the deepest reaches of the deep state. As early as 6 weeks after the coup, suspicion abound: “did the army create street pressure through Tamarod to get what they want?” Some would assert, later, that funding and logistical support for this “movement’’ was directly funneled from the deep state and its Gulf allies.
Ironically, it was the side often decrying the interference of “invisible hands’’ in Egyptian domestic affairs which utilized “invisible hands’’ to destabilize and, ultimately, topple a president. This is not to say, that grievances against Morsi and concurrently the Muslim Brotherhood were somehow rendered invalid- valid they were; but, it is more than fair to venture that these invisible forces fanned the flames with the rigor of a party that stood to gain the most.
On July 3rd, 2013, with the removal of Morsi from office, one nation would become three.
Gradually, as one massacre followed the other, those amongst us who could not justify an ounce of Egyptian blood spilled in the name of some mirage of stability, separated themselves from those who mistook or ratified naked hunger for power for a military imposed quiet. Thus, in one camp, a stridently nationalist grouping stood firm with Sisi. Particularly after the Rabaa massacre, we had those from the progressive, liberal tradition for whom the massacre marked a split from both camps: the Muslim Brotherhood against whom they demonstrated and the militarists against who they stand till this day. Finally, and obviously, Egypt’s third camp encompassed all matter of Islamist leaning, including, chiefly, the MB.
How these three parties remain isolated from one another, distrustful of every utterance, not comprehending ideologically disparate tracts has translated into a scene where discourse is but a dream and national consensus but a mirage.
To understand how Egypt’s future hangs in the balance due to this Frozen War our conversation must extend.
Some conversations are too important to rush. And, in this conversation, no one is innocent. No one.