Some moments blare: look at me, understand me. A female student being kicked out of a lecture hall by a College professor, shouts “I’ll show you”, the professor responds, lasciviously, “you can’t show me in front of the students here”. The students laugh. Evil, in this Egypt, is blunt-not blunted. A regime has successfully transmitted the disease of “othering” to the masses, dampened instinctive empathy thus decreasing resistance to its hegemony. The epitome of reactionary success is not to rule from above but within a large subset of Egyptians. It is only the latest installment of Egypt’s frozen war.
After the Rabaa massacre, the three-way split of Egypt’s theater became more amplified. In one corner, the Sisifites (the pro Sisi cult) gained power, momentum and viciousness, in another, the Islamist camp was either killed, arrested, silenced, fired or escaped to more friendly nations. In the last corner secularists stood in shock as the nation bolted for the ugly cocktail of fascism and totalitarianism behind door number 1. With one side bearing its fangs, another in jail or running and a third in stunned meek silence, no one putting the breaks on this runaway car.
In 2012, when Mohamed Morsi won Egypt’s presidency with 51.7% of the vote, Egypt’s population was a touch over 90 million, and a substantial number voted for the Muslim brotherhood candidate. So when, little over a year later, the new De Facto leader, Abdel El Fatah El Sisi, took to calling the Muslim Brotherhood the “terror group’’, formally designating it by year’s end a “terrorist group”, Egypt had labeled 13.2 million,the number of Morsi voters, citizens as terrorists. How do you move forward with any kind of nation building, security and dialogue in that construct?
With half the nation labelled an “enemy”, the other two camps were at a dramatic moral crossroads. In any given apartment building, your neighbor could be a Copt or a Muslim brotherhood supporter. When the police state came knocking and arrested Muslim brotherhood members left and right, the Sisifites and the seculars were either bellowing in support or silent.
51.7% of Egyptians had voted to put the Muslim Brotherhood candidate in the Presidency, so when #Sisi formally designating them a “terrorist group”, how do you move forward with any kind of nation building, security and dialogue in that construct?
One after the other, those who would dare speak up, would disappear. In Sisi's Egypt, 19 new jails had been built, with many more in the pipeline filled with all the key revolutionary voices.
Days before the Rabaa massacre, the Frozen War visited my family. In Cairo, in an apartment naturally air conditioned by Nile breezes, in early August 2013, the conversation, naturally, turned to the Rabaa sit in. Standing in that balcony puffing untold numbers of cigarettes were a lawyer, an engineer, a businessman, Real Estate salesperson and a housewife, supportive of the only revolution Egypt had known: 2011, and myself. It became, quickly, clear all balcony occupants, except the author, were in favor of breaking up the sit in. One went so far as to say, “let them roll in with tanks”. Graphically, I understood: the nation was not on the cliff’s edge- it was falling while thinking itself rising. A part of me imploded when that same man said, “anything up to 20,000 casualties is acceptable because this is an illegal sit in’’. Stunningly, no one admonished this deeply criminal statement. That the man was a family member made it even more odious.
This scene would portend far worse.
In months to come, such division raked many Egyptian homes. I interviewed numerous activists, ordinary citizens and intellectuals who told of an icy quality to discussions with fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. Sisi, at the head of the first camp’s table, had injected blood into the equation. Once blood pollutes the body politic, societies rupture. There is no coming back from killing a 1000 Egyptians in the span of 8 hours. Numerous secularists screamed bloody murder but many more writers, actors, thinkers remained silent. When I faced one such famous writer, questioning his pro military stance, he simply blocked me.
That decapitation of discourse, this “I see nothing, hear nothing and say nothing” ethos would cost Egypt dearly.
One after the other, those who would dare speak up, would disappear.
If you were associated with the revolution, an opinion maker, a potential agent of change, a new Sisi jail cell awaited you. By 2016, 19 new jails had been built, with many more in the pipeline. Filling them were vital revolutionary voices like Alaa Abdel Fatah, Shady Abou Ghazalah, Ahmed Doma, Mohamed Oxygen, and most recently Asmaa Abdel Fatah and Egyptian lawyer Mahinour El Masri. Politicians who dared oppose were also ensnared: Sami Anan, Abdel Monim Abou el Fotouh- presidential candidates no less, and Hazem Abdel Azim, joined revolutionaries behind bars. Believe in democratic change? Arrest was in your cards: Zyed El Alaimy, former head of the Egyptian Democratic party- the irony is arresting-, Hossam Moanis and Hisham Fouad were all arrested for the “crime’’ of forming a liberal/leftist called, in a dark twist, “Hope”, to run in future parliamentary elections. Sisi had, literally, arrested hope. Want to uncover corruption? Come on in, plenty of rooms in Sisi’s jails and you will be physically assaulted even if you are Hesham Genina, Egypt’s former top auditor.
Colonialism’s tactic was always to divide and concur. This internal occupation utilizes the tactic and adds the extra spice of arrest and extra judicial killings and a manic control of public discourse.
But in the end, it always comes back to keeping Egypt and Egyptians divided into the three camps: Sisifites, Islamists and secularists. We witnessed, during the rare September 20th protests, that not even pro Sisi designation spares you his jail cell, “one a journalist had written a pro Sisi Facebook post hours before his arrest”.
But arbitrary or not, fear, arrest and repression can only work for so long. With the iron fist punching all three camps, admittedly to varying degrees, in the gut how before the inevitable explosion?
The rare ray of hope of September’s mini Intifada has stirred something.
An analytical write up on twitter on a new player on the scene, The Egyptian Joker , favoring mental and physical training and a cellular structure of disparate sevens drew more than 80,000 impressions- that is a loud digital cry for change. Right or wrong, with success on its horizon or another failure in the long line of change makers, numbers of this “organized non movement’’ appear to be growing- at least on social media, the tool of the oppressed in police states like Egypt. This Tuesday the group will stage its first practical training in Egypt’s streets.
There are other smaller groups attempting to organize behind the scenes but are not making much headway or noise. Egypt, however, has been so starved of political movement and organization, for so many years, that experience and cadres are sparse. Nonetheless, Mohamed Ali promised, just this week, a “surprise that will be bring the end’’ of Sisi in 2-3 weeks. Ahmed El Tantaway, a parliamentarian in the meager opposition, put forth a 12 point plan out of the current fiasco
At the very least still waters are still no more.
The dam will break without a miracle. Confrontation itself is not the goal - change is, specifically, structural change. Conversations with dissidents, activists and intellectuals have had one common thread: “We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past”. Gone is the naivete of the past replaced by a deadly and cynical realism. A well-known dissident told Raseef 22: “this time we may lose as many as 50,000 lives” with a revolution.
Numbers may, in fact, be higher. Sisi has shown both a thirst for blood and has linked his existential survival with the upper echelons of the army. In so doing, and while peppering that class with endless funds, palaces, he is gambling on the guns never turning against him but against the people when the hour of reckoning beckons.
Egypt has been divided for years. Without a recognition of the importance of a tactical alliance between those mistrusting Sisi, the military institution and a corrupt self-benefiting bureaucracy will continue to reign for many years.
But if the Frozen War is thawed, what needs to be for this nation state to survive, will be.