New Internationalist

Egypt, the unravelling

Egypt burning illustration [Related Image]
Artwork entitled 'Egypt's Religious Violence/Burning Words' Surian Soosay under a Creative Commons Licence

‘Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.’

Lately, it seems that every time I sit down to write about Egypt, after our revolution, I am underslept and overwhelmed. Certainly, following this week’s horrific massacre, this is no exception. To date, and if the Egyptian Ministries are to be trusted (always a big if) the death toll stands at 638 (so about as many people as were killed during those historic 18 days it took to oust Mubarak) and a staggering 3,994 injured. This is to say nothing of the uncounted bodies still waiting to be officially processed, or numerous reports of families being pressured to sign statements saying the cause of deaths were suicide in order for them to claim the bodies of their loved ones.

Sickening, in this context, to hear Prime Minister El-Beblawi praising the police for ‘self restraint’. Which is, of course, by no means to excuse the pro-Morsi supporters/Muslim Brotherhood of the dreadful havoc they’ve wreaked. Frankly, I’ve not had the heart or stomach to watch any of the gruesome videos circulating, but on the basis alone of the dozens of churches they have burned, they have forgone the moral right to speak of ‘legitimacy’ ever again. How we respond to violence and injustice also defines us.

Yet, because I dared to share on social media news of Vice-President El Baradei’s principled stepping down, I have been drawn into exhausting virtual battles by ‘friends’ for supporting this traitor and told by otherwise gentle-seeming folks (cultured, liberal, even Sufi-admiring) that the army’s use of violence is completely justified, that the Muslim Brotherhood are cockroaches, a cancer (basically inhuman) and therefore deserve to die, unmourned.

Here are El Baradei’s closing words from his resignation statement:

I am afraid I cannot afford to bear the responsibility of a single drop of blood before God, and before my conscience and the citizens of Egypt. Unfortunately, the beneficiaries of today’s events are the advocates of violence and terrorism.

To my ears, these are words of sanity and an ethical question we should all be asking ourselves.  What becomes of us when we condone the excessive use of violence and mass murder? Are we not accomplices? And how is it that we are able to put our blind trust in the army after we’ve suffered their abuses of power in the not-too-distant past (Maspero massacre, virginity tests, etc…) Yes, I am one of many relieved, after the gross and dangerous ineptitude of Morsi’s leadership, for Egypt to have another chance at real freedom. But, might we also imagine that post people-endorsed coup, the army might have its own cynical agenda in mind (read: more power)?

Those who pit us against each other, or set churches on fire and terrorize us, are not our friends. This is not why the long-suffering Egyptians dared to dream of revolution in the first place; Egypt deserves better than having her hopes tossed between the devil and the deep blue sea. And, to be sure, we’ve other ‘devils’ besides six decades of military rule, or the perils of the Muslim Brotherhood to contend with. Lack of education is certainly one and, in the words of Aristotle: ‘Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.’ We would do better, then, to address these serious societal ills than allow ourselves to be distracted and deceived into more tragic battles.

Surely, there were other ways to ‘clear the sit-in’ besides mass extermination of the protesters. Violence is always a failure of imagination and compassion, and begets violence; just as fighting hate with hate only escalates it. This is the unravelling we are witnessing now, and how we ended up in this choiceless mess in the first place (between the Military and Muslim Brotherhood stalemate). Understandably, emotions are running high, and patience is wearing thin in the face of so much daily chaos, disappointments and seemingly no hope in sight.

But in the midst of all this, we must not lose sight of each other’s humanity, since how we respond to these soul-trying challenges is what will determine who we become. Which is to say, hard as it may appear at times to see past the divisiveness, hurt or fatigue, it is worth trying even harder to remember the noble goals of our peaceful Revolution. We are stronger when we unite around common goals, and focus on what we love: Freedom, Dignity, Egypt. All human life is sacred, equal; and we should see to it that in fighting the monsters of injustice, ignorance and oppression, we do not become monsters ourselves.

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  1. #1 disorderedworld 18 Aug 13

    The tragedy of Egypt is that it was the liberals and not the Muslim Brotherhood that took the decisive step away from democracy. Stand back and look at what is happening. The same people who were killing unarmed protesters under Mubarak are now killing unarmed protesters under el-Sisi. The liberals and the Muslim Brotherhood are being played off against one another by a psychopathic military leadership intent on holding onto power. The violence empowers extremists on all sides and the population fragments as it lines up behind its own brand of psychopath. When will we learn to see beyond the surface and see that Egypt is the replay of a scenario we have seen unfold countless times. The real division is psychology, not religion, and there are psychopaths on every side. The events in Egypt show that we need a new understanding of democracy.

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About the author

Yahia Lababidi a New Internationalist contributor

Yahia Lababidi is an Egyptian-American thinker and Pushcart-nominated poet, whose work has been translated into nearly a dozen languages. To date, Lababidi is the author of five well-received books, in four different genres: Signposts to Elsewhere (aphorisms), Trial by Ink: From Nietzsche to Bellydancing (essays), Fever Dreams (poems), The Artist as Mystic (conversations) and, most recently, Barely There, a new collection of poems from Wipf and Stock. 

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