Tragedy and Nonsense

Category: Featured, Middle East, World Affairs Topics: Egypt Views: 2991

Any honest assessment of the events unfolding across Egypt will recognize that they have all the aspects of a classic tragedy. The characters involved, each in their own way, have demonstrated that they have been unable to rise above their fatal flaws with the result being the horror we are now witnessing. What Egypt needs at this time is a clear-headed acknowledgment of what went wrong and what is the way forward. What it doesn't need are the nonsense claims made by some partisans who wildly blame others while seeking to absolve themselves.

What Egypt needed most out of its revolution was a national consensus that could establish a functioning government capable of creating order and providing employment and prosperity for its growing population. That's what our polling has consistently showed. What it got instead was a group ill-suited to lead and a military that only knew one way to deal with a problem. The result is this tragedy that is now playing out across the country.

In the first place, the Brotherhood could not govern or build the much needed consensus that Egypt needed in the post-Mubarak era. After winning a default election (since they were the only organized party in town) by the narrowest of margins, they focused their attention more on consolidating their hold over the reins of power instead of addressing Egypt's needs. In the end, they made enemies not only of those whom they had defeated but those potential allies whose votes had enabled them to win, in the first place. The Brotherhood's misreading of the public mood led to their isolation and ultimately to the massive demonstrations calling for their removal.

Egypt's military, too, became a victim of its own weakness. With the public calling for action, they responded and overreacted, as militaries are wont to do-first by deposing and arresting President Morsi, and then by assuming that they could use overwhelming force to end the Brotherhood's weeks-long sit-ins that had paralyzed entire neighborhoods.

By assuming that there could be a violent solution to what is at its core a political problem, Egypt's military has now only deepened and made more virulent the country's political crisis.

The Brotherhoods "sit-ins" were not political acts, they were more hostile takeovers that set up a "state-within-the-state". As such, more than protests, they became acts of provocation that only served to further aggravate an increasingly frustrated and hostile public, while defiantly goading the military to act.

In reality then, it was the flawed instinct of both the Brotherhood and military that led to this tragedy.

What is both disturbing and especially unhelpful are the half truths and/or nonsensical claims being made by some that only serve to obfuscate Egypt's situation and the needs of its people.

For example, in an editorial in the New York Times, a former minister in the Morsi government attempts to describe the situation in Egypt as follows: "this is a battle between those who envision a pluralistic Egypt in which the individual has dignity and power changes hands at the ballot box and those who support a militarized state in which government is imposed on the people by force".

While there may be some justification for the second half of this charge, our polling makes clear that the vast majority of Egyptians simply do not believe that the Morsi government ever envisioned "a pluralistic Egypt in which the individual has dignity". What they saw taking place during the one year in which Morsi was in power was the exact opposite. The millions who signed petitions and who demonstrated calling for Morsi to step down were frightened that the President and his party were consolidating an absolutist and intolerant regime. What they hoped for was a real chance for a tolerant, pluralistic government. This majority opinion still holds true and is waiting in the wings for its aspirations to be realized.

What Egyptians have seen both before and since the military action has only reinforced their fears about the Brotherhood's intent. First, there was the incitement against Egypt's small Shi'a Muslim community that resulted in the brutal hanging of several members of this group. And in recent days there has been the all-out assault on Egypt's Christians. At last count 50 churches have been attacked, with at least 19 burned and other ransacked. Christian businesses have been looted and individuals have been attacked, as well.

Not only Egyptian partisans are guilty of obfuscation and half-truths. There are those, like Senator John McCain, who point an accusing finger at President Obama calling Egypt his "colossal failure" saying "we bear a large amount of responsibility for the bloodletting that's taking place", lamenting that "no one is listening to us". McCain and others, therefore, call on the US to immediately cut aid to Egypt, assuming that this would rectify the situation.

But these charges ring hollow to most Egyptians who still blame the US for supporting and emboldening the Brotherhood while they were in power. In reality, as President Obama has correctly noted, while the US has abiding national security interests in maintaining ties with Egypt, it has limited leverage in directing how the Egyptian military behaves in dealing with internal matters. In this context, the President's statement was not as some critics have suggested "weak" or "passive" or "spineless". It was honest.

As for the calls to cut aid, these also ring hollow. The economic assistance to Egypt has already been cut. The largest portion of the US aid package is in the form of military equipment supplied by US companies for which contracts have already been signed. The real losers of breaking these contracts, therefore, will not be Egypt's military, but US suppliers. This fact, though not clear to the US public, is already understood by Egyptians who in polls tell us that they do not want the US aid because they feel that it is the US or Israel and not Egypt that is the main beneficiary of this assistance package.

As President Obama noted, what is taking place in Egypt is deplorable and tragic. Momentous change is never easy and never takes a straight path toward its goal. The tragic events now taking place in Egypt are not, as some are suggesting, the end of Egypt's movement toward democracy, it is the beginning. The process that began two-and-one-half years ago has hit a terrifying bump in the road. The consequences are horrific, but the vibrancy of Egypt's civil society has demonstrated its ability to reassert itself before and will yet again. This is not the time for friends to cut and run. Rather it is critical that friends remain supportive of the Egyptian people and their aspirations for an inclusive democracy that can provide security and opportunity for all of its people.


Dr. James J. Zogby is the President Arab American Institute.

  Category: Featured, Middle East, World Affairs
  Topics: Egypt
Views: 2991

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Older Comments:
This writer is only sympathetic to the Coptic Churches burnt and the Christians attacked. He did not see anything wrong in hundred harmless Muslims killed, he did not make reference to MB offices being attacked every protest by the Liberal - pre-July 3 protests, he did not see the Tahir Sq protest by the opponents as "State -within-the state" he qualified MB sit-in protest and he knows fully well that this kind of evil can never be tolerated in his own country, thus he is simply affected with complex bias!

Both sides unfortunately are to be blamed for the unrest but the Military takes the lion share of the blame. For nearly half a Century the people were being oppressed yet there was no outcries, but when Morsi came to power people started enjoying democracy and the so called freedom they all came out en masse demonstrating against the legitimate elected leader.Quickly the Army took the advantage of the situation and gave Morsi Government only 48 hours to sort out all the problem.How do you expect to undo the past political strangulation and economic chaos imposed by the previous regime and yet blamed the legitimate elected government rightly or wrongly. We should not expect things that were destroyed by almost half a century unfortunate authoritarian rule be built and corrected within a year as demanded the demonstrators and the army. When the Military came they started the usual tactic of war against terror which ended in tragedy and killing more than 500 people in one day alone. Is it the way to restore democracy? We are being hypocritical unfortunately and we all know this is not the way how democracy operates. People have the right to protest the Army have no right whatsover to slaughter their citizens who were demonstrating peacefully. It is so barbaric unacceptable behaviour for any civilized society to do such thing to its citizens. I am not trying to defend Morsis Government we know they have their weakness but at least we should give them benefit of doubt being legitimately elected they should be given time to complete their term not with barrel of gun. When they come out to demonstrate they are slaughtered. The International Court of Justice should look at the possibility of PROSECUTING THOSE WHO COMMITTED THESE During Morsi how many people were killed? This Interim Military Government is in all out war with its people trying to justify the unjustified oppression as known dissent not tolerated going back to the same previous time of the fifty years back.

It seems James that the overall intent in you article justifies the military takeover of Egypt by bringing down a democratically-elected Government. The bullet can never take the place of ballot whatever may be the reason. I am sure you know that living in the US where it has been the ballot and not the bullet that decides the Government. Now some points I don't agree with you:
How can the peaceful sit-ins of the millions (majority of Egyptians mind you, who elected Morsi) be a "provocation"? Who is provoking who? It is the military and its paid thugs who brought Egypt down to this tragic state of affairs.
And, as you state, "in recent days there has been an all-out assault on churches", this blame lies squarely with the current illegal Government, the military and the Police. How can Morsi and the Brotherhood be held responsible when he has been kidnapped by the terrorists and the members arrested or even killed (Badie's son killed, another member's daughter and God know how many more shot by the military)and even hundreds of civilians killed point-blank by bullets fired from the military, the Police and the paid thugs? Why, they even shoot at journalists and many have been killed or had a close shave. TV stations not supporting their line banned. I can go on and on. It is they, James who should be held responsible and tried at the Hague. They are doing this to discredit the Brotherhood. These guys are even going so far as to even ban the Brotherhood? All indicators point a finger at them and their savagery.
I would strongly advise myself, you and everybody to do whatever we can bring about a full stop to this bloodshed by asking our respective countries' Government's help. Egypt needs this sorely. People are dying and all of us need to do the utmost to this end. Allah help us. Ameen.

And these are our friends from Cairo. Who shoot and kill people.
That's what the Arab Spring ended up in? Between the criminal military
and the non-encouraging prospect that the Islamists will regain power?
Secularism (essential for any real democracy) and women's rights are
in danger.