Monthly Archives: July 2013

Egypt- The Third Way

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So there is a third camp that has emerged in Egypt;  just as there is one  in every conflict, and particularly when the options on the forefront are not desirable. The members are Egyptians who neither want religious fascism nor the army.

A good place to start is Facebook where a search surfaced Ahrar Movement, the Third Direction and El Midan El Talet- the 3rd Square. They all believe in a third option; they all disagree on what that third option is. The groups are still in infancy; the “third camp” is still an idea, in my own opinion, that hasn’t formed into a strong trend or force of power. Until this happens, we are going to see a couple of different names and descriptions.

I connected with members and the founder of the Facebook group, the Third Direction  to learn why they believe that the current tumult in the most populous and strategic Middle East country mandates other solutions.

THE TEAMS

The current political canvas has three general segments:
1) Pro-military rule
2) Pro-Morsy
3) Revolutionary Block

Camp 3 includes the founders of Tamarod (not the signatories), and socialist and anarcho-communist groups (leftist anarchists/leftist liberals). Upper class Egyptians are scattered between segments 1 and 3. Lower class mostly belongs to Group 1. Today a good part of Camp 3 are sympathizing with the MB on humanitarian grounds and out of fear of a Nasser-like move by Sisi. These are the third way people.

THE SITUATION ON GROUND

June 30th saw everyone unite against the Islamists. With the latest wave of violence by the security forces, the June 30th movement has become fragmented, with some staying loyal to the army, and some others withdrawing their loyalty to the murderers.

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is  trying to win over the revolutionary block by reminding them of what happened under SCAF in 2011 (the events that the MB themselves used to publicly support). Many here believe that the  rhetoric adopted by the Brotherhood is more emotionally geared where they play victims of abuse (in contrast to their very violent rhetoric till date).

The military, on the other hand, is trying to cast away any fears that the revolutionary block might have about having a repeat of 2011 or Gamal Abdel Nasser’s military state. The military are avoiding confrontations since that could stir sympathy within the revolutionary block and disrupt the unity. The Brotherhood seem to be looking for such confrontations and are making sure the violence against them gets recorded.

“The Third way” is part of the revolutionary block segment that is sympathizing with the MB on humanitarian grounds but is against the MB as a political entity. No one seems to want Morsi back. Even the Ikhwaan, realizes that he won’t be coming back. So why has it been protesting and causing such confrontations, one may ask? This mystery remains unsolved.

NO SCAF

The fear is that if Egyptians permit the army and the police to go beyond humane treatment today, then one-day Egypt will be in the MB’s shoes, especially if the military decides to cancel or postpone the elections.

The groups believe that the best thing the military can do is re-affirm the temporary status of this government by continuously reminding people that elections are coming and that they’ll soon be back on the road of a democratic process. As long as this is not the primary focus of the military’s rhetoric, Egyptians will always be worried that Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el- Sisi, the commander of Egypt’s armed forces, might make a Nasser move and will resort to the same violent methods being used against the MB today in controlling the Egyptian public.

Hisham Kahil belongs to this third generation of ideas. He tries to explain, “I think the third camp are also divided on whether the Rab3a people (Pro-Morsi Supporter camped in at Rab3a el 3adaweya square) are a real threat to security or not. I personally believe they are.”

Hisham believes that there are subtle differences between the youth group Tamarod and the revolutionary block.

“They certainly belong to that same age group but they seem not as naive as the other young revolutionary movements (leftists) which makes me think they share the rest of the block’s enthusiasm but are the better ones at practicing politics.”

The latter have learned from past mistakes; the former (leftist and anarchist groups) are too naive in his view.

Now, it is important to note that not each segment is completely homogeneous but they do share the same basic goals despite the variations. They all want Egypt to be a liberal social democracy akin to Scandinavian countries.

NO MORSI

At first they had accepted Morsi’s 4-year term as a fact. The third way never expected Tamarod to be THAT successful in getting people to hit the streets but of course once they saw the numbers that supported them on the streets, they got a boost.

“It saves us the pain of waiting for a full term,” explained Kahil.

THE STATUS QUO

So as long as elections are made without postponements and dubious games the third camp are pretty much content with how things have been unfolding. So while elections are not until next year, Egyptians, save for the Morsi camp, are quite convinced with the delay. There is wide spread agreement that Sisi has a formidable task ahead of him- he has to stabilize the security situation, amend the constitution, and hold parliamentary elections- all of which must be done before the Presidential elections.

Kahil goes on to explain, “Installing a temporary president and adding politicians that the block considers as “Idols” like El Barad3y (and getting them to stand next to him as he announced Morsy’s kicking out) also helped us swallow the road map. Its as if the military went out of its way to re-assure us that they wont screw us over. “

The status quo has another advantage; with the Military and the MB head to head against each other will decrease the popularity of both. This is the perfect opportunity for the revolutionaries to restore image after SCAF and the MB destroyed it since the revolution in 2011.

If anything, this is the time the young movements should  become  better organized, be united and establish good rapport with all Egyptians so that when it’s election time, they can actually have a go at the ballot. The question that begs to be answered is whether the various segments of the third camp are able to do just this and emerge into something more concrete than a group on Facebook.

Listen to a commentary by Mohammed Wafaa Rizkallah, the 27-year old founder of the Third Direction. 

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Answering Sisi’s Call-Tahrir July 26

I waited almost 2 hours before I saw some sign of support for Sisi’s call. Tahrir was pretty empty compared to June 30 and July 3rd. I began to wonder if people would even show. But the sun got unbearable and I decided to return home and watch the news and I was shocked to see my TV screen filled with people less than 10 mins after I had left an almost empty Tahrir. What would you call this Sisi propoganda or Media magic? For one thing it did bring to light the power of media and those who don’t visit Tahrir, who else do they have to trust?

Please click on the link above to view the Photo album.

Egypt in a Soup

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My apologies for the brief break in writing. I was, one contemplating what to write about as there have been no major developments in Egypt; and two, I was recovering from a very bad food allergy. The third, but equally influential reason is that I am tired of all the negative media stories. It is, as though, the media has left no stone unturned in telling the world how unsafe the country is; and they are the torch bearers in demonizing the Morsi camp. Now, I am not Egyptian, but I have lived here long enough to not be just a mere observer. So I find myself getting dragged into, or rather I drag myself into every conversation about how great the army is or how barbarian the Ikhwaan is. It is hard to stay neutral when I have witnessed how, just at a blink of an eye, and without an official election Egypt’s first democratically elected president was overthrown. I never imagined I would live to see a coup.

But before I move on, I would like to make my position clear. I am neither a firm believer in democracy for countries where there is little to zero understanding of what it means and when the public is not ready for it, neither am I a proponent of mixing religion and politics. I speak from experience- I have lived both situations- and seen how hypocritical and ignorant the former system can be and how oppressive and ignorant the latter. And so what Egypt has been suffering from and continues to suffer from can be best described as a lack of understanding of the democratic system, just as the ousted regime was accused of Islamizing the state. But there is no middle ground. Everyone I have talked to is quite convinced that the other is the devil. So in this highly polarized state, what is the most feasible solution? Pondering over puffs of my shisha in a sparsely crowded cafe in Zamalek, I wonder if there is even hope for reconciliation? Will there dawn a day when liberals, army, and conservatives can live in peace amid each other? And more importantly is there a role for the international community to play? I will first present the  views of those around me and then provide my own analysis as a foreigner being affected by the schism.

On Friday July 19, I had planned on attending an anti-coup demonstration. I wished to confirm the locations of the planned march, so I posted my question on a popular Facebook portal.  One would expect that the response would be a list of locations. Instead what followed were a range of angry and some concerned comments the likes of which you can see below.

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And then I was sitting a café with friends in an upper class neighborhood and one of them was so worked up about all the raod blocks and he didn’t blame the army who was blocking off roads, but the “bloody Ikhwaan”. He said, and I quote, “I would like to see them all die and burn in hell. They should be shot dead!” Yes, word for word. I didn’t respond but my brain was thinking back to when I visited Iran in 2010, where the 20-somethings youth were speaking ill about Islam, the brunt of which they had been forced to bear because of their parents’ doing in 1979. So what the mullah’s fail to understand in Iran and what the liberals here fail to understand is that too much of anything is not such a good thing! And right now it feels like there is too much of injustice, division and hatred in Egypt!

So back to my plan to join the anti-coup protest- I went- and I am glad I did for I witnessed unprecedented participation by modern women and men.

“I voted for Morsi because anyone is better than Shafiq. And I plan to stand by my vote. The army has no right to come and speak on behalf of the people. And were they only counting the voice of the people in Tahrir? What about those in other cities? And what did he do? Did he kill someone-no. Did he order the killing of someone-I think not. Even Bush was given two terms. And I feel weary about the future of my country if the army stays in control much longer. Let’s go to the ballot again.” says an unveiled Asmaa Haittham, Account Manager at a Cairo firm.

So while there are divisions, both sides are in agreement that they should have early elections. And both camps are convinced they will sweep majority of the ballots. But let us not get into this; instead let us latch on to the point of agreement- Elections! The only question here is: Will the army respect their word and can they be trusted? I am a bit skeptical after they killed 52 Morsi supporters  and injured hundreds at a sit in outside an an Army club. As for my friend who said that the Ikhwaan should all be killed because he has to go through road blocks and checkpoints, I can only hope he finds peace. His comment and those from many others who like him hate the Ikhwaan, prompts me to believe that while Egypt is not in a civil war, the country should brace itself for the “R” of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration because with this level of hatred for each other, the winning side will need to learn to reintegrate the opposition.

Just to give you a further sense of the situation, a young coworker said she would accept the candidate who wins the election, even if he is from the Ikhwaan, but not Morsi himself of course.

“Morsi was so dumb. He could not speak English and spoke dully. We can’t have someone like him represent Egypt.” She says. I remind her that not all Presidents speak English. So was it really about Morsi not having been able to achieve the demands of the revolution or about his lack of charisma? It is hard to tell.

Yet another colleague, a Coptic Christian Nancy disagrees with the coup. She was not amongst the people who went to Tahrir. Nancy asserts, “If Morsi was smart and strategized better he would call for early elections and then I am sure he would have won again by popular support. But now it’s too late to talk about what he should have done.”

The international community is being fairly cautious. Most have issued travel warnings for Cairo and evacuated their citizens. Yet, many choose to stay put in Egypt because of work, marriage, or for the sheer fact that they are not unsafe. Indians and Europeans particularly are the bravest of the lot. Americans have at best vanished; this when their government continues to fund the military. Something is amiss because if their government is so tight with the Sisi, their security should be guaranteed. But of course not, because their dirty politics has now come to surface. Both sides don’t favor America and a handful of its allies. They first issued orders against a coup and threatened to withdraw aid to Egypt in the advent of a coup. And now they have been caught doing the contrary. What do we call this? Dirty American politics? A metaphor comes to mind: As adaptive as a chameleon. America and Britain best keep away, but that this happen is only an illusion. Because Israel is too weak and cowardly to stand for itself. There are rumours that a stable Egypt would be threatening to Israel and they have a hand to play in this mess. Perhaps, but Egyptians need to outsmart the Israelis and stablize their country for themselves.

“America should stand by their principles and not support bloodshed and instability and if they cannot do that, stay out of our business,” explained Asnaa Alanajar, another modernly dressed female Morsi supporter. Asnaa is an interior designer in an upper class neighborhood of Cairo and attended the anti-coup protest last Friday.

Now, all of this is a big mess and I am not very optimistic for Egypt’s future. In Iran, I would have suggested the return of the monarchy, but with Egypt, can the same be suggested? And who then, if not a monarch, can unite the people of Egypt? Perhaps there are people like Nancy who are independent and can take on this responsibility of pulling Egypt out of the soup it is in now?

The Egyptian Coin has 4 sides

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DSC_0314Yesterday, I was determined to record the views of those Egyptians who have been ignored by the mainstream media. It is as if they had been dropped off the planet by Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, the Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces; but their numbers are not insignificant to be ignored, neither is their voice muted.

On the way to Nasr City where the pro-Morsi crowds were gathered, I stopped at a burrito place near my residence. Since I was the only customer, I struck a conversation with the server, Salah Shaban. I was surprised at his openness to speak with me in near perfect English knowing I was a journalist.

“I am not for or against the Ikhwaan, but I am a supporter of Morsi because I have seen things with my own eyes about how he has been framed. He is a good man and has been wronged.”

Salah lives near the venue of the deadly shootings outside the Republican Guard officer’s club. He also witnessed the violence a couple of nights ago on October Bridge, where pro-and anti-Morsi protesters clashed. But he has a different story to share.

“I usually finish my shift at 7 pm. I have to take the October Bridge to go home. I saw with my own eyes that the criminals had a gun and in order to defend themselves the Ikhwaan protesters shot at him and killed him.”

Salah and many here believe that the police and army are responsible for releasing criminals from prisons and arming them with weapons so they can create a rift and turn people against Morsi. It is commonplace for people to identify any thug as a member of the Ikhwaan or as a supporter.

He believes that the army will eventually isolate its supporters and the morning’s massacre in which 52 people were killed and hundreds seriously injured, was just the beginning of the great fall. “Next election, I am sure Morsi will win again,” he asserted. Time and future events will either confirm or break his belief.

On the flip side, there are others who claim that the Ikhwaan were never part of Egypt.

“They should be thrown away,” says one of my colleagues, but her view is not hers alone. She was echoing the voice of many who like her celebrated in Tahrir Square when Morsi was ousted on July 3rd.

Politics is a dirty game and it becomes more contaminated during revolutions. Indeed the more research I do and the more I talk to people, I have realized that there is so much more to this story than just what we hear on the media or what either side claims to be true. There is no shortage of conspiracies. In fact the items in short supply are unity and the truth. There are 4 sides to the Egyptian story- the Military, the media, the pro-Morsi and the anti-Morsi.  Only two  of these have the upper hand and we don’t need complex decoders to know which ones.

The interim president has announced that elections will be held early 2014. I argue that it is too far along. Matters could escalate beyond control. It is usually argued that an early election can solve most conflicts. But wait, this is Egypt;  an election further compliated issues. And what would happen if the Egyptians don’t like their next elected leader either? Stage a repeat of Tahrir? We could laugh about this all we want, but it is not really funny!

On this note, Ramadan Kareem to everyone. Hope this will be a peaceful holy month for Egyptians and those celebrating around the world.