A Game of Many Players

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Bearded men are not only construed as enemies in the West.

A Doctor’s Denial

I started my day yesterday at Cairo’s Anglo American hospital where a doctor was seeing me for an ankle injury. I asked my orthopedic surgeon if there were any injured from the catastrophe housed here at the hospital and his colleague from the other side of the emergency room immediately interrupted our conversation, asking me if I thought what had happened in Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Ramsis Square was a catastrophe. I began by clarifying that I am not an Egyptian, and then I boldly stated, yes, it was a catastrophe. He felt that I was siding with the protestors. We all know that it was nothing short of it.

“How come? They are killing their own people. The bloody bearded Ikhwaan are creating instability and then they blame the security forces who are trying to save Egypt.”

It seemed like he had no heart, and truly believed that the protestors were killing their fellow men to gain pity. For a health care provider to utter these words is discouraging. There is no hope for reconciliation if those who are supposed to be in charge of saving lives are fostering so much hatred.

Black and White

For many like him, there are only two sides and the truth is well defined; it is them against us. But for most of us, the truth is far from clear. I have friends who belong to both camps and it is hard to convince them to reason with each other. I almost got into a verbal brawl with the doctor, but I held back. I have to remind myself every moment that as a foreigner it is not my place to interfere.

In order to find out who is responsible for the violence and brutal killings, we must ask who is benefiting from an unstable Egypt? Let’s play a game of Clue: Who is responsible for violence in Egypt?

First I would eliminate foreign powers for I believe that the true culprit lies within the borders of the country.

The candidates are Sisi and the police, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and thugs or Baltageya. According to Sisi supporters thugs and the MB are the same player. And the conspiracy theories do not stop there. The interim government, which functions as the military’s puppet, refers to the MB as a terrorist group. As a result, their beards and conservative veiling makes them targets of state-enforced violence.

Ramsis Square and Baltageyas

The word “thug” or “baltageya” has been thrown around loosely in the Egyptian media. But no one really knows for sure whom they represent. There is no shortage of unanswered questions:

Have they been equipped by the security forces, are they from the pro-Morsi camp, or do they have their own identity? And why would they allegedly kill fellow Egyptians?

It goes without saying that most liberal Egyptians believe they are part of the Ikhwaan because they were seen marching alongside them. Their opponents believe the contrary. I decided to visit Ramsis Square to attempt to uncover the truth. Of course I didn’t think it was possible to strike a conversation with any of the “allegedly” armed thugs or terrorist groups, but I wanted to try to get as close as possible to the area.

I wasn’t permitted in the mosque and I couldn’t take my camera inside the square. Yet, I managed to get as close to the mosque as possible. Since I didn’t have a press pass, I could have been arrested as I was defying the emergency law. I tried to calm myself down by thinking, I have been arrested once, and a second time is no big deal. I must admit my heart started to beat faster, but I kept ignoring the accelerated heart rate.

I had a quick look around and didn’t see any weapons except those with uniformed security forces. Made me wonder where these thugs or members of the terrorist groups were. I didn’t see any indication that I was in danger. Of course I wasn’t permitted to go inside the mosque, and perhaps the armed thugs were inside.

I was then escorted out and I boarded a taxi and asked the driver to take me as close to the mosque so I can take some pictures. I saw some men at checkpoints and my driver identified them as baltageya. But again, they had no weapons except loud voices and wooden sticks.

The general understanding is far from the truth. The thugs are neither members of the Muslim Brotherhood nor are they members of the pro-Army camp. They are a bunch of hyper masculine men who are against the militarization of Egypt. Those men stationed at checkpoints are protecting their neighborhood and are often mistaken for thugs as they have wooden sticks and loud voices. The thugs just as them are Egyptians, unlike most theories that state they are Yeminis, Syrians and Pakistanis. They tend to be from lower socio-economic class and most of them are not bearded, but young men in their mid-twenties or early thirties. They may be Coptic Christian or Muslim.

The army could have funded or armed them to create instability. They could be escapees from the prison and been armed by local police forces. They may have been responsible for executing orders to burn and vandalize churches and private property. On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood could have armed them. But would staunch Islamists defy Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb? I don’t think so. And if it was as many believe, that the terrorist groups are killing the protesters to gain attention to their plight, why would there be no killings considering the armed thugs were trapped inside Fatah mosque with protesters.

Egypt seems to be engulfed in a civil war with multiple parties with no end in sight. The day was eventful because the many people that lost loved ones during the dispersals of Rabaa were seeking justice, and will not rest until it is achieved.

A Taxi Driver speaks out

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Waleed Abdel Rehman who took me on a safe ride around Ramsis Square in Faghalla speaks about who he believes is responsible for the killings.

“Don’t worry” he kept assuring me. He could sense I was a bit afraid of being stuck in some of the smaller alley ways just in case a Baltageya happened to chase us. I used this opportunity to ask him a few questions.

Do you like the Army?
After the killings, I don’t.

He then points in the direction of Fattah Mosque and says he will take me to the bridge so I can take pictures from above. Unfortunately, that end of the bridge was blocked too and we couldn’t.

Who killed all those people?
The Army.

Why?
Because they want power (authority).

Who are the Baltageya (thugs)?
They are from the Police and Army. The army and police are afraid of many people in street so police and army shot people.

Do you happen to know a Baltagaya (thug)?
No, but I can know them from their look and style. You saw how he (the baltageya) was screaming?

Waleed is just one of many who I have spoken to, and have negative views of the army. It is believed that many of the protesters from yesterday and Rabaa were not supportive of the Ikhwaan, but rather anti-military.

Egypt- It could have been different

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While international envoys failed to broker an end to the political deadlock between Egypt’s Armed Forces and the Muslim Brotherhood, there was still room for diplomatic solutions to the turmoil, as Vice President El Baradei was quoted as saying before he resigned from his post yesterday following the brutal clean-up operation of two of the Bortherhood’s biggest sit-in protests.

Why did mediation fail?

Anyone who has done the rounds of Tahrir and has subscribed to various social networks in Egypt would know- it is not rocket science- Egyptians are against Obama and everything the US stands for. They see the US as a cause of much of this divide in Egyptian society and anti-US rhetoric is omnipresent. Funny thing is that the US would send Republican senators who are so opposed to internationals even within their own country. Some may argue that it was a wise step, as Congress would not accept the analysis of democrat senators. Yet, I knew it wouldn’t work even before it actually failed. The same could be said in varying capacities about the envoys from EU, UAE, and Qatar. They all had stakes or supported one side over the other.

Even a day following the deadliest crack down since the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011, many countries have only gone as far as condemning the killings. No one, including the US that is ordinarily quick in issuing sanctions and withdrawing aid (as it has done in Iran and other countries) has done much more. No one is offering any other solutions. It makes me a bit jealous that the US would employ the path of sanctions and isolation with Iran despite its peaceful nuclear program, but would be cautious in doing so with its key ally in the region despite the violence, doubt and instability engulfing Egypt. But this is a discussion for another day.

Anyone see the missing link? There was a lack of neutrality, a lack of cultural diplomacy, and an absence of engaging the youth on both sides.

The Missed Opportunity

The Indian Embassy in Cairo hosted a flag hoisting on the occasion of India’s 67th Independence Day and a minute of silence was observed for the victims from Raba, and Nahda- two venues of the Pro-Morsi sit-ins. But what I failed to understand is why India had stayed out of this equation despite being so favored by the public at large. India has so much to offer the world with its culture. Yet, it chooses to remain silent. And this is not the first time it has chosen this route. Have Sisi, Egypt’s Interim leaders and India ever heard or employed cultural diplomacy? While it wouldn’t work in every stalemate, it should have been endorsed and embraced in this case because fortunately for India and Egypt, Egyptians revere India’s culture. The Maulana Azad Center for Indian Culture in Cairo, should be the venue for such a cultural dialogue. India has an inspiring story of freedom to share and perhaps this could be just one of the many ways in which to enlighten both sides on a peaceful solution. Perhaps if Mohamed Selim al-Awa’s plan of temporarily reinstating Morsi and handing powers to an interim cabinet had been backed by cultural diplomacy headed by India, the army may have accepted it. Regrettably, India chose to sit back and watch, as it usually does. The minute of silence for the victims sadly was just an extension of the silence on behalf of the Indian government.

Egypt’s biggest strength, its youth, have been left out of the equation. What I fail to understand is why they have been ignored despite having a bigger stake in their country’s stability? There are youth on either side of the fence, and engaging them in dialogue should have been proposed and initiated.

India is celebrating 67 years of freedom from British oppression, only because its entire population felt that it was time for to bid farewell to the colonists. They adopted mostly non-violent means to achieve their single united goal and while it did have undesirable effects of separation of India into 3 states, it also succeeded in overthrowing the British Raj. Egypt on the other hand, has major challenges and what Egyptians need to realize is that there will be no sustainable independence and democracy without reconciliation because the numbers on either sides are too large to be ignored. The older generation has little to loose, the youth however, have much to gain from a peaceful united Egypt. They should be engaged.

However, now, following the deadly crackdown, hope for such an engagement seems bleak. There are far too many scars for those who lost loved ones and now the polarity may never bond. There is fear that the violence will only escalate and inconvenience of a curfew and emergency law will become a sad truth to live by for a long time to come, unless other measures are proposed and adopted, hopefully by Egyptians themselves or by India and other neutral states.

Democracy = Trouble?

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With Egypt’s first democratically elected President being ousted, and Iran’s new president having started his term, there is both optimism and skeptisim in the region. The media at best has done a wonderful job at feeding into our fears and doubts.   Election periods in transitional and developing countries have been everything but nonviolent. But, elections are to be the start of everything but violence according to Western pioneers of democracy. Why then do we observe this differing trend? Is it because democracy may not be the best option for these countries or because their governments are expected to uphold the Western form of liberal democracy, which they have never known?

It is a little bit of both and more. I am no expert on elections so I will draw from simple circumstances to explain a complex process. I write for common man and not for experts, but I am sure they too can benefit from what I have to say.

Situation A: An elementary school teacher knows the results of administering a surprise test to her third-grade class on a chapter they have yet to get to. The class will fail.

Analysis A: The students have not even been taught the lesson and concepts and so testing them is like expecting failure. If the class fails it reflects poorly on the teacher and if she is wise, she will not take that risk. These are a class of third graders and unlike seniors in high school they do not possess the ability to draw from their past knowledge.

A transitional country is comparable to this class of third graders, and Western powers are the teacher, although far from the type described above they fall in the category of most-hated teachers because they fail to take into consideration the comprehension level of the students. This is not rocket science, mere sanity on part of the leadership dictating the terms of democracy. A country that has never known democracy cannot miraculously become a proponent of liberal democracy. It needs full immersion training. This training should not be limited to the leadership and participants of the elections, but extended to the voters; because it is from them that the rebels emerge out of fear of being run over by the system. And if Western states can’t do that, then forget democracy, because no knowledge is a very dangerous state of being.

Situation B: Past monarchies for the most part have been the peak of prosperity for their kingdoms. And even today a few of the existing kingdoms enjoy peaceful existence, while transitional and developing democracies are blood thirsty. Let us analyze the Persian civilization, which under traditional monarchy was the landmark of all present civilizations. It held strong until Western values interfered with its magnificence and brought the country to what it has become today.

Analysis B: The West cannot blame internal actors for destabilization of the region. They have to trace their footsteps and will learn that it was them who are inherently responsible for the mess. Democracy has screwed traditional societies and this is why it will not be successful in societies with deep rooted histories in peaceful monarchy reign. For instance it was America’s backing of Shah Pahlavi that led to uproar amid his subjects which in turn led to mass scale support of a religious fanatic in Iran. And who bears the heat of this support? Not the West or Israel (even though they like to pretend they are all worked up about their own babies (Khomeini was born as a result of Western support of the shah)), but Iranians!

Situation C: Two colleagues who absolutely loathe each other will not produce productive outputs as a team. It would be useful if a person of higher authority mediates the issue. Dictating the resolve would curtail the problem but will not root it out, leaving room for eruption of future problems.

Analysis C: Why then do you expect that giving someone the right to vote will resolve deeply rooted enmity in Sudan, Burma, Afghanistan or Pakistan? Democracy is such a privileged opportunity. If it wasn’t, for instance, the people of Kashmir would have decided on the future they seek for themselves and neither the leadership of India nor Pakistan would see sense in continuing to be rivals over this issue. If democracy is to succeed there needs to be a change in attitude in the form of governance. Unless elite access is transferred to all stakeholders equally, democracy will continue to be a failure for the Kashmiris and other communities around the developing world.

It is clearly more complicated than the three scenarios I presented above, but we need to understand the basics to make sense of all the jargon. And I am aware that there are many contrary opinions and I welcome you to share your comments here. Just bear in mind that we do not live in a perfect and simple society, for if we did we would not be arguing for alternative solutions!

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.