The July 28, 2013 The New York
Times had the following headline: “Crackdown in Egypt kills Islamists as they Protest.” The news of this second military crackdown and killing of civilians in less than a month rolled into the Dallas time zone on Saturday evening, July 27, via a series of tweets and images posted on an alternative news feed. Strange. I did not see ‘Islamists’. I saw men who carried anti-coup banners, images of Mohamed Morsi and Egyptian flags. I saw men smiling as a burgeoning crowd filed past a branch of Bank Audi. Then I viewed multiple images of head and chest shots, and combat-equivalent injuries treated with low-grade medical supplies.
My soul can only bear so much. The Egyptian military did not instruct their snipers perched atop buildings to aim for labels. If so, they could have shot up a few campaign posters and slogan banners and headed home. The snipers were instructed to line up the crosshairs of their scopes and kill Egyptian citizens. How many considered disobeying a morally repugnant order to the saving of their own soul? And how many were willingly complicit in an excessive use of military force on domestic soil?
I did not see labels carefully shrouded in a makeshift morgue. I saw the form of human flesh. I did not see a label when viewing the deceased. I saw men who are possibly sons, husbands and fathers, all rolled up in one. I saw the male child who cried at the head of his father, small frame bent in grief. Is he also just another ‘label’? Political instability allows for the worst possible scenarios to evolve on the ground. The Egyptian people bear some responsibility for this latest instability and turn of events. But those who now hold the locus of control over a political situation, which has the sway of a caravan of camels, retain accountability for deliberate military interventions that have killed citizens on the street.
I am not fond of the political silo that has persecuted and driven the Coptic Christian community from the land of Egypt. The nation has lost a demographic that is an educated merchant class. The flight of this talent pool will continue to ripple across the economic landscape. I achieved new heights of boredom over the early excitement of the Salafi flank to make Egypt a land of ‘one million bearded men and one million veiled women’. Intelligent men do not fixate on facial hair. Intelligent women know the value of a smile and an open-faced society. The worry should not be about beards and veils. Empty bellies offer up the greater leadership dilemma.
Here is the deal. The removal of President Morsi exacerbated the deep societal fissures existent in Egypt. The divisions have always been there, never dealt with properly by prior administrations. The centre-stage arrival of the military to ‘save the day’ is also fraught with political peril. There is a heavily freighted emotional response to what has occurred. The Sphinx has risen again.
US Secretary of State John Kerry? I respectfully submit that his remarks regarding the military as the saviour of democratic process is...it is...well, I must remain respectful of his positional rank. Critical thought requires a filter. Use one.
This brings us to a note regarding the Egyptian army chief, General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi. What is the man thinking? The current turmoil begs a question. How many people do you shoot to convince the remainder to head home? If killing a few hundred and wounding a few thousand doesn’t work, will killing a few thousand and wounding 10,000 produce a desirable political solution? Doubtful.
Did the military kill Islamists? Or did they kill Egyptian citizens? Each one of us is only a label away from depersonalisation. Labels can certainly be applied to describe criminal behaviour: rapists and murderers receive labels based on the crimes that they have committed. Terrorists receive their rightful label when they incinerate and kill the rest of us. But protesting citizens who remain peaceful and respectful in their marches must retain the rights of a citizen.
Transition to a truly democratic model of governance is reminiscent of the early years of marriage. Those who are veterans of this process innately understand what I am trying to convey. We have survived the changes to our personal freedoms and autonomous choice; we have laid down a few of our own dreams. But the marriage survives for the sake of the next generation.
President Morsi’s administration was an abbreviated ‘starter marriage’. It barely lasted over a year. Dear Egyptian people: what you hoped to achieve is lost. You have not achieved democracy. What you are doing now does not count. At the moment, the military coup is all that counts.
This divorce is a bad one. The custody of the (Egyptian) children is reaching a fever pitch. What is to come may be difficult to contain and require years to mend.
Thirty-three mosques functioned as staging areas for the pro-Morsi demonstrations. These phalanxes moved out into the streets and the squares after the Friday prayers. Sheikh Mohamed Hasan has released a list of nine demands to be met for the protesters to scuttle back to their homes. This standoff continues and there seems to be no real political solution. But for now we observe the rise of the Sphinx. The military has risen from the ashes of the Arab Spring to maintain the locus of control over the levers of governance.
What are my basic thoughts? President Morsi should be released and allowed sanctuary. The parliament as elected must be maintained intact in its representation. A new president may appoint his cabinet. But geopolitical stability cannot be maintained if every time the citizens march, a world leader is toppled. This must not be the new manner of doing business. US aid packages to Egypt must continue. How General al-Sisi responds in the coming weeks will determine the fate of a nation.
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org