Monday, Oct. 14
Latest News
  1. Palestinian goverment: 26 million in development of ministries
  2. Rudeineh: Washington us unable to achieve anything by itself
  3. US: “No plan for unilateral annexation by Israel of the West Bank"
  4. Cluster of incendiary balloons land in southern Israel
  5. Palestinian FM condemns Germany's vote to define BDS as 'anti-Semitic'
  6. Israeli forces forcibly evict Muslim worshipers from Al-Aqsa
  7. Israeli forces detain 14-year-old Palestinian near Ramallah
  8. Erekat: Deviation from peace terms of reference doomed to fail
  9. Iceland's Hatari shocks Eurovision with Palestinian flags
  10. UNRWA: 4 Palestinian children killed in attack on Syria refugee camp

Analysis: Three views of Egypt

March 23, 2014 3:20 P.M. (Updated: May 6, 2014 4:15 P.M.)
By: Sarah Eltantawi
Sarah Eltantawi is a scholar of Islamic studies, writer and political analyst. She is currently a postdoctoral EUME fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin and is an incoming assistant professor of comparative religion at Evergreen State College. Follow her on twitter.

General Mustafa Gamal, who fought in the Egyptian air force in Egypt's 1973 war with Israel, went down to Tahrir Square in 2011 even though his son Yusuf, a doctor, sat it out, confused about the protest's goals and fearful for the future. General Gamal, though, had had enough with the Mubarak regime.

"There was just too much corruption, and the idea that Egypt would just be passed down to Gamal (Mubarak) crossed a red line."

Unwittingly or not, General Gamal conveyed the military's ultimate red line, and the reason they ultimately turned against Mubarak. The reasons millions went down to Tahrir were much more varied, of course: redistribution of resources, justice, security state reform, or, according to the revolution's slogans: bread, freedom, and social justice.

Today he is thrilled that Sisi has "saved the country" and believes that Egypt has reached a point where only the military can restore it to sanity after three years of being jerked to and fro by forces that didn't quite know what they wanted.

"Let me tell you something," General Gamal said. "I don't know, or care, what you read in your foreign newspapers. This country is passionately in love (b'ya'shak) with the army.

"In all of Egyptian history, all rulers have had to don some kind of military regalia to scare people and to be able to control them."

This essential feature of the collective and atemporal Egyptian psyche is tempered, however, by another broad theme -- that Egyptians thrive best in a society that has, "no system, no catalog." According to the General, in an unlikely way, this is Egypt's strength, something to do with the uncertainty caused by Nile culture.

"Remember, this is a country that for better or worse paid the fitiwwa (a strong man in every neighborhood) to protect them. This is how it was for generations.

Gamal ties this to patriarchy -- which he claims is the natural organizational state of Egypt. "We are run by nithaam abuiyya (a patriarchal system). Women demand that their men control them."

And so the military narrative goes.


Khaled, a police officer, witnessed the Aug. 14 massacre at Raba'a al-Adawiyyah square. He had put his head down on his desk at Police Headquarters near Raba'a al-Adawiyya mosque to take a nap that afternoon when he woke up, startled, to the sound of a battery of gunshots. Twenty people died, collapsing in blood, in front of him.

On a quiet weekday evening he drove me around the area surrounding the Raba'a al-Adawiyyah mosque. It hadn't been safe for me to go there the last time I was in Cairo late last summer, so I was surprised at just how sprawling and busy and urban it was, surrounded with buildings, some of which had at least twenty stories.

These are the residents that were reported to have gotten so fed up with the sit-ins after some weeks that they took matters into their own hands and reportedly shot at the protesters themselves when the police would not do so. He drives me around the perimeter of the area where the protests were, stopping at the exact point the Muslim Brotherhood drew a border around them, stopping right at the police station.

Given that Khaled saw twenty people die right in front of him within a certain square footage, he estimates, by multiplying that square footage and assuming that the same amount were killed respectively, that between 200-300 died (human rights group claim around 1000, the Muslim Brotherhood claim many more) though, he adds, "no one really knows."

He then told me that he has cousins who told him the following before Raba'a was cleared: "We know that at least 1000-1500 will die, but that's OK because Egyptian and international sympathy will be on our side."

Khaled added, without, I noticed, any satisfaction: "It didn't turn out that way because people were so sick of them." He told me that just to encrust his cousin's statement in time, he wrote a Facebook status quoting his cousins, which angered them. He later sent me the status update: it was written as he described.

Khaled, again, didn't relish this. He spoke of these events at Raba'a with a neutral, verging toward a depressed tone. I wondered if it was a kind of traumatized quiet. He is someone who believes the police and security service narratives is ultimately the logical one and the one that is best for the country -- but this is not the same as basking in righteous triumph. The kind of moral starkness of such a binary doesn't seem available to those living and breathing in Cairo on a daily basis -- that is just for analysts who live and write far away from the daily grind and the need to negotiate daily personal micropolitics. It seems only distance make assurance impossible.

"I did not vote for him," Khaled said, driving, "but I had nothing against Morsi when he took office. Nothing at all. We wanted mashru' al-Nahda (Morsi’s renaissance program) to work. I was definitely rooting for him. But time passed and ... nothing. The only thing they did was takhwin (stacking Egypt's institutions with Muslim Brotherhood members.) They disrespected us and disrespected Egypt."

Khaled does not think it is better now. He says when he goes to visit his ancestral village in the north, he sometimes cries at the speed with which arable land is snapped up and built upon with cheap constructions. I was struck that this large, commanding man of over six feet brandishing weapons so easily told me he cried. I find this vulnerability and openness in Egyptian men quite often and find that it touches me.

"I don't like that anyone died. I don't approve of what happened to them. I don't approve of what happened to so many of my friends, police officers that the Brotherhood shot in cold blood. I don't like any death or blood. All we can do now is say Allah yarhamhum (God Bless their souls) -- all of them -- and move on. This can not be a permanent drama and responsibility has to be taken on all sides."

"Yalla, rabina yustur" (May God sort it out) he said, staring ahead at the traffic.


Sheep are eating from trash heaps, a woman in niqab is herding them toward one pile and not another. It is easy to walk through the slums of Cairo and want to blame someone, anyone, especially the status quo in which ever form, the current regime, military dictatorship, the geopolitical order, for the deprivation you see.

On this foggy and rainy day, though, I was distracted by conversation with an Egyptian-American friend who had lived in Egypt a few years and was very involved in all of the major uprisings. She reminds me that one must make distinctions among revolutionaries.

There is the English-speaking journalist set, who seem the most disaffected. The mostly Arabic-speaking types, I find, can not afford the same level of pessimism. They are the ones who throw the molotovs and took a lot of the injuries around Jan. 25. To declare the revolution dead is a different kind of injury, one that generally isn't declared lightly.

One of the main differences I notice between the two sets is to do with a sense of timing of criticism against the current regime. The Arabic-speaking set seem to have an intuitive sense that now is not the time to throw oil on the fire. Maybe it will be in three weeks.

One such activist described the famous 6th of April organization which organized much of the Jan. 25 revolution as "a bunch of criminals who should be arrested, because they do not understand that when the people in that shop there" -- he pointed to a fish shop we were driving by -- "are having a fight, it is our job to stop them, to calm them down, to say a few soothing words. Not to inflame things!" He slammed his fist on the steering wheel.

Recalling his words, I said to my friend, "One thing I do not understand is how it is that the very same people who called for Morsi's downfall since day one of his presidency are now the loudest voices calling Egypt a fascist state."

"But we do live in a fascist state," she said.

I paused, reflecting. "But a chosen one?"

"Yes, but those who thought the army wouldn't take advantage of our demand to depose Morsi on June 30 and respect the roadmap are now all calling this a coup."

"Does that mean that they regret deposing Morsi and now think he should have been allowed to stay in power longer?"

"No. It doesn't mean that. It doesn't mean that at all. He had to go."

I started jumping and gesticulating on the street corner. "Ahhhh! That's the quagmire! The eternal Bermuda triangle we keep getting walking into!"

"Yeah," she answered, looking at me with her large eyes filled with tired bemusement. "That's the point where I shake my head and go out to buy spinach and cat food."

The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect Ma'an News Agency's editorial policy.
Most Read
Powered By: HTD Technologies
Ma'an News Agency
All rights reserved © 2005-2015