9 questions about Egypt you were too embarrassed to ask
(Laris Karklis/The Washington Post)
Today’s violence in Egypt is claiming dozens of lives, worsening the country’s already dire political crisis and putting the United States in a quandary. But it’s also yet another chapter in a years-long story that can be difficult to follow even for those of us glued to it. You might have found yourself wondering what Egypt’s crisis is all about, why there’s a crisis at all, or even where Egypt is located on the map.
It’s okay, you can admit it: not everyone has the time or energy to keep up with big, complicated foreign stories. But this one is really important. Here, then, are the most basic answers to your most basic questions. First, a disclaimer: Egypt and its history are really complicated; this is not an exhaustive account of that entire story, just some background, written so that anyone can understand it.
1. What is Egypt?
Egypt is a country in the northeastern corner of Africa, but it’s considered part of the Middle East. It’s about the size of Texas and New Mexico combined and has a population of 85 million. Egyptians are mostly Arab and mostly Muslim, although about 10 percent are Christian. Egyptians are very proud of their history and culture; they are among the world’s first great civilizations.
You probably know Egypt from its ancient pyramids and Sphinx, but Egyptians are still changing the world today. In the 20th century, they were in the forefront of the founding of two ideological movements that reshaped – are still reshaping, at this moment – the entire Middle East: Arab nationalism and Islamism.
2. Why are people in Egypt killing each other?
There’s been a lot of political instability since early 2011, when you probably saw the footage of a million-plus protesters gathered in Cairo to demand that the president of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, step down. He did, but that opened up a big power struggle that hasn’t been anywhere near resolved. It’s not just people at the top of the government fighting among one another, it’s lots of regular people who have very different visions for where they want their country to go.
Today is the latest round in a two-and-a-half-year fight over what kind of country Egypt will be. Because regular people tend to express their political will by protesting (keep in mind that democracy is really new and untested in Egypt), and because Egyptian security forces have a long track record of violence against civilians, the “fight for Egypt’s future” isn’t just a metaphor. Often, it’s an actual physical confrontation that happens on the street.
3. Okay, but why are they fighting today specifically?
Egyptian security forces assaulted two sprawling sit-in camps in downtown Cairo this morning and tried to disperse the protesters. The protesters fought back. So far, there have been dozens killed, a lot of them apparently civilians shot by live ammunition rounds used by security forces.
The protesters were there in support of former president Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed in a military coup in early July (the military is still in charge). Morsi hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group to which a number of the protesters in today’s clashes belong. He was also the country’s first democratically elected leader.
4. Well, if the military staged a coup against Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, then all those Egyptians who protested in 2011 for democracy must be furious, right?
Actually, no. A whole lot of Egyptians, especially the liberal groups that led the 2011 revolution, were happy about the coup. A number of them were even calling on the military-led government to break up the largely peaceful pro-Morsi protest camp, even though there were children present and no one thought it would disperse without bloodshed.
There are two things to understand here. The first is that Morsi, and there’s no sugar-coating this, did not do a good job as president. He had a difficult task, sure, but he really bungled the economy, which was already in free fall. He did precious little to include non-Islamists. And he took some very serious steps away from democracy, including arresting journalists and pushing through an alarming constitutional change that granted him sweeping powers.
But the second thing to understand is that Egypt is starkly divided, and has been for decades, between those two very different ideologies I mentioned. Many Egyptians don’t just dislike Morsi’s abuses of power, they dislike the entire Islamist movement he represents. What you’re seeing today is a particularly bloody manifestation of that divide, which goes far deeper than liberals distrusting Morsi because he was a bad president.
5. Look, all this stuff about ideologies sounds complicated. Can you just tell me why Egypt is such a mess right now?
I hear you, but the thing about today’s crisis is that, yes, it has do with basic stuff like the breakdown of public order and some really ham-fisted governance by the military. But it also has to do with a 60-year-old ideological conflict that’s never really been resolved.
Stay with me for a moment: Back in the years just after World War II, Egypt was ruled by a king who was widely seen as a British pawn. Egyptians didn’t like that. They also didn’t like losing the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and they wanted a way out of their long period of national humiliation. A lot of them were turning to a movement called the Muslim Brotherhood, which argued, and still argues, that Islamic devotion and unity are the ultimate answer. Their ideas, and their campaign for an Islamic government, are called Islamism.
A group of Egyptian military officers had a different idea. In 1952, they led a coup against the king. A charismatic lieutenant colonel named Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power and promoted, as his answer to Egypt’s problems, an ideology called Arab nationalism. It calls for secularism, progress, Arab unity and resistance against Western imperialism.
Both of those movements swept through the Middle East, transforming it. Arab Nationalists took power in several countries; the Syrian regime today is one of them, and so was the regime headed by Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. Islamism also expanded in many countries, and sprouted some violent offshoots. But the two movements prescribe very different paths to the Middle East’s salvation, see themselves as mutually exclusive and have competed, at times violently, ever since. That is particularly true of Egypt, and has been since Nasser took power in 1952.
And that’s why you’re seeing many Egyptian liberals so happy about a military coup that displaced the democracy they fought to establish: Those liberals are closely linked to secular Arab nationalism, which means that they both revere the military and hate the Muslim Brotherhood, maybe even more than they crave democracy. Old habits die hard.
6. This is getting really complicated. Can we take a music break?
Good idea. Egyptian pop culture dominates the Arab world, in part because Egypt is so populous and in part because it’s really good. Their most celebrated singer is Omm Kalthoum, whom Egyptians revere in the way that Italian-Americans do Frank Sinatra. Her recordings can sound a bit dated, though, so here is a cover by the contemporary singer Amal Maher:
7. So I see that lots of people are upset with the U.S. for not doing more to support democracy in Egypt. What’s the deal?
The United States is a close political and military ally of Egypt and has been since 1979, when President Jimmy Carter engineered an historic peace treaty between Egypt and Israel that involved, among other things, enormous U.S. payouts to both countries as long as they promised not to fight any more wars. That also required the U.S. to look the other way on Egypt’s military authoritarianism and its bad human rights record. It was the Cold War, and supporting friendly dictatorships was in style. And we’ve basically been stuck there ever since.
The Obama administration most recently drew withering criticism for refusing to call the military’s July 3 ouster of the president a “coup.” Doing so would likely require the U.S. to cut its billion-plus dollars in annual military aid to Egypt. That is also why you’re seeing the White House appearing very hesitant about responding to today’s violence with actual consequences.
Sure, the U.S. wants democracy in Egypt. But it wants leverage with the Egyptian government even more. That has been true of every administration since Carter. It was not actually until the Obama administration that the U.S. came to accept the idea that Islamists, who have been a big political force in Egypt for almost a century now, should play a role in governing. But they’re sticking with the status quo; no one wants to be the administration that “lost” Egypt.
8. Wow, that’s depressing. Surely someone wants Egypt to be a peaceful and inclusive democracy?
Not really. Most Egyptians are way too preoccupied with their ideological divide to imagine a government that might bridge it. Self-described liberals seem to prefer a secular nationalist government, even if it’s the military regime in power today, as long as it keeps Islamists out. The Islamists, for their part, were more than happy to push out anyone who disagreed with them once they took power in 2012 through a democratic process that their leader appeared very willing to corrupt. Both movements are so big and popular that neither one of them can rule without at least attempting to include the other. But neither appears willing to do that.
When I asked Steven Cook, an Egypt expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, what he made of the liberals’ embrace of the military coup and why he had started referring to them as “alleged liberal groups,” he wrote as part of his response, “I think Amr Hamzawy and Hossam Bahgat are the only true liberals in Egypt.”
9. Hi, there’s too much text so I skipped to the bottom to find out the big take-away. What happens next?
No one has any idea, but it looks bad. There are three things that most analysts seem to agree on. Any or all of these could prove wrong, but they’re the most common, short-term predictions:
• The military-led government will keep cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood and stirring up preexisting public animosity toward the group, both of which they’ve been doing since the 1950s.
• The U.S. will call for a peaceful and inclusive democratic transition, as Secretary of State John Kerry did this afternoon, but will refrain from punishing the Egyptian military for fear of losing leverage.
• The real, underlying problems — ideological division and a free-falling economy — are only going to get worse.
In the aggregate, these point to more violence and more instability but probably not a significant escalation of either. Medium-term, with some U.S. pressure, there will probably be a military-dominated political process that might stagger in the direction of a troubled democracy. Longer-term, who knows?
As the highly respected Egypt expert and Century Foundation scholar Michael Hanna told me recently, “Egypt might just be ungovernable.”
Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh for Reuters - Islamist militants set off bombs across in Nigeria on Christmas Day - three targeting churches including one that killed at least 27 people - raising fears that they are trying to ignite sectarian civil war.
The west always loves to portray one image of muslims and that is of the burqa wearing, arabic speaking, long beard, middle eastern brownie.
God forbid they show you the diversity within Islam.
God forbid they show you a “white” muslim
God forbid they show you a muslim speaking another language besides arabic.
God forbid they show you the every day muslim going about doing their jobs and trying to make ends meet
God forbid they show you a happy and satisfied independent muslim women who are not oppressed and need saving.
Theirs only one type of muslims folks and they are all “backward”, shariah driven, militant, islamists, jihadists ( < laughing at these terms here) oppressed and uncivilised people who are hellbent in trying to take over europe or america.
Stand Strong with Raif Badawi Against the brutal Saudi Islamist Extremists!
Saudi Blogger, Raif Badawi, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for doing what we all do here at ease on tumblr! Blogging!! While the lunatics in Saudi Arabia’s extremist circle accuse him of a crime, we should take a good look at what Raif has actually done! This brave man ran a blog called the “Saudi Free Liberals Forum”. Just look at the type of material he posted and see for yourself what sort of brutal oppression Saudi people have to live under, and to think Saudi Arabia is considered one of the West’s closest allies!
Reflecting on the role of the Muslim religious establishment on 12 August 2010, Badawi warned about the stifling of creativity: “As soon as a thinker starts to reveal his ideas, you will find hundreds of fatwas that accused him of being an infidel just because he had the courage to discuss some sacred topics. I’m really worried that Arab thinkers will migrate in search of fresh air and to escape the sword of the religious authorities.”
Badawi argued on 28 September 2010 in favour of “secularism as the most important refuge for citizens of a country", he underlined the importance of separating religion from the state. The man does not attack the Saudi monarchy or the tenets of Islam!
Badawi linked Palestine, one of the touchstones of Arab solidarity, to the question of political Islam, attacking Hamas. I’m not in support of the Israeli occupation of any Arab country, but at the same time I do not want to replace Israel by a religious state … whose main concern would be spreading the culture of death and ignorance among its people when we need modernisation and hope. States based on religious ideology … have nothing except the fear of God and an inability to face up to life. Look at what had happened after the European peoples succeeded in removing the clergy from public life and restricting them to their churches. They built up human beings and (promoted) enlightenment, creativity and rebellion. States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear.
Regarding the revolution in Egypt, he posted, “It is a revolution, led by students and the marginalised, a revolution in every sense of the word … that is … a decisive turning point … not only in the history and geography of Egypt but everywhere that is governed by the Arab mentality of dictatorship and security. It is not yet clear whether is Egypt is about to change, but it is our hope that a new Egypt will emerge from the painful birth pangs its people are experiencing … after years of subservience and oppression.”
Badawi even used the Quran to support the importance of liberalism, the need to separate religion and state and implied that Islam itself has been distorted by the Saudi political establishment to promote authoritarian ideals. He stated, “No religion at all has any connection to mankind’s civic progress. This is not a failing on the part of religion but rather that all religions represent a particular, precise spiritual relationship between the individual and the Creator. ..However, positive law is an unavoidable human and social need because traffic regulations, employment law and the codes governing the administration of State can hardly be derived from religion.”
Do you wonder why it is so difficult for liberal Muslims and the millions of Muslims out there who are so strongly against extremism to stand up and speak up? This man is not even criticizing Islam, yet he is getting lashed simply for stating the positive that comes from having a Secular State, and discussing it in the framework of Islam. He is saying that it was this form of secularism that brought Europe out of the dark ages, a sort of secular movement that many Middle Eastern countries crave! That is all he said, no insults or even attacks on people’s beliefs!
Netanyahu: ‘We’ve Seen This Before. There's a Master Race; Now There's a Master Faith’
In a speech on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared Islamist terrorist groups such as ISIS, Hamas and Hezbollah to Nazis: “We know this. We’ve seen this before. There’s a master race; now there’s a master faith.“ “The tactics are uniform. Terror first of all against your own people,” Netanyahu told attendees at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism’s (ICT) 14th annual conference held at Herzliya, an Israeli technology center located about six miles north of Tel Aviv. “There’s a master race; now there’s a master faith. And that allows you to do anything to anyone, but first of all to your own people and then to everyone else,” Netanyahu continued, in a reference to Nazi ideology stemming from Adolf Hitler’s belief, detailed in his speeches and writings, that Aryans were the “master race.” "And what do you do to everyone else? For that you use new techniques. And the new techniques involve first of all, taking over civilian populations, putting yourself inside civilian areas, contravening the laws of war and the Geneva Convention; using your people as human shields, the same people you execute; and then firing indiscriminately at civilians. You hide behind civilians, you fire on civilians. And you fire rockets and missiles. "And this creates a whole new set of problems. And these problems are born of the fact that it’s much harder to fight this kind of terror - much harder. It’s much easier to fight an army: tanks, artillery, command centers, open spaces. You destroy that, you destroy the army. End of war. "But these people, because they’re forcing you to face up to the moral limits that democracies obey, are basically forcing you to fight a new war.” Netanyahu described what he called the “moral divide” between Islamic groups like Hamas and Western democracies. “All of Israel mourned on September 11th. In Gaza, they were dancing on the roofs. They were handing out candy,” Netanyahu said. “That’s the moral divide. We mourn; they celebrate the death of thousands of innocents. “And then when the U.S. took out Bin-Laden, I, speaking for virtually the entire country, congratulated President Obama. In Gaza, Hamas condemned the U.S. and called Bin-Laden a ‘holy warrior’, a holy warrior of Islam. That’s the moral divide. We celebrate; they mourn the death of an arch-terrorist,” the Israeli prime minister pointed out. “Now that moral divide has never been clearer than it is today because Hamas, like al-Qaeda and its affiliates al-Nusra or its new growth ISIS, or Boko Haram, al-Shabab, Hezbollah supported by Iran - all are branches of the same poisonous tree. All present a clear and present danger to the peace and security of the world and to our common civilization.” Netanyahu emphasized that, despite their internal divisions, all the various Islamic terror groups use violence to achieve their “one common goal.” “These groups have absolutely no moral or other impediment to their mad desires. Once they have massive power, they will unleash all their violence, all their ideological zeal, all their hatred, with weapons of mass death. “What we’ve seen is old regimes collapse and Islamist forces come to the surface, old hatreds - Shiite against Shiite, but primarily Shiite against Sunni, Sunni against Sunni - all come bursting from subterranean layers of history and frustration,” he explained. “And they all have one common goal. The goal is we establish a new Islamist dominion, first in the Middle East and in their warped thinking, throughout the world. They all agree on that. They are not limited in their scope to a territory. They’re not limited to borders… they may be anchored in a particular place, but their goal is to take the entire world, to cleanse it of infidels - first their own people, Muslims, and then everyone else. Madness.” Netanyahu added that they all use the same tactics to achieve their common goal. “They all agree that they have to establish a caliphate. They all disagree who should be the caliph. That’s the nature of their disagreements. And they all use essentially the same tactic and that’s unbridled violence, fear - fear – terror,” he said. “Anywhere between 1,000 to 2,000 people are annually executed, executed in Iran. I’m not talking about criminals; I’m not talking about people who have broken the law - people who have the temerity to have a different view, question the regime,” Netanyahu continued. “And they’re hung in public squares and sometimes they’re hung from cranes. They don’t have enough scaffolds. And you see the same thing, the same thing - it doesn’t receive the same prominence - from ISIS, same technique,” he pointed out. “You take over a population. The first thing is, yes, you lop heads off in this tragic barbarism that we witness, but you also take people to the burial pits and you shoot them by the hundreds and thousands.” Netanyahu concluded that fighting the militant Islamic extremists “requires weapons, defensive and offensive, but above all it requires, I believe, clarity and courage - clarity to understand they’re wrong, we’re right; they’re evil, we’re good. No moral relativism there at all. “These people who lop off heads, trample human rights into the dust, are evil and they have to be resisted. Evil has to be resisted,” he said. But Netanyahu finished his speech on a hopeful note, saying, “I may surprise you when I tell you that I think militant Islam will be defeated… I think it will ultimately disappear from the stage of history because I think it’s a grand failure - it doesn’t know how to manage economies, it cannot offer the young people to which it appeals any kind of future. “It can control their minds for now, but ultimately the spread of information technology will obviate that, will give people choices. But this may take a long time. “And we’ve been able to predict in the past that radical ideologies - which inflame the minds of millions - set their sights on minorities, usually starts with the Jews, [but] it never ends with the Jews. They ultimately fail, too. That happened in the last century. But before they failed, they took down tens of millions with them and a third of our own people. “That will never happen again.” he vowed.
It is no coincidence that both leftists and Islamists have united together in this inquisition against general Boykin simply for the reason of his Christian faith, and his fearlessness in speaking of the Almighty; it is actually a shame that that they are a remnant of men such as himself left in this country. The words of Christ speak volumes, when observing a moment such as this, when he proclaimed that “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12: 25-26) The side of the left and the Islamist have one common goal, and that is the obliteration of Christianity. And why should these two sides fight against each other, when they are such a perfect team, and their enemy, Christianity, poses such a threat and if of a stature which surpasses them immeasurably?
Excellent article by As'ad AbuKhalil on the complexity of the Syrian Situation and the many agents at play in the country
By As'ad AbuKhalil - Fri, 2011-12-30 19:08- Angry Corner
The folks of the Syrian National Council (it should be renamed the Syrian National Congress as it increasingly resembles Ahmad Chalabi’s outfit The Iraqi National Congress that served as a tool for the American invasion of Iraq) insisted on Arab League Monitors being sent to Syria. But the Syrian National Council (SNC) has been inconsistent. It started its business by stressing the need for a Syrian solution and it ruled out any outside interference or intervention. It then changed its tune.
It called – nay pleaded – for Arab League intervention while ruling out Western intervention (under the title of UN or “international community” and various other code words that are used to disguise – in theory – the US/Israeli role). The SNC then changed its tune again and started calling for a no-fly zone (as if the war on Iraq and on Libya did not start with “no-fly zone” rhetoric). The council then accepted international intervention but only “to protect civilians.” The folks of the Syrian National Council assumed that we forgot the NATO bombing campaign in Libya (which included the deployment of ground troops and special forces) was undertaken under the UN pretext of “protecting civilians.” So NATO killed Libyan civilians (as the New York Times revealed in an extensive report) in order to protect Libyan civilians. Such are the rules of the US-dominated UN.
Sheikh Adnan al-Arur (the fanatical cleric based in Saudi Arabia who holds sway among at least some of the protesters and whose name is often chanted in some protests – it would be unfair, of course, to characterize the entire Syrian uprising with his fanatical views as propagandists of the Syrian regime do) went further. He threatened this week to cut off the tongues of any member of the SNC who does not call for international intervention in Syria. No one from the SNC protested the words of Arur. The alliance between Ikhwan and their liberal lackeys is too delicate to bother with reactions to the likes of Arur.
But the goal of calling for international intervention is now clear: on the very first day of the Arab League Monitor’s mission, the SNC declared its failure to undertake its mission. Western media (which now are reduced to publishing the pronouncements and claims of the pro-Saudi Syrian Monitor for Human Rights) quickly echoed the opinion of the council.
The criticisms of the SNC are correct but come very late in the game. They should have been raised earlier and those criticisms apply to (potential) Western intervention in Syria. Neither the Arab League nor Western governments care about the Syrian people. The notion that the league of Arab tyrants are in a position to monitor human rights violations in a sister country is ridiculous. To make the exercise of the Arab League mission more absurd, Qatar selected an intelligence commander from the tyrannical regime of Omar al-Bashir of Sudan to head the Arab League monitoring mission. Those representatives of Arab tyrants wouldn’t recognize human rights violations even if they hit them in the face. The exact nature of their mission is not clear. Qatar is implementing a plan on behalf of the US/Israel, but the public has not been informed of the exact features of the plan.
The Syrian people continue to die; the peaceful uprising remains peaceful in some areas, and has degenerated into sectarian killings in some areas. Clearly, Saudi/Turkish/US/Qatari/Jordanian/Israeli/Hariri intervention in Syrian affairs is only increasing the suffering of the Syrian people but the primary responsibility of the suffering should be blamed on the Syrian regime, which is obligated to protect its population. What other element of legitimacy does the regime parade to the people other than security? And how can the regime claim to protect the population when its army and security forces are still killing protesters (who in his/her right mind buys that all the killings in Syria are the work of “terrorist groups”)?
The mission of the Arab League is not serious. It has so far failed to stop the killing and will not stop the killing. It is merely a phase to camouflage another more dangerous phase that Western governments and their clients in the region have in store for Syria.
Mali Islamists bulldoze more Sufi tombs in Timbuktu
Heavily armed Islamists bulldozed the tombs of three local Sufi saints near Mali’s desert city of Timbuktu on Thursday, residents said, the latest in a series of attacks in the rebel-held north that critics say threaten its cultural heritage.
“They arrived aboard six or seven vehicles, heavily armed,” said Garba Maiga, a resident of Timbuktu, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its ancient shrines. “They flattened everything with a bulldozer and pulled up the skeletal remains.”
Residents said the tombs destroyed included those of local saints Cheick Nouh, Cheick Ousmane el Kabir, and Cheick Mohamed Foulani Macina, several kilometers (miles) outside of the city gates. They said the rebels were from Ansar Dine, one of a mixture of Islamist groups now in control of northern Mali. Read more.
Now I am happy that my son’s death has given the chance to get beyond fear and injustice. I’m an optimist, I wish success for my country.
Manoubia Bouazizi, mother of notable Tunisian self-immolator Mohamed Bouazizi • Discussing her son’s death and the spark for democracy it provided both in her own country but throughout northern Africa and the Middle East. Tomorrow Tunisia holds its first democratic election after the toppling of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali ten months ago. (Ben Ali is now in exile in Saudi Arabia.) The Islamist Ennahda party, banned while Ben Ali was in power, is expected to garner the most votes, but not without controversy due to the long-encouraged secular culture in the country. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next. source (via • follow)
23 Heartbreaking Cartoons From Artists Responding To The Charlie Hebdo Shooting
The attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo Wednesday morning spurred an outpouring of cartoonist solidarity, as artists around the world refreshed the power of a single drawing to collapse the menace of terrorism.
Cartoonists from all over the world mourn in the wake of a Paris shooting that killed as many as 12 people, many of whom are members of Charlie Hebdo.