October 2011 archive

The Last Choice

Today the mood in Cairo was wary & melancholic. With the reality of what went down yesterday at Maspero hitting them with its full might, the general population that yesterday found itself on the brinks of chaos is utterly terrified. The number of phone calls I received from people who were worried and horrified made me wish I could shut off my phone, with everyone looking at the future with an incredibly bleak outlook. It’s easy to fall into that mood- after all you have your army killing your people, a long oppressed minority of it at that- but if one looks beyond what happened, one sees a very different picture. What happened yesterday was the beginning of the end of the military rule over Egypt: The days of the SCAF ruling us are numbered. And not because they don’t want to, but because they will no longer have any other choice.

A quick recap over what has went down yesterday: a huge demo held by Coptic Christians & muslim supporters protesting against yet another fight over the building of a Church was attacked by the Egyptian armed forces there to protect it and plainclothed thugs. Shots were fired at protesters killing them, rocks were thrown by protesters in return, protesters were overrun by armored vehicles, the Egyptian State TV issued a plea asking Egyptian citizens to come to the Demo and “protect the army from Christian thugs”, and a street battle that resulted in over 24 dead and 150 injured. The street battle after a while turned into Egyptian citizens fighting each other, without any of them being able to figure out who was fighting who. Pandemonium, for a lack of a better word.

But the moment the dust settled the questions started presenting themselves: This was obviously planned, so what the hell was the SCAF thinking? How could they attack and kill Egyptians on the street so casually, while their sole purpose is to protect them from getting killed? How could they risk enflaming the country into a huge sectarian battle by having state Media so conscientiously attacking the Christians and promoting violence against them? How did they not see that the choice they made is an inherently flawed one that it could spell their doom? How do you explain last night?

Well, the easy explanation is that they- like every single political force in the country throughout this year- fell into the trap of thinking that they have won and asserted their power, only to have the whole thing blow up in their faces. After believing the political street to be dead, and that the revolution is almost dying, they figured they now have the power to put “people in their proper place” like the old days. So, they went down yesterday to terrorize the Christians, counting that they won’t put up a fight (because they never really did before), and that the sectarian rhetoric will cause them all to fear for their lives, stop them from causing trouble, and quite possibly scare them from participating in the elections. With every single respectable political party formed after the revolution having prominent Christians in their founders and as their candidates, they figured that threatening us with the possibility that the next election will turn into a Muslim vs. Christian election will discourage people from voting and participating, leaving the new parties with fewer seats, with the Christians being underrepresented as always in the parliament, and thus allowing the ex NDP people control of the Parliament as the only other choice against the “Islamists”. To basically return us to the pre-revolution status quo. But had they thought this through for more than 5 minutes, they might have seen the inherent flaws in their old-and-reliable plan. They, somehow, didn’t and now they have overplayed their hand and about to face the consequences.

What consequences, some of you may ask, believing that there is no way to hold the army accountable for anything that they have done. This is not true at all. Yesterday was a game changer, and it proved that the old ways no longer work. Let’s go over the consequences shall we?

  1. They have shown how weak they really are: The SCAF might be the last remaining part of the Mubarak regime, but it’s not nearly as powerful, because they don’t have the tools of oppression that Mubarak had. Mubarak had the executive branch, a ruling party, talking heads, politicians, “intellectuals”, control over the Media and countless soldiers; SCAF only has the soldiers and Media, and neither are enough to control the situation for them. The soldiers yesterday were beaten up by the protesters, and in many incidents were shown running away from battle due to the sheer number of people they were facing. I personally saw a group of soldiers going up 6 October bridge, banging their batons against their shields, prompting many people to run away for 5 seconds, before standing their ground and advancing against them, and the soldiers stopped, suddenly looking hesitant and scared, and started walking back down. They suddenly remembered why they couldn’t fire on the protesters in Jan25: Because there are far more of us than there are of them. They can’t rule this country by brute force, because they will face real resistance from the population, even when they are unarmed. And the Media had to backtrack very quickly and are now facing the wrath of God from the average Egyptian, with no one able or willing to defend the SCAF, or what the armed forces did. They wanted to showcase their control, and failed miserably, because even they are not strong enough to carry this country alone.
  2. The old arrangement will no longer work on the Christians: The security apparatus always played a dirty game with the Christian population by inciting attacks on them by islmaist groups, thus ensuring that they continue to support it in order to be protected from the evil muslims, the closest example of which was the Church Bombing that took place earlier this year. But now that they have shown themselves willing to kill Christians, and inciting the population against them, they can no longer play the Christian protector, because they have killed Christians with their own hands. If the choice is between someone that is willing to kill you or someone that will protect you but oppress you, it makes sense to go with the Protecting oppressor. But if the choice is between two forces who are willing to kill you, well, screw both of them. The Army has now lost all credibility as the “protector of the citizens”, and thus can no longer be trusted to play that role by anyone. Instead, they left the Christians with no choice but to seek true democracy and civilian rule, because military rule -like islamist rule- now also leads to their oppression and murder. They have lost the trust of that segment of the population for a very long time, and thus left them no choice but to continue to fight, the exact opposite of what last night events intended to do.
  3. The Internal Consequences: The Army has Coptic Christians. Not necessarily in positions of power, but they do exist in all the ranks (except the top ranks of course) and have now placed them in a choice between their religious brethren and their army ones for no reason, which they are not at all happy about. If the Christians inside the army start thinking that their leadership is sectarian or promotes sectarian violence, they will start having serious cracks in the cohesion of the armed forces. Add to that the rising toll of their casualties, which , while not yet significant, are increasing alarmingly as far as the soldiers are concerned. Also, for the first time in their history, an increasingly rising number of the Egyptian population- who are known for their army worship- are starting to have an unfavorable view of them. All are not good signs.
  4. The Global Consequences: The way the world will read what happened won’t be in the context of “The Egyptian army killed its own citizens” (which is the real issue), but rather in the context of ” The Egyptian army just killed the Egyptian Christians”, which means that the Egyptian army will now be looked upon as a sectarian army, which is the death of them. Not only will they lose whatever international legitimacy they might have had, they have now put their allies in a corner: The US can’t justify giving military assistance to an army that kills its own Christian citizens, especially with how cozy they have shown themselves to be with the political islamist forces. The same goes to all western countries, international institutions, and global public opinion, which is largely in support of the Egyptian revolution, and not the Egyptian army, especially if they start viewing it in the “Islamist anti-christian” context. And since no one can defend what they did, there won’t be a counter-argument, because they have no people abroad who can defend them any longer. A Tsunami of international pressure will reign down on them with economic consequences, and it’s exactly the kind of headache they don’t want and can’t deal with economically right now. It’s a bad business.

So, now what?

Well, as far as I see it, there is only one solution out of this: Our political and social leaders need to sit down with SCAF and deliver the following message to them: “If you keep this up you are walking the path of your own destruction. The old tactics won’t work. The people refused to turn sectarian, and your soldiers are no way near enough to take control of the country. So why not cut the crap and finish this? Tell us what you want, and get out of power immediately, because if you continue doing this you will break the country and your institution. Neither one of us wants to live in a broken country, and you can’t sustain this, so this needs to stop, now. What we want is a country with a future, and the only way to get there is together. This is the only choice you have, because the Price of the other choice is one that you cannot afford to pay, but we are starting to be willing to pay it. This is not a negotiation; this is the only road out, and you no longer have space to maneuver. We are stopping you from signing your own death warrant, so let’s end this now.” And we take it from there. An exit deal, made right now, ending this fiasco, because the alternative is death to all. And make no mistake: they will have to answer to the death toll of yesterday, because the army cannot kill its people and be allowed to get away with it. Someone will be held into account as part of that deal. No one will win, but especially not the SCAF, because it’s no longer an option for them.

Too many people will say that it’s too late for this, and might even see this solution as a soft-handed approach to the SCAF, but there is no other logical way out. Yesterday, while observing the clashes at Abdelmeneim riad, the people who were violently clashing were regular citizens, Egyptian vs. Egyptian, with no army or Police forces in sight. Needless to say one couldn’t tell the muslims from the Christians (because we all look alike), and neither could the people fighting each other. After engaging in a street brawl where not a single person could tell who is with who or against who, they stopped a started chanting. One team started chanting “The People and the Army are one hand” and the others started chanting “Muslims and Christians are one hand”, thus providing us with the choices that we as Egyptians were told to make yesterday. And then, strangely, both sides at the same time changed their chants to “One hand”, and both sides started chanting that fiercely, stopped fighting each other, and joined each other into one big marsh chanting “One hand, One hand”, and thus showing us that they made the right choice. They were presented with the choice between the Army and National Unity, and they refused to make that choice and collectively and organically made the only correct choice: Each Other. Egypt. In the midst of the battle, they realized on a very basic level that they can’t chose one over the other, and that , even if they have prejudices, they really do not want to fight each other. There is a lesson in that incident for all of us, and it may just hold the key to our salvation.