“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”
― George Orwell, 1984
WHAT’S going on in Egypt? Why are Egyptians killing each other like this? Why are they so angry at each other? Numerous cell phone videos and images have been uploaded now showing fellow Egyptians killing each other as if it’s nothing. Snipers on rooftops sometimes targeting people, and at other times indiscriminately shooting at crowds. A man walks 50 feet away from another, pulls a gun, shoots, and walks away while the other is on the ground in sheer agony left to slowly die alone. Street wars taking place between different groups, each celebrating when they strike one another down as if they’re playing Grand Theft Auto. People across the world looked onto the Egyptians with admiration for how they ousted President Hosni Mubarak in the January 25th Revolution. At the time they were united and were able to transcend whatever ideological or religious differences that distinguished them among each other.
Now, a year after their first truly democratic elections in which the winner didn’t get 99% of the votes, the elected President Morsi was ousted by General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi after the large protests that came out for and against Morsi. It seems that the country was on the verge of utter chaos if something wasn’t done, and Morsi wasn’t responding to the call for early elections on his own accord, so al-Sisi enacted the will of the people by taking him out by force. At least that’s the official line that al-Sisi keeps repeating. In response, pro-Morsi crowds came out in large numbers in protest and the situation finally escalated to what we have been seeing and hearing about over the past few days.
Politics today is disgusting. Really disgusting. There’s no other field of human endeavour where clear principles and moral codes get blurred like they do in politics. It’s the one time when murder and human life become complicated questions. Where mass deaths get reported in numbers as statistics as a final step in removing the humanity of the victims. It’s when politicians get to reduce our anxiety over the atrocities by telling us that it’s a “complex situation.” It seems that we have a lot of a “complex situations,” which is why we can have dinner and drink our tea right after we watch a few people get murdered and/or mutilated. Thank God for the politicians who comfort us with their “complex situation” talk so we can sleep in peace at night while screaming teenagers get thrown off from buildings and young children lose their parents.
I was in Egypt in 2010 before Mubarak was ousted. I was staying in Al Muhandiseen and took a cab every morning to get to Al Azhar, and always got into conversations with the drivers. I remember one who aside from being a cab driver, was also a professor. His wife called him to complain about something his son did to the computer at home, and he told her to put him on the phone. I heard some of the most interesting ways of cursing someone out. This professor/cab driver worked 3 shifts every day just to make ends meet. He wasn’t unique. Cab drivers, waiters, bookshop employees, etc. were all giving differing versions of the same grievances. The deteriorating economy, and politically oppressive circumstances were a uniting factor for at least those Egyptians that I’ve met. It felt like I was watching a pot of boiling water and the lid was about to blow off. It did on January 25th, 2011.
Fast forward to President Morsi’s time. Did the average Egyptian’s circumstances improve? Based on what I can gather it seems not. Some even complain about them getting worse. At any rate, after one year of Morsi, a very large segment of the Egyptian population said enough with the Muslim Brotherhood on July 3rd, 2013. However, unlike the January 25th revolution, this time around the Egyptians were deeply divided. The pro-Morsi crowd didn’t accept their elected president’s removal and came out in very large numbers in protest of what they consider not the will of the people, but an orchestrated coup d’état. Whatever the case may be, the situation escalated to the point where security forces began raiding pro-Morsi protest camps on August 15th and the blood has been spilling ever since.
What’s all this for? Political power? Democracy? Sharia vs. Secularism? Freedom? None of this comes to my mind as I observe this mess. What I wonder about is how did it get to this point where the same Egyptians of January 25th, civilized and united, could be so polarized and antagonistic to each other to the point of killing one another, sometimes with barbaric vengeance. What happened over the past couple of years?
When Mubarak was overthrown, the wall of fear the Egyptians had was also taken down along with him. For the first time in over 30 years, Egyptians were able to speak freely about politics in a way that was unimaginable during the Mubarak era. They were united on January 25th because they had a common enemy. Once that enemy was removed, they were allowed to finally breath and speak their minds in pursuit of their freedom in how they want to be governed. However, there’s a problem. Democracy requires an educated public to make their choices. Egypt, a country of approximately 85 million people, has a total population literacy rate of 72%. Broken down, the literacy rate for males is 80% and for females is 63.5%. To facilitate the voting process for the 25 million illiterate Egyptians, different political parties used various symbols in the ballot papers so as to help the voters make their choices correctly.
You can’t educate a public that has been systematically uneducated by a regime for over 30 years within a couple of years. You also can’t expect them to make choices that are anything more than emotionally driven. So it becomes a game between who can woe the crowd best and who has the best rhetoric for the greater number of people. The best tool to use in this circumstance is the media. If you can’t get them through school, you can certainly get them through TV. Egyptians were not a monolithic people before their January 25th revolution. But it seems that their differences, which could’ve been mediated through their transition into democracy became tools used to polarize them by various media outlets. The right wing Islamic fundamentalist channels had around the clock programming that embedded the idea that whoever is not for them was not simply for a different political platform, they were in fact against Islam. They readily declared Egyptian Muslims as hypocrites and even atheists for rejecting their brand of Islam. In response, those on the receiving end of these excommunicative declarations responded with their own brand of attacks. Both sides resorted to lies, fabricated statements, chopped video and audio clips of each other, misrepresentations, screaming and yelling to the cameras, and inflammatory articles.
The fights between the different hosts and televangelists drew in the crowds. The war of words gave rise to false perceptions that further deepened the divide. The language used by the common Egyptian towards his fellow citizens became an “us vs. them” discourse. Each side views the other as a traitor who wants nothing but to seize power and take Mubarak’s place. As the common people divided, the only ones who really benefitted are the most disgusting individuals next to politicians: the hosts who profited from the increased commercial revenues as their public wars of words drew in the crowds. The wars of words have finally materialized into street wars. Now we have insanity playing out in Egypt, and principles have gone with the wind. The polarization has taken hold to such an extent that for you to speak about what’s right, what’s democratic, or about the senseless killing of anyone from any side, the opposing side would accuse you of being another traitor. It goes without saying that what’s happening in Egypt now cannot be reduced to a single cause. But when it comes to the behaviour of the crowds, it would be hardly deniable that the primary driver is the media. If anyone should be arrested and tried for the deaths of all who have been killed so far, it should be all those who participated in inciting hatred among Egyptians through their polarized “us vs. them” rhetoric. How these current events will transform the political future of Egypt is a question for the analysts to entertain. But as long as the crowd is manipulated in the fashion that it currently is, true political freedom and democracy will be an unattainable mirage.
“One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.”
—George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, 1938