Petrol stations, panic stations


This man’s thumb does not reflect my own opinion.

One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t keep a diary of events during the revolution, and by that I don’t just mean the major happenings but rather stuff that was going on in my house that turned into a hotel (thanks to its functioning internet and proximity to Tahrir Square rather than my magnetic personality) and my thoughts and feelings (vomit) about everything. It would be nice to remember, but when I started this blog I wrote anonymously and chose the name Amnesiac, and for good reason.

I’m inevitably thinking about what little remains in my head of those days now because apparently on June 30 Egypt will implode (again) when protesters take to the streets in order to demand that Morsy fuck off. There is the same charged atmosphere as there was in 2011 with those who are able rushing to ATMs to withdraw large wads of cash before rushing to supermarkets to buy everything it has left on its shelves before abandoning ship and rushing to the airport to join other panicked people fighting to get onto planes. Embassies have issued the usual warnings to their citizens to avoid large gatherings, expats are shipping out, and if Egyptian social media was a human being it would be your mother, ringing you five times an hour begging you not to leave your house because she has heard that there are men with exploding beards roaming the streets and she is sick with worry.

That panic has taken a physical form on the streets. Egypt has had periodic bouts of fuel shortages in recent years but this is the worst I have witnessed in Cairo (it’s been terrible in other parts of Egypt for yonks but nobody cares, those areas don’t exist, politically, most of the time). Every petrol station you pass has a static queue of vehicles filled with stony-faced drivers who sometimes wait all day to fill up. This has worsened the pre-existing congestion in unimaginable ways, so next to the stony-faced drivers are irascible taxi drivers and other motorists literally fighting their way through the gunk of cars in a haze of heat and pollution and despair.

And then of course there are the Shia lynchings. A friend pointed out that this is 2013’s version of the El-Qedeseen Church bombings that preceded the revolution and prompted (then) rare running street battles with the riot police and a whole lot of useful tension that was funneled into January 25. These horrible murders are different though, firstly, because Egypt’s Shia population is tiny and, secondly, while people were generally horrified by the brutal nature of the killings, Shias remain somewhat of an unknown/suspicious entity to the majority of the population so there isn’t that emotional attachment that arguably exists with Copts.

What they have done is reinforce suspicions that conservative Islamist groups are sinister, heartless, nutjobs on some maniacal mission to turn everyone into versions of themselves (there are allegations that Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi sheikhs incited the mob that killed the four Shia men).

All this has come at a most unfortunate time for Morsy and friends as they attempt to fend off mounting criticism that they are shit. It is also unfortunate that earlier this month Morsy presided over a Syria rally in Cairo Stadium where a sheikh shrieked into a microphone that Shias are “angaas” (impure, sullied) and Morsy sat impassively like he was waiting for a bus. It is also unhelpful that if one delves into the Muslim Brotherhood archives one is assaulted with reams of sectarian nonsense about Shias (and Copts, and also passing references to the “cow worshippers”), and that the muted condemnation of the Shia killings was delivered through gritted teeth and, in the case of @ikhwanweb, issued over 24 hours later.

But this is understandable I suppose, because they are ever so busy deflecting criticism by condemning future outrageous acts of violence and disorder. Have a look at their English page and you will find post after post denouncing the irresponsible opposition intent on burning Egypt. In fact, the MB’s response to political crisis comes in four guises:

1. Suggest that various formations of secularists, communists, nasserists or felool are carrying out an attack on Islam (as pointed out by Basil El-Dabh).

2. Organise a rally attended by mostly male supporters and hope that the Salafis are on board to make up numbers.

3. Announce sudden press conferences at 9.30 p.m. that are scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. and which begin at midnight and in which nothing of import is said.

4. Wheel Morsy out for a speech in which he rails against parties listed in point. 1  above while making a total of zero concessions.

So incompetent is the Muslim Brotherhood’s response that it seems to be interpreted in some sectors as, “they’re up to something” rather than “they are a bunch of showers who have not got a fucking clue how to extricate themselves out of this sinking tub of shite and so are winging it through a series of opaque and kneejerk reactions confusing even to themselves”. All this contributes to the panic.

As I have quoteth previously on this blog, the MB are a glorified soup kitchen with excellent logistical skills. Alas, they have shown themselves to be remarkably uninventive in the autocratic rule department and have largely borrowed from Mubarak (violent thugs at protests, smear campaigns against detractors, invoking draconian legislation to shut critics up, drawing up draconian legislation to shut NGOs up, dismissing everything as a Zionist plot against Egypt or Islam).

So they have had a year to prove themselves worthy of leading this country and largely failed to win confidence. I have yet to meet anyone who defends the way they are running the country, but there are non-MB citizens who are perturbed by calls for his removal on the grounds that he was democratically elected in fair elections.

I have problems with the Tamarod campaign that called for the protests. I don’t like the messy way in which signatures have been collected and announced – it needlessly opened the door to attacks on their credibility. I hate the self-important tone of the Facebook page’s admin, their micromanagement of every detail of the protest and their fascist injunctions about what we can and cannot do (they even want to control what people chant), they swoon in a worrying way about the army and above all else, the non-existence of/failure to articulate clearly a plan for what happens after June 30, whether or not Morsy exits stage left, is unfathomable.

Ideologically, I am extremely torn about the protests’ demands. I would like nothing better than for Morsy and his arrogant, obstinate Brothers to be booted out of Egyptian political life (and I voted for Morsy in order to keep out Shafiq) but have three issues:

1. It would hit the Muslim Brotherhood harder if they were ejected from Egyptian public life via elections. They would not be able to cry foul, and this would hit at their precious legitimacy in a way that the protests don’t. I have long been of the opinion that the Muslim Brotherhood should be left to their own devices as long as the economy can stand it, so that they continue to fuck up, destroy their support base, and we can be rid of them forever. This is a problematic and unpopular position, I know and it assumes firstly, they hold elections and secondly, they don’t forge results.

2. I keep imagining that it was ElBaradei or Hamdeen or someone non-MB and palatable to those taking to the streets on Sunday was elected. I imagine, what if Mr Palatable did something to garner the ire of his (Islamist) opposition on a par with Morsy’s constitutional amendment, something along the lines of removing all reference to Sharia in the constitution (PEDANTS: I AM JUST IMAGINING FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS EXERCISE AND AM NOT SUGGESTING THEY WOULD).

Say that this inspired mass protests similar to those at the presidential palace in December 2012 and that Mr Palatable’s supporters used violence against the raging Islamist mobs. Now imagine that the political impasse dragged on and on until the exasperated Islamist opposition, together with ordinary Egyptians fed up at the economic situation and turmoil (I am assuming that no president could have fixed much in a year) took to the streets demanding Palatable go.

What would my position be? I would most likely stand against the Islamist mob and one of the arguments I would invoke is that Palatable was democratically elected and you, raving Islamist mob, represent nobody but yourselves.

3. If a miracle happened and Morsy did step down as a result of these protests it sets an awkward precedent. Particularly if the army is involved.

So I am in a quandary. I despise the Muslim Brotherhood and hate what they have done to the country. I like democracy, such as it is, and think that respecting clean election results is a useful and pretty essential rule in a functioning society, but then the Muslim Brotherhood themselves seem to have no respect for the rule of law. The reappearance of the Egyptian army in politics would be disastrous, and prompt a jingoistic army lovefest that my embattled nerves could not withstand. It would be ammunition for the Omar Suleiman “Egyptians are not ready for democracy” crowd, and that would be heartbreaking.

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