Two opinion columns on Egypt were published this week which could usually safely be ignored but taken together present a nice example of opposite ends of the bullshit spectrum of writing on this country.
The first column was published in the Wall Street Journal’s Europe opinion section (who knows) and is by Dina Khayat, who describes herself as the founder and chairman of an asset management company and head of the economic committee of the Free Egyptians Party.
Khayat’s column starts as it means to go on, which is erroneously.
“The Egyptian government formally designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terror organization on Dec. 25″
In fact it designated it a terrorist organisation. Terror is not synonymous with terrorist and its use says more about the person using it than the intended subject. See: Israel. George W Bush.
Another important point is that the government’s announcement is largely rhetorical and meaningless in legal terms and will have much impact as a fart in a wind turbine because it is judges that decide what is terrorist or not and not politicians riding a populist wave.
“A group called Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis, believed to have ties with Palestinian militants in Gaza, claimed responsibility for the [Mansoura] attack. The Muslim Brotherhood was quick to deny any involvement and to distance itself from the perpetrators (though it did not condemn them). Regardless, Cairo and much of the public nonetheless blame the Brotherhood for the mounting violence in Egypt.”
In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood did condemn the bombing.
Khayat then employs some strange logic. She acknowledges that the Brotherhood denied responsibility for the attack while stating that “Cairo and much of the public” (what does that mean? By Cairo does she mean the government? Or is Cairo a separate planet) still ascribe responsibility for the bombings to the Brotherhood (on the basis of zero – no evidence). And yet somewhere between the full stop after the bracket containing the baloney about the MB’s failure to condemn the bombing and the “regardless” Khayat decides that a government’s (legally meaningless) decision to designate the MB a “terror” organisation can be made on the basis of the public “outrage”. I remember there was a fair amount of public outrage directed at Algeria during Egypt’s 2009 football qualification matches against its North African neighbour. Perhaps, on the basis of this, the government should have declared that Algeria no longer exists? Or what about the 2005 controversy surrounding the cartoons insulting to the Prophet Mohamed when the general public was braying about Denmark. Perhaps the government should have banned clogs?
The writer next addresses the Brotherhood’s drop in popularity, saying that “it is estimated today to be down to a core base of about 500,000 people in a country of 90 million”. No source is given for this remarkably precise figure, or on what basis it was calculated. Khayat tells us that the “drastic drop in affection for the Brotherhood speaks volumes about their singular ineptitude during Mr Morsi’s year in office and their continued refusal to accept Egypt’s current realities”. Khayat doesn’t state what she means by current realities. Perhaps she means the murder of hundreds of Morsi supporters in Rabaa and the failure of anyone to be held accountable for these deaths. Or she might mean the massive crackdown on anyone associated with the Brotherhood or thought to be associated with it (including Al Jazeera English journalists) and the regular killing of protesters by security bodies in demonstrations.
Khayat then complains that the Brotherhood are demonstrating regularly, and that these demonstrations are “often violent and always disruptive of traffic [lol] and normal daily life”. Khayat is no doubt aware that in the three years since the revolution demonstrations by parties across the political spectrum have been a regular occurrence. As has the use of force by security bodies against them. Perhaps Ms. Khayat is aware that protesters themselves sometimes throw a rock, or a molotov cocktail, or even fire birdshot. She might be aware that in the large majority of cases the police response to such actions are disproportion, heavy handed and nearly always inflame the situation.
And yes demonstrations can be ever so inconvenient for those who don’t support the cause. Which is why perhaps the government needs to find an alternative way of dealing with Brotherhood grievances.
I find it interesting that after dealing with pesky Brotherhood demonstrations that disrupt traffic Khayat segues immediately into Islamist militants assaults. Could this be an admission (whisper it) that the Brotherhood demonstrations are one thing, and the terrorist, sorry “terror” attacks are something else?!? No of course not. Because the Brotherhood has “ties to Hamas” and has made “thinly veiled threats of violence in the Egyptian media”. What is more, “students loyal to the Brotherhood” (is a student loyal to the Brotherhood a member or not for the purposes of the terrorism designation?) “torched two [university] buildings” AND EVEN CALLED FOR AN EXAM BOYCOTT!!!
Ms. Khayat is perhaps unaware that calling for an exam boycott does not constitute terrorism or flout a call for nonviolence. In addition, if international legal norms are at all relevant terrorist organisations should only be designated as such on the basis of specific acts and not on the basis of some dickhead member running his mouth off at a camera. As for the university building burning, Khayat omits to state that the fires that broke out happened during the context of clashes – much like the burning of a building containing a rare book collection in Tahrir Square in 2011. Deliberate acts of arson are morally indefensible and endanger life but they cannot in isolation be taken as irrefutable evidence that their perpetrators are members of a terrorist organisation. That is assuming that students caused the fire in the first place.
Having adduced evidence of why the traffic-disrupting, exam-boycotting Brotherhood are terrorists in such a convincing manner Khayat deals a knockout blow to cement her argument: a homemade bomb exploded the day after the government announcement (with which the MB again denied involvement) and “Egyptians are fed up”.
Khayat tells us that the Brotherhood’s struggle is now “not primarily with the state” (you could have fooled me) and that during the Mubarak years “the majority of Egyptians sympathised with them as underdogs”. Another statement put out there unencumbered with evidence or backing or whatnot.
There is next a mini u-turn. “Cairo’s move to outlaw the Brotherhood is indeed part of a crackdown, but one that was demanded by the public”. Well that’s alright, then.
Khayat ends her piece by informing us that until the Brotherhood decides to “operate with the context of a stable state” (what does that mean) its members will remain “pariahs”. Should we understand from this that:
The Brotherhood must create this stable state and then operate in it
that it has to wait until the rest of Egyptian society bring the stable state into being before it is allowed to join the fun?
We are not informed.
And now for something completely different, from the Telegraph’s Peter Oborne who has a dire warning that we will all pay the price for the crushing of democracy in Egypt.
Oborne tells us that he graced Egypt this week after his last visit in 2011, which is almost three years ago, “when everything seemed possible”. Had he made more frequent visits to Egypt in the interim he might have a better grasp of how it was all made un-possible.
In any case, Oborne tells us that today, “protest is punishable by jail. Abductions are commonplace, torture routine”. As if prior to Today we were all running around demanding our political rights as benevolent police officers looked on and offered us refreshments.
Oborne says that Defence Minister Abdel-Fatah el Sisi “told friends” about a series of visions. In fact he told a newspaper reporter and the interview was leaked but this is a minor quibble. The Mansoura bombing Oborne says without any shadow of a doubt, was carried out by Bayt al Maqdis (who have claimed responsibility but unless I have missed it, there have been no convictions yet).
“President Morsi (I prefer to call him by that name, since the military coup that displaced him was not just illegal but immoral) is in prison.”
Oborne can call Morsi president Morsi if he likes, and so can all of his supporters. We laughed at Mubarak supporters after Hosny’s removal when they did it, too. I called myself Field Commander Abo Carr on Twitter for a while for a laugh. And as for a coup being “immoral”, what a strange description. Are there moral coups? If yes, what makes a coup moral? A demonstration of public will backing the army action? Mass demonstrations nationwide of millions of Egyptians calling for the removal of the regime that is then removed by the army?
Oborne then makes a hilarious statement: “Egyptian police are are well practised in crowd control and the use of rubber bullets” implying that over the course of the past three years there has been some improvement in its performance and it hasn’t just been heavy-handed and shite. “It can therefore be assumed that the mass killing [at Rabaa] was deliberate”. Well yes, Peter, but not necessarily because the police are “well practiced”. You can have lots of practice in something and still be shit – look at the Egyptian national football squad. It doesn’t make the police any less culpable, mind you.
Apparently 20 people were run over police bulldozers at Rabaa. This is an incident I have heard nothing about. I only saw them run over corpses (horrific also, as was the whole way the dispersal was handled).
“So far, General Sisi’s regime has made no attempt to investigate these crimes” Oborne says. Not quite true: there was a shitty fact-finding committee cobbled together.
Oborne then takes us further back, describing the 80 years the Muslim Brotherhood spent “plodding towards power”. In the process he makes the organisation sound like the Salvation Army. No mention of its initial use of violence (it then went on to renounce violence, someone send a memo to Dina Khayat about that) nor the interesting way in which its supporters practised non-violence at the Ittehadeya Palace in December 2012, when they accosted and tortured opposition protesters, and at other times during Morsi’s tenure when they attacked protesters with rocks and used firearms against them (not unusual – guns have frequently appeared in protests of all kinds over the past three years but most unfortunate when your boss is the president of a country). There is also no mention of the November 2012 constitutional amendment when Morsi tried to turn himself into a pharaoh and tried to make his decisions unchallengeable by the judiciary, nor his regime’s general ignoring and belittling of the opposition, nor its general crapness.
The thrust of Oborne’s column is that the Muslim Brotherhood did absolutely nothing wrong while in power, much as how Dina Khayat thinks that the current regime is doing sterling work. Both seem to regard depth, nuance and accuracy as optional, and like the majority of commentators attempt to reduce events to an exceedingly simplistic case of good guy vs bad guy. In the process they miss the essential point that the reason why we are so royally fucked is that there are no good guys in this picture. Well there are, but most of them are dead or locked up.