By Yasmin Amin
Khalas! I have reached my limit, and the last straw is the reaction to the referendum. Maybe it is because I fall in that age group of those over 50 who are being criticized to death for voting yes. Or maybe it is because I am one of those held responsible for everything that has gone wrong with the revolution. Or maybe it is because I see things differently because there are at least 30 years of life-experience between myself and all those enthusiastic liberal young hip/cool journalists, analysts, professional revolutionaries, and “experts” on Egyptian politics. Or maybe it is because I am being realistic rather than idealistic or revolutionary, or because of what a friend so aptly and perfectly summarised as:
“It’s so easy to take the moral high ground, fire the witty and biting sarcasm, rubbish the referendum, condemn the army, the government, and the ever so stupid credulous masses, oh and the crass media. It’s so depressing how out of touch you are Mr&Mrs MHG.“
Because I have had enough, I criticize today the deconstruction of everything, the overly critical stance, the use of all the right keywords like “fascists”, “bigot”, “militant” “fanatic”, “military dictator.” The problem with all that criticism — even when warranted — is that it are not accompanied by any solutions, ways out or steps forward. If they took an obvious stance they’d have to be held accountable later.
The referendum was not about sticking two fingers up at the Brotherhood or expressing varying levels of confidence/adoration in/of the army or a declaration of unconditional support and undying love for Sisi as this article, for example, by journalist Sarah Carr stated.
This article also stated that the Muslim Brotherhood should have been left longer to prove their spectacular inability. This is wrong and not a real position, since their authoritarian tendencies and incompetence were exposed quickly and the Egyptian people moved against them when they had the chance on June 30, 2013. This is historical fact, and it’s not really saying anything to argue for a theoretical possibility that has never existed.
Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood likely would not have been voted out in the next elections, because most likely there would not have been a next election. Hamas, a Brotherhood offshoot, has been controlling Gaza since 2006, when they were voted in. Accordingly, legitimacy is not only given by the ballot boxes, because since 2006, ballot boxes in Gaza have not been seen again. Anyone speaking against Hamas openly in Gaza faces their wrath. Nathan Brown describes here how opposition parties are restricted from performing public activities.
I do not buy into conspiracy theories in general. But I do buy that a secret global organisation would only have its own best interest at heart and the Muslim Brotherhood have declared often enough that their aim is to rule the entire Muslim world. They already rule in Turkey, Sudan, Gaza, are about to rule in Tunis (if it was not for the fierce opposition) and they have strongholds in Somalia, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, Morocco, Algeria and even in mainly Shia Bahrain.
There are way too many dead today in Egypt and not only through police brutality or army heavy-handed crack downs. Human rights defenders have rightly criticized the Rab3a massacre, but have remained silent about those slaughtered in cold blood in Sinai coming home from their conscription/service. They have remained silent too when Muslim Brotherhood students set fire to university buildings with guards in them, or threw an Amn Markazi soldier off a roof, or hit and disrobed a female professor, and the list goes on. It seems that human rights in Egypt should be renamed Ikhwan rights, or maybe anyone who is not Muslim Brotherhood is not human enough?
The double standards annoy me. I am against spilling blood, any blood for that matter, but going back to Rab3a and Nahda, after a 47 day sit in and repeated antagonism by the Brotherhood from daily marches blocking off streets and holding an entire neighborhood hostage to praying on the 6 October bridge just to paralyse traffic and that too in Ramadan, they surely did not expect to be sent home with flowers and balloons. Their leaders could have made different choices, but the victim mentality and rhetoric used for decades underground seemed attractive and luring to score more points, if only internationally. What do they care about the poor from the villages hired to inflate the numbers? When push came to shove none of the actual leaders were found in either Rab3a or Nahda. They left early enough, maybe in ambulances or under niqabs, both of which they used before, leaving some armed elements to shoot at the police to ensure retaliation. We knew for weeks there would be a violent dispersal — why didn’t they leave?
What is the Referendum About?
The referendum was for stability. It was a condemnation of previous mediocre performances, including of the so-called elite, intellectuals and liberals, who failed everyone in every way. They failed to organise, unite, think of Egypt first and not of own agendas or ambitions. The former National Salvation Front needed to be saved, most of all from its own members’ egos, inefficiency and political opportunism.
This referendum was not a mandate to re-establish a police state, because at the height of its power Jan 25th 2011, this police state could not stop the masses. Nor did the referendum sign over power to the military unconditionally. Nobody has forgotten the forced virginity tests, which are linked to Sisi, nor the civilians tried in military courts, nor the massacre at MASPERO, nor all those still languishing in jail joined by many others since, nor the blue bra and all what it stood for. But the military is not all SCAF and not all bad and not every general is a villain.
Maybe lots of people over 50 romanticize Nasser, another military man — only a Major though –and like Schleifer reminds us of the welfare state he created, however flawed. People from my generation also remember the Nasser era’s flaws all too vividly — the shortages, the dawn visits, the atmosphere of distrust as well as the fiasco that is the High Dam ruining Egypt’s agriculture.
I personally hope for a civilian leader that has Egypt’s best interest at heart. Looking around, I do not find such person. Those who ran for the presidency last round got us into this mess, because we had to choose between bad and worse, insult and injury, political opportunists and incompetence. Maybe we have Mubarak to thank for that, but I am waiting for the day where Egyptians can make a real choice from among good options and not settle for the best of bad options between military or Islamists.
Why did Egyptians Vote as they Did?
The current nationalistic hysteria and flag waving is not only caused by media manipulations, dissemination of panic or the famous George Bush concept of “us vs. them” or copying the USA’s “war on terror”. It was born, very frankly, out of fear of losing our Egyptian identity, a unique one that survived centuries and gained in the process and strengthened with each addition. Egypt has always assimilated invaders and made them adopt a certain Egyptian-ness. Alexander became Pharaoh and worshipped Egyptian Gods, the Muslims adopted Sham al Nessim celebrations as well as the 40 days of mourning originally from mummification. The list can go on and on. Egyptians assimilate and eventually even welcome anyone who does not try to force anything on them. Sadly it was the Brotherhood and their Salafi, Jihadi bedfellows who exasperated Egyptians by shoving their rotten ideas and practices down our throats.
The alleged low turnout of the referendum was actually higher than that of the Islamist constitution referendum, even if it was boycotted by the so-called revolutionary youth, activists and mostly Brotherhood or their sympathizers. Those who voted ‘NO’ have all my respect because they are the assurance that constitutional flaws will be fixed in the future. There were 3% courageous enough to vote NO and not just whine or criticize. Criticism leveled at the constitution centered around the rights granted to the military , such as military court trials for civilians. Of course this provision was present in the Islamists’ 2012 constitution, along with the insistence that the minister of defense be a member of the military and the military budget essentially be under their control. We can all complain about these provisions, but we cannot claim they are new or evidence of a new descent into military fascism.
Finally, for more of a sense of how difficult it was to come to a compromise on the constitution, this interview (in German) with a member of the 50 committee is enlightening.
Hoda ElSadda reveals the circumstances under which the committee worked: the internal heterogeneity, the street fights around them and deadlines necessitating a makeover of the 2012 document rather than starting from scratch. Despite all the difficulty the new document is vastly improved in terms of rights for the people and duties for the government. At the end of the day it is not really about what is written in the constitution, but about who will implement it and how and the laws passed to regulate its various articles.
The government of Prime Minister Beblawi might not be a perfect one, but nobody seems to remember how difficult it was to get anyone to accept a place in it in the first place or be accepted by the ever contrary Hizb al Nour, courted to fill the Islamist slot, or to remain and not run away at the first hurdle or continuously threaten to resign. The government is facing so many problems from daily riots, labour strikes, sabotage, deliberate destruction to diminished incomes on tourism and other fronts. Yes, infusions of cash from certain Gulf monarchies has helped, but Egypt cannot live on hand-outs forever and nobody is willing to hand out endlessly.
So please, stop this loud overly critical screaming and sit down, calm down and think. Do not just criticize and deconstruct, because that is easy. Come up with ideas and how to implement them. Give the older generation the benefit of the doubt, because we are not just outmoded, outdated fearful people seeking security. Try to understand that we too have a vision and we have our reasons. Omar Suleiman said in an interview that Egypt is not ready for democracy. While I disagree with that, I believe we have a long way to go. It will not happen overnight or in 18 days like those of Tahrir. The first step towards democracy is to listen to one another, accommodate different views and work together. Otherwise we will all lose!
At the moment, the situation is absurdly out of control and ready to explode again, More and more people are disillusioned or angry. But we cannot rebel ALL the time against everything. Ideally the binary situation of either the monstrous demonized Muslim Brotherhood or the equally monstrous military dictatorship should be broken up by introducing a third option, a secular and/or liberal moderate entity able to work with both with no personal ambitions or agendas.
Yasmin Amin is currently a PhD candidate at Exeter University, researching “Humour in Prophetic Traditions.” Yasmin has more than 20 years of experience in the corporate world, working in various capacities in the educational, financial and state technology investment board sectors in Egypt. Married with 2 grown up sons, she currently lives between Cairo and London.