There Are Two Egypts and They Hate Each Other

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Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters

Protesters throw stones during a clash between supporters and opponents of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, at Ramsis square, which leads to Tahrir Square, in Cairo October 6, 2013.

Egypt’s latest spasm of violence over the weekend—which led to at least 57 deaths and 400 injured—confirmed the troubled nation’s new reality: The emergence of two distinct, opposed Egypts that hate each other.

One Egypt is in the ascendant—that of a nationalist, pro-military populace that has nothing but contempt for the country’s Islamists, represented chiefly by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egypt of the Brotherhood is reeling and embittered: it has seen its democratically-elected President ousted by the military this July and its supporters gunned down in the streets. But it’s showing no sign of backing down.

The enmity existed well before senior Muslim Brotherhood official Mohamed Morsi won the presidency in June 2012. But the chasm between these two sides widened dramatically over the course of Morsi’s chaotic and divisive year in power, which culminated in Morsi’s July 3 ousting, cheered on by millions of citizens.

Both sides covet the deeply symbolic real estate that is Tahrir Square—epicenter of the original February 2011 revolution that ousted long-ruling President Hosni Mubarak and the launchpad for Egypt’s faltering revolutionary moment. Tahrir’s fortunes, and who controls it, have shifted multiple times since the initial uprising. But an unprecedented spectacle of division took place on Oct. 6: one side celebrated inside of Tahrir Square, while the other side desperately fought—and died—to reach it and confront its rivals.

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Inside of Tahrir Square, supporters of the military rallied in the thousands with flags, fireworks, patriotic songs and vuvuzelas. Oct. 6 is a national holiday—a militaristic one that celebrates the launching of a successful surprise attack on Israel in the 1973 war. So the current national mood, characterized by nationalist and anti-Islamist fervor, dovetailed neatly with the holiday. Posters of Defense Minister Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi (notably not civilian Interim President Adly Mansour) dominated the day—many of them directly comparing Al-Sisi with Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser, the beloved and iconic force behind the 1952 coup that ended the monarchy and ushered in almost 60 years of military rule.

Outside of Tahrir Square, the losers of the country’s political shakeup continued their Sisyphaean campaign for their voices to be heard and heeded. “Our target is to go back to Tahrir to bring the revolution back to the square,” said Diaa El-Sawy, spokesman of the Youth Against the Coup group, ahead of their protest. But the Brotherhood—which marched in the thousands from multiple directions on Sunday—never managed to get near Tahrir Square. The entire downtown area was heavily secured with riot police, Army APCs, barbed wire and ID checkpoints at the entrances to Tahrir. The subway station underneath Tahrir had already been closed for months to prevent unauthorized infiltration.

Three separate Brotherhood marches were violently repelled. In Ramses Square, about a 20 minute walk from Tahrir, the two sides battled into the night with the Brotherhood marchers confronting a combined force of army soldiers, riot police and local youth gangs hurling rocks, Molotovs and fireworks and apparently working in coordination with the security forces. The final death toll from the day reached 57—the vast majority of the dead from the Brotherhood side.

In the aftermath, there is no sign of either side backing away from the chasm that threatens to swallow post-revolutionary Egypt. The Brotherhood—which has managed to retain a high level of coordination and planning despite most of its senior decision-makers being arrested—has announced plans to launch a fresh push to occupy Tahrir Square this coming Friday, Oct. 11. The Square, according to a statement released late Sunday night, “belongs to all Egyptians and no one will prevent us from demonstrating in it, no matter the sacrifices.”

(PHOTOS: Clashes Erupt in Egypt as Protesters March Against Earlier Bloodshed)

In apparent retaliation for Sunday’s crackdown, militants—whose direct links to the Brotherhood are unproven, but who interpreted Morsi’s ouster as a disguised war on Islam—launched a trio of brazen strikes on Monday. The attacks killed nine people, including six soldiers in a single ambush in the Sinai Peninsula; other assailants launched a failed RPG attack on a satellite transmission facility in Cairo.

Meanwhile the government continues its purge of the Brotherhood and its affiliated organizations. On Tuesday, the government annulled the Muslim Brotherhood’s status as a registered non-governmental organization and the cabinet ordered the seizure of the organization’s funds and assets. A court ruling last month ordered a similar asset seizure, but the ruling has yet to be properly implemented. Tuesday’s cabinet ruling now tightens the squeeze.

As the death toll mounts, the prospects for any sort of short-term reconciliation in Egypt seem bleak—largely because neither side seems particularly interested in forging a peace.

Many trying to resist the current polarization or find some sort of middle ground are punished by both sides. One of the clearest examples of this dynamic came in mid-September when senior Brotherhood official Salah Soltan published a unilateral apology to the nation on behalf of the Brotherhood. Soltan’s US-citizen son Mohamed was shot in the Aug. 14 siege on a Brotherhood sit-in site and later arrested after two weeks on the run. Nevertheless, Salah Soltan wrote a month later that the Brotherhood should “apologize to the nation for our political mistakes…we are not against Egypt. We are part of Egypt.”

Among the mistakes he mentioned was a failure to better include the non-Islamist and revolutionary youth into their decision-making processes—spawning divisions and a national paranoia over the Islamist agenda that eventually turned much of the country against the Brotherhood.

But rather than becoming some sort of rallying point for the start of a push for reconciliation, Salah Soltan immediately became a man without a country. The Brotherhood distanced itself from his comments, saying Soltan did not speak for the organization. And, within days Soltan was arrested at Cairo airport by the very government with whom he was trying to reconcile.

Khalil is a Cairo-based journalist and author of Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation.

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10 comments
LeylaMaker
LeylaMaker

If you know history, Egypt has been united as one nation, when the Mongolic/Turkish tribes settled in Egypt remaining aloof and never mixing with the indigenous population. The Muslim Brotherhood culture is derived from a foreign element that does not agree with the Egyptian culture. As an Egyptian I am proud that our culture is able to stand to this divisive, intolerant culture that is full of hatred to anyone who does not belong to them. In fact it is the manifestation of the civilized face of the Egyptian culture, that though it may not economically strong, its foundation that lasted for the thousands of years can still energize this culture to teach the world the true face of civilization. This is not a war between two Egypt, it is war between a culture of peace and development  and a culture of terror and destruction, If you are looking at was going in Egypt without understanding the history and culture of this very Ancient nation, I am sorry to tell you that you do not grasp the whole picture. But let me put it this way, the Egyptian have conquered the Mogul for the second time in history. The second time is now when the culture of violence and terror that was brought by this race is being defeated. It is still one Egypt because the other culture is foreign and one day that culture will be totally eliminated.  

giantsloar
giantsloar

Whither Egypt's liberals? You know, the ones that started the revolution that brought down Mubarak in the first place, before the Brotherhood co-opted the movement? Don't they deserve a mention? Where are they now?

DaleEff
DaleEff

There are two muslim factions and they hate everyone.

lacliny
lacliny

Much like the United States...one nation, divided, under socialism with losing liberty and justice for aristocrats

FaroukAlwyni
FaroukAlwyni

@LeylaMaker So, are you going to stop speaking Arabic and start speaking 'whatever old language' you have ? I suggest that you may as well change your name and go demo to remove Arabic as an official language in Egypt. Or perhaps would you like to be enslaved by your Pharaoh again that you loved so much ? Please note that even the Egyptian military still does not dare to remove the article-2 of the constitution that states that Islam is the official religion of the state and the principles of Shariah are the source of legislation. I agree that this is a war between backwardness and underdevelopment VS development and progress, the military thugs and its 'puppet' civilian government representing the former and the anti-coup movement representing the latter.

fixento68
fixento68

@lacliny What do you know about America?   The generally the Democrats want to push us toward more socialism and the Republican are business owners and investors that want to push us to more capitalism.   Somewhere there is a balance but no nation can afford to support those who refuse to work..    Americans may disagree and are argumentative but never divided and that was very clear then the Trade Center was attacked.  

zann
zann

@fixento68 @lacliny All American politicians are indebted to the wealthy interests that put them in power. They make convoluted laws that favor the wealthy while talking publicly about justice and morality. The fact that citizens imagine that the other party is the source of all trouble is a triumph for the money behind the scenes, This website, like Huffington Post, Fox and MSNBC are owned by global money whose primary goal is wealth extraction. In what ways do they maintain the delusion that the real fight is Rebubs vs Dems  and gloss over the harm done by the most significant development ot the last 50 years, the overwhelming rise to power of country-blind wealth-extracting global corporations?

Yemil
Yemil

@fixento68 @lacliny 

 It didn't last long after the Trade Center was attacked and the nation has rarely been more divided since then.The chasm is growing deeper every day unfortunately as I see a deepening divide among the have's and have nots.There are always those that refuse to work in any country and there are always a percentage that are happy to live on handouts but the majority of people in this country want to work and want to support their families.This ongoing depression/recession has denied too many of them a chance to do that.

 No nation can afford to neglect their poor, their needy or their sick either because if simple humane charity was non existent they would eventually end up walking over dead bodies in the street, they would be constantly building fortresses to keep their food and their material goods safe from the marauding herds of starving needy people, if not now then in the near future.Common sense should be enough for the more privileged to ensure they live in a stable healthy society with a strong middle class.Is it not reasonable to expect that most people would want to want to live in a modern civilized society rather than an anachronistic feudal one ?

Focussing on the minority "good for nothings" is no justification for saying that a nation cannot support those who do not want to work especially as that is so far from the truth.

No nation can support a military at any expense and then deny the welfare it's citizens by denying them support at every available opportunity.That kind of imbalance can't possibly be sustained indefinitely.A middle of the road approach is the best wait to create a balance, extremism and this increasing polarization is a recipe for disaster.