If you would like to read a perfect example of a monochromic simplification of the complex Egyptian political scene, take a look at David Kirkpatrick’s piece in the New York Times: Egyptian Liberals Embrace the Military, Brooking No Dissent.
His opening paragraph begins with, “In the square where liberals and Islamists once chanted together for democracy, demonstrators now carry posters hailing as a national hero the general who ousted the country’s first elected president, Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Like many western analysts, Kirkpatrick has redefined the various shades of non-Islamism in Egypt as liberalism. It has become a lazy way to lump together anyone with the slightest unease about the Muslim Brotherhood’s failed policy within one broad, simple definition. In a rather absurd way it labels in one big condescending swoop both ex-regime supporters and army supporters as “liberals.”
He continued by saying, “Liberal talk-show hosts denounce the Brotherhood as a foreign menace and its members as “sadistic, extremely violent creatures” who are unfit for political life.” He went even further to mention a “leading human rights advocate,” who allegedly blames “the Brotherhood’s “filthy” leaders for the deaths of more than 50 of their own supporters in a mass shooting by soldiers and the police.”
Although Kirkpatrick openly mentioned some by name, such as Khaled Montaser and Esraa Abdel Fattah, it is interesting that he chooses not to mention others (the talk show hosts or the so-called human right activist) by name. Nor does he provide a link to their quotes. In this new world of hyper information, this lack of information begs the question: Why? Is it done to hyper inflate the story and to give a sense of a widespread pattern? Since when have Egyptian talk shows become a beacon for impartiality and balance?
More importantly, how does Kirkpatrick determine and judge the liberal credentials of these people? As I have written before, the so-called liberals in Egypt are, at best, an eclectic mix of leftists, socialists, and even anarchists with no coherent solid goal or strategy. Not a single politician in Egypt disapproves of Article 2 of the Egyptian constitution that enshrines Sharia as “the” main source of laws in the country. In fact, part of the tragedy in Egypt is the absence of a true, liberal project that counters Islamism and provides the public with a reliable alternative.
It’s telling that Kirkpatrick cites Muslim Brotherhood narratives without even the slightest challenge. He notes the following: “ Brotherhood leaders say their organization has not condoned violence in Egypt since the days of British rule. They say private media outlets have worked for months to stir up nationalist sentiment against them.”
While tossing out this quote without any further elaboration, Kirkpatrick is not providing some crucial perspective for the reader. He does not mention other Morsi supporters, the non-Muslim Brotherhood Islamists who engaged in a long history of violence, including the assassination of Sadat in 1981. Many of them were later embraced by president Morsi, and even invited to the 2012 October war celebration. How does Morsi later appoint an ex-Gamaa Islamya (an ex-terrorist group) as governor of Luxor, a move that drew worldwide criticism.
Just quoting snippets here and there really fails to describe how private media, both pro- and anti-Morsi, pushed their own media platforms and both were guilty of spreading unconfirmed reports before June 30. It may be trivial, still it is worth mentioning that only a few weeks before (June 30), the Minister of Information banned the song of the singer Amal Maher, allegedly because it was deemed as supporting the rebel movement, Tamarod. Further, Islamist private channels were waging a campaign against June 30, labeling the anti-Morsi rebels as infidels. Commenters at a distance can easily fail to properly convey the narrative on the ground.
Ironically, Kirkpatrick inadvertently highlighted the biased, (and undemocratic) perceptions of some of the pro-Morsi supports, “Mr. Morsi ‘should have been tougher with the media…they were disrespecting him all over the place.’” Disrespect? I guess the partial amnesia, make many, not just Kirkpatrick forget that Morsi was tough with the media; remember Bassem Youssef’s arrest for disrespecting president Morsi?
Finally, who are “the euphoric hyper nationalists”? A look at the photo attached to Kirkpatrick’s piece gives us a clue. The photo was taken at a juice bar in Cairo with two men posing by a photograph of Gen. el-Sisi. A quick glance at the photo reflects the real fans of the army leader; mainly apolitical ordinary Egyptians, who witnessed the crumbling of state institutions, and view the military as the only united and efficient body who can rule the country at the moment. Are these really hyper nationalists?
Can this broad mainstream group really be so simply labeled as ‘liberals.” It is a tragic reality that the army is viewed as the placenta that can secure their livelihood, but this is not a sign of their liberalism or a worshipping of autocracy. It is a sign of distress. Many instinctively triaged the situation, and have decided to choose stability as their main priority. As one friend from Cairo aptly explained to me, “If you are starving, you don’t check how clean is the available food.”
Kirkpatrick is indeed right to expose the bigotry of illiberal forces in Egypt, but to label them as liberals is preposterous to say the least. He naively or deceptively fails to challenge the Islamist narrative. Surely, the American readers, most of who are unfamiliar with Egypt, ought to be aware of reports of torture and detention of activists during Morsi’s tenure, just as most journalists, rightly, mention virginity tests when writing about General Sissi.
To clarify, in Egypt, the anti-Morsi camp is composed of roughly three loose groups:
- Anti-Morsi, pro-coup: Few, but loud illiberal elite, and a wide apolitical public
- Anti- Morsi, but ambivalent about the coup
- Anti-Morsi, and anti-coup; Egypt’s true liberals
This last group includes the only true liberals in Egypt; not just Hamzawy, Ahmed Maher. Many others are raising the alarm, including the satirist Bassem Youssef who openly uses his popular appeal to campaign against the demonization of the Islamists.
Egypt is in crisis. Undoubtedly, irrational actions abound. There is blame, counter-blame, and yes, bigotry. There are many on both sides of the fault lines that are neither democrats nor liberals. The vociferous debate among non-Islamists is as old as the January 2011 revolution, and it is a clear indication of their unharmonious nature. A fact that was consistently missed since January 2011 revolution.
In short, the problem with Kirkpatrick’s dispatch is the missing wider perspective of events that is inextricably linked. Egypt is in desperate need of balanced journalism; readers from both camps take each published piece as if it is solid evidence to incriminate the other side. It is about time for western journalists to revise their inaccurate terms that create inaccurate conclusions about one side of the conflict, while treating the other side with a biased orientalist lens. Let’s do better.
Also published in French. Click here