Egyptian Aak- Week 31. The Anatomy of Defiance

Main Headlines








  • Trial of Egypt‘s Muslim Brotherhood leaders on charges of killing protesters to open Aug 25
  • Head of Morsi’s office arrested for presidential palace violence
  • Egyptian authorities say clock is ticking on talks to find peaceful end to pro-Morsi sit-ins:
  • 15 injured in Minya sectarian clashes

A Few Thoughts

 Amidst the 2006 war in Lebanon, and while hiding in his bunker, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was once asked: What is victory?  He calmly replied, “Defiance.” This redefinition of victory makes sense, especially if defeating the enemy is difficult to achieve. In such a situation, bold resistance is the next best course. Hamas has also adopted the same mentality in two consecutive Gaza wars (2009 and 2012), allowing the group to declare victory in both.

 Popular defiance is an integral part of the anatomy of Islamism. It is usually triggered by Islamists are faced by overwhelming developments that transcend their abilities and maneuvering skills. Interestingly, the supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi have decided to copycat parts of the resistance manual, and apply the same tactics, outside war-zones, against the military coup in Egypt.

 Defiance has two main goals: First, it sheds the sense of defeat, sidelines the reasons for failures, and transforms the feeling of being the underdog with its sense of victimhood and emotional irrationality into something positive, and even productive. Second, it creates favorable conditions that pressure their opponents to accept concessions.

 Arguably, it has worked. The sit-ins at Rabaa and Nahda have continued for days, despite July 26 demonstrations in support of Sissi’s mandate against “terror,” and the repeated calls by the Interior Minster to end the sit-ins. There have been a consistent number of jubilant participants (men, women and children), thanks to an embodiment of total demonization, which has been an effective tool in maintaining the determination and tenacity of the crowd. Now, the pro-Morsi supporters consider Sissi as an extreme version of Sharon, Saddam, Assad, and Ghaddafi. Such hyperbolic labeling has compelled some protestors to pray for his paralysis, even comparing him to the devil that dared to disobey the Almighty.

 The psychology of this crowd should not be overlooked. Although there are some non-Islamists in the sit-in who are simply against the coup, the majorities are Islamists, and according to many observers, most are from rural areas that have come especially to join in. Such gatherings provide a huge sense of empowerment to many previously marginalized communities and give them a sense of belonging and self-importance.

 There is endless debate about how to end the sit-ins, however in reality, the options are limited:

 1-    A full-scale security operation:

A mini-Tiananmen, as I have written before. Ex-Brotherhood, Kamal al-Helbawy in a TV interview has reminded the audience of September 1970, whenKing Hussein ordered a full-scale attack on Palestinian “freedom fighters” in Jordan. Of course the parallel is not exactly right, as there are many differences between the two scenarios, particularly as the Islamists in Egypt are mostly peaceful. However, it is an example of a brutal crackdown that worked effectively against a defiant underdog.

 2-    The Taksim Model

 Many have suggested more gentle methods to disperse the sit-ins, mainly a collection of actions using water-canons and tear gas. This worked in Turkey and the Turkish police have managed to successfully end the sit-in in Gezi Park with a minimum loss of life. The pro-Morsi crowds in Egypt, however, are more defiant and openly seeking martyrdom. Water and tear gas may not be enough to disperse them.

 3-    A political deal

This is precisely what the Brotherhood is after, a deal that they can sell to their supporters as victory and reward for their defiance. The ceasefire deals in Gaza and in South Lebanon were always marketed as a proof of “victory.”  Morsi’s supporters have three main demands: the return of Morsi as president, the 2012 Constitution, and the reinstatement of a Shura Council. Any deal that may include any of this, even temporarily, will be considered as a huge achievement. Again, despite El Baradei enthusiasm and local and international efforts, it is unlikely that such a compromise deal will be achieved.

4- Indifference:

 There is a possible fourth way that the Egyptian authorities may try: Simply ignore Rabaa and Nahda as if they do not exist.  No official statements, no media comments, and no threats. Ignoring you opponents can be a good anger draining exercise, which may render their defiance as meaningless. The hope is, sooner or later, the Brotherhood and other Islamists may learn the hard lesson that many non-Islamists have learned after Mohamed Mahmoud, and Occupying the cabinet that protests and sit-ins are effective in the short term, but the longer they continue, the more ineffective they become.

 The tragedy of the Muslim Brotherhood is not the July 3 coup, but their inability to behave as politicians. The Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins are a reflection of a feckless resistance movement that has dramatically failed to play politics.

Interestingly, three prominent, pro-Morsi, ultra conservative Sheiks, including Sheik Mohamed Hassan has met General Sissi on Friday. According to Sheik Hassan:  “[Al Sissi] called for the sit-ins to be peaceful and promised not to clear them by force.”  There is a big debate about Sissi’s religious and political affiliation (if any). This debate is linked to a broader discussion about the difference between conservatism and Islamism in the Muslim world. In general, Most of the Egyptian army cadres are pious, conservative, and may find Salafi literalism appealing. Many of them may revere ultra conservative leaders like Sheik Hassan, however, they may view organized groups like the Muslim Brotherhood with unease. 

 It is also worth mentioning that there is a subtle difference between the Rabaa and the Nahada camps, as Khlail al-Anani rightly hinted: “The difference between Rabaa and Nahda is exactly the difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists.” It is pointless to predict what option the military and the Egyptians authorities will finally choose to end the sit-in, however, by choosing to meet Sheik Hassan, Sissi may want to exploit the ideological differences between the two camps, as a key strategy to end the sit-ins.

Good Read 


  • General Sissi’s interview with the Washington Post
  • Video of Mohammed El Baradei‘s interview on Al-Hayat TV (Arabic)

Finally, here are Jayson Casper‘s prayers for Egypt

About nervana111

Doctor, blogger and Commentator on Middle East issues. The only practising doctor who write in Middle Eastern politics in UK.
This entry was posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt, June30 and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Egyptian Aak- Week 31. The Anatomy of Defiance

  1. nedhamson says:

    Reblogged this on Ned Hamson Second Line View of the News and commented:
    Ignoring the failed regime may well be the best strategy to diffuse it…


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