Raba’a el-Adawyia, an Arab girl born in Iraq in a humble background was the fourth born child in her family, so her dad named her Rabaa, or fourth in Arabic. Rabaa was known for her ascetic life and for her Sufi poems.
In Egypt, there is a mosque named after Raba’a al-Adawyia that is situated in a square in Nasr city, a suburb of Cairo. On June 28, the pro-Morsi supporters picked this square for their sit-in; an encampment that continued for 7 weeks until the Egyptian police ruthlessly end it on Black Wednesday. The crackdown, understandably, has created a shock wave around the globe. The images of the dead victims (more than 600) have rightly trigged a sense of disgust and outrage. August 14 will be marked forever as a black, shameful day in the history of Egypt.
As I wrote last Sunday, the best way to deal with the Islamists’ sit-ins is to ignore them, until the numbers gradually fade. Unfortunately, the current Egyptian leadership has opted for the exact opposite; a bullish response that was not gradual. There were various non-lethal methods that could be tried first; however, all were ignored and ruthlessness was the police and army’s choice. Their ruthless actions (as Iyad El-Baghdadi aptly describe it) effectively whitewashed the Muslim Brotherhood’s obscene, dystopian atmosphere they created inside the sit-ins in which there was a consistent twist of the Islamic faith to serve their political goals, and intensive sectarian rhetoric against the Copts for the “supporting the coup.”
One the best analyses I read after the carnage was by Brain Whitaker: “Two-and-a-half years after the uprising against the Mubarak regime so many people still hanker after authoritarian solutions.” He rightly pointed out that the Muslim Brotherhood is playing the same cynical game as the military: “They have reverted to playing the role of aggrieved victim—a role in which the military have assisted by providing them with martyrs.” I am glad that these words were written by a Guardian journalist__. If any Egyptian had written something similar, he or she would be accused of siding by the Junta and dehumanizing the Islamists.
In a piece published in the New York Times, Rick Gladstone gathered the opinions of analysts and experts who have suggested “the ferocity of the attack…had been a deliberate calculation of the military-appointed government to provoke violence from the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies.”
This theory could indeed be true; however, it has two main flaws. First, it postulates that the police’s brutal methods are almost exclusively reserved to be used against Islamists. This theory ignores the long history of murder and torture that the Junta has committed since Nasser. The angry mobs that defied the central authorities in 1972, 1977, and 1986 were not from the Islamists, yet they all were ruthlessly killed or tortured. The difference today, is the higher numbers and the existence of social media that has spread the gory images of the victims.
Authoritarianism is an endemic virus that chronically occupies the Egyptian psyche regardless of political or ideological affiliation. There is a question that an apolitical friend from Cairo asked me, and I resisted answering: If Morsi is still in power with a loyal army, and the Tamarod rebels were the occupier of Rabaa, would he leave them alone? Or would he ruthlessly crush them? I honestly do not want to speculate, but the answer to this question could define the crisis in Egypt. Many in Egypt now have stopped believing that Ballot boxes are a cure for tyranny because, in their eyes, it legalizes authoritarianism, and they prefer an overt autocracy than a covert one.
There is another problem with the Galdstone piece; it somehow infantilizes Islamists as if they are easily tricked. I find this difficult to believe, especially in view of their 80-year history in politics and more than 60 years of turbulent confrontations with the Junta. Since late June, the Islamists have refused to take the army’s threats seriously, they dismissed Sissi’s ultimatum, and looked surprised by the coup; later in Rabaa, they dismissed the threat of ending the sit-in and claimed that it was just psychological warfare. There is no explanation to this absurd behavior except an utter underestimation of their enemy that has led to tragic miscalculations.
The stakes for Egypt are high; many are rightly predicting the return of a dark tyrannical era that will make Mubarak rule look soft and mild.
I humbly appeal to the Muslim Brotherhood to listen to the voice of reason; defiance and marches may attract the world’s sympathy, but it will neither stop the bloodshed in Egypt nor revert the country back to the democratic path. Syria is a living example of the failure of the international community to stop the on-going bloodshed. Iran is another example of the failure of boycott as a method to stop tyranny. The United States and the EU could withdraw their aid if they want; however, they must understand that their actions will have minimum impact on the ground, particularly after the Gulf pledged aid. The lack of western leverage in Egypt will only force the country to bed other autocratic regimes.
The only way to defeat the Junta is to stop playing into their hands; by taking a step back to lick the bleeding wounds, withdraw from the streets, and focus on winning back their other partners in the January 2011 revolution. This may take time; serious reflection on last year’s tragic mistakes is needed and major reforms inside the Brotherhood’s autocratic system is the only way to restore democracy in Egypt. If Rabaa is a symbol, it is certainly not a symbol of defiance or victory as Mr. Erdogan likes to promote, but a symbol of devotion and divine love, two qualities that are truly lacking at the moment. The Islamists are now the underdogs and they need, more than anyone else, to play a smarter game that will restore their credibility in the Egyptian streets.
Egypt is now bitterly divided; those who are genuine are no longer powerful; however, decision makers, on both sides, may not necessarily be genuine. It is time to remember our revolution and our struggle for freedom, justice, and equality. That is our only salvation. Nonetheless, the burden is not just on the Islamists’ shoulders, non-Islamists must stop cheering the Junta. Demonizing the Islamists will neither uproot them from Egypt nor it will make the conservative public cheer for liberalism. Both sides must grow–up and “wake-up.” Until this happen, please stop playing the “four” symbol because it is frankly meaningless.