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Feeling for Egypt

I am so saddened by the situation in Egypt. Not that i ever thought it would be easy. But I did hope that the events in Tahrir square over a year ago would have brought all sides together to create something for everybody, all Egyptians. I do hope that they can all be guided by God towards understanding and dialogue; and compromise, which is essential.

The Tahrir square revolution sent a wonderfully strong signal to all the Muslim world and well beyond, which can never be forgotten or ignored; but it also drew all Egyptians together, gave them a sense of belonging, and a pride in their country and in what they could achieve. It would be a tragedy if this feeling should be lost because of internal strife. The Muslim Brotherhood before the elections appeared to me, a Westerner who is informed by Western media, as the embodiment of the extreme Islamic fringe in Egypt. But when they won by a landslide I was encouraged to assume that if such a great swathe of the population had chosen it, it could not be such an extreme party. It now appears that this was a wrong conclusion: on the wave of his success President Morsi had apparently begun an immediate clamp-down on all Islamic matters which included many of the day-to-day aspirations of the (predominantly young) Egyptians.

Or did he? And if this had been his intention from the start, how is it possible that he won so many votes? Did he keep his true intentions from his potential followers? Or are the majority of Egyptians actually prone to having a strict and conservative Islamic State? I think I would like to understand what lies underneath this upheaval, which does not appear to me to be at all clear. There is no doubt that the Egyptian interim government is making a gross mistake in sending out the army to mow down protesters. This will exacerbate and deepen divisions and create enmities which will last for many years. But the key to the situation is to understand what the two sides really want. Are they really so clearly divided, in black and white terms, between the ‘liberals’ who want to adopt all the ‘progressive’ forms of life, western style, and the ‘traditionalists’, who are keen to follow a conservative, religious-oriented form of government? It seems unlikely. I am sure that the vast majority of the ‘liberals’ also consider themselves to be good Muslims; and that the vast majority of ‘traditionalists’ are quite happy to listen to pop music and watch American trash action movies. So why the violent uprising, and the violent repression? Can there be no dialogue between the sides?

Seen from London, and interpreted by someone who certainly is no expert of Middle Eastern politics, the easy answer is that Morsi inspired the Egyptian people with a vision of embarking on a nationalist path based on Islamic principles and free from US interference. He was then hampered by the Egyptian Mubarak-era elite which clearly still hold the majority of the levers of power, and which was encouraged by the US to resist Morsi. So, essentially back to the US, as usual. But Morsi made the mistake of behaving in a Mubarak-like style (possibly a tendency to heavy-handed plodding typical of the Egyptian political psyche?) by trying to overcome his difficulties and his limitations through the grabbing of all power to himself and possibly overestimating the fundamentalist leanings of Egyptians as a whole. He should have (but probably could not have, in today’s Egypt) talked to his enthusiastic followers and asked them to support his fight, while reassuring the others that he was on their side, too. He should (since I believe he is no Middle-Eastern Taliban) have adopted measures which demonstrated his intentions to the Egyptian people. He should have had, and shown, faith in his own people, the whole people of Egypt. All this is wishful thinking of course. But it seems to show in my opinion that the answer to the problem rests with the political meddling of an entrenched Mubarak-era elite and powerful army, too used to brokering power and dependent on heavy subsidies from the United States; and to a way of making politics and of governing which have been surpassed by the events of the Arab Spring, which have placed the Egyptians at the forefront of what could be one of the most seminal events of a generation not only in the Middle East but by reflection in the world at large. We must make sure that we do not appear to condone the reactionary forces which are at work in Egypt at the moment.

We must make sure that we support those, from all sides, who are struggling to free themselves from foreign blackmail in order to build a society for themselves on their own terms and in their own image. It will not be easy. But in the long run no-one has ever been able to suppress the aspirations of a whole people.

Brandino Machiavelli is a retired documentary filmmaker who now works in business development consultancy. He is a Fellow of the Muslim Institute.