Events in Egypt are going according to script as each actor in the tragedy embraces their assigned post-coup role. The military has vilified the Muslim Brotherhood and all those who support it and deposed President Mohammed Morsi. The Brotherhood refuses to accept the outcome of the June 30 protests, denouncing all who marched against their leader. The ‘us versus them’ narrative propagated by both sides is becoming entrenched and what little middle ground was left after the coup has eroded. Egyptians are internalizing contrasting versions of what has happened to their country since Hosni Mubarak fell. And with each impassioned telling, reconciliation recedes further into the distance.
The Egyptian military has been riding on a high of populism and nationalist fervor that has not been seen in decades. Since the coup, the Egyptian airwaves have been filled with anti-Brotherhood rhetoric. In the name of protecting the integrity of the Egyptian state, the army says it will “clean the streets” of the Brotherhood. Akin to rodents, the Brotherhood has been painted as an internal security threat with global tentacles that reach to and feed off of Turkey, Qatar, and even the United States.
This propaganda appeals to the masses searching for foreign scapegoats to Egypt’s debilitating domestic problems. The vilification of the Brotherhood as terrorists has been an easy sell across much of Egyptian society. The judiciary has had nothing short of an antagonistic relationship with the Brotherhood and has taken the coup as an opportunity to legally clamp down on its members and supporters. In co-ordination with the military, it is presenting weak evidence of Brotherhood links to Islamist forces in the restless part of the northern Sinai. This is another attempt to make the Brotherhood a ‘fifth column’, as the latter are Egyptians by citizenship only; Sinai Bedouins are both literally and figuratively viewed as a separate people by so many Egyptians.
The Muslim Brotherhood has equally vilified those who support the coup. Brotherhood members and supporters have claimed that Coptic Christians’ financial ties to the West were behind the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the coup. Coptic churches, homes, and businesses, have been burned. Making up only 10 per cent of Egypt’s 86 million people – many of whom reside in the rural countryside where poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance reign supreme – Christians are easy targets for zealots and vengeful supporters of the Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood is willing to be sacrificed in the name of pursuing its own grand ideology. The military is content with killing hundreds of Brotherhood supporters with the support of many Egyptians supporters who will cheer and carry soldiers on the shoulders of jubilant people. These two very powerful narratives leave no room in the middle for moderates, for those who may be liberals and democrats strongly against emergency law and military violence. Not surprisingly, Mohamad El Baradei quit as vice-president and the April 6 revolutionary movement that gave birth to the Jan. 25, 2011 overthrow of Mubarak authoritarianism also rejects the clamp down.
The death toll will continue to rise, the number of injured will also rise as time elapses, the curfew will be ignored by hardline supporters of the Brotherhood leading to further clashes with security forces, and the hate and rhetoric of both sides will be elevated to soaring highs. Breaking up the Brotherhood sit-ins is easier than mending the wounds of an increasingly polarized society. There are no winners, and all Egyptians will pay the price of constant vilification of the other today and in the future.
Bessma Momani is asssociate professor at the University of Waterloo’s Balsillie School of International Affairs and senior fellow at Centre for International Governance and Innovation and the Brookings Institution.