A Walk Among the Tombstones
Fans of the hardboiled detective, rejoice. Screenwriter-director Scott Frank and actor Liam Neeson, adapting the splendid work of crime novelist Lawrence Block, have brought a…
[Editor's note: This is a first-person account of the political crisis in Egypt, sent to us by an Egyptian who wishes to remain anonymous.]
"Do I stop, or not?"
I ask myself this question as I pass by what appears to be a broken down car on a deserted highway to a burning city. The fact that I find myself merely asking this question saddens me. Two years ago there would be at least five other cars parked behind that car offering help even if help is already provided. Today, far too many stories of holdups, kidnappings, and murders have run through my ears for me to take a decision as blindly as before.
The first thing you notice in Egypt are the people. Okay, it's not. First comes the heat, then the traffic and after that you notice the people. They are the most friendly of all people. They will do anything to make one laugh. If it means repeating the same joke three times in a row, at the end of the day an Egyptian will make you laugh, if not at his sense of humor than at him.
Most Egyptian jokes are the self-mocking type. It comes as no surprise that Egyptian jokes circulate and thrive most during the toughest of times. The second Morsi was ousted and the military started arresting members of the Muslim Brotherhood, my uncle looked at the whole family who were gathered up around the TV and said: "Okay, guys. This is the perfect time to go into the shaving business. I'm telling you, Gillette is making a fortune right now. I'm not joking. Scores of Islamists are probably at home shaving off their beards right now, the other half are at supermarkets waiting in line asking for Mach 3 blades." Humor is the only thing that is helping us endure the tragedy that is surrounding us. Today, for the first time in my life, I feel Egypt has lost its sense of humor.
At seven o'clock in the afternoon, the streets of Cairo are as silent as a mummy's tomb. The country is on lockdown after the powers that be declared a state of emergency. We're all abiding by a curfew implemented by the military. The city that once swarmed with people and cars is now quiet and empty. Looking outside the window I feel like I'm witnessing a scene out of a post-apocalyptic film. I never thought I would say this, but I miss the traffic of Cairo so much.
"Wahshany ya Masr." (I miss you, Egypt.) is on the lips of every Egyptian. Nobody knows what to think or feel anymore. Every day, violence seems to erupt at one place or another. On Fridays, the city seems to break into flames. During the curfew, silence takes over the streets except for the occasional outburst of gunfire echoing somewhere in the distance. Every day we hear of soldiers dying by the dozens in Sinai. We hear of more arrests being made and the weapons caught with those aiming to spread chaos. Dozens of prisoners try to escape, just the other day 36 prisoners died when a group of armed men tried to freed political leaders held within one prison. It seems that every day lives are being lost; some days the daily death toll rises to over 500 fatalities.
So how did Egypt reach this point? It is difficult to find a starting point to how things escalated this far. Do I start with the downfall of Mubarak? The rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood? Perhaps it's best to start with the end of the first revolution. After Mubarak stepped down and stood trial, the country was full of hope. For the first time in my life, I did not see the future of my country. The sense of unpredictability was exciting and every Egyptian looked at the bright side. The worst was behind us and we were entering a phase of endless possibilities.
When the presidential elections took place, Egyptians were left with two candidates backed by the two most powerful parties in the nation. Morsi who was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood eventually won the elections with 51.75% of the vote compared to 48.25% of the vote gained by Mubarak's last Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik. Now, don't let the statistics here fool you. If you want to understand why Egypt had a second uprising, you'll have to dig a bit deeper into those numbers. You see, most Egyptians were furious that they had to choose between the most organized and feared political party in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, and a member of the former regime. It seemed to many that we never had a choice.
They were the only two parties with the infrastructure and money to pull off successful presidential campaigns, and therefore, other more fitting candidates never even had a chance. So what happened? Tens of millions decided to boycott the elections. At the end, Morsi won the presidential elections with little over 13 million votes. Compare this number with the total population of Egypt (86 million) and you'll understand that Morsi's win did not represent the will of the majority. Egypt shouldn't have rushed into elections at a time when only two organized yet fairly unpopular parties had what it takes to become victors. The elections were in that sense unfair to everyone.
Nevertheless, Egypt kept its hopes up high. Those who feared the Brotherhood and their image as national villains stayed optimistic about their rise. If we never give them a chance, we'll never know for sure if they're good or bad. After all, the Mubarak regime might have purposely vilified them for maintain a power grip. Right? Shortly after Morsi successfully negotiated a ceasefire in Gaza and for the briefest of moments we all thought Egypt was in good hands. His next move proved to be the start of his downfall.
Morsi suddenly started making one bad decision after the other. First he granted himself sweeping powers that even Mubarak didn't possess. The new self-appointed powers essentially made him immune to legal challenge. After that he rewrote the constitution with help of other Muslim Brotherhood members, neglecting the voices of all other political parties. The new constitution was and still is a complete joke. But Morsi didn't stop there; he started flooding the government with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and we know now that he attempted to do the same to the army but ultimately failed to place members of his party at high ranks of the military. In short, he was labeled the new Pharaoh.
Meanwhile, prices are rising, the stock market is falling, the economy is at its worst, a shortage of gas and fuel erupts and crime rises. Each and every decision Morsi took felt like a blow to the promises of the revolution. So Egyptians tried to fight his sudden self-appointed dictatorship using the pen not the sword. A petition started circulating cities to change the constitution. Eventually 22 million signatures disapproved of him, that's almost twice as many votes as he received to win the elections.
The petition was largely ignored and so Egyptians took it to Tahrir once again. This time, millions turned up. BBC later called the protest against Morsi the largest protest in mankind history. Morsi then gave a very long speech that sent out a clear message to everyone. He wouldn't listen to any demands, and threatened that if the people don't choose him, they choose blood. Naturally this made everyone furious, and the army started siding with the people. A second revolution was born.
This is when foreign media started debating whether it was a coup or not. The military officially ousted Morsi and put in place an intermediate government with the promise of new elections. The US media seemed to have misunderstood this coup and so the military asked Egyptians who supported the coup to go to Tahrir—and a new record was born. So what was it? Is it a coup? Definitely. Is it a coup supported by the majority of the population? Most definitely. Morsi had the chance to make political changes but he failed to listen and with fury the demands of the people became more severe. They wanted him out. It was as simple as that: Egyptians had their fair share of dictatorship and when a dictator refuses to step down, only one other power can—the army.
The army in Egypt is a bit confusing for foreigners. There's a sacred bond between the people and the army. We've always respected them, because they essentially run 40% of the economy and remain neutral to all events till they figure out the will of the people. Anyway, here's when things started turning ugly. Bombs where being found under bridges. Footage of angry extremists taking lives started circulating the web; the most shocking of which was of a group of Morsi supporters throwing a 16-year-old off a roof in Alexandria.
The army was at a very critical position. They had to take action against protestor promoted to be "peaceful" by the foreign media. If they did, they'd risk foreign intervention, if they didn't—anarchy. So, they essentially asked the people of Egypt to help them by showing the world that they support the handling of terrorists by the army. This sent out some doubt in people's minds. Was the army asking Egyptians to support a violent action against Morsi supporters at Itahediya Square? It doesn't matter what they meant, what happened was that millions did take it to the square and the army got their approval.
A week after Ramadan, we saw the repercussions of this approval. The army moved in hard. They took over the squares, but it wasn't easy. Unlike the protests at Tahrir square, the Morsi supporters were heavily armed. It became a battlefield. Both sides lost a lot of lives, but one thing was for sure, if it was indeed a peaceful protest, they wouldn't be armed. If it was a peaceful protest for the good of Egypt's future, they wouldn't announce that they are a state of their own with their own government. If it was a peaceful protest we wouldn't see footage of Morsi supporters killing one another to increase their death toll for sympathy. They wouldn't have paid families 400,000 Pounds for the bodies of their dead children and we wouldn't be seeing masked Hamas forces shooting at the army.
Here's when everything took a very dark turn and the country was and still is on lockdown. Last Friday, a group of Morsi supporters walked the bridge past curfew and started shooting live ammunition into random balconies of surrounding buildings in my area. Buildings were set on fire and I fear the coup essentially gave birth to angry terrorist groups. It makes sense, the ousting of Morsi by the people implemented by the army was more or less the nail in the coffin for future Islamist rule. So, what is happening in Egypt is very sad indeed. Egyptians don't want the army to rule and they don't want the Brotherhood to regain power.
A lot of foreigners think that Egyptians should've waited for the presidential term to end before voting against them, but Egypt is a third world country with a very shaky electoral system. In four years, the Muslim Brotherhood would be the most dominating party in Egypt. Fraud is an undeniable probability and what would've happened is most probably a domino effect where one member gives power to the next as was the case with Mubarak using fraud to maintain rule. It was now or never. That still doesn't mean any of this is right or wrong. Egypt is becoming the next harbor of terrorists because of the recent ouster of Morsi and if Morsi had stayed it could've become the next Iran. What we all want is Egypt.
I park my car behind my fellow Egyptian. He looks at me surprised; he's about the age of my father. "What are you crazy? Why did you stop? I could've been a violent fanatic. Don't ever stop for anyone, kid. I have a son and I wouldn't want him to stop for anyone under these circumstances." We both laugh and fix his car.
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