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A stranger in the motherland

By Amr Khalifa The Cairo sun beat down mercilessly upon landing at the airport; it would not compare to the emotional assault of a 40-day odyssey into the valley of the divided: Egypt. What made the trip eventful was not that it was a return home. Though the nation was not at war, per se, …


Amr Khalifa
Amr Khalifa

By Amr Khalifa

The Cairo sun beat down mercilessly upon landing at the airport; it would not compare to the emotional assault of a 40-day odyssey into the valley of the divided: Egypt.

What made the trip eventful was not that it was a return home. Though the nation was not at war, per se, this was still the dominant tone at nearly every gathering I was privy to during that time.

A coup had unfolded only three weeks before, but cognitive dissidence played its hand, and through this writer’s eyes the tumult was still categorised as a revolutionary coup. Every hour of every day was a learning experience of the sort that few wish to partake in. My logic behind this trip was that the psychological, political and intellectual pressures of Muslim Brotherhood rule have taken such a hefty toll on the family unit, indeed on most of the nation, that only the warmth of the motherland could rectify the imbalance. Few assumptions have been more incorrect. By the time the plane was boarded to return stateside, Egypt would experience its most violent summer in modern history. When all was said and done, families and friends torn asunder would be a glaring understatement. To become a stranger in the motherland is a death for those who employ both mind and heart. One year later, Egypt remains divided as ever. Looking back we should have all seen it coming.

The taste of a truly delicious meal was lingering when the question was posed to the family gathered: “Who would be going to the demonstration?” Several days prior to my arrival, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the driving force behind the coup, had emotionally reached out to the nation and asked them to “come out, come out and remind the whole world that you have a will and resolve of your own”. The reason for the massive gathering, it would quickly become clear, would be nothing so innocent. Al-Sisi wanted a green light for the elimination of the Muslim Brotherhood and he got it. On that preceding night, the heart said to go, the journalist within wanted to observe history but the mind was hearing a terrifying tonality. At a post dinner tea, there was only one tenor to political discourse: bloodlust. Over and over again, people spoke with a united voice: we almost lost the nation, they (the MB) should pay, enough blood – but ironically enough, no hesitation in spilling MB blood to “avoid” bloodshed. That tidal wave of anger did not welcome or invite any dissenting voices – no matter the rhetoric. So the demonstrations, complete with air force flyovers, green lasers, and millions in the large cities’ streets came and went without my attendance. That would become one of the few situations where pain was avoided during that historic summer.

But this was a relentless summer in its ability to uncover how divided the nation had become and how this phenomena had slithered its way into Egyptian living and dining rooms. “Roll over them with tanks for all I care.” Life has come to a stand-still in the centre of Cairo. “This needs to stop now,” said one of the guests at a dinner I attended. One year later that sentence rolls over me as would that tank. But that is a guttural reaction to the invisible elephant in the room: a military fascism that overwhelmed Egyptian society in reaction to its religious counterpart. After a short time spent at contemplation it was clear: one did not justify the other. Nonetheless, this is where Egypt found itself: squarely in the crosshairs of a fascism that justified, accepted and encouraged any state violence.

In very short order, one mini massacre followed another. Imagine if 50 Frenchmen were gunned down by the French government? Think what would happen if, on an early morning, New York police gunned down 98 Americans? Do you think a Japanese administration can withstand a similar slaughter? But this is precisely what happened in Cairo multiple times prior to the Rabaa massacre. Every justification in the book was found for the state, the police, the army and military police. The deep state fully understood the concept: enough hate had been pumped into the Egyptian sphere, because of numerous mistakes made by a largely incompetent Morsi administration and an incessant, pro-state propaganda machine, that a carte blanche to decapitate the Muslim Brotherhood had been granted.

On the evening of 13 August 2013 one final attempt was made, by fate, to rescue this odyssey from utter failure: the car I was in was on its way to Sharm El-Sheikh, Sinai. Languid turquoise seas, with its attendant accoutrement, lay in wait with open arms. Upon sunrise body and sea would meet, so the thinking went. It would not be.

My first interaction with the Rabaa massacre was a soul deflating picture of an Egyptian mother hovering over her 20 year old’s lifeless body. The caption, on Twitter, read “Mohamed was not a terrorist, he was my childhood friend. Mohamed was no terrorist”. If you looked closely enough you could see a tear gently rolling down the author’s cheek. The Rabaa dispersal had begun and Egypt would never be the same. Ever. Egyptians had been told, over and over, the Rabaa encampment, with nearly 20,000 occupants, on a daily basis, for over five weeks, contained terrorists and heavy weaponry. Public opinion was primed for a massacre and many called for it. The Mohameds of the world, a young man who was shuttling medication into the pharmacy on the Rabaa grounds, were seen by many as an unfortunate blip on the radar.

In the coming hours only two things followed: bodies and bullets. Photographs of burned bodies in tents started populating social media. The increase in body count didn’t jump by the single digits but rather in the tens with every updated figure by both western media and Egyptian Ministry of Health. Rabaa square wasn’t the only scene of bloodshed in Cairo or Egypt. No corner was spared: on the other end of the capital there was a reactionary bloodbath at a police station in Kerdasa which left eleven police officers dead after Islamists used RPGS and machine guns. At the Nahda sit-in, the gunfire was non-stop and the deaths mounted to exceed 100 at the end of the police siege of the centrally located sit-in near Cairo University. But the massive massacre at Rabaa was the focal point of “the largest massacre in modern Egyptian history”, as HRW would later call it. Video emerging from the location showed huge bulldozers marching into the camp ground as both the tent encampments and the large mosque were on fire, bodies lay strewn. It was a symbolic scene of a nation on fire.

The Egyptian regime systematically, as it had previously, sought to tamp down death toll figures to the 650 range. In the end, most western news media employed a figure of near 1,000 on that historic day, as recorded by highly respected independent watchdog WikiThawra. The Islamist camp continues, one year later, to speak of significantly higher numbers nearing 2500 dead. Regardless of which figure you find closer to reality, the days to come saw more significant bloodshed in central Cairo with Muslim Brotherhood supporters jumping off 6 October Bridge to avoid death by police machine guns. That day over 150 would be dead. Dead also would be any humanity, in most circles. The reaction of the vast majority when confronted by the carnage, stunningly, was “Only one thousand killed? It could have been much worse,” or a variation of “is that all?”

This perspective, while lacking in both humanity and empathy, became the governing norm and for mainstream media facts became a troubling afterthought. Within the same week, after the massacre, [Minister of Interior] Mohamed Ibrahim gave a press conference where he said, without equivocation, that in the large Rabaa encampment that there were only “19 automatic rifles; one hand gun; 29 shotguns; 11 handmade weapons ; 2622 bullets; 55 Molotov cocktails”. Consider for a moment that Rabaa Square and environs, on any given Friday by conservative estimate, contained hundreds of thousands of demonstrators. Even on a weekday, and the dispersal occurred on a Wednesday, there was an estimated 20,000 Egyptians sitting in the camp and quantity of weaponry seized still vastly paled in comparison to the overwhelming deadly force used against largely unarmed civilians.

For a nation that prides itself on religious piety, whether Christian or Muslim, one thing is sadly clear: that façade was blown to smithereens by the Rabaa massacre. Deconstruct metaphysically or existentially any Holy Book you wish but the three major religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, all have respect of human life as a core practice and religious outlook. Rather than denounce this massacre, however, the religious establishment added fuel to highly combustible scenario.  “Hit them as hard as you can. Do not let your soldiers die at the hands of these Kharijites. Have no fear, religion is with you, Allah is with you, His messenger is with you, the believers and the people are with you. Paradise is for those who kill them,” said Ali Gomaa, the former Grand Mufti, a leading Muslim authority, to the soldiers before they went in with full force. Note the extremism of both message and language, there can be no doubt that there is an overlap with ideological content of jihadi groups. In Gomaa’s world the “enemy” is a heathen and the reward is paradise for those who take their life. If a picture is worth a 1,000 words then these words are surely worth, at least, 500.

In the end, the estrangement of one Egyptian in the motherland may not amount to much when counterweighted against the ultra-nationalistic fervour sweeping Egypt. But the day will come when Egypt looks itself in the mirror and sees a stranger. It is only through that masochistic process of self-examination that Egypt will remove itself from its current black hole.

 

Amr Khalifa is a freelance journalist recently published in Ahram Online , Mada Masr and Muftah

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  • Reda Sobky

    I think your alienation from Egypt comes from your infection with the virus of Euro American exceptionalism and superiority. Living in America I watch political killings on TV every day. A big black guy on a sidewalk selling a pack of cigarettes attacked and murdered on TV by four policemen in New York by choking him in slow motion. I am not here to tell you things are not much better anywhere else, just better hidden. The game of numbers leads nowhere as the bloodiest civil war of all time occurred on these US shores. Nations go through social upheavals when the dialectic reaches a point of collision and implosion and synthesis (Marxist dialectic) or in other words an evolutionary bifurcation had been reached in which there were only two clear alternatives to the conflict and Egypt choose the less bloody alternative in comparison to Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Tunisia only had Salafies, so they could try to work it out through the poetical process but your guys, the deposed, were and are crypto ISIS and worse. This was not a political party or a political movement it was a genocidal force that is capable of burning the largest number of churches burnt in one day in all of history, not just Egyptian history but world history. Forty seven burning belfries on the same day. i don’t think there is anything more complex than accomplishing a murderous task like that all over Egypt simultaneously.
    On a more personal level having lived in the US for forty some years, served in the US army in the Vietnam era and otherwise experienced things here too, I don’t think there would be hesitation to launch an attack on an armed camp defying state power and seeking to bring it down if they were bent on murdering government workers. Even low level defiance such as in Waco Texas and Philadelphia resulted in a SWAT assault with incendiaries dropped from the sky onto the compound and you know what the casualties were even though it was only dozens resisting. The deposed was not Mahatma Ghandy types and if you didn’t know what they had in mind, Egyptians new and they also new it was now or never and they had to do what it takes because everybody also new they would try to stage death events in order to become the victim in the power equation so that the west can help them get what they want. And the west is duped, just like I feel you are, this was what the situation had degenerated into, a fight for survival, kill or be killed and as usual, the explosion of violence happened as the inevitable result of this level of social conflict with a measure of economy in human life compared to any civll war in Japan, USA or Europe and please let me remind you of the history of Japan internally and externally plus Europe and the US have the bloodiest history of all in internal killing. It is disingenuous to say that the death of fifty citizens by government action would be so decried in countries like Japan or Europe that they could not happen. In order for these societies to reach the point they have now reached they had to go through levels of violence internally and externally even beyond your imagination, especially if you have not served and experienced high conflict situations yourself.
    So in summary, you sound like the smart transcultural guy who wants to be popular in western media and I don’t begrudge it to you but try not do it at the expense of Egypt and the determination of its people to refuse to be ruled by ISIS confederates.
    Ibset el khawagat we ool lohom el awzine yesma-ooh kidah tengah

    • David Walker

      I like how you accuse him of being West-struck and then cite Western excesses in support of your crimes. Apparently you need no reason beyond that the White Man did it in order of it to be justified.

      • What?

        Again, with even more emphasis, MEEN EL M3ARAS DAH?

      • long live palestine

        Hi white,
        Speak to the Egyptians about their excesses after you post on Haaretz about Israeli crimes in Gaza. Oh and don’t forget to include a postscript about the 1 billion dollars worth of arms replenished to the IDF by your race.

        • David Walker

          Boy, forget the internet. I’ve been in protests in support of Palestine in person in some of the most Zionist areas of the US. Gotten cursed at, insulted and generally abused more than once and I will again.

          Now are you prepared to not shoot the messenger and listen when I tell you the same thing I tell Zionists? Or will you play the same game they do, pointing to other people to excuse their own crimes?

          • long live palestine

            LOL

            “I’ve been in protests in support of Palestine in person in some of the most Zionist areas of the US.”
            LOOOL you certainly are a big man. what’s next? you gonna try kibbeh nayeh?
            I rest my case.

          • David Walker

            I’ve tried to do my bit, but I’m a lot smaller man that anyone who stands up to the dictatorship in Egypt. Yet I notice you say nothing at all about my argument, the fact that the West does it does not make it good. Address the argument, not the person.

          • Long Live Palestine

            Actually, I tried to bold “in the US”, then it was lost in submission.
            Point is you are no hero when you speak this from the comforts of the usa. Try picking up a rock in front of Shin Bet.
            Also, try reasoning with an extremist bearded Egyptian walking across the Nile bridge with an RPG draped across his shoulder and tell him this is no way Muslims should act. These officers and the government are simply heros. No less

          • David Walker

            As I said, others have made sacrifices greater than mine, though I suspect I’ve done more than you. It’s not exactly hard to be anti-Zionist in the Arab world, and you are supporting the most pro-Zionist, anti-Palestinian movement in Arab history.

            Try telling the tens of thousands of people being tortured for wanting their vote to count why your fear of non-existant threats justifies raping them. Or explain to my Palestinian friends why your precious regime refuses to allow their relatives medical supplies. Of course, you’d have to actually stand up to a regime that allows you no more rights than the Israelis do to occupied Palestinians.

            You are the same as the Zionists, only worse because you justify the murder, torture and abuse of your own people. Indeed, you support a government that sells the lives of Palestinians drop by drop to the US for the weapons to murder its citizens. Open your eyes. You are being used as a tool.

          • long live palestine

            Wow, leave it to an American to convince you that his conjecture is indeed fact. Being, anti-Hamas does not make Sisi pro-Zionist or anti-Palestinian. There is a West Bank Palestinian Authority on excellent terms with Egypt, right? There is an Egypt today with unfailing efforts to bring truce between these imbeciles, correct? Can you say that much for your country?
            In addition, Just like the person stated above, 30 million Egyptians came out in the streets in July 2013 to give the government a popular mandate to uproot terrorism, even if that terrorism is outside Egypt. Who is really being tooled? Which country truly is a Republic, in service of its majority? I would veture to say that not even you would answer USA to this question.

          • David Walker

            Everyone who reads newspapers not controlled by the Egyptian government knows Sisi is pushing for a tightening of the siege and keeping the living standards of Palestinians in Gaza as low as possible. They also report the Israel called Sisi every day to make sure the number of civilian dead wasn’t too much for him, and every single day he said to keep on bombing. Egypt is trying to negotiate a truce as much in Israel’s favor as possible. Even the US, bad as it is, has done more to pressure Israel, restricting certain weapons exports. Europe is far better, demanding the Palestinians receive a port.

            But I’m glad you admit that you stand with Israel in the Gaza massacre. Just don’t say it in a room full of Palestinians, from the Gaza or the West Bank. Traitors are never greatly loved.

            Your 30 million is a myth, ridiculed by the rest of the world. Your war on terror is a sick joke, an excuse for the atrocities that have made the Egyptian government world famous as a hilariously incompetent bloody dictatorship. Even left-wing Arab papers outside Egypt damn you.

            Are you brave enough to look beyond the lies your government feeds you? You clearly have command of English and internet access. A whole world awaits if you have courage to break your mental chains.

          • long live palestine

            I’m sorry but when you cite examples like you did above with Sisi’s tightening of Gaza siege,(then the Egyptians send an aid convoy and accept Palestinians injured to Egyptian hospitals), Israel calling him daily; then, you say the US weapons exports to Israel are restricted, I really have to wonder from where you get your information.
            Perhaps, it is these conspiracy theories going about inside your head that chain you.
            The only people ridiculing Egypt are Westerners and more specifically, Americans. Russia and China certainly do not and neither do Saudis, Kuwaitis, Emiratis. Mark my words American, your ridicule will come at a price. And I know you feel it is coming.

          • David Walker

            As I said, read newspapers not controlled by your government.

            Egypt has restricted aid heavily e.g. http://news.yahoo.com/egyptian-military-block-activist-aid-convoy-gaza-141515792.html

            The aid it send was rotten. http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/20810 If you claim the West is biased against you, this is a left-wing, secular Lebanese newspaper.

            The US has indeed restricted some weapons to Israel. I’ll grant you it’s a tiny fraction of what we should be doing, but at least we aren’t Egypt.

            http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.610748

            It’s midnight here and I have to be up in 6 hours, so you are on your own to find the one where Sisi told the Israelis to go ahead and keep bombing. I’m sure you’ll claim the whole world is in a conspiracy to make your particular tin-pot dictator sound bad though, but if you ever want suggestions on places where you can find information not filtered by your tyrannical government, I’ll be happy to help.

            The governments of the Gulf certainly support your war on Arab democracy. If the people do or not I can’t say, most of my Arab contacts are Lebanese or Palestinian so I’m not so plugged into the Gulf. But spare me the threats of your little tin-pot dictator. You can’t have me tortured like you would anybody who told you these things in Egypt, so you’ll have to get over the fact that you can be show up.

          • long live palestine

            LOL, you tell me not to read newspapers controlled by Egyptian govt so you send me one controlled by the American govt?

            Btw, the yahoo article said this

            “The Egyptian military had earlier said it was sending 500 tonnes of food and medical aide to the besieged enclave.”

            It restricted buses of activists only.

            Furthermore, your second article states this in the last paragraph:

            They quoted a spokesperson for the president saying, “We are quite aware that this Egyptian aid was part of the supplies prepared by the Egyptian armed forces for the Egyptian people at distribution points during the month of Ramadan,” adding that the aid “was recently prepared and stored and is of the same quality consumed by Egyptians.”

            Rotten food no less than what we consume? This is classic example of giving out of your need and not out of your abundance. There is also an American saying: “beggars can’t be choosers”, right?

            Uh huh, I see the little tin-pot dictator threatens the big bad American wolf so the wolf cries tyrant.
            I really have a hard time believing that your whitewashed Palestinian and Lebanese contacts devalue Egypt’s contributions at peace and smile at your own country’s efforts. I’m sure, at a very minimum, their smiles turn into laughter behind your back.
            Finally, I need not threaten you personally. Going along with the race-conscious overtone you set at the beginning of the discussion above, you are a white man and you will die having tormented yourself and in the throngs of your own suicide as you age into a hopeless, lonely, loveless existence. Trust me. Your feckless and capricious debating will do nothing but serve to drive a wedge between you and your own humanity. It always gets the best of you all, even Robin Williams.
            This will be my final post.

          • David Walker

            The fact that you are seriously trying to argue that Sisi doesn’t maintain the siege of Gaza more aggressively than the Israelis proves you are totally disconnected from reality. Yes, the Egyptian/Zionist regime allow in just enough food to keep people from starving. That doesn’t mean the siege isn’t kept. If you don’t trust me, read what right-wing Zionists have to say, and compare it to Palestinians.

            http://electronicintifada.net/content/egypts-propagandists-and-gaza-massacre/13662

            http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4557901,00.html

            This is broadly representative of the discourse of the Palestinians and Zionists I know. Palestinians don’t discount Egypt’s peace mediation, they revile it. I’ve met quite a few Palestinians in the course of my activism and I’ve yet to meet one who like Sisi.

            And while I am considering how I’ll die tormented by my vocal opposition to the person responsible for the largest massacre of protestors in human history, consider that military dictatorship has a poor record, democracy marches on and Palestine will be free. I hope you live to see the day both Egypt and Palestine will be free and don’t worry, we’ll treat you far better than you treated those you opposed. Enjoy your new friendship like Likud.

        • David Walker

          I do think it is funny you think Haaretz is a place where nobody posts about Israeli crimes. It’s one of them most left-wing papers in Israel. Try Ynet if you want a read den of racists.

          If you are going to advocate for the Palestinian cause, at least understand something about it.

          • long live palestine

            I knew very well Haaretz is left-wing. I was giving a fairly easy mission so that even someone of your race can accomplish without, pardon the pun, “losing your color.”

          • David Walker

            Then I assume you know what JPost is and can explain why they are wrong? Or are you in bed with Bibi like your master, Sisi?

            http://www.jpost.com/Experts/HRW-report-on-Egypt-is-misleading-371331

  • What?

    meen el m3aras dah?

    • Hate MB

      Wahed kalb wati esmo Amr khalifa!!

  • Hate MB

    Amr khalifa you are a fucking joke!!!
    As if it burns in you! All of You who are trying everything possible to extinguish the joy, hope and the faith that has returned to the Egyptians!!

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  • Maha

    As Long as the egyptians are of the Kind of People as @Hate MB and @What? There is no hope we could get out of the black hole .. .actually we r heading right at the bottom of the hole . They feel joy with the death of their own country men .

    • Hate MB

      Yes, if your countrymen want to force you to something you and the majority do not want, and give birth to terrorism in your country, kill soldiers, police and innocent civilians. Would you then pat them and encourage their violence or should you put a stop to it There are those of you who will not understand until you’ve had a taste of their violence, then you will understand. BUT unfortunately it will be too late for you then!!
      I feel sorry for you!

    • What?

      As long as that “black hole” encompasses a new suez canal, 4 million acres reclaimed, resumption of Toshka, return of stability and security, in addition to reinvigorated relations with the East, you are right: we will never get out. Call it what you wish habibti.

      • What?

        Long live Sisi’s Egypt

        • Hate MB

          Amin ya rabb!!!

      • term construction

        Toshka is a miserable failure, a second Suez canal sounds like a bad joke. I see you didn’t mention the Complete Cure Device. As for security, I ask what security? In the last year Egypt has witnessed at least a thousand dead, tens of thousands in jail, truley radical Islamists attacking with more frequency, and more ordinary Egyptians turning to radicalism. Your support and justification of the regime and its actions are counter productive.

        • It’s official. You’re crazy?

          Either you’re deaf, dumb, and blind or you embody all that in one word: American.
          A second Suez canal being a bad joke? Even radical Egyptians wouldn’t say that. We’ll see who’s laughing when American aircraft carriers round about Africa and get raped and looted by Somali pirates before they reach Iran to start an unwinnable war with a country you have been threatening yet are too cowardly to attack since ’79. Hell, Syria was too much for you.
          Egyptian radicalism is not a new phenomenon but considering the lots of our neighbors Libya, Palestine, Sudan, I’d definitely say Egypt is in a much better position.
          “Counterproductive” to what I ask you?
          The regime did not take these actions on its own but asked for and received emphatic support from the Egyptian public and youth in July 2013. It was a national decision and it is their future.
          Roo7 2igree be3eed yaad. You’re country might be next.

          • term construction

            Take it easy. Think about what you said. Pirates aren’t a threat to the US Navy. Increasingly, they are becoming less of a threat to anyone. The US isn’t going to fight a war against Iran. Iran, just like, Cuba, Libya, Venezuela, North Korea, Iraq, Syria,…etcetera, does not start a war with the USA. The USA starts a war with whichever country is unlucky enough to be its target. A hard line attitude towards anyone critical of the present regime will likely breed angry young men. As you said radicalism is not foreign to Egypt; but comparing Egypt to Sudan and Libya. Why not compare Egypt to Tunisia? Egypt and Egyptians need to set higher goal than ‘not the worst’. Healthy debate and dissent are part of what keep ruler in a democracy honest.

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