People OF Egypt, Save Egypt: Everyone else, keep yourself in check

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As I write this there are reports of Muslim Brotherhood supportive militias armed and shooting from bridges at the Egyptian Security Forces etc etc. All news. All events actually happening. Yet I am also sitting with headphones on listening to music and writing this on my laptop in my flat in central Cairo – this is also actually happening.

How can these be reconciled?

To me the answer has been clear from the start. They can’t.

The fact that over 600 people died 2 days ago, some of them not very far from my flat, others died close to where friends live, others were friends of some of my friends, etc. What difference does it make to know these personal connections to events when these things happened anyway, and these connections do not change anything?

This is starting to sound like a selfish monologue of a Westerner whining about how to make this crisis of Egyptian identity relevant to herself. I promise I am avidly trying to do the very opposite by highlighting how the average non-Egyptian/foreigner tends to do this, as well as, Egyptians involved with events who do the same for their own agenda of course (e.g I had 7 friends who died yesterday, therefore I must take to the streets to avenge them, see how justified I am in carrying a weapon).

But here’s the crack: the last few days (before today, friday) of events have been almost totally played out between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and Security forces (Egyptian Police and Army), neither of which make up even half of Egypt in a country of 85million+. Meanwhile the rest of Egypt stayed inside and watched with horror as events unfolded amongst fellow Egyptians differentiated only by the actors being supportive of a group intent on allowing their differences with other Egyptians to identify them rather than their commonalities. Despite the numerous justifiable and unjustifiable events (varying according to the actor) that have occurred, more prominent in the air, the atmosphere, the ether, is a palpable bruising. A big fat question mark in the collective mind – what is happening?

This uncertainty and in some cases, distinct lack of feeling of belonging to events IS news – strip away egos, political factions, economic interests – this has created an open wound in the Egyptian collective, still bleeding, it will take time and some really hard work to heal. Without detailing various political lines and changes in Egypt over the last year and couple of months, this chart effectively shows you that “lines” do not exist anymore- they have blurred so much there could be said to be a general political identity crisis – add to that the events of the last few days and you have a deep human trauma amongst Muslims, Copts, Atheists, Secularists, Feloul, Muslim Brotherhood supporters, Liberals – and everyone around the edges and in the gaps those labels generate, bringing on a deeper Egyptian identity crisis than just politics. (Have I just stepped into the trap of passing opinion…?)

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Yet “leaning into the discomfort” is exactly what could aid the collective healing. This term is one Brene Brown says is the catchphrase of social workers, and represents her research on the power of vulnerability, see her speak powerfully on it here. Through acknowledging this vulnerability palpable right now, this will allow people to reconnect on a fundamental level – divorced from the landscape portrayed above – it’s about garnering Egyptians sense of identity, perhaps only momentarily in shock, and deep rooted history to reclaim their collective sense of worthiness. Judgement and opinion, as I see it currently, is instead fostering the opposite effect, possibly drawing out feelings of shame – described as a fear of disconnection, and blame – a very human technique of discharging pain and discomfort. Particularly embarrassing to see as getting in the way of any potential for healing is Western-generated opinion, judgements on Twitter, statements of denunciation from Governments, callous use of photographic “evidence” of cruelty/kindness/terrorism/anger and whatever else we think we can see in people’s faces and actions.

So what do I see in the streets??

I DON’T KNOW.

EGYPTIANS DON’T KNOW.

NOBODY KNOWS.

Why?

Because there are no lines which make identifying the wrong and the right possible, accurate or even useful. So the only “analysis” I’d like to offer, is that we (Egyptians and non-Egyptians) support the healing of inter-personal and human relations in Egypt from now on. This is a deeply personal struggle to every Egyptian, and to Egypt as a nation, hence the flat out rejection and interference of US and EU comments, denunciations and diplomacy efforts. Certainly at the restriction of my personal space of opinions, freedom of movement and sense of self – or judgement of – I am normally moved to respond with one massive FUCK OFF.

Some wise and tired words of a woman on Facebook that I don’t know struck a chord with my current thinking, so here they are below:

“On moments like these, I am always baffled by the arrogance of unexamined privilege and those who carry it around, amazed and stunned by international friends and strangers sitting in comfortable shelter thousands of miles away and passing what can only be qualified as baseless and deeply infuriating preaching about Egypt. Taking a Middle-Eastern politics course or following the “news” is by no means a substitute for understanding, let alone opinionated and absolutist debate. We do appreciate your concern but many of us are busy worrying about the depth of our tragedies and how to go on living … so respecting us with your occasional silence and humility wouldn’t hurt either.”

This is a plea from one non-Egyptian to another, on the subject of Egypt:

Watch, learn, don’t judge, don’t turn your backs, but most of all be supportive on a purely human level – because at this juncture, that is the most you can possibly hope to be “involved” in what is happening.

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6 responses to “People OF Egypt, Save Egypt: Everyone else, keep yourself in check”

  1. jalal michael sabbagh.http://gravatar.com/jmsabbagh86@gmail.com says :

    Hi Isabel ,time prove over and over since 1948 when the Arab League was founded by 9 Arab countries.Their first meeting ended by declaring That THE ARABS AGREED NOT TO AGREE EVER.Division is their believe nothing else.jalal

  2. Jem Bendell (@jembendell) says :

    You ignore the billions of dollars of foreign support to the military which has helped to maintain its power and political role in the country. Congressional Research Service says the US funds 80% of Egypt’s weapons procurements. How is that non Egyptians keeping themselves in check?

    We know one thing that is happening online… people we may have assumed are ethical are revealing a cowardice by finding excuses for the lethal use of force on those that they disagree with, or have been told to fear. The lamest of excuses is to express a principled confusion. It’s lame because it pretends that there isnt already significant foreign influence in the country and the region, both now and for centuries past. It’s also lame because it seeks to preserve a sense of moral personhood while effectively condoning mass murder.

    I recommend http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/13658/the-revenge-of-the-police-state

    • Isabel Bottoms says :

      not at all, I agree with everything you say, and wasn’t intending to ignore this factor. But I find criticising our own countries’ roles in this situation very very different to criticising & judging Egyptian people for the turn of events. I am the last person to deny colonial influence anywhere – as a Welsh person I deplore it in my own country too – so please don’t extrapolate my limited references to other sectors of this battle.

      • Jem says :

        Thanks for yr reply. I owe you some back story… I saw yr post tweeted by a professional eco activist. My sense is that if its not merely a career or a hobby, then concern for social or environmental problems is an expression a loving consciousness, and therefore issues are perceived as interwoven and global. Boundaries like nationality are inventions. Real divisions like gender and race are important yet surface level compared to a deeper unity. So to use such divisions and distinctions to push back against necessary outrage and calls for action is a mistake. Ive been disappointed in how many British environment and development professionals readily distance themselves from struggles at home and abroad that result from the underlying economic and geopolitical forces that cause the problems they work on, and that cause real harm to others who act. My response is based on some of that recent experience.

      • Isabel Bottoms says :

        oh I agree with everything you are saying completely, and you can put me in the same bracket as the friend who tweeted it! But right now, the level of worldwide judgement on the situation, without knowing Egyptians, Egypt and the complexities frustrated me the most, and also put me in the most awkward situation being here, hence my singling out of this issue to write about. The power of what I wanted to say would have been distracted from, if I had then gone onto denounce foreign support etc. That is an entrenched issue, far less swayable by one blog post! And in the past during my time here I have tried to lobby the Foreign Office (through social media and british friends) to reassess their supply of the very strong and out of date teargas to Egypt for example. I am separating out this particular issue for the sake of clarity that does mean that I ignore everything else.

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