A Month of Turmoil in Egypt

(The image for this piece — and for a few other places on the site — are by my friend, the great photographer and writer, Themba Lewis.)

On December 292011, the Egyptian military raided 17 foreign-backed nonprofits in Cairo. “Nobody understands what’s going on,” said Belal Mostafa Gooda, an employee of the National Democratic Institute. “They’re searching all the papers and files and laptops.”

MENA, Egypt’s state-backed news agency reported that, “The search is based on evidence showing violation of Egyptian laws including not having permits.”

“We’re literally locked in,” wrote NDI staffer Hana el-Hattab on Twitter. “I was on the balcony, dude with machine gun came up and told us to go in and locked it.”

Egypt’s public relations firms in Washington DC immediately weighed in on the matter. “If Egypt has a position, we have the obligation to relay their position,” said Former House Representative Bob Livingston (R-La.) — presumably referring to The Livingston Group’s multimillion dollar lobbying contract with the Egyptian government. “No organizations, entities or individuals — national or foreign — should be allowed to operate outside the law.”

But by January 24, five senators and three congressmen had issued statements condemning the Egyptian government’s action. “It is disturbing to read reports that American lobbying firms are profiting from defending the Egyptian government’s raids on the offices of U.S. non-governmental organizations that support human rights and civil society,” said a joint statement from the offices of Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Next, on January 25jeddaliya.com led with an editorial entitled, Welcome to the New Egyptian ParliaMENt. “Women do not exceed two percent of the total number of elected members,” Ibtisam Barakat wrote. With 8 out of 498 delegates, the percentage of women in the Egyptian parliament actually stands at 1.60642%. This percentage is higher than only nine countries, worldwide (Solomon Islands, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Palau, Nauru, Micronesia, Yemen, Papua New Guinea, Oman). The country with the highest percentage? The Principality of Andorra, at 50%.

On January 26, the Egyptian government confirmed that it had placed six Americans on a no-fly list, effectively detaining them and prohibiting their exit from the country. One of the Americans, Sam LaHood, was the son of President Obama’s Secretary of Transportation.

On January 28, The New York Times reported that The Livingston Group was dropping Egypt as a client.

Then, on January 29, Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement indicating that — in fact — it was the one that chose to terminate the PR contract. “It was the Egyptian Government’s decision within the framework of the measures taken to rationalize government expenditure,” the Ministry’s press release said. Whatever the case — whoever fired whom — the story had the feeling of a sordid divorce.

And then, on January 31, members of the Muslim Brotherhood held hands to block a several protests from reaching the parliament building — where their party controls the majority of seats. The standoff escalated into a street battle — and 43 people were injured, some severely. A demonstration that had begun with chants of, “Down with military rule,” quickly changed into chants of, “Down with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Finally, a February 1 football match in Port Said degenerated into violence. An astonishing 74 civilians died and hundreds were wounded as fans attacked each other with stones, machetes, metal pipes, and knives.

“People were crying and dying,” said 23-year-old Ossama El-Zayat. “We didn’t know whether police were firing live rounds or not.”

Said Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of SCAF, the Egyptian military ruling council: “Egypt will be stable. We have a roadmap to transfer power to elected civilians. If anyone is plotting instability in Egypt they will not succeed.”

All of this prompted the following exchange, that night, between aspiring Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and Greta Van Susteren on Fox News’s late night program, On the Record: 

VAN SUSTEREN: How is President Obama doing on Egypt?

NEWT GINGRICH: I don’t think they have a clue. I think it is very frightening to watch this administration.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would anybody?

NEWT GINGRICH: Reagan would have. Reagan would have had — Reagan would have thought about and studied radical Islam and Reagan would have had a strategy and would have pursued it.

What was lost in all of this?

“All great world-historic facts and personages appear… twice,” wrote Karl Marx in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

If the January 25 Revolution is to have a lasting, positive legacy, then the transition to civilian rule of law must occur immediately. Otherwise, Egypt seems to be losing its grip on the way it exists in its own imagination — not to mention in the imagination of the world.

With Presidential elections looming in June, Gallup Abu Dhabi recently  polled 1,077 Egyptians on their opinion of the upcoming contest. A shocking minority — 0nly 9% — said it would be a good thing for the country. 87% regarded the election as potentially disastrous.

But whether it would be a tragedy, or a farce — or neither — the numbers didn’t say.

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