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The Rhetoric of National Disaster

Note: this article was written before Mursi was dismissed.  An additional updated article will be posted on Sunday’s blog.

In recent days, when Egyptian spokesmen were making media appearances—Morsi’s supporters as well as those demanding his resignation—a new and disagreeable rhetoric increasingly dominated the public discourse. It began with the name of the opposition movement, “Tamrrud” – “Rebellion.” It was no longer a protest or demonstration, it was a rebellion.

The rebels waved signs with the slogan “irhal” – “leave,” or “get out” – exactly like the signs that the demonstrators in Tahrir Square (“Liberation,” from the British) waved two and a half years ago, when the target was Mubarak. By using this slogan, the demonstrators were equating Morsi with Mubarak, and there can be no worse insult to the president, who won the first democratic elections ever held in Egypt. Another slogan that was brought out of the January 2011 demonstration storage bin wass “al-sha’b yurid isqat al-nitham” – “the people want to topple the regime.” The implicit message was that the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood is just as illegitimate as Mubarak’s regime was.

Others yelled “Mursi – Kursi,” meaning “Morsi, the chair,” mocking Morsi for being stuck to his chair like Mubarak was, in his time. Morsi’s supporters clung to the concept of the Shar’iyya—legitimacy—that the elections had given him, and asserted that the demands for his resignation were illegitimate. His opposition called out, “We will defend you, Egypt,” implying that “the Muslim Brotherhood is a threat to our homeland and our country,” and some yelled, “Free Egypt” (from the Brotherhood’s occupation).

But the new and ominous factor is how both sides freely used radical expressions not used in the past, like “We will not yield,” “red line,” “blood will be spilled,” “to the end,” “we will fight with our spirits and our lives.” These expressions clearly connoted the tremendous amount of tension between the two camps: the opposition to Morsi in Tahrir Square, and his supporters in Rab’ia Al-Adawiyya Square. There was also tension regarding what the army would do when the period of the ultimatum elapsed, because the army imposed the ultimatum on both sides, and it was rejected by both sides. The Army called on everyone “to act responsibly” because a descent into violence—the beginning of which was marked by more than twenty fatalities and hundreds of injured—would bring a national disaster upon Egypt, the beloved country of both sides.

However, too many people felt that wat is “now or never.” The rebels felt that if they were to go back home, Morsi and the Brotherhood would have ruled over them forever, and the Brotherhood was sure that if their victory were taken from them by force, they would have crashed as an organization which ultimately attained its goal and then failed to hold on to it.

Each side wanted an absolute victory for itself, and total defeat for the other side. In post-Mubarak Egypt—unfortunately—a sense of collective consciousness where everyone can sit together and solve conflicts peacefully has not developed. The cultural polarization, political radicalization, the torrid summer, the economic collapse, the high unemployment, the hopelessness, the increasing violence, the approaching Ramadan and the rhetoric of extremism all provided jet fuel that was being poured on the public conflagration in Egypt. These were the materials that national disaster is made of, and Egypt is surely capable of deteriorating into a situation similar to that in Syria.

Israel—surprisingly—is almost not mentioned at all in relation to the crisis, which is proof of both the crisis’ seriousness and severity. The worst thing would be if millions of Egyptians began marching toward Israel in search of two things: water and bread. The waves of the Egyptian disaster might arrive on our shores, and we must be prepared.

This article was written in Hebrew by Dr. Mordechai Kedar for the July 5, 2013 issue of Makor Rishon, and translated into English by Sally Zahav.

About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.


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