by Mordechai Kedar
Everyone knows what a "total loss" is: the general loss of a vehicle's value as the result of an accident, when the vehicle becomes either impossible or impractical to repair, and is sent for scrap metal. It seems that Egypt's situation today very much resembles a "total loss" situation following a series of accidents and misfortunes that it has experienced over the past two years, since Mubarak was sent to the defendant's cage. As long as he was in power, the country was functional. And although it did not function well, there was a sort of dictatorial stability. But since he was overthrown nothing works in that dismal country, whose residents number today ninety million. Egypt is like a car with ninety million problems, and to describe it as a "total loss" is to understate the situation.
The problems began on November 11, 2011, with the resignation of President Mubarak after the demonstrations against him degenerated into a state of general chaos, prompting the minister of defense, General Tantawi, to demand that Mubarak step down in order to calm the raging street. Tantawi took the reins of power for half a year, to stabilize the governmental system and then transfer it to the civilian branch, the dictatorial stability of the Mubarak era turned into public chaos with increasingly anarchistic characteristics, despite the fact that the group in power had won the right to rule democratically. It seems that the governmental situation in Egypt will become a new concept in the field of political science: "democratic anarchy" or "anarchistic democracy".
Despite Egypt's having a president, an army, police and judicial system, it seems that these components of government do not all function as one system, but rather each one behaves according to it's own private agenda, as if it exists as a separate country: the public elects a parliament and the court disperses it, the president issues edicts overriding the laws of parliament and the court cancels his edicts, the majority of the public elects a president but large sectors of the public want to get rid of him, an Islamist president is elected but he is forced to manage the state according to laws that contradict Shari'a, the Bedouins in Sinai are citizens of Egypt, but they behave as if Egypt is their enemy.
The straw that broke the camel's back was when seven soldiers were kidnapped in Sinai. the Bedouins kidnapped them in order to pressure the government into freeing some imprisoned Bedouins, and Mursi found himself between a rock and a hard place: if had given in to the Bedouins, thus freeing the soldiers this would have been interpreted - and rightly so - as the state surrendering to a violent group of criminals, and this surrender would have encouraged them as well as other groups to take similar steps to achieve their ends. In such a situation, when every law breaker can pressure the government to submit to his demands, there is no state. So what can be done? Attack the Bedouins with a large military force? This is problematic because the present government claims to have a religious basis, and how can such a regime kill Muslims?
On Wednesday of this week the seven soldiers were freed healthy and whole after representatives of the army met with heads of the Jabal Halal tribes and warned them that the army would destroy anything that moved in the area. What was promised to the heads of the tribes in exchange for freeing the soldiers was not divulged, but the fact that the government was forced to appease the heads of the tribes proves who is in charge in Sinai. The government again had to play according to the rules of the desert, where anyone who has a request must close the deal with the tribal heads. The struggle between the state and the Bedouins will continue in the next round, which is just a matter of time. Because the state has not yet freed the Bedouin prisoners accused of terrorist activity, and their liberation was the original reason for kidnapping the seven soldiers.
And this was not the first time that the Bedouins have challenged Mursi's government: last August they murdered 16 soldiers, and during the past year they attacked a police station and security patrols, and sabotaged the gas pipe that provides Egypt with its livelihood. The Bedouins collaborate with Hamas and there were rumors that the kidnapped soldiers were already in Gaza. The families of the kidnapped soldiers appeared in the media and put pressure on the government to submit to the kidnappers demands, and Mursi had already requested and received religious permission to fight the Bedouins from the Mufti of Egypt. The army wanted to seal the tunnels that connect Sinai with the Gaza Strip, and Mursi feared Hamas' negative propaganda and Hamas' big brother, the Emir of Qatar.
The kidnapping of the seven soldiers more than a week ago in Sinai was just one more link in a long chain of acts betraying a basic lack of law and order in the Sinai Peninsula, but its implications on how the state functions are great; its implications extend beyond Sinai, and and has influence on events all over Egypt. The army, whose soldiers' lives endangered, is not interested in starting an all-out war against the Bedouins because the army is at a disadvantage in such a war: It has almost no intelligence on the many hiding places scattered in the mountains of the peninsula, because it its very difficult to infiltrate agents into this sort of familial and ideological jihadist groups, and also because these groups use almost no electronic media operators that can be located and listened in on. Because of the difficult terrain in the mountains of the Sinai Peninsula the army cannot use tanks but only commando soldiers of the infantry who have no advantage over the Bedouins, sons of the desert, who know every fold of the land, every rock and every cave and every bush.
And if at any time battles in Sinai break out against the Bedouins and the jihadists, how will the army explain to the soldiers' parents why and how they were killed? Does the army really want to sacrifice the blood of its soldiers to consolidate the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in the state? How will the army stand up to the criticism of the Salafists, who already claim that the army is an agent of Mubarak and that the army hopes to get him out of the defendant's cage and return him to the presidential palace? And in the future, when they kidnap soldiers again, and if the army won't be able to liberate the kidnapped soldiers and then the Bedouins kill them on camera, how will it appear in the eyes of the soldiers and the citizens of the state when they see on youTube that the Bedouins kill the soldiers of the biggest army in the Middle East in cold blood and the impotent army cannot do anything to save them? This is an army? This is a state?
Fahmi Hawadi, one of modern Egypt's most prominent writers, claims that it was not only the Egyptian soldiers who were kidnapped, but that the whole Sinai Peninsula was abducted by Bedouins and perhaps the whole country was held hostage by anarchists of various sorts, from lawless Bedouins to unemployed students, from the Salafists who don't believe in the laws of man to the seculars who don't want Allah managing their lives for them.
The interesting thing is that all the Egyptians claim without hesitation that the revolution has been stolen from them: the restless young demonstrators of Tahrir Square who brought down Mubarak cry that the Muslim Brotherhood stole their revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood, who won the elections, complain that those who lost in the elections are trying to steal the governmental revolution, which the Brotherhood is trying to lead after having won the elections fairly. Many accuse the remnants of the Mubarak regime of acting behind the scenes in order to snatch the revolution from the others, and all of the Egyptians are convinced that the current miserable and hopeless condition of Egypt is a result of a conspiracy of the West and Zionists, who want to steal Egypt from the Egyptians.
Mursi is caught in the middle of a power struggle and each side pulls him in a different direction: his comrades, people of the Muslim Brotherhood and the public that identifies with them want the state to have an Islamic character but not be radical in its application of Shari'a like cutting off the hands of thieves. The Salafists - who adhere more closely to Allah and his commandments - threaten to declare that Mursi is an infidel if he behaves in a way that is contrary to Islam according to their approach. The army is concerned first and foremost about its own interests and not the interests of the state and the elected government, and the street is divided between violent groups with contrasting views: religious versus secular, traditional against modern and Mubarak followers against all the others.
Is Mursi and Escaped Criminal?
Lately the opinion is widely expressed that President Mursi is nothing but an escaped criminal. The basis for this matter began after the demonstrations of the 25th of January, 2011, when the Egyptian police - still under the regime of Mubarak - arrested hundreds of agents of the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups, who were sent to prison with arrest warrants that were issued according to the Emergency Law, which was then still in force. Mursi was among those arrested at the time, and he stayed a number of days in the Wadi Natrun Prison. On the 29th of January, when the demonstrations intensified and policemen and prison guards were transferred to the streets, friends of the prisoners - among whom were people of Hamas and Bedouins from Sinai - took advantage of the weakened guard force, forcibly broke into the jail and freed almost three thousand prisoners and detainees, including members of Hizb'Allah and al-Qaida. Until this day, none of these has given himself up to the authorities, and all of them are still considered escaped prisoners and detainees. So it seems that Mursi is one of them, and this is where the legal tangle in this matter begins. Because if he is an escaped criminal, how can he be president, since someone who evades the law can't even be a candidate?
Mursi's supporters claim that there is no document that mentions his name among the detainees. This claim is problematic because the fact is that he and many of his colleagues were in prison, so who hid the documents in their case? That is, Mursi is also involved in concealing documents, not just escaping from prison. His supporters claim that the Emergency Law, according to which Mursi and his friends were arrested, had been cancelled afterward, and therefore, it follows that the arrest was not legal and he is not to be considered an escaped convict. His detractors claim that when he escaped, the Emergency Law was still in effect and therefore he is indeed an escaped prisoner.
Meanwhile a lawsuit was filed in court demanding dismissal and punishment of Mursi on this basis whether because he is an escaped prisoner who has not given himself up or whether he helped others to escape from prison. Another problem is that some of the escapees were killed while escaping so anyone who assisted in their escape - meaning Mursi - might be accused of an accessory to causing a death. There is an additional claim that since physical damage was caused to the prisons by the break-in, Mursi is also responsible for the great damage to the prisons. The accusations of escape, aiding in escape, causing death and damage to the prison might bring the court to sentence the democratically elected president of Egypt, to life imprisonment... so how can he function in this situation?
The economic situation has also completely deteriorated. Tourism - which used to provide a livelihood for many Egyptian citizens until the riots broke out on the 25th of January, 2011 - has almost totally disappeared, and the balloon accident of a number of months ago, where several tourists were killed, heightened the sense among world tourists that for the time being it is better to look for a more stable and safer place to take their annual vacation. Foreign investments in industrial plants have almost totally disappeared because reasonable investors don't invest their money in places with no apparent economic future. Egypt finds it difficult to get loans from foreign sources, whether because of the economic crisis gripping Europe and the United States, causing a lack of available cash ("the poor of your own city first"), or because Egypt cannot come up with collateral to repay a loan even if it was accepted.
Mursi visits Saudi Arabia and Qatar often to beg for alms. These funds allow him to maintain the excessively subsidized price of bread, so that the hungry masses will not break out into the streets in protest that they can't afford to pay a realistic price for a loaf of subsidized bread. And although the price of bread has increased steadily over the years, its weight has steadily decreased.
There are reports that Iran has offered Egypt generous economic support if Mursi would agree to allow Iran to manage the Egyptian mosques that were built in the days of the Shi'ite Fatimid dynasty, which ruled in Egypt about a thousand years ago. This Iranian requirement sounds logical, but Mursi firmly rejected it for two reasons: one is that he does not want to allow Shi'ite Iran to have any influence in Egyptian public life, which might allow Iran to lead the hungry Egyptians to Shi'a in exchange for a handful of dollars, and the second reason is that one of the mosques that were built in the Fatimid era is the al-Azhar mosque, the highest institution of Sunni Islam.
Strangely, many officials who were appointed in the days of Mubarak still operate in Egypt, and they remain in their jobs because of the bribes they pay to their superiors and which they, in turn, take from the citizens who require their services, just as in the days of Mubarak. Because of the terrible economic condition today, it is dangerous to walk the Egyptian streets, whether by foot or in a vehicle. Pedestrians are robbed by groups of the hungry who fall upon those people in the street who look like they have money in their pockets or food in their baskets. Other groups attack drivers who are stopped in traffic jams or at a red light (a rare phenomenon in Egypt, where traffic signals are considered only as suggestions), forcibly take the driver out of the car and make off with the car in order to sell it for a few lira to buy a little bit of food.
As a result of the economic, political and legal situation, a general sense of deep disappointment with the revolution exists among the public at large. As high as their hopes were two years ago, that's how deep is the disappointment and frustration that exists today, and the price for the miserable situation is paid by the weak sectors of society: the women, the children, the homeless, the many who live in the streets and the millions of Copts. The government claims that the Copts are about one tenth of the population, but the Copts claim that the true proportion is at least twice that, and that they are about one fifth of the citizenry. It is in the government's interest to underestimate the proportion of Copts within the population so that they will not be obligated to give them the rightful share in the government that they would deserve according to their actual number.
A day doesn't pass without reports of suicides of people who have lost all hope of earning a decent livelihood for their families and they prefer death rather than to behold every day the hungry looks on the faces of those who depend upon them. The public space is flooded with many cases of abuse of the helpless, and many Muslims take their rage out on the Christian Copts, the original residents of the land. Their monasteries are broken into and their churches are burned, their houses are attacked and their stores are looted, their sons are beaten and their daughters are humiliated. Many Copts have lost hope that their homeland will ever be theirs again after it was Islamized by the Bedouins who burst out of the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century and forced the religion of the desert upon its indigenous agricultural residents. When looking at the situation of Egypt today, one concludes that when the Muslim Brotherhood took control in Egypt, it made the worst possible deal anyone can make: it tried to buy a car which was basically a "total loss", and then drive it and its passengers as if it could actually get somewhere besides the garbage heap, the garbage heap of history. "He who dwells in heaven laughs, the Lord derides them" (Psalms, Chapter 2, Verse 4).
Dr. Kedar is available for lectures
Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.
Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with permission from the author.
Additional articles by Dr. Kedar
Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the author.